Illustrator Interview with April Chu

Summoning the Phoenix COVER largeGet to know April…

April Chu began her career as an architect with a degree from the University of California, Berkeley, but decided to return to her true passion of illustrating and storytelling.  She recalls spending most of her childhood drawing whimsical characters in her notebook after school everyday, and she hasn’t stopped drawing ever since.  She has illustrated two children’s books: Summoning the Phoenix: Poems and Prose about Chinese Musical Instruments (Shen’s Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books, Spring 2014) and Village by the Sea (Creston Books, Spring 2015). April currently lives and works in Oakland, California. For more information, visit her website

Quirky Questions 

What bad habit will you purposely never quit?

Online shopping is my weakness and a bad habit (I do it WAY too often) but I need some good retail therapy sometimes, especially after a grueling deadline. 

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

I would say personality because if I like your personality, there is a good chance that you are funny, witty, sarcastic, motivated, interesting, kind, and in general, someone I enjoy hanging out with.  It covers more ground. 

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

Remote control app for my teleportation machine. 

If you could invent one modern convenience, what would it be?

I would invent a teleportation machine because I am always late to appointments, parties, meetings, etc.  It would save me loads of time if I could just be teleported to my destination.  However, for some reason, I feel like somehow I would still be late… 

What is one thing you probably shouldn’t wear to a fancy restaurant?

My retainers.  Yes, it has been many, many years since I’ve had braces and I am still diligent about wearing my retainers at night.  But taking them out of my mouth before eating is kind of gross for me and probably for people sitting around me.

What kitchen appliance is the least useful in your life?

Surprisingly my KitchenAid mixer, which I had wanted one for so long because it seems like a staple in everyone’s kitchen.  But I hardly ever bake so now it just collects dust on my counter. 

What always gets stuck in your teeth?

It’s a tie between pulled pork and mango fibers. 

What object in your home are you the most embarrassed about owning?

My enormous shoe collection.  No one human being should own that many pairs of shoes! 

What are you thankful you’re not doing right now?

I am so glad that I am not doing kettlebell exercises.  At the beginning of the year I joined this awesome gym near my house and the training sessions seriously kick my butt every single time.  I have learned to do many cool exercises using gym equipment that I was always too afraid to try, one of them being kettlebell exercises.  The classes are brutal, but I always feel great afterwards. 

Who is the most famous person you’ve ever met?

I’ve never actually met a celebrity or someone famous.  The closest I ever came to meeting a celebrity was when I was on a business trip in North Carolina and Chris Rock was in my hotel lobby.  He seemed like he was in a bad mood so I was too intimidated to approach him for an autograph. 

If you were to act on a whim right now, what would you do?

Book a plane ticket to somewhere exotic. 

What is the greatest Christmas movie ever?

Ah!  It’s hard to choose one so I am listing two: It’s a Wonderful Life and Elf. 

How do you like to relax?

Sitting by the beach while sipping on a Mai Tai. 

Photo 2Illustrating Questions

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

I think it’s important to keep up with what your peers are doing in the industry and to gather inspiration from them and it’s so easy to do that with blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media.  But sometimes I do get caught up in the whole “Should I be doing that?” or “Why am I not doing that?” mentality, and it definitely impedes my creativity.  I find the best thing to do in that situation is to shut off the Internet and remind myself that everyone’s path in this career is unique, just like how everyone’s artistic style is unique.  It’s important to stay true to myself and focus on what I enjoy doing the most, which is illustrating.

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

Not yet, but maybe someday when I work on something edgier perhaps.

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

Sometimes the best way to get the creative juices flowing for me is to remove myself from my illustration work entirely.  I love daydreaming, traveling, and spending time with my family and friends.  You wouldn’t believe some of the great ideas that sprouted over a glass of wine and a funny conversation.

What obstacles haveyou had to deal with in your career?

Finding the right opportunities.

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

The biggest challenge I’ve had so far is treating illustrating as a job where I have to wear many hats.  Not only do I have to produce work, but I also have to set goals and deadlines, market myself, and maintain a steady workflow.  It’s so difficult to peel myself away from illustrating (fun part) to do some self-promoting (not so fun part), even though I realize that it’s all part of the job.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

One of my favorite childhood memories is watching cartoons and animated movies after school everyday (after I finished my homework, of course!) because that’s how I discovered my love of drawing.  My parents bought me almost all of the Disney movies on VHS and I never seemed to get tired of them.  I seriously watched Disney’s Sleeping Beauty over 300 times!  While I am watching the movie, I would practice drawing the characters so that later I can create my own spin on the stories.  And I still find inspiration in animated films.  Every year if I know that the Oscar nominated animated short films are playing anywhere nearby, I am so there!

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

I am an architect by training but for the last several years I’ve been contemplating starting a career in illustrating.  I didn’t formally pursue it until January 2012 and I’ve never looked back or questioned my decision.

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

Never give up and always remember to have fun!

How do you know when a project is finished?

The ideal situation is luckily what happens most of the time.  I usually reach a point when I’m working on an illustration when I know if I continue working on it that it will actually detract or not add anything significant to what I am trying to express.  The less ideal situation is when I am somewhat forced to finish a project.  For example, when I am just tired of working on something or I am running out of time when the deadline is rapidly approaching.

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

I believe the media will always have a positive impact on my work.  One of the challenges of this profession is somehow getting your work out there so that people will notice and remember your work…so the more exposure, the better.

How would you define creativity?

Being able to look at things differently.

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

Illustrating is something I have been passionate about ever since I was young.  A few years ago, I was at a point in my life that I knew I could take the plunge and work on my illustration career.  I knew that I would regret it immensely if I didn’t take that opportunity.  I strongly believe that people deserve to pursue something that they love doing because it makes them happy.

Who do you consider a creative genius?

Again I have to go with 2 choices.  I am a huge fan of Pixar and I think John Lasseter, Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer, is a genius.  I live close to Pixar’s office and would love to meet him one day.  My second choice is Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki.  I don’t think an explanation is needed for that choice!

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Interview with Newbery Honor Author Thanhha Lai

Thanhha LaiGet to know Thanhha…

Thanhha Lai was born in Vietnam and now lives in New York with her family. She is the author of Inside Out & Back Again and Listen, Slowly. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions

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

Everyday, you shall have hours to do nothing.

What is the best thing about getting old?

Wrinkles telling stories on my face.

What do you do too much of?

Pluck my hair.

What do you do too little of?

Write.

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

How to sit still. 101.

Thanhha LaigWriting Questions

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

Flag in hand, you must wave it.

When do you feel the most energized?

In the morning, after a jog.

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

I would watch ants all day and something will come of it.

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

It chose me.

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

Stubborn nature.

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

Lots, so far. 

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Author Interview with Amy Dixon

marathon-mouseGet to know Amy…

Amy Dixon grew up as one of seven siblings, so the only peace and quiet she ever got was inside a book. Once she had her own kids, she rediscovered her love for picture books at the public library. It was the one place she knew all four of her kids would be happy . . . and quiet. She writes from her home in Clovis, California, where she lives with her four little inspirations and her marathon-running husband, Rob. MARATHON MOUSE is her first picture book. Her second picture book, SOPHIE’S ANIMAL PARADE, will be out from Sky Pony Press in Spring 2015. For more info, visit her Facebook.

Quirky Questions

What is the messiest place in your home? 

Definitely my room! It’s always the last place I get to when cleaning. I’ve been known to lock it from the inside when people come over because I’m so afraid someone might accidentally go in. As I tell everyone who comes to visit, it’s where we hide the bodies. 

If had to smell like one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? 

POPCORN! But not the artificial butter smell of microwave popcorn…has to be the stove-top, cooked in oil, real-deal stuff. It’s my favorite smell in the world. 

What is the last thing you paid money for? 

Origami paper. My daughter’s class just read SADAKO AND THE 1000 PAPER CRANES by Eleanor Coerr, and they are attempting to make 1000 cranes together. 

What healthy habit are you glad you have? What’s your worst habit? 

Healthy habit: Running! It keeps me sane.

Worst habit: Reality TV. When you decide what to watch first off the DVR based on which show you would be most embarrassed by if someone saw your list, you know you have a problem. 

What is the biggest advantage of being tall? Biggest advantage of being short? 

People say I am tall (at 5’9”) but it was never tall enough for me. I was a volleyball player and dreamed of having an unexpected growth spurt that made me 6 feet tall. It didn’t happen, so instead I married my husband who is 6’5” and prayed for tall children. So far they are pretty average heights and one of my daughters is on the short side for her age. Not sure what happened there! The advantage of her being short is that they put her in front during class performances so we can always see her. 

amyWriting Questions

How do you know when a book is finished?

When my rewrites are no longer making it better, just different, then I know it’s as done as it’s going to be for the moment. I love revising, so I have to make myself stop. For me, it’s not finished until it’s gone to press with the publisher. And even then, I still see changes I might want to make!

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

I had been dabbling in writing for kids for about a year when I decided to attend a writing conference. It was just a local, one-day workshop. But when I came home from it, I told my husband, “I finally know what I want to be when I grow up!” Mind you, I was a 31-year-old mom-of-three at that point, with a Political Science degree and a past career in college ministry. So it wasn’t an expected path. But I’m 100% confident that this is where I’m supposed to be, and I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

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

YES! My internal editor is loud and obnoxious. Actually, I’m pretty sure there’s more than one of them, kinda like those 2 old men on the Muppets that sit in the balcony and heckle Fozzie Bear. (Fun fact: did you know their names are Statler and Waldorf?) I have to try to silence these critics when I’m writing a first draft, otherwise the words would never make it to the paper.

Who do you consider a literary genius?

In the picture book world, I ADORE Kevin Henkes and Marla Frazee. The way they put words and art together is brilliant.

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

I think this is pretty common with writers, but my biggest obstacles are definitely internal. Even after having a story pulled from the slush pile and go to publication, I still struggle with feeling like I’m not really a writer. Maybe I just had one good idea. Maybe that agent just had a momentary lapse in judgement. Maybe I’m just a housewife pretending to be a writer. Feeling like I’m not good enough and battling fears of never writing something worth reading again are a constant.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

My experiences in running and cheering at races definitely inspired MARATHON MOUSE. When my husband started running marathons, I was looking for a picture book that I could read to our kids about it. But I couldn’t find any. Then, I saw this picture of the starting line of the New York City Marathon and it got my wheels turning about that particular race.

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Look at the masses of people! What a scene! I wondered, how do the people that live there feel about the influx? And then my kidlit writing brain kicked in and ran from there…what about the animals? How would a New York City mouse feel about Marathon Day?

My next book is called SOPHIE’S ANIIMAL PARADE, and it comes out in Spring of 2015. It was inspired by a rainy-day game I played with my kids. We were telling a cumulative story…where one person starts the story and then you go around in a circle and each person adds to it. In the game, we started with a lonely little girl, and ended up with a story about a Sophie, whose drawings come to life. In the story, she tries to draw herself a friend, but ends up with a room full of crazy animals.

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Author Interview with Eileen Rosenbloom

EileenGet to know Eileen… 

Eileen Rosenbloom achieved first-publication success when she won a contest for penning her own obituary. After publication of numerous articles and short stories, her first Young Adult novel, Stuck Down, was accepted by Llewellyn Publications and released in 2005.  She currently writes a blog called Woman In The Hat for those affected by cancer and is working on a book for the cancer community. For more info, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

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

The publishing industry seems glamorous to the uninitiated. In truth, it can be daunting on so many levels. Yes, I’ve had my periods of discouragement but I’ve never questioned me as a writer. I loved writing from the time I knew how.

As a little girl, I was a voracious reader and loved playing with words, writing poetry in my room. My mother worried that I preferred books to people. She’d say, “Stop reading! Go outside and play!” I’d say, “Can I just finish this chapter?”

As a child, Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh had a great impact on me. I wanted to be a writer, just like Harriet. This was reaffirmed in college in my English classes.

How did you pick your writing genre?

Early on in my first writing classes, it seemed that each assignment came out as a children’s story even though I hadn’t set out to write for kids. I felt the genre had chosen me, particularly writing for young adults.

I also have a well-developed sense of humor, which often comes out in my writing. I had a regular gig for a while writing for a humor website. But nothing is set in stone and life experiences can affect our writing choices.

In recent years, I suffered through cancer and as it seems to go with difficulties, they run in packs. If it’s one thing, it’s five things. They all snowball and crash into you at once, but it’s all fuel for writing. Things happen to writers because we’re the storytellers.

I’ve had a shift from writing for children and teens to writing for adults who’ve had cancer, illness or other difficult situations. There’s a depth you plunge when you experience anything in life that qualifies you to write about it from your perspective.

It allows you to write authentically from a deep place with emotion and insight. So while I felt derailed from writing for a time, it served to fill my tank with new material.

I will always love Young Adult books. I treasure the time I’ve had networking with other YA writers. I think I’m not so in touch with writing for teens like I had been. There are many other writers who I admire who write YA far better than me. At this time in my life, I feel I can make a greater impact with this new shift.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

My very first writing recognition was to win second place in a contest for writing my own obituary. Obviously I pulled that out of my imagination, but my work is often based on my humor.

My writing also reflects my fascination with the spiritual and that which is unseen or unknown, as with my YA novel Stuck Down in which a dead protagonist comes back to earth. Maybe I have a fascination with death. But I digress.

In 2010-2011, while I went through cancer treatment, I kept a journal of the entire experience which I refer back to in my writing now. Certainly the impact on my life has greatly inspired my work and even brought about a change in direction.

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

Going through cancer treatment and a lengthy recovery certainly derailed my career. When I finished treating, I contacted the editor of the humor site for which I’d written a number of humor articles. I pitched a new article based on my cancer experience and got the go-ahead from the editor.

I wrote the piece and thought it was a funny, irreverent take on illness. I’m certain other patients would have chuckled, but the editor emailed me to apologize for not being able to use it. He said, “I’m so sorry, Eileen, but this is a humor site and I can’t use your article. It’s so depressing!”

But the good news is that I’ve found an outlet for such funny and depressing writing. I have a blog for cancer patients and survivors. I also have works-in-progress for upcoming books for the audience I’ve built. Sometimes an obstacle is really a detour down a different path.

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

Don’t do it! Run as fast as you can in the other direction! But if you must, if you feel that magnetic pull despite the obstacles, go for it. Take time to learn the craft. Practice and find your voice. Enjoy the journey, the writing itself. Success can be elusive. Or you obtain some modicum of success and it’s fleeting.

Enjoy the successes when they happen, but be at peace with the ebbs and flows. The great highs of publication and lows of rejection can send your emotions on a wild rollercoaster ride. If you can let go of the outcome, take a Zen approach if you will, you’ll have succeeded on a whole other level. 

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

Confucius say: Moo Shu Pork now. Food poisoning later. Heh-heh!

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Author Interview with Rhonda Patton

Thecroak500coverabGet to know Rhonda…

Rhonda is a children’s book writer, a mother, and wife. She is a children’s book reviewer. Rhonda goes to college full-time as a graphics designer. Ted and Raymond came from a story that she created from another story of her own. Rhonda encountered a little frog one day and ever since she became fascinated with collecting frogs, then writing about them. Ted and Raymond are frog friends, who loves to tell their story and help others. Rhonda hopes you will enjoy her frog friends and other stories she has to tell. For more info, visit her website.

Quirky Questions

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

No sleep. 

What company advertisements could you model for?

Barnes and Noble. 

What is the worst occupation in the world?

I believe it would be trash state worker. 

What is your greatest phobia?    

Snakes and losing people I love. 

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

A tisket a tasket come to me for your casket. Lol. 

What is the messiest place in your home?

Living room. 

What random act of kindness have you done in the past year?

I give people money when I can. I am always helping others when I have that spare minute or if someone needs me.  I am doing a book for a friend now. 

If had to smell like one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?

My kids. I would love to be able to smell them everyday in my life. They are my worth living for. 

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

Cell phones. 

What is the last thing you paid money for?

Water balloons. 

What do you often make fun of?

I try not to make fun of anything. 

What is the best thing about staying at a hotel?

Getting away to relax from the realities of home. 

What is one thing you do with determination every day?

I promote for others and myself. 

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

A frog. 

What healthy habit are you glad you have?

Drinking water. 

What is the biggest advantage of being short?

I am short; my advantage is reaching things closer to the floor. 

What would you title your autobiography?

My whirlwind life. 

What topic would you like to know more about?

Social media. 

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

Being more talkative to others. 

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

Their smile or eyes. 

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

Travel away from the new land. 

finalcovergrayWriting Questions

How do you know when a book is finished?

I know when a book is finished by when my main message has been told.  I love having messages in my stories.

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

I love that Kristin Davis of Sex and the City reviewed my book in a magazine.  I believe it has done well for promotions.

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

I always put off my dreams when I was younger.  Things kept coming up in my life that I could not pursue a career in writing.  I knew at a young age I wanted to be a writer and a good one.

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

I believe that everyone is creative; we all have ideas that are different whether they are a book writer or a seamstress.  Even if the person thinks they have no talent at all, they do.  They have to find in their heart what they love the most to do, and then do it.

Have you ever felt that your personal expectations have limited your creativity?

If so, how have you dealt with this? I have.  Personal things always came up in the past.  Now, I have the tools and the research under me to make things happen.  I am in college getting my associates degree in Graphic Arts but really thinking about my Bachelors. 

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

Sometimes I do, but then I know there are others who agree with me and I do what I feel.  Someone is going to get offended about anything and everything anyways, so I just write and be happy with what I am doing for me.

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

I think always of my next adventure.  A lot comes to me at once.  I write down a title for everything I want to do, and then I make a story out of it.  I have many on the way as well.

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

Before you put your book out in print, make sure you research, get readers BEFORE your book is out, make sure everything is edited and just the way you want it before you do anything else. Keep writing, even if someone says you will never make it, prove to yourself you can.

How would you define creativity? Creativity is anything. 

Anything that you think of on your own and make.  If you make a cake and it is different than others then it is being creative.

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

I am a stay at home mom.  My husband lost his job several years ago.  I had been researching for his career and was helping him.  I wrote book years before and showed it to him.  He loves to draw so we decided to finish this book.  It is a rush to finish a book and it makes my heart filled with joy that my books may one day help a child.

Who do you consider a literary genius?

No I do not.  I do not know how to edit my own work.  I do not like English writing because it is so hard for me even still me being born here.  I wanted to make books easy for kids when they read so they do not have to get a dictionary out and look up big words just to see what I was talking about in a book.

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

Editing.  It is hard to get customers as well.  In children’s books there is a lot of great competition out there.  I know I read kid books also to give reviews back to them.  I love paying it forward to others.

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

The biggest challenge is my 4 year old.  I stay at home with him during the day and he wants my attention most of it.  I am in school fulltime as well online.  So dealing with both of these things is really hard as a writer.  My thinking level is after 5 pm when my husband comes in.

How did you pick your writing genre?

It was really easy.  I love working with kids.  It is really hard for me to write something for adults.  One, I do not know many big words, I love being simple with writing.

What life experiences have inspired your work?

Being without you seem to want more when it comes to your kids.  I push myself to the limits to learn more so we can make it better for our two kids. 

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