Interview with Award-Winning Author Deborah Hopkinson

DebGet to know Deborah…

Deborah Hopkinson is the award-winning author of more than 40 books for young readers including picture books, historical fiction, and nonfiction. A prolific picture book author, Deborah has won the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for picture book text twice, for Apples to Oregon and A Band of Angels. Other picture books include Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, winner of the IRA Award; Sky Boys, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor book; and Keep On! The Story of Matthew Henson, Co-Discoverer of the North Pole, winner of the Oregon Book Award.

Deborah’s nonfiction includes Titanic, Voices from the Disaster, which received a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction honor and a Robert F. Sibert Honor. Up Before Daybreak, Cotton and People in America, won a Carter G. Woodson Award Honor, and Shutting out the Sky, Life in the Tenements of New York 1880-1924, received an NCTE Orbis Pictus honor. Deborah’s middle grade novel, The Great Trouble, A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel, won an Oregon Spirit Award.

 A native of Massachusetts, Deborah received a B.A. from the University of Massachusetts and an M.A. from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Up until 2014, Deborah also pursued a career in higher education fundraising, serving such institutions as Whitman College and Oregon State University. She and her husband, winemaker Andy Thomas, live in West Linn, Oregon and have two grown children.

A frequent presenter at schools and conferences, Deborah loves history and is passionate about encouraging young readers to think like historians. Her next book, in Fall 2015, is Courage & Defiance, Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in World War II Denmark. For more info, follow Deborah on Twitter  and visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

What one commercial product are you totally loyal to?

Chobani yogurt!  I even carry it with me in my suitcase when I travel to visit schools.

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

I think the lack of support for school library budgets may be the biggest challenge children’s authors like me face. Most of my books aren’t even carried in chain bookstores. Librarians and teachers keep my books alive. 

How did you pick your writing genre?

I was interested in history in graduate school, but really writing historical fiction and nonfiction came about primarily because I love to read about history, and enjoy learning new things. 

What life experiences have inspired your work?

Although I may not have been aware of the impact until much later, growing up in a historic city (Lowell, Massachusetts) had an impact. I read a lot, but the lives of ordinary women and men were not covered in children’s books as they are now. My desire to find out more has shaped my work.

How do you know when a book is finished?

Sometimes I feel books are never done – they can always get better. But at a certain point (usually when the deadline is upon me), I come to a point where I feel that at this moment in time, this is the best I can do. (That is usually after several go-rounds with my editor too!) 

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

Actually, for most of my writing career I have had a full time job. It was only earlier this year that I left my job in development, raising funds for higher education, to write and visit schools full time.  I feel fortunate to have learned a lot in both careers.

Deb1Who do you consider a literary genius?

Dickens, Austen, and Charlotte Bronte. 

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

I feel I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with amazing editors from the beginning.  I would have liked to write full time earlier, but on the other hand, having a day job and not traveling for school visits enabled me to spend more time with my children.  So, all in all, I have been lucky. And I don’t mind revising, which is necessary because I am a writer who rarely gets it right the first time!

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

Usually I just sit down, drink coffee, and start. When I am stuck, going to the gym or taking a shower helps. 

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

Just put your energies in the direction you want to go – and don’t give up. Read as much as you can and don’t pay attention to trends.

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

I wanted to be a writer when I was ten years old. I didn’t actually start until my early thirties, though, in part because I didn’t at first consider writing for children. But when I had my daughter and I began reading picture books to her, it struck me that this was something I could try while working full time. Now that I am writing (and visiting schools) full time I am ecstatic!  I feel incredibly lucky to have work that I love passionately. 


Author Interview with Amber Skye Forbes

when-stars-dieGet to know Amber…

Amber Skye Forbes is a dancer and writer who prefers pointe shoes over street shoes, leotards over skirts, and ballet buns over hairstyles. She loves striped tights and bows and will edit your face with a Sharpie if she doesn’t like your attitude. She lives in Augusta, Georgia where she writes dark fiction that will one day put her in a psychiatric ward…again. But she doesn’t care because her cat is a super hero who will break her out.  For more info, visit her Facebook, Twitter, blog, Goodreads, and website.

 Quirky Questions

What question do you tire of answering?

“What is your book” about is a question I tire of answering. There are much more creative questions people can ask that give a more well-rounded review of the depth of When Stars Die. At the same time, I am still grateful for the interview.

Would you rather live in a world where there were no problems or a world where you ruled supreme?

A world where there are no problems. I would love to have a supreme rule, but it seems, no matter the person, that absolute power corrupts absolutely. I might think I’m going to rule with everyone’s best interests in mind, but then you get to a point where you realize you’re going to have to sacrifice the welfare of some people to help out the welfare of others. That’s not a choice I’d want to make.

Would you rather endure a zombie apocalypse or World War III?

That’s a tough decision. The US was never used as a battleground for WWI or WWII. At the same time, those were people we were fighting against, people we were killing, ones who were simply defending their country as we were defending ours. So I guess I’d have to say zombie apocalypse. At least the undead aren’t undead because of us—mostly.

Would you rather be able to speak with all animals or all foreign languages?

All animals, assuming I can still speak English with people. I just really want to know the thoughts that go through an animal’s mind. There are just so many days where I wish I could speak to my cat.

Would you rather be deaf in one ear or only be able to use the Internet one hour per week?

Deaf in one ear. I’m starting an online college, so the internet is rather necessary for me to get stuff done. Plus, I’m an author.

Would you rather be the richest person alive or immortal?

Immortal. I just really want to see how the world changes. I also want to live to see new discoveries, especially those involving space.

Mac or PC?

PC. Compare a high-priced PC to a Mac and the PC is exponentially better in terms of power in storage space. You can only get these PCs online, but they are totally customizable to suit your needs. Macs are only useful for creative types, sans writers, where PCs work better for us. Otherwise, PCs are more flexible in terms of usage.

If you could choose to write your next book on a typewriter or with a quill pen, which would you choose?

Quill pen, with the assumption that the pen would make my handwriting super pretty.

Would you rather live in a retirement home or a mental institution?

Well, I have been hospitalized before, but I’d have to say retirement home. At least they can go out and do things. Then again, it depends on the mental institution. With the two I was at, you were pretty much locked in until you were discharged.

Would you rather have your mind serve as an iPod so you can listen to music any time or be able to watch your dreams on TV?

I would love to watch my dreams on TV. They’d probably provide excellent story fodder. I’d probably never run out of ideas for novels then.

Would you rather talk like Yoda or breathe like Darth Vader?

Talk like Yoda. His style of speech is just cool.

Would you rather be stuck in an elevator with two wet dogs or two fat men with bad breath?

Two wet dogs. For one, I can just shove them aside in the elevator. For another, depending on the breed, those wet dogs may not smell too bad.

amber-forbesWriting Questions

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

When Stars Die is pretty religious in nature. I hope it causes people to really reflect on their religion and the thinking that has resulted from that religion’s ideals. So, ultimately, I want religion to become more humanistic and less by the book, so to speak. I want religious people to think for themselves.

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

I want to be remembered as someone who really understood the human experience and psychological aspects of a human being. I want to be remembered for the sensitivity I put into my writing, and the humanistic aspects that are often presented in my work.

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

I have my personal assistant basically push me and spit out different ideas. That alone motivates me—not to mention edits from my publisher.

What is your favorite accomplishment?

Simply seeing When Stars Die in publication.

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

Absolutely. I’m still learning to not be preachy, though, but I think I’m doing a good job of it so far. The Stars Trilogy is really about attacking religious extremists, and I’m not ashamed to say this at all. Originally I was worried about this, but I have had Christian readers, and none of them have even mentioned being offended at all, probably because the book isn’t being preachy. Religious extremists make god seem very hateful, so I took that view point and created a hateful god in my trilogy. I’m agnostic, but if there is a God, I would view him as a very loving one, a god who didn’t punish us because of the choices of two people, but a god who granted us free will. That is the best gift, after all, even if it is abused.

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

Yep. Those strong reactions can better me as a writer. Readers are sharper than we think we are, and we have to give them more credit for the criticism they raise when reading a work of fiction. Yeah, we writers have editors and critique partners to do this, but the book isn’t meant for them.

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

Pomegranate. Sweet, tart, and bitter, all at the same time.

Has rejection ever affected your desire to continue writing?

Never. It stuns me for a little bit, but then I look at the feedback given, pick myself back up, and get excited again.

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

I still have this job. It’s my primary source of income, but I’m a marketing trainee for Southern Siding. It’s fun because I can work different events. While I get paid minimum wage, I have the potential to make more through commissions. I’m also going to launch my freelancing business in tutoring and editing when I graduate college with a bachelor’s degree in English lit.

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

Worrying about sales. Once you’re published, your worries aren’t over. It’s not that I’m worried sales of When Stars Die are going to affect the chances of The Stars Are Infinite being published. It’s just that I want lots and lots of people to read it—while making money—so that way they can then all go on to buy TSAI if they liked WSD.

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

The Renaissance. Being a woman would make it difficult for me to produce art, and I’d probably go largely unnoticed because of that, but at least I could take comfort in knowing writers were really appreciated during this time. We don’t have that too much in this century.

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

John Green all the way.  


Interview with Award-Winning Author Denise Jaden

DeniseGet to know Denise…

Denise Jaden’s novels have been shortlisted or received awards through the Romance Writers of America, Inspy, and SCBWI. The first draft of her debut novel, Losing Faith (Simon & Schuster), was written in 21 days during NaNoWriMo 2007 and she loves talking with writers and students alike about her Just-Get-To-The-End fast-drafting process. Jaden’s other young adult novels include Never Enough (Simon & Schuster) and Foreign Exchange (Evernight Teen, 2014). 

Her first non-fiction book for writers, Writing with a Heavy Heart: Using Grief and Loss to Stretch Your Fiction, includes a variety of clear guidance and practical exercises to help writers get to the heart of their stories. Her second non-fiction book, Fast Fiction (New World Library) includes tips on constructing a story plan that works, as well as daily inspiration to keep writers writing, regardless of when the mood strikes. For more info, visit her website

Quirky Questions 

Have you ever broken a bone? What happened?

Yes, I broke my right arm when I was about seven years old. Our neighbors had a tree swing in their backyard. We were supposed to alternate our grip to hold on, but I didn’t know that. As I went sailing over a deep expanse, my grip couldn’t hold out and I fell on my right arm. 

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

Hmm, lots of things, but the one I think about the most often is video games. My husband and son love to play them, and every once in a while they convince me to play, but I seriously have no ability with them. 

What are you most neurotic about?

My writing time. If my door to my office is shut and I’m in the middle of drafting or revising a novel, I will probably growl if anyone interrupts me. I set time aside and protect it like a bear with her cub! 

What is your favorite movie line?

“I don’t think that means what you think it means.” – from The Princess Bride 

What one word describes your bedroom?

Cluttered. My husband is a pack-rat. 

FastWriting Questions

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

Nope. I just sit down and write. Sometimes it starts off feeling like I don’t have a creative bone in my body, but if I keep moving forward, eventually something catches and carries me on into a flow.

Can you share some words of writing wisdom for someone just starting out?

Write a lot and read a lot. Just because you finish a story, doesn’t mean that is the one that will first be published. Keep working on new writing. The new stuff will teach you more about the stuff you’ve already written, and time off from one project will give you a lot of perspective.

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

I’m still not sure I’ve made that decision. I think of my writing mostly as a hobby. It’s hard to make a living in this business, and it can be soul-crushing if it’s the only thing you have going in your life. There are lots of ups and downs in publishing. Writing is only one of the things I enjoy in my life. And I believe I keep enjoying it because it is only one part.

Do you censor your creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone?

I never censor myself on my first drafts, however, during revisions, I do choose things like offensive language carefully. This is not so much because it may cause offense. I once had a critique partner tell me she felt my main character was weak-minded and uncreative because she used so many expletives to describe things. That comment affected me, and so now I spend a lot of time thinking about if my character could be more creative or thoughtful in his or her word choice.

How did you pick your writing genre?

I believe my writing genre picked me. The first book I wrote was for the adult market, and was in the head of a thirty year old man (still unpublished). Every critique partner I sent the book to said, “Are you sure this isn’t YA?” I argued, told them it couldn’t be YA because it was in the head of an adult. The next book I wrote was in the head of a sixteen year old girl. It felt SO right, right from the first paragraph. It wasn’t until I finished that book that I realized the first book felt like YA because of my writing voice. (This is what I mean about writing something new in order to learn more about what you’ve already written!) 


Interview with Award-Winning Illustrator Anna Raff

AnnaRaff_Groundhog1_810Get to know Anna…

Anna Raff has illustrated several books for children, including WORLD RAT DAY by Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis, SYLVIA’S SPINACH by Katherine Pryor, and THINGS THAT FLOAT AND THINGS THAT DON’T by David A. Adler. 

She is currently at work on THE WRONG SIDE OF THE BED, a picture book for G.P. Putnam’s Sons written by Lisa M. Bakos; SIMPLE MACHINES, a non-fiction picture book by David A. Adler; and LITTLE CARD, a picture book for Candlewick Press by Charise Mericle Harper.

Her illustrations have appeared in New York Times, The Washington Post, and Kiwi Magazine, among others; on TV on ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” and MTV’s “Woodie Awards.” In 2010, she created Ornithoblogical, a blog of bird-related imagery. Anna is on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts Illustration Summer Residency Program. She has an MFA from the School of Visual Arts, a BA from Connecticut College, and lives in New York City, where there are reportedly four rats per human resident. To learn more, visit her website.

Quirky Questions 

What is the last thing you paid money for? 

 My dry cleaning.

What do you often make fun of?

I wouldn’t know where to start.
What is the best thing about staying at a hotel?

My boyfriend’s employee rate.

What is one thing you do with determination every day?

 Eat well.

If you could have your mailbox shaped like an object, what would it be?

 A largemouth bass.

What healthy habit are you glad you have? 

Nora Ephron once said, “If you’ve only got a finite number of meals in a lifetime, why would you have a bad one?”…or something like that. 

What’s your worst habit? 

I’m too introspective.

What topic would you like to know more about?

There are too many to chose from, but I’m reading a book about WWI at the moment.

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

Get a haircut.

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

To quote Katharine Hepburn in Desk Set, “Whether the person is male or female.”

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

Don’t be a dick.

AnnaRIllustrating Questions

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

Long walks have become an integral part of my process, and I’m lucky to live in between two great parks in Manhattan. One of my teachers in grad school, Mirko Ilic, stressed that our time away from our desks was just as important as our time at them, and I take that seriously. What he meant was we need space to process things, and you can’t force yourself to think creatively all the time. For me, it’s a comfort to know that my down time isn’t just down time, and my walks are a subconscious way to brainstorm. So I’m actually multitasking—I’m exercising and enjoying the trees, and the birds, and the flowers, but my head is working in the background. I always go back to the drawing board more prepared to solve a problem that daunted me earlier.

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

Usually just a few parts are very clear in my mind—the rest comes later.

Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?

Like a lot of people, I get good ideas in the shower. 

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

Knowing I have mortgage to pay is a great motivator. 

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

I’d probably bake a lot of pies.

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

I suppose the peace of mind and stability that comes from having a 9 to 5 job. But it was my choice to pursue illustration as a career, so I’d better not be whining about sacrifices.

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

Be genuine.

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


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

When I was a kid, I was always drawing and encouraged to draw, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it into a career, so I became a graphic designer. Shorty after I turned 40, I went back to school to get an MFA in Illustration. That was two years of a complete restart to my career, and more importantly, my working habits. About halfway through my second year I thought I might be able to pull it off.

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

It’s a challenge, but I finally figured out that this is not the kind of job I can just turn off. In some way or another, I am always thinking about it, trying to solve some visual puzzle. That being said, I always make time for relaxation, seeing friends, vacations, etc. whenever I can.

What is your typical day like?  

At the moment, it’s pretty crazy. I’m filling in for an art director on leave, so I’m getting up really early to do some drawing before I leave for the office. My regular schedule is a bit more reasonable. Typically I work from about 7 or 8 a.m. to about midday, when finally I get out of my pajamas and break for a lunch. At that point, I’ve usually got about 2-3 good hours left in me before I need a serious break which I fill with a walk, errands, or a coffee date with friends. After dinner, I might be able to work a little more, but I’m most creative and productive early in the day. I don’t have the stamina that I used to into the wee hours, and I’ve never believed in all-nighters.

AnnaRaff_theVillage_810How much of your own life is reflected in your work?

I’d say more of my personality is reflected in my work rather than my actual day to day life. 

Do you have family members who are writers or illustrators?

No, but they’re all graduates of excellent liberal arts colleges. Does that count?

What was your childhood like? 

I was very fortunate to grow up when and where I did; I wouldn’t trade it for anything. 

Did your upbringing influence the way you illustrate today?

Definitely. Dinner time was sacrosanct in our house, and tardiness was not permitted. Only  Walter Cronkite and “The Muppet Show” had the power to delay. I think that just about sums up the values with which I was raised. 

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

I’m pretty happy with how World Rat Day turned out.

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

I hope my work is honest and unselfconscious—at least that’s what I strive for.

Has your creativity changed stylistically as you have matured? If so, in what ways?

“Style” is a word that makes me bristle. I was trying to explain this to my students recently.When most people talk about their illustration style, it implies some sort of external trappings used to create work that you put on, like trying on someone else’s coat. We all draw best when all that stuff falls away, and we just draw the way we draw. So I suppose that’s how my work has matured—I’m learning how to get out of my own way, and not think about it so much.

When do you feel the most energized?  

At different times—sometimes during the sketch stage, sometimes when I’m putting a finished piece together, or in the coloring stage, because I’m in as much suspense as anyone as to how it’s going to turn out. And of course, I really get a real rush when I hit “SEND.” 

Does your illustrating reflect your personality?

If I’m doing my job well, I think that’s inevitable. 


Interview with Award-Winning Illustrator Lisa Brown

Lisa1Get to know Lisa…

Lisa Brown is a New York Times bestselling illustrator, writer, and cartoonist. Her picture books for children include How to Be, Vampire Boy’s Good Night, and Emily’s Blue Period by Cathleen DalyShe illustrated The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming and 29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy by the elusive Lemony Snicket, and co-authored Picture the Dead, an illustrated young adult novel, with acclaimed writer Adele Griffin. Lisa is the creator of the award-winning McSweeney’s humor series Baby Be of Use, has drawn the Three Panel Book Review cartoon for the San Francisco Chronicle, and is a comics contributor at The Rumpus. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions 

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

I have an old stuffed animal bunny-in-a-flowered dress named “Mrs. Rabbit” that my grandparents brought me from England when I was very small. She is very dapper. And clearly, very formal, since I never even knew her first name. 

What song could you listen to all day on repeat?

“Come On, Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners. 

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

“Lonely Little Goth Girl.” 

What would you do if you wanted to annoy someone?

Put on “Come On, Eileen,” all day on repeat. 

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

Anything musical. 

What is your favorite movie line? 

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” 

In one sentence, can you describe the state of your work space? 

Solitary and neatly cluttered, filled with books and half empty coffee cups. 

What are you most neurotic about? 

The appropriate question should be “What AREN’T you neurotic about?” 

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

Which days were those, again? 

Why would somebody choose not to date you?

Because I’m married. 

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

A dresser drawer full of cassette mix tapes. 

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

This weathervane 

What movie character freaks you out?

That girl from the Exorcist. I don’t ever need to see her again. 

LisaIllustrating Questions

When do you feel the most energized?

After 10 hours of sleep and 3 cups of coffee.

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

My answer is always “The one I’ve just finished.”

How would you define creativity?

Making stuff.

How do you know when a project is finished?

When the deadline is upon me.

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

Good! I love being inspired by everything I see, whether it be online or on paper. And social media, though it’s been incredibly distracting, has also been a source of comfort and community.

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

Keep a sketchbook. Draw every day. Make up assignments for yourself…and finish them.

Has your creativity changed stylistically as you have matured? If so, in what ways?

Nope. I’m the same as I ever was. In my head I’m still 12 years old and obsessed with ghosties.

If your illustrations were edible, what would they be? Why?

Cookies. Because I love cookies.

Do you have family members who like to illustrate too?

My son loves to illustrate and draw comics.

Did your upbringing influence the way you illustrate today?

I was always given lots of freedom to be myself. I am sure that helped me to become the kind of person who followed her bliss. Which is certainly the kind of person who goes into the arts.

Do your illustrations reflect your personality?

People have said that all the characters I draw either look like me or like my kid. And they all look nervous and broody. So I guess, “yes.”

What drew you to a career in illustrating rather than a job that would offer more financial stability? Have you ever questioned that decision?

I went to graduate school for graphic design because I love to draw but also wanted health insurance and my husband was a novelist so he was no help on that front. But then he became a best-selling novelist and I no longer needed to provide us with health insurance, so I quit my job at the earliest opportunity. Illustrating children’s books is and has always been exactly what I wanted to do and I’m beyond lucky that I get to do it without financial stress.

How do you think you differ from other illustrators?

See the above about lacking financial stress. It’s incredibly rare and supremely lucky.

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

Writing. Teaching. Appreciating other people’s amazing work. All of which I do already.


Interview with Award-Winning Author Janet Wong

JanetGet to know Janet…

Janet S. Wong is the author of more than two dozen books for children and teens. She has been honored with the Claremont Stone Center Recognition of Merit, the IRA Celebrate Literacy Award, and her appointment to the NCTE Commission on Literature and the NCTE Excellence in Children’s Poetry award committee; she also is the current chair of the IRA Notable Books for a Global Society committee. A featured speaker at schools, libraries, and conferences, Wong has performed at the White House and has been featured on CNN, Fine Living’s Radical Sabbatical, and The Oprah Winfrey Show. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions 

If you could invent a weight loss program, what would you name it?

The Unbelievable Potato Chip Diet. I wrote about my potato chip “expertise” in The Horn Book Magazine (Nov/Dec 2006), in an essay entitled “Alien Bunny Bots.”

If someone spied on you, what embarrassing fact would they discover?

At home I usually forget to drink my coffee until 1-2 hours after I’ve made it—especially if I’m feeling extra sleepy that day.

If you owned a professional sports team, what would be your team name?

It would be a basketball team called “The Shorties” and I would recruit short but amazing 3-point shooters. Which reminds me of a story. When I was in 8th grade, I was elected to be one of the ten basketball team captains in our P.E. class. As I stood up there with the other captains, choosing players one at a time, I wanted to choose the best athletes—but I knew that I had to choose the terribly nonathletic short friends who had just voted for me and would be “last pickings” if I didn’t choose them. So, loyal me, I picked all the worst players. Maybe camaraderie would help us win! Well, camaraderie was out the window by the time we argued over and settled on a team name, which was something like The Shorties. At the end of the season (the P.E. unit), we had the worst record of all the teams and we were furious with each other over our crummy skills. Funny how memories can resurface over a prompt as simple as “team name”!

At the end of your Chinese meal, what would you like your fortune to read?

What you ate was just a dream. You can eat your real meal now. (And yes, I have been known to eat two dinners. When you’re at a conference with a bunch of old friends who are eating early and you also get a publisher’s invitation for a late dinner, how can you skip either one?) 

Janet 1Writing Questions

How did you pick your writing genre?

I was at a one-day workshop on how to write and get published. Poet Myra Cohn Livingston was introduced. I wasn’t interested; I hated poetry starting in 4th grade. Then she read and spoke—and after 45 minutes I knew I wanted to study with her. I thought I’d study poetry just to sharpen my prose—but Myra sold my first book for me, a collection of poems, and so I became a poet.

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

Be flexible with your dreams. Try traditional publishing with the big houses first, if that’s what “success” is to you—but if that doesn’t work out to your satisfaction, don’t be afraid to try a different model, whether that means a smaller traditional house or artisanal publishing or self-publishing. Read Guy Kawasaki’s APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur; in 3 hours it will teach you what it took me 20 years to learn. Study the business of writing in addition to the craft.

How would you define creativity?

Creativity is about using non-obvious approaches and finding fresh solutions, making something work with “whatever you can find.” Tinkering all day in a garage with Grandpa or a bunch of friends, building things from junk scraps and nuts and bolts and lots of duct tape—that is, in my opinion, the ultimate in creativity. I wrote about this in The Dumpster Diver and also in my poem “Tinker Time” from The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science.

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

Creative people are comfortable with the uncertain, with feeling lost. When regular people get lost, they’ll whip out a map or scrutinize the directions or try some alternate search on the GPS. A creative person who is lost will drive around in circles, look for some clue, follow a promising sign, turn around at the dead end, pull into a Starbucks (just to ask), get a cup of coffee (since there were only three people in line), hop back into the car, drive on instinct down an alley, and—somehow—pull right up to the hidden VIP door.


Interview with Award-Winning Author Larry Dane Brimner

unnamedGet to know Larry…

Larry Dane Brimner is a third-generation writer, although he’s the first in his family to venture into children’s literature. The author of 158 titles for young readers, ranging from humorous picture book texts to serious nonfiction for middle-grade readers, he launched his writing career with a series of sports books, including BMX Freestyle, Karate, and Rock Climbing. More recently, We Are One: The Story of Bayard Rustin won the Jane Addams Book Award in the older reader category. This was followed by Birmingham Sunday, an Orbis Pictus Honor Book; Black & White: The Confrontation between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Connor, winner of the Carter G. Woodson Award (NCSS) and a Robert F. Sibert Honor (ALSC/ALA). His latest release (October 1) is STRIKE! The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights. When he isn’t writing, he visits schools around the world. For more info, visit his website

Quirky Questions 

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

OCD! Then I’d be considered almost normal. 

What makes you laugh until tears roll down your cheeks? 

Children and their jokes. 

What compliment do you wish someone would give you? 

I’ve actually already received that compliment when I overhead a couple of teens—one a former student of mine and the other one who would be entering my class the next semester. My former student told his friend: “That’s Mr. Brimner. He’s tough as nails but he’s fair.” 

What do you waste time doing? 

Staring out the window or diddling around on Facebook. 

What do you do every day, without fail? 

Think about riding my bike. 

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

Ride my bike. 

What was your favorite meal when you were growing up? 

Porcupine meatballs and black-eyed peas. It’s still a comfort food. 

unnamed (1)Writing Questions

Who do you consider a literary genius?

There are no geniuses; there are folks who work hard at what they do.

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

Finding an editor who loves my work. 

How did you pick your writing genre?

I wasn’t aware I picked my genre. It picked me. I write picture books out of love. I write nonfiction out of personal curiosity. I write chapter books because there are people living in my head and I have to clear them out from time to time.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

Everything. Elliot Fry’s Good-bye stemmed from an episode when I became vexed with my family and “ran away.” The problem was I wasn’t allowed to leave the yard and I’ve always been such a little rule-follower. Birmingham Sunday came from my desire to right wrongs—or at least bring those wrongs into the light of day.

How do you know when a book is finished?

Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes you simply write and polish until you can’t write or polish anymore. Then you send it to an editor (or five) and their comments will give you a clue. At other times, you know in your gut that the book is done.

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

Not really. When people are offended by something, the onus falls on them and not on the creator of the art.

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

This probably sounds weird, but I procrastinate like mad. The first thing I do is exercise, either riding my bike or going to the gym. Then I shower, taking my sweet time. Breakfast next. Tidy my desk and office. Finally, sometime shortly before noon, I buckle down and actually get to work.

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

Write what you love, write what pleases you. Don’t follow trends and throw out 99% of what you learn in workshops and classes.

How would you define creativity?

Creativity is the art of being yourself, with a little flare.

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

I am my own harshest critic and if I listened to my inner voice, I’d likely never have published anything. Editors, however, have bolstered my self-esteem. Awards help, too.

Let me tell you a little secret, when I’m feeling as if I can’t write a complete sentence without butchering it, I log into an online bookstore and look at my list of publications. Then I think, “Yeah, maybe I can do this writing thing.”


Interview with Award-Winning Author Steve Sheinkin

Author TurfGet to know Steve…

A former history textbook writer, Steve Sheinkin is now trying to make amends by writing nonfiction that kids and teens will actually want to read. His 2012 bookBomb was a Newbery Honor book and National Book Award Finalist. Other recent titles include The Notorious Benedict Arnold, which won the YALSA Award in 2011, and Lincoln’s Grave Robbers. His upcoming book, due in January 2014, is a World War II civil rights drama titled The Port Chicago Fifty. Steve lives with his wife and two children in Saratoga Springs, NY. For more info, visit his website.

Quirky Questions

What are some of the rules your parents had for you as a child?

No candy. 

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

Well, I used to do a bit of shoplifting, with a special focus on candy (see above). What was really bad was that I got my younger brother to do it once when we were at the supermarket, and we got caught on account of he started eating a butterscotch candy in the car on the way home and my mom smelled it and, well… it was bad.

What is the most awkward date you have ever been on? 

Once on a first date I spent the whole time talking about how much I loved Benedict Arnold. But the funny thing is, we ended up getting married.

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

Wrestling match with my four year old son.

Favorite TV show?

Project Runway. There’s absolutely nothing I care about less than fashion, but it’s just fascinating to watch them make stuff out of pieces of material. Kind of similar to writing nonfiction, in a weird way.

BombBookWriting Questions

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in writing?

It’s something I just always wanted to do. My brother and I used to write stories and make little movies together as kids. We tried making movies together after college, but lost all our money. That’s when I started writing textbooks, just to make a living. But then I realized that textbooks are terrible, so I decided to start writing good history books.

What books are you reading right now?

The October Circle, a spy novel by Robert Littell, and Avi’s Crispen: The Cross of Lead. And tons of stuff for the book I’m working on, research stuff.

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

A teacher in a writing class in college once told me I “may one day be a fine writer.” Basically, he was telling me I wasn’t good, but might be, if I worked at it for many years. It inspired me.

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?

Yes, it took almost ten years to get my first book published. Hundreds of rejections. It was depressing, but I always recovered and reworked whatever it was that had been rejected, trying to make it better. But those ups and downs are normal, even after you’ve had some success. I’m working on a first draft of a new book now, and I can’t believe how bad it sucks.

What’s your favorite writing quote? 

There’s this amazing book by Scott McCloud called Making Comics about, well, what it says. In the introduction he basically says there are a million ways to tell stories; no right way. “In short,” he concludes, “there are no rules. And here they are.” That’s how I feel about all writing advice. You should listen to it, and think about it, but make up your own mind. 

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Well, there’s a chapter in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers that makes the case you need to practice something 10,000 hours to get good at it. May not be so helpful, but it was certainly true for me.

What inspired you to write your first book?

Sheer frustration. I hated the textbooks I was working on. I knew I could do better. 

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

My best skill is figuring out how to put stories together. I like to take a lot of different pieces and find a way to fit the puzzle together.

What books have most influenced your life?

I think the books we read when we’re young have the most lasting influence. For me, historical adventure novels like Mutiny on the Bounty and The Great Train Robbery were the ones. They made me want to both read and try to write exciting stories.

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

Yes, the writing. That first draft is a killer. What I like doing is finding stories, collecting tons of material, and then figuring out how to put it all together in narrative form. Once I’ve figured that out, the actual writing is painful.



Author Interview with Arree Chung

Ninja_Arree_CoverGet to know Arree…

Arree Chung made a lot of spreadsheets before learning how to draw and paint. He loves the storytelling that is created between words and pictures in picture books and comics. He is the son to 1st generation Chinese Immigrants who wanted him to pursue a more conservative career rather than the arts. Over 15 years later, Arree is realizing his artistic ambitions as a published author and illustrator.

Arree’s first picture book, “Ninja!” released in June 2014.  He is working on more picture book projects as well as writing a middle grade novel about the Chinese American experience. For more info, visit his website and blog.

Quirky Questions 

What are you thinking about right now?

I’m thinking of all the creative projects I want to accomplish in the next few years and how lucky I am in being able to tell my own stories.  I’ve worked hard to get here but I also feel very fortunate.  For all the people who have helped me in my journey, I am so grateful. 

What one person or object best represents the 80’s?

Bon Jovi: guys with long hair singing soft rock love ballets! 

If there is life on Mars, what celebrity might resemble the Martians?

Steve Martin. I love him. 

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

Louis Armstrong, it’s a wonderful world.  Makes me smile every single time. 

What do you do too much of?

Procrastinating! Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Email and the occasional iphone game I’m obsessed with.  I’m pretty good at getting things done but I do have a hard time starting sometimes.  Once I get going, I have a hard time stopping so I end up working into the wee hours of the morning. 

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

Life hacking.  I think we live in such an interesting world these days.  People are questioning traditional notions on how things work and sharing what they’ve found works on the internet.  I am constantly trying out new ways of working to push myself.  I think a school subject on problem solving in life would be interesting. 

What is the biggest indication that someone is a nerd?

They actually know what they are talking about!  It’s cool to be a nerd these days because it shows you deeply care about a subject even if it’s not popular.  Nerds can also identify when others are faking it. 

What latest trend simply baffles you?

Selfies and the need to take pictures of everything one consumes. 

If you had to choose, what is the most important quality in a relationship—humor, smarts, personality, looks, money, or mutual interests? Why?

I would say personality.  In particular, loyalty and empathy to understand the other person deeply.  

If you could add one feature to your cell phone, what would it be?

I’d add an invisibility feature.  It would simply disappear so that I wouldn’t even be tempted to pick it up and goof off.  When I’m working and need to concentrate, I usually put my phone in my closet.  Sometimes I even forget where I left my phone and have to call it from my Google voice number.  

Ninja_26_27FV2Writing Questions

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

Most times, I can feel what the book should be like.  It’s not a clear vision.  It’s more like a fuzzy feeling, like how you feel when you just woke up from a dream.  You don’t remember all the details but you certainly felt something.  The rest of the creative process is trying to realize that feeling through hard work.  Trying out different words and pictures until you capture that feeling.

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

My natural curiosity and love for storytelling leads me to being a story teller so I would say that my passion choose me.  With that being said, I had to also choose to pursue my passion.  Coming from an Asian American background, it was not the typical or popular choice to pursue a creative life.  There have been lots of sacrifices and struggles along the way but I’m proud that I’ve stuck to it.  It helps to be a little stubborn.

Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?

My magical hours seem to be from 10 p.m. to 3 or 4 a.m.  That’s when the world is quiet and I can just get lost into what I’m doing. 

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

Strangely enough, jobs have helped me to persevere and not quit.  At this point, I’ve had several jobs and most of them were not very satisfying.  I end up feeling frustrated and I channel that frustration into working hard on what I want to do.  Instead of endlessly complaining, I take on the responsibility to change my own circumstance.  It took me a while but I learned the difference is that you have to discipline yourself to work on your own projects after a full day of work.  Working on your own projects everyday adds up. 

There are also many mentors and people that I admire.  I admire their dedication to their craft and passion for what they do. 

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

I would teach art and paint funky pictures.

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

Taken directly from my blog post about my journey.


1. Listen to that voice inside of you.

2. Don’t be afraid to quit.  

3. Take leaps of faith.

4. Scribble and keep a notebook.

5. Write down your dreams and the things you absolutely want to do.  They WILL happen.  

6. Work on your craft EVERYDAY.

7. Find mentors.

8. Don’t give up.  Rest when you need it.  Try again.

9. There are kind people out there that will help you.

10. Be kind and help others.

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

I don’t think I have a unique gift.  I truly believe that we are all creative.  To be human, to feel and to imagine is to be creative.  Writing and storytelling I believe is a craft that you develop over many years of practice.  It’s only after a TON of practice that you start developing your voice.  It’s the 10,000 hour rule.  I’ve always had nuggets of creative ideas that were in my head and after so many years of practice, I can now capture some of those ideas into a form that can be shared.

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

Sadly, at the present time, I don’t.  My life is all about work but I’m okay with it because I’m loving everything that I’m doing.  There will be a time to slow down and have more balance but it’s not right now.

How do you deal with creativity blocks?

Read good books.  Listen to music, experience great art.  Laugh with friends and play.  And then when you’re tired, you stop, nap and dream. 

What is your typical day like?

I usually make oatmeal in the morning and try to finish something I was working on the previous night.  It helps a lot to look at something with fresh eyes after you’ve slept on it.  After that, I go through my to do list which is organized first, weekly, then daily.  I try to limit myself to 3-4 important things to get done and then I set out on doing them. I also try to exercise everyday.

Do you have family members who like to write too?

My dad was a journalist for a Chinese news paper in Taiwan and Thailand.  He was an avid reader and a great story teller.  My mom is an extremely creative and wacky person.  She is more of a verbal storyteller though.  

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

Overall, I had a wonderful childhood.  I grew up in the suburbs of Nevada and California. My mom stayed home with my brother and I in those early years and we spent a lot of time on doing kid related adventures: catching frogs, biking and reading books.  

My childhood definitely influences my work.  I try to capture the adventure and feeling of what it’s like to be in full play mode.  Also, I have a brother who is very different than me.  We’re almost complete opposites.  I’ve learned to look at how different we are as a study in character.  When you are making up characters, you have to know them.  You have to know why they act the way they do.  I take a lot of story from things that happened to me while growing up. 


Author Interview with Kelsey Sutton

Some Quiet Place - Kelsey SuttonGet to know Kelsey…

Kelsey Sutton has done everything from training dogs and making cheeseburgers to selling yellow page ads and cleaning hotel rooms. She lives in northern Minnesota and received a BA in English from Bemidji State University. When Kelsey is not writing or trying out a new career, she can be found in the park with her dogs, ordering a coconut mocha at the local coffee shop, or browsing a bookstore. Look for her new book, THE LONELY ONES, coming out in 2016! For more info, visit her blog.

Quirky Questions 

What is the best thing about getting old?

I guess the best thing about getting older is growing more certain in who I am and what I want out of life. Of course, I’m not sure these are things we ever truly figure out, but at least now I’m not constantly worrying about what other people think or fulfilling their expectations.

What do you miss most about being younger?

Someone else paying the electricity bill! We had so few cares back then and we had no idea how lucky we were.

What is one thing you refuse to share?

My books. For a reader, this probably sounds horrible, but I’m so weird about my collection. They’re still in pristine condition, organized alphabetically, etc. And every time I loan one out to someone, I never see it again. Or, in one case, it was returned to me with coffee all over it. Lesson learned.

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

Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. I’ve listened to it so many times I could say the lyrics in my sleep. I keep telling my friends that this is the song I want them to play at my funeral, my wedding reception, my first child’s birth. They call it “Kelsey’s Life Song”. 

What do you do too much of? 

Netflix. Stupid Netflix. 

What do you do too little of?

Getting out of the house, I think. I’m usually writing or reading or spending time with my dogs, to the point where it’s been a few days and I realize I haven’t seen any of my friends. 

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

The Stand by Stephen King. People kept telling me how good it was, so I went out and bought it, but I still haven’t picked it up. It’s just so big! And what if I don’t like it? Whenever I start a book, I feel obligated to finish it, and how much would it suck forcing myself through a story this huge? But I know I’ll get to it eventually. It might just take a few years.

What was your favorite meal when you were growing up? 

Same as now. Grilled cheese and tomato soup. 

KelseyWriting Questions

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

Unfortunately, I don’t. If I’m having a social life, my writing suffers. If I’m immersed in a manuscript, my friends never see me. I haven’t figured out how to balance them out yet!

When do you feel the most energized?

Weirdly, after I’ve taken a shower. Seriously, whenever I’m blocked or dragging my feet, I stand under some hot water for a few minutes and when I come back out, I’m ready to sit in front of the laptop again. Don’t ask me why.

What is your typical day like?

I wake up late, browse the internet for way too long, read a little, then write. Usually only a few hundred words, which is why it takes me so long to finish a manuscript. Then I’m back on Netflix or reading that book again. Rinse and repeat.

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

Not really. I almost always know the beginning and end of a story, and a few points in the middle. But I don’t plan out my books, so getting to those points is as much a journey for me as it is for the reader.

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

While I don’t like the idea that we can’t choose our own fates and paths, I do believe writing was something that was inside me since childhood. I was writing stories every day after school, while Arthur played on our ancient television. I never stopped, and it’s hard to say whether it was something I was meant to do or something I just love doing. I guess all that matter is that I am.