Uncategorized, Writing General

Interview with Claudia Classon

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With the advent of ebooks, the short story is enjoying a renaissance with adults and adolescents alike. One of the most prolific short story authors of late is the award winning writer Claudia Classon. Recently I caught up to with Ms. Classon and quizzed her about her background, influences and upcoming projects.

Where did you grow-up and where do you live now? How has your geography shaped your writing?

I was born a New Yawkuh. I spent my first six years in the Bronx (where my ancestors had lived for over 70 years), then my family moved to Westchester county and that’s where I lived for my childhood and most of my adult life. In 2005 my husband’s company sent us overseas to Paris for three years, and when we moved back, it was to Princeton, NJ. I’m definitely more comfortable writing about locations with which I’m most familiar, so my novel TREEHUGGER (not yet published) is set in a fictitious village in the Hudson Valley, and my short stories published in SUCKER Literary Magazine are set in and around New York and the suburbs.

What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?

I try to work most days, even if I’m only re-reading and thinking about how to approach a new or revised scene. When I’m in the middle of a revision, as I am now, or working on something new, I’ll fit in as much writing time as I can. I have a part-time job in publishing that I go to three days a week, so on those days I usually work in the evenings. In any case, I’m not an early riser, so I do better work at night.

You are a very successful author of short stories. How does crafting a short story differ from creating longer works?
Thank you for that “very.” ☺
It’s like the difference between writing a piano etude and a symphony. Most short stories focus on a limited number of characters and generally have only one main plot. A novel tells a larger story, has sub-plots, features a greater number of characters, and weaves together complex relationships between these various elements. A thing they have in common is the same rules of narrative structure: Beginning, rising action, conflict, climax, denouement. Breaking the rules in a short story is a bit easier, though, and is often done. You can also write a non-linear novel, but it’s probably not something I would attempt.

Who are your favorite writers and why?

I never know how to narrow down this list. Definitely Shakespeare and Tolkien (no “why” necessary). As for YA lit…I have to start with Laurie Halse Anderson, because Speak was an epiphany for me—the main character’s voice and her problem were like nothing I’d ever read in a teen book and it made me want to write for the kind of reader who could connect with that book. I adore Richard Peck’s books for their brilliant characters and sly social commentary. Lauren Oliver has taught me so much about wrenching emotions out of your characters, plus her prose is superb. Gary Schmidt, Jack Gantos, and Sherman Alexie have given me a better idea of boy-perspective, plus they know how to write funny. Neil Gaiman and Libba Bray can make the absurd seem real. I’ll stop here, but not because there aren’t others.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

-You gotta be in it to win it: Don’t just picture yourself as an author. Write, often. Too many would-be writers are too scared or too self-conscious to start.
– Learn the rules so you can break them. There are rules for what constitutes good narrative writing. Some people can absorb and use them just by reading well-written books or books on writing technique. Others benefit from taking writing courses. Whatever way works for you, learn the rules before you try to break them.
– Start with a molehill, not a mountain. Practice plotting short stories before you try to tackle a novel. Work with a limited number of characters and subplots. Once you get the hang of it, you can tackle Mt. Everest. Many writers have a complete story arc in mind before they start writing (e.g., novice J.K. Rowling who had a SEVEN BOOK story arc planned before she started to write the Harry Potter series—jeesh).
– Open your mind to the world. Almost everyone writes about what they know, so learn as much as you can about things that interest you. Travel. Read. Let people share their stories with you.
– Read, read, read. Read everything. Then when you know what it is you like to write about, immerse yourself in that type of literature. I keep a list of all the books I’ve read—particularly children’s and YA fiction. In the past ten years, I have read over 750 YA and middle grade books—I just counted them, honest.

What are you working on now?

My main project right now is a full revision of my YA novel TREEHUGGER, a contemporary romance/thriller. I recently found a wonderful writing group in Princeton—I had been searching for one for over five years! I met two of the group’s members at a SCBWI function last fall, and they have been critiquing the revision as it goes along. I also have a couple of picture book ideas out with my agent, Erzsi Deàk of Hen & Ink. I’m exploring turning one of the ideas into a chapter book series. And I have a couple of novel fragments and short stories that may need to be revisited in the future.

What are you reading right now?

I’m often reading old-and-new at the same time. Since I am not that familiar with chapter books, I’ve been coming home from the library with armfuls of classic chapter books to consult (Ivy and Bean, Junie B. Jones, etc.). As for YA, I just finished Lauren Oliver’s new book Panic, which I loved. I recently read both of Rainbow Rowell’s books (Fangirl, Eleanor & Park). Red Rising is the impressive first book in a new SF series by Pierce Brown, and I devoured the first two books in Michelle Gagnon’s PERSEFONE trilogy (Don’t Turn Around, Don’t Look Now)—I can’t wait for the third book. All these authors were “upcoming” in the not-so-distant past.

Check-out more about Claudia’s work at her blog, http://wordprowler.blogspot.com/ and discover her short stories and much more in the literary magazine, Sucker Literary available at http://www.suckerliterary.com/.

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Uncategorized, Writing General

Interview with Caryn Caldwell

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Caryn Caldwell is a pre-published, award-winning author who like many of us (me included) are sandwiching our writing life between children, husbands, day-jobs and the occasional cat. Recently I got to chat with the delightful Ms. Caldwell about writing, time management and the drive to create.

Where did you grow up and where do you live now?

I am a child of the Ohio suburbs, but I always dreamed of moving west. I now live in Utah (by way of Colorado), with easy access to both the desert and the mountains — just the way I like it.

What were your favorite books as a child? What was the first book that you fell in love with?

It’s almost impossible for me to list favorite childhood books because I read everything I could, and I loved everything I read. It wasn’t until I grew up that I became much pickier. If I HAD to narrow it down, though, I’d say that I loved books by Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and Christopher Pike and was a big fan of anything that won the Newbery. My brother and I also spent many wonderful hours listening to my mom read The Boxcar Children series aloud to us.

What happened that made you decide to become a writer?

I knew I could never be a writer when I grew up. Authors were these amazing creatures, completely untouchable and hallowed. Still, I always enjoyed writing and did it consistently until, one day, I wondered if I actually could write a whole book. Not a publishable book. Not even a good one. Just a book. As soon as I typed THE END on that first one, I was hooked. I wrote several more for practice before I even began to look for an agent.

What inspires you to write?

I am inspired to write by so many things. Sometimes it’s just the sheer fun of figuring out a puzzling plot piece or finding just the right word. Sometimes I have ideas I want to explore or characters to play with, and writing is one way to do that. When things are very hard and I’m having trouble finding the motivation, I remind myself how far I’ve come. I don’t want all that work to be in vain. Plus there’s no high like the one that comes from a successful day at the keyboard — except reading those words again later and realizing that, hey, they aren’t too bad!

How have your various day (and night) jobs (mom, librarian, teacher) shaped your writing?

It’s tough to find the time to write while also being a mom and having a day job, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I didn’t have the other stuff to pull me away, I would probably become a hermit, and I’d quickly run out of things to write about. Having other activities also gives me structure and helps me manage my time better. I can’t put off my writing because I don’t have the flexibility to do so; as a result, I am better about focusing during my allotted time than I probably would be otherwise. That said, whenever I have long breaks I love to dive into the world of my story, and it can be very difficult to surface again.

Describe your creative process – early mornings? late nights? Coffee? Tea? Whiskey?

My daughter goes to a full-time preschool/daycare, and I work in the afternoons/evenings, so morning has become my writing time. That works well since I’m freshest in the mornings. When I’m trying to get the words down, though, it can be fun to write very late at night when I’m too tired for my internal editor to surface. Some of my favorite lines have come out when I’ve been falling asleep at the keyboard, just letting the words pour out. Thank goodness I have mornings to revise with a wide-awake brain!

When writing, I always have water beside me, and I frequently have music — usually songs I’ve heard so many times that I barely notice them, but that I still enjoy. Eating gets in the way of my writing, so I’m not much of a snacker. Cats interfere, too, but they make good company, and mine needy so I let them stay. When sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram call to me, I use a special program that bans me from the internet. I work extra hard so I can earn that social networking time.

What books and/or authors have shaped you as a writer?

Honestly, I think every book I’ve ever read has shaped me in some way. They’ve widened my vocabulary and reinforced my school lessons on grammar and punctuation. The ones I enjoyed also taught me about story structure, voice, character-building, etc. The ones I didn’t enjoy taught me what not to do (or, at least, what doesn’t work for me). Reading has been especially helpful now that I’ve become a writer, since I read with a more analytical eye, trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and why.

How did you find your agent?

I had just begun querying my previous book when a popular writers’ blog mentioned an open call for Hen & Ink. I visited the website and liked what I found there, so I queried. I loved Erzsi’s enthusiasm during our email correspondence, and when she offered representation I was impressed by what her clients had to say about her, so I happily signed on.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently revising a young adult contemporary romance. The premise is under wraps for now, but I can say that I’ve enjoyed the book immensely and am looking forward to sharing it when the time is right.

If people are interested in learning more about your work, where can they find you?

I have a website at http://www.caryncaldwell.com. It has more information on my books, as well as a blog. I can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, among other sites (all of which are linked to on my website). I love to connect and hope to see you online!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/caryncaldwell

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorcaryncaldwell

Instagram: http://instagram.com/caryncaldwell

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Interview with Jessica Lee Anderson

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When I last visited with Jessica Lee Anderson, she was celebrating her first novel, Trudy, being plucked from the slush pile and winning the Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature. Four years later, Jessica is celebrating another creation – the birth of her beautiful daughter. Recently I caught up with Jessica and chatted with her about motherhood, creativity and managing your time.

 

What has changed in your life since the last time we chatted in 2010?

 

Forgive me for starting with a cliché, but wow, these years flew by! Since 2010, my young adult novel, Calli, released from Milkweed Editions, and I had the honor of presenting at several events like the Texas Book Festival, Austin Teen Book Festival, YAK Fest, and YAB Fest. I attended several writing retreats with an inspiring group of writers and worked on an assortment of manuscripts to include some work-for-hire projects. In 2013, I celebrated the most exciting of releases—my beautiful baby girl! 

 

Has being a mother changed you as a writer? If so, how?

 

My schedule has definitely changed the most. I write from home, so I revolve my writing around my daughter’s naps during the day and try to get some writing in after she goes to sleep in the evenings. Thirty minutes or an hour here or there can really add up. When I have childcare available, I head to a coffee shop for a short while. With time being so limited, it is easier to pass on watching those cute puppy videos on YouTube. One thing I’ve been trying to work on is eliminating that feeling of “writer’s guilt” (feeling guilty that I’m not writing when there is a down moment) so I can cherish this time with my little miracle. I also broke down and bought a smart phone to use technology to my advantage. 

 

What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?

 

My daughter usually takes her first nap around 9 a.m., so I try to get some plotting/brainstorming/goal setting time in and jump on the page for as long as I can (which can be as little as a twenty minutes or an hour plus). The same goes for the afternoon, and then I get about an hour or two of writing in after she falls asleep in the evening. Her nap schedule is constantly changing, so my “writing” workday changes too and consists of taking advantage of free moments when they’re available. While I haven’t been meeting my group regularly at coffee shops like I used to, I now periodically host writing workdays at my house. Fellow Coop-mate Carmen Oliver is coming over for a writing date this week!

 

You’ve written for all types of audiences. How does your writing process differ as your audience changes?

 

I enjoy writing for a variety of ages and like the challenge of writing sparse yet rich texts for younger readers as well as the challenge of developing characters, settings, plots, and dialogue in longer works for older readers. While I read my writing out loud when writing for older readers, I find this is critical when writing for younger readers. I agonize over word counts, vocabulary choices, and reading levels for this age group. This process can flow into how I write for older readers, so I often write longhand in a notebook to help avoid my internal editor from taking over.

 

What are you working on now?

 

I’m currently revising an early chapter book about a girl who experiences some surprises when she moves on a farm as well as working on a coming of age novel middle grade novel. 

 

Do you have any upcoming appearances or events?

 

I don’t know any specific details about my schedule yet, but I’ll be at the TLA annual conference this April and look forward to seeing many friends and making many new ones!

 

 

Please check-out Jessica’s website at http://jessicaleeanderson.com for more information. Jessica’s books are all available online or at your favorite indie bookseller!

 

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Interview with Janine Burgan

 

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Janine Burgan is a teacher and author that finds words delicious and the act of creating a story better than a meal in a Michelin starred restaurant. Recently Janine had a moment to answer some questions about creating art, both from a teacher’s and author’s perspective.

 

Where did you grow-up and where do you live now?

 

I grew up in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. After making my home in Indiana, the Pennsylvania Poconos, and Okinawa, Japan, I am right back where I started and am loving it.

 

How has where you live and have lived influenced your writing?

 

I write fiction, but I draw quite a bit of inspiration from the places I have lived or visited. I often find myself memorializing these places through setting. More importantly, though, they affect the ethos of my writing. Many of the themes found in my writing are inspired by my own experiences in these places. A love for adventure; the importance of family; grief and loss–these are an example of ideas have turned up in my writing. In this way, my writing is very connected to my experiences and the places I have called home. I may write fiction, but in an emotional sense, my stories are my memoir.

 

What is a normal “writing and teaching” workday like for you?

 

Right now, I am working to find a new pattern. After the arrival of my first child eight months ago, what was normal is now obsolete. I have gone from teaching composition at the university 2-3 days a week and filling the other days with grading papers, answering emails and fitting in my own writing, to snuggling with a little boy all day long. It was an abrupt and utter life-style shift. It’s wonderful, but at times I feel that my creative life and mind are lost to me. Recently, the answer to this has been to find a baby-sitter. I get a four-hour block to write each week, then I try to fill in a few more hours during naps or on the weekend. It’s refreshing to have this time devoted to writing again.

 

How has your career as a writing teacher shaped your career as a writer? 

 

As a writing teacher, I want my students to get to know their own idiosyncratic writing processes and to learn to use their process to their advantage. We talk about the act of writing–how writing begets more writing–and we free-write a lot. Over the years, I have realized that I need to take my own advice. Through my classes, I have learned to honor my own process. To let go of writing it right the first time. To just get words on the page–lots of words. To allow time for good ideas to grow and mature. I am my biggest critic and teaching writing has taught me that I need to turn that off. 

 

Who are your favorite writers and why?

 

Oh, wow. This list is certainly not exhaustive. I’ll name two contemporary and two no longer living.

 

JRR Tolkien–for his poetry; his rich characters; his world-building; his ability to spin a captivating plot while also addressing big moral questions; for, well, everything.

Lucy Maud Montgomery–for her charming characters and skilled world-building. So fanciful.

Grace Lin–Her books are full of charm. They are fun, funny, sweet and poignant all at once.

Maggie Stiefvater–Always exciting. Great balance of commercial and literary appeal. Rich characters and lots of tension.

 

 

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

 

Show up and be brave. By show up, I mean do the work. Sit at your desk or wherever you write, stop censoring yourself, and get something on the page. It probably won’t be glorious–a first draft rarely is–but it will give you something to work with. To do this, you have to be brave. A creative life is a vulnerable life. A writer must accept that criticism and rejection are part of the deal; otherwise, you will probably never write anything.

 

What are you working on now?

 

I have a few open projects right now, but most of my time is focused on a middle grade fantasy set in a world inspired by ancient Japan.

 

 

You can discover more about Janine Burgan by checking out her blog at http://www.firstnovelsclub.com.  

 

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Interview with Kate Banks

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Summer is over and everyone is home from their travels. But not Kate Banks, prolific and award-winning author for children and young adults. An expat for most of her adult life, Ms. Banks now lives near the Italian border in southern France. A few weeks ago, Ms. Banks and I had the opportunity to chat about her writing life and how her environment, be it Menton, France or Maine, USA, influences and impacts her writing. 

 

Where did you grow up and where do you live now?

 

I grew up in Maine and graduated from Wellesley College and Columbia University.  I worked in the children’s book department of Alfred A. Knopf, and at the National Geographic Society before moving to Rome in 1988 where I lived for 9 years.  Home is now in Menton, a small city close to the Italian border in southern France.

 

 

How has where you live and have lived influenced your writing?

 

As a child I was a keen observer of nature and wildlife, and growing up in Maine I had plenty of opportunity to spend time in the woods, at the seashore, in the mountains.  This dialogue with nature has accompanied me through adulthood and it’s an important theme running through many of my books.  THAT’S PAPA’S WAY, THE GREAT BLUE HOUSE, A GIFT FROM THE SEA all hearken back to experiences I had as a child.  I think that getting children to explore and engage in their natural habitat can help them to understand their place in the world, not only as residents, but as part of a big beautiful whole.

 

I’ve spent most of my adult life in Europe and meeting new people and seeing new things has been both challenging and inspiring.  The challenges have helped me grow as a person and that, in turn, has nurtured and instructed my writing.  Most of the settings for my stories come from places where I’ve lived or visited.  DILLON DILLON was my summer house in Camden Maine and FRIENDS OF THE HEART takes place in and outside of Rome.  THE CAT THAT WALKED ACROSS FRANCE details the journey of a cat from the Riviera north to Normandy.  And CITY CAT which is due out in November chronicles the journey of another cat—a stray– who follows a family on a European holiday. 

 

 

What is a normal writing workday like for you?

 

I have a loose routine in that I write for a few hours every morning.  Afternoons are devoted to my work as a therapist and healer.  I am a nomad and move from room to room in my house.  Sometimes I’ll go out and work at a coffee bar.  I always have notebooks in my bag and am ready to take down an idea or a thought wherever I am.  Oftentimes this happens at night and I’ll wake up and flick on the light just long enough to take a few notes.  My husband has long grown accustomed to this.  I write wherever I go—in airports, while on holiday.  New places and movement seem to keep the flow going. I usually have several projects in the works at any one time. I like to wake up and know that I don’t have to return to the same thing I was doing the day or days before.  I tend to get bored laboring over a single story week after week, month after month.  So I jump around a lot.  That enables me to distance myself from each project and go back to it again and again with a fresh eye.  And if I’m stuck on one project I put it aside and move on to something else.  If nothing works, then I play the piano, or try a new recipe.  I’m always planning future books and I have many ideas in the cupboard.  Some I put aside for months, even years.  Some may never be realized but that’s okay.  It’s all part of what I do.

 

 

As a successful writer of picture books, what do you think of the increasingly shorter word counts in picture books?

 

I remember about ten years back there was a push for longer picture books.  It didn’t last long.  I expect it will be the same with this trend.  I’ve written picture books with few words and with many words and I wouldn’t generalize about suitable length.  A story can be told in a few words or in many, but in a picture book there needs to be the right balance among illustrations, words, and the reader’s imagination.  I personally pay no attention to word count until a story is written.  And my experience is that a story usually finds its own length.  I also pay no attention to word count when I buy a book. 

  

 

Who are your favorite writers and why?

 

I grew up with Robert McCloskey’s books.  TIME OF WONDER took place near my summer house in Maine where we had blueberry fields just like Sal (BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL).  I loved Margaret Wise Brown’s THE RUNAWAY BUNNY and GOODNIGHT MOON.  Virginia Burton’ THE LITTLE HOUSE was a favorite as was MIKE MULLIGAN’S STEAM SHOVEL.  When I was able to read by myself I devoured the Mother West Wind Stories and THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS.  I love Thoreau and Wordsworth and Tolstoy and Chekov.   And I read a lot of science and medical literature for my work as a therapist.  

There are too many favorites to mention them all.  But what I respond to are books that demonstrate a sensibility to place and character and manage to convey a quiet wisdom.  Often beneath their words are the greater truths of our being—much bigger ideas than appear on the surface.  I find it almost magical when a book is able to speak to me beyond its boundaries of page and length. 

 

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

 

Aspiring writers should be readers.  Reading nurtures a sensibility to the tools of the trade—words and language–in the same way that a painter needs to be familiar with his palette and brushes.  Writers should also be familiar with their audience and have something to say to them.   Workshops and formal instruction can convey and refine technique. That said, the most important advice I can give to a writer is to find your own voice.  And that is more likely to be present in your inner world than anywhere outside of you.  For me, this required taking the time to sit quietly in a state of listening and receptivity—shutting out advice and chatter, and seeing what emerged from my own self.  I am struck by how these days we don’t seem to be able to do anything without coaching—from breathing and eating, to relationships and work.  There are so many people out there telling us how to live our lives, to be successful, happy, and on it goes. I, for one, think there’s something to be said about discovery and experience–allowing life to unfold on its own.  And I would apply this same philosophy to writing.  Be proactive, but don’t forget to take the time to sit back and just see what happens.  Because that’s the space of true inspiration and surprise.

 

What are you working on now?

 

I am currently working on a YA novel which originated from my work as a regression therapist.  I also have a few picture books ideas in the works in various stages. 

 

Where can your fans find you?

 

I am rarely in the States but when that happens I am available for book signings and school visits.  I also visit classrooms worldwide on SKYPE.  This fall I hope to be in New York and Boston in October.   My new picture book CITY CAT is out in November, and I urge you all to take a look at the trailer: 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6A9JMDF_HI&feature=youtu.be

 

 

 

You can find all of Kate’s books online or at your favorite local bookstore.

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Interview with Vicky Shiefman

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Vicky Shiefman fell in love with books and learning from her very first days at nursery school. From the start of her time at City and Country, a private school in suburban Detroit, she knew that education would shape her world as a child, as well as an adult. Fast forward years later and now Vicky is a teacher and published author specializing in children’s books and articles for the education market. Still moved by the themes of her early life, Vicky continues to teach, write and learn along with her students. Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Vicky about some of her favorite authors and her advice for writers just starting out.

 

Where did you grow-up and where do you live now? 

I grew up in Detroit, MI.  I now live in New York, NY.  

What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?  

It varies so much.  I rarely sit down at my desk unless I know approximately what I’m going to say.  When I’m stuck, I may go to the library or take a nap or go for a walk to go into that zone where I contact my unconscious.  Then I sit down and type away.

You’ve written for all types of audiences. How does your writing process differ as your audience changes?  

I have to picture a young child, if it’s a picture book or middle school kids I know or was if it’s upper middle grade and write or talk to those children or child.

I was a full-time teacher when I sold my first children’s book.  My second, M IS FOR MOVE, actually used many of the children in my first/second grade class in the photographs.  Did working with children of many more than 50 countries (I stopped counting years ago) change my writing?  Not as much in obvious ways as I would have thought. When I wrote about kids from other countries in my class, I only knew them in one way, as students, so the stories weren’t real enough but I do think they inspired me to want to write about immigrants (like my grandmother, my third book) and people going from one culture to another, something I had been interested in since college, where I majored in linguistics as part of anthropology.

Who are your favorite writers and why?  

Harriet Beecher Stowe her UNCLE TOM’S CABIN changed history for the better,  Jane Austen paints a very vivid and authentic picture of her little world, Naguib Mafouz  draws an amazing cast of characters in turn of the 20th century Egypt that draw you into his world and make you want to stay for more,  Rachel Kushner’s new book, THE  FLAMETHROWERS, is just amazing, Margaret Wise Brown created picture book little stories that will last forever, Sarah Dessen captures teenage angst and desire and oversensitivity perfectly, Ellen Hopkins excels in portraits with few works but deep feelings that right true, Ruth White is the best middle grade writer, such great characters and story telling that touch my heart, Meg Rosoff’s HOW WE LIVE NOW is close to perfect.

What advice would you give aspiring writers? 

It’s not easy to enter this field but if you really really really want to write for children, don’t let anything stop you.  Join SCBWI, go to conferences, workshops, critique groups, network, read, read, read, read, read, read.  It is possible.

What are you working on now? 

I’m working on a picture book about a turning point in a deservedly famous American’s life that hasn’t been told for young children. Another project is about a spiritual awakening of a girl about to have her Bat Mitzvah.

Be sure to check out Vicky’s website at www.vickyshiefman.com. All of Vicky’s books are available at your favorite online bookstore or an indie bookstore near you!

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Interview with Haley Gompertz

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It’s hard not to be impressed by a teenager as accomplished as Haley Gompertz. Already an award-winning published author, Haley, a full time high school student, fills in her very few leisure hours with writing and book signings. Recently I caught up with Haley and we chatted about her life, her influences and her plans for her bright future.

Where did you grow-up and where do you live now?

I’ve always lived here in Katy, Texas. I’ve never been out of the country before, but I have been to Louisiana and Florida, including all the states in between here and Florida.

What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?

I don’t usually commit a single day to writing, but when I have time or am motivated, I pull out my laptop and write. I usually go to my desk, set my laptop up, turn on some music, and open Word to start. I also usually bring a drink so I won’t have to leave the room for the sake of momentum.

Describe how you came up with the idea for your new book and the process you followed in creating the book.

Most of my ideas are thought up in my head and bounced off my family members, who are all very supportive. For my newest book, I wanted to do another spacey children’s book with some big meaning like Pluto’s Planet Problems, so after narrowing down my topic and bouncing ideas, I came up with the Mars Rovers. When I write children’s books, I usually start out with the script. With the basic idea in my head, I number off each page as I go along, consisting of the words only, so my creative flow when drawing can try different things out. Then after that, I can move to Photoshop and start on the pages. I draw up character sheets for the characters of the book and then start with page one in full color.

I haven’t published a novel, but when I do write, I have the same basic gist, except I usually draw before I write the story, often little scenes I’ve planned to happen, or just character references.

Who are your favorite writers and why?

I have a lot of favorite writers but if I had to choose my favorite, it’d be James A. Owen. His books are funny, smart, and very well thought out. He weaves fantasy, fairy tales, poetry, history, and real people together in his series, Chronicles of the Imaginarium and Geographica, to which I’m very devoted.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

My advice is to find time to write and be dedicated. That is one of my major issues with writing, since I am a big time procrastinator, so I think, if you can get over that, and actually dish things out, and then you’re on your way to writing! I’d also suggest letting people read it, but as a warning, do not give it to your parents or friends, for those people tend to tell white lies to make you feel better, even if they don’t exactly like your story. Perhaps a very honest or blunt friend, someone who will tell you what’s wrong.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m working on my new children’s book which I’m probably going to call Lonely Rovers. I’ve submitted the rough draft to the SCBWI conference to get critiqued from an illustrator, Peter Brown. I’m a bit nervous, but I think it’ll do okay.

Do you have any upcoming appearances or events?

I will be signing books at Blue Willow Bookstore on June 4th.

 

You can learn more about Haley and her books on her website at http://www.hayleygompertz.com/.

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Interview with Mary Dodson Wade

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With the western winter holidays behind us, we now look forward to the Chinese New Year. In early celebration of this auspicious event, Mary Dodson Wade has just released her new picture book, No Year of the Cat. The charming picture book is a retelling of the Chinese legend that explains why there is no cat in the Chinese zodiac. Recently Mary and I chatted about her writing, her influences and her advice to debutante writers.

 

Where did you grow-up and where do you live now?

 

I grew up in a small town in south Arkansas with one of those Mayberry-like childhoods. It could not have been better – stable home, loving parents who were respected in the community, opportunity to play outside with other kids with no fear of anything bad happening. Everybody in town knew everybody else, and if you got in trouble, your parents knew before you got home. Churches were on every corner. Although it was the Depression, the discovery of oil a few years before my father became superintendent of schools provided money for good schools – I took Latin in high school, and my mother taught Chemistry and Physics.

 

After getting my bachelor’s degree from Baylor University, major in English and minors in history and education, I taught a few years before getting married to Harold Wade. We spent 5 years in Cleveland, Ohio, before he took a job in Sharon, Massachusetts. I worked as an elementary librarian both places. We moved to Houston, Texas – Harold is a Texan after all, and we have lived here ever since. My last ten years as elementary librarian were in Fort Bend ISD. I had three published books when I retired and began to write full time. Harold’s career has taken him across the globe, and I have been fortunate to accompany him many of the times.

 

What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?

 

I have no normal “writing” day. I find it hard to sit for very long. I usually do something, perhaps as mundane as laundry, before I sit down to write, which may not come until evening. But even while doing that another activity; I may be rummaging around in my mind to work out something related to the current writing project – a turn of phrase, an elusive title, some logical action needed for the story. And I am always on the lookout for an interesting story I run across in whatever I’m reading.  

 

In addition to being a successful author, you also worked for many years as a librarian. How did your “day job” influence your writing?

 

The experience of being in the school library has proved invaluable to me as a writer. I wrote several of my Texas biographies because I knew that material was not available on the level my students would enjoy. In addition I learned about many things I would not have been acquainted with if the teacher had not assigned that subject or the student hadn’t had an interesting in knowing about it.

 

 

Who are your favorite writers and why?

 

My reading preferences run to no specific author, although I confess to being a John Grisham fan and I adore Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael series. Oh that I could create characters and a sense of place as Peters does! My favorite reading is first-hand accounts of historical events, treasures tucked away in special libraries and museums. They add incredible detail and poignancy to a story, never mind the ability to supply tension and drama for fiction plot lines.

 

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

 

For writers who are just starting, I repeat the well-known – there is no substitute for reading the genre you are writing, lots and lots and lots of them. A pattern of length, level of language no matter how different the books themselves, will emerge. In that respect, my experience as a librarian has been invaluable. A library card is indispensible to any writer!

 

Also invaluable is a connection with other writers. For me, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has been the organization that has helped me more than anything else in my journey as a writer. Fellow writers not only celebrate victories with you, they help you persevere when inspiration seems to vanish and inevitable rejections come.

 

And a cautionary tale for any writer – read the work out loud before submitting. I usually do that, but with my newest, No Year of the Cat, (Sleeping Bear Press, 2013) I changed some sentences at the last minute and didn’t read them aloud until I was doing a Power Point presentation of the art. As I prepared for the event, I kept tripping over three sentences on the second page. I actually had to practice reading my own work because I had gotten carried away with words on the page and not on the tongue!

 

            Mary’s books are all available for purchase online or at your local bookstore. Be sure to check-out Mary’s website www.marydwade.com for even more information about Mary and her wonderful books.

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Interview with Janice Hardy

                ImageAuthors of blockbuster novels can make crafting a story look so easy. To the public, a writer’s work day is made up of creating prose in a trendy coffee shop followed by a reading of that day’s work to adoring fans and closing with an impromptu autograph session. Writer’s block, critics and finger cramps are nonexistent. Then mere mortals (myself included) sit down to the computer and we discover the huge hurdle that exists between getting the book in your head onto the page in your hands. That’s why I was so ecstatic to chat with the talented and fabulous Janice Hardy. Ms. Hardy is not only is a gifted and bestselling author, but an amazing writing teacher as well. We talked about everything from her workday schedule to her advice for aspiring writers and everything else in between.

Please describe your route to writing and eventual publication.

I’ve written all my life, and I’d submitted several books to agents that all got rejected. Then one amazing weekend back in 2006, I attended the Surrey International Writers Conference and everything changed.  I was pitching my latest fantasy novel to agents there (which was rejected yet again), but during that conference I attended workshops that made me realize what I needed to do to push my writing to a professional level. I’d been in tears after a few particularly difficult workshops and meetings, but I came home inspired and determined and wrote what would become my debut novel, The Shifter.

I knew right away this novel was different. It just felt better than anything I’d ever written before, and even the querying process was easier. My goal at that time was to get one manuscript request. Getting an agent or getting published was still just a dream, and all I wanted was another step forward to prove I was making progress. Instead of the expected form rejections, I got requests for chapters, and then requests for full manuscripts. I’d never gotten that far before, so it was a personal victory for me. Out of eight queries sent, I ended up with four full manuscript requests.

That was right about the time of the next Surrey conference, so I went back to pitch The Shifter to agents. I had my terrifying ten minutes with literary agent Kristin Nelson, and she asked for the full manuscript. I was ecstatic. Ten days later she offered to represent me and I signed with her.

We went through several rounds of edits and polishing before she started submitting the novel to editors. Several were excited about the book, and in June 2008, I sold The Healing Wars trilogy to Donna Bray at Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins. Much screaming with joy ensued.

They myth is you need to know someone to get an agent and get published, but that’s not true. I was a slush pile query, and a blind pitch appointment. I didn’t know anyone in the business or have any real credits to my name. Like so many other writers, I have a thick file of form rejections (even a few from my own agent on previous books). With hard work, determination, and a little luck you can succeed.

What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?

I’m a morning person, so I’m up about 6am every day. I write from 7 to 11am on weekdays. When I’m on deadline I’ll write or edit in the afternoons, but those morning hours are when I’m the most productive. I also do marketing/social media tasks in the afternoons, and carve out about 30-45 minutes a day for that. Saturday mornings I save for my blog, and I write and schedule all the posts for the upcoming week. Sundays I take off.

In addition to being a successful author, you are also an awesome writing teacher. Do you have a specific philosophy or curriculum that you follow as a teacher? If so, please describe.

Thanks! When I was learning to write I read a lot of how-to books that told me what I needed to do, but never sufficiently explained  how I was supposed to do it. Sure, they told me to show, not tell, and to use strong nouns and verbs, but that wasn’t very helpful. I wasn’t clear on what showing vs telling looked like, so even though I knew what I had to do on one level, I didn’t get it enough to put it into practice. I also never knew if I was doing it right. It was frustrating to feel so close to understanding, but still missing something that would help improve my writing.

Eventually I figured it out, so now I strive to take those same things I struggled with and make it easier for other writers to understand. I hope to save them some of the frustration I went through and teach the how and why, not just the what. I use a lot of examples because I feel it’s easier to understand something when you can see it in practice.  I also do real life diagnostics on my blog, where writers send in a samples of their own work with questions about something they’re stuck on or unsure about, and I answer those questions as I critique the work. It’s part critique, part teaching tool. I used to just do them on Saturdays, but I get so many submissions I’ve been doing them on Sundays as well just to keep up.

Who are your favorite writers and why?

Harlan Ellison is my all-time favorite because I love his writing. There’s an immediacy and excitement to it that draws you in and holds you there. His voice is amazing and his word choice is unexpected and surprising. I’m also a big fan of Kathleen Duey, because her stories grab you and you have to know what happens next. She creates characters you really care about.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Read a lot, write a lot. Writing is a skill like any other, and to improve it helps to practice and study how other writers craft their stories. There’s a lot to learn, so take it one piece at a time and don’t pressure yourself to master everything at once. Oh, and first drafts always stink no matter who you are, so don’t worry when yours does. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. It just means you’re a writer.

What are you working on now?

A young adult fantasy about a deep-cover spy who gets caught between love and loyalty when she uncovers a plot to assassinate the boy she’s spying own.

Do you have any upcoming appearances?

The paperback for Darkfall, the third book of the trilogy, is out November 1. I’m also speaking at Olde City, New Blood on February 8 – 10, 2013 in St. Augustine, FL. It’s an intimate, new con for paranormal romance and urban fantasy.

Be sure to visit Ms. Hardy online at http://www.janicehardy.com/ . The Healing Wars trilogy is available at your favorite brick and mortar or online bookstore.

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Interview with Katy Huth Jones

The weather isn’t the only thing that is hot this August. Did you know that Texas was in the middle of an e-publishing heat wave? Authors by the score are publishing their work digitally to be read on Kindles, Nooks, computers and smart phones. E-publishing companies like Houston-based Kbuuk (www.kbuuk.com) are popping up as well. Recently I had the pleasure of chatting with author, Katy Huth Jones who burst onto the e-publishing scene with her young adult novel Leandra’s Enchanted Flute in January. We chatted about writing, favorite books and her next novel, Return to Finian Jahndra due out in February 2013.

Where did you grow-up and where do you live now?

I grew up as an Army “brat” with my Dad the Colonel and my artist Mom. I was born in Georgia and lived in 8 different states before finally settling in Texas the summer I turned 13.  I graduated from McAllen High School and went to college at Southwest Texas State (now Texas State) in San Marcos, majoring in music.  I’ve lived in Kerrville for 19 years. This town is very supportive of all the arts.

What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?

When I’m immersed in a novel, I can write for hours and totally lose track of time, even forgetting to eat meals.  Since my first novel was published as an ebook in January, part of each day involves “marketing” with time spent making contacts on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Pinterest.  Generally I try to write every day, even if it’s just a partial scene or a poem.  Writing is like a “muscle”—it must be exercised regularly or one gets flabby.

You’ve written for all types of audiences. How does your writing process differ as your audience changes?

With magazines, I read several issues to get a “feel” for the style and subject matter, because each one requires a different approach.  For fiction, especially for children and young adults, I draw on the girl that I was and the child that still lives inside me.  Often she leaks out, and adults I know who have forgotten their inner child are not particularly comfortable around me.  My office makes neat freaks crazy but the colorful clutter inspires me.

Who are your favorite writers and why?

San Antonio author Rick Riordan is my favorite because I love his fantastic imagination and energy, and because he a genuinely nice person.  And the older I get the more I appreciate Jane Austen and her marvelous ability to observe people and create memorable characters.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

The mechanics of writing can be taught, but the intangibles of writing must be absorbed by voracious reading.  So many young people expect to “make big money” as an author.  Most of us only supplement our day jobs (I play flute and piccolo in a symphony and teach private lessons) and will never be a “best-selling author.”  A writer must be persistent above and beyond common sense.  And learn to accept an editor’s constructive criticism on every manuscript.  All of that being said, I wouldn’t give up writing even if I never published another piece.  It’s as important as breathing to me.  And more important than eating.

What are you working on now?

I just finished the sequel to Leandra’s Enchanted Flute, which was published in ebook format by Cool Well Press, Inc.  Hopefully it will be out in both digital and print formats in the fall.  Now I’m going back to finish part two of an epic fantasy I began last year.  I’m writing it as one long story, just as Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings, but it will eventually turn into four separate books.  The first one is over 400 pages, and part two will be at least that long.

What’s next for Katy Huth Jones?

I’m already excited for the February 2013 release of Return to Finian Jahndra! Look for it on www.coolwellpress.com and www.katyhuthjones.com.