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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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Gift Ideas from Texan Authors and Illustrators

It’s December and the holiday season is upon us whether we like it or not. Here’s an easy way to knock some of those items off your “To-Do” list. Celebrate the wealth of artistic talent in Texas by buying books created by Texan authors and illustrators. You’ll find something perfect for both the kids and grown-ups on your list. Here is a small sampling of books that are available in your local bookstores or favorite online bookseller.

 

Books for Children 4-8 years

Merry Christmas, Merry Crow by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Jon Goodell
Celebrate the holidays with an industrious crow as it flies through a small town gathering bits and pieces to decorate its own outdoor Christmas tree.

 

Santa Knows by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman
Every younger brother or sister will enjoy this original tale of a nasty older brother who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus and is proven wrong in the end. Sibling revenge fantasies aside, parents will also be relieved to discover a few “scientific” facts to support the existence of Santa Claus.
 

 

Three Bears’ Christmas by Kathy Duval, illustrated by Paul Meisel
In this twist on the Goldilocks tale, Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear go on a walk at Christmastime through the snowy woods in order to pass the time until their gingerbread has cooled off enough to eat. When the Bear family returns, they are surprised to find the gingerbread eaten, chairs broken and bed covers rumbled. Kids will love discovering the clues the Bears’ mysterious guest leaves behind.
 

 Gingerbread Man Superhero! by Dotti Enderle, illustrated by Joe Kulka
Another traditional tale with a holiday twist! As the oven door opens, Gingerbread Man leaps out, shouting "Flour Power"! Then the cookie crusader takes off to save the world and sweet adventures commence!
 

Moose and Magpie by Bettina Restrepo, illustrated by Sherry Rodgers

It isn’t easy growing-up – even for a moose. Luckily Moose has his good friend Magpie to help. Kids will love the jokes while learning interesting animal facts.

Books for Tweens and Teens

Front Page Face-Off by Jo Whittemore
Twelve-year-old Delilah James is a top reporter at Brighton Junior Academy. Her biggest ambition is to become a Junior Global Journalist. But when a new girl moves in, steals her crush and takes over in the newsroom, Delilah must turn to an unlikely ally for help.

 

Trudy by Jessica Lee Anderson
Trudy hates math, doesn’t understand her best friend anymore and then suddenly her dad starts acting strange. In this heart-wrenching drama, Trudy discovers her own strength by working through the seemingly insurmountable troubles in her life.

The Emerald Tablet by P.J. Hoover
In this first book of the trilogy, Benjamin and his best friend Andy adore their unique psychic gifts. But when Benjamin’s mirror starts talking, they realize their abilities are more than just tricks and games.

My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson
When scholarship student Rhonda is forced to tutor beautiful and popular Sarah in trigonometry, she discovers Sarah has a secret that for Rhonda is all too familiar

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Shadow by Jenny Moss
If you are tired of vampires, don’t miss this fairy tale/ fantasy /romance that will leave you wanting more!

Dreaming Anastasia by Joy Preble
Anne’s life is turned upside down when she discovers her dreams of Baba Yaga and the Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov are true.
 


Books for All Ages

 

A Christmas Carol Pop Up, illustrated by Chuck Fischer, paper engineering by Bruce Foster
Charles Dickens’s timeless fable, A Christmas Carol: A Pop-Up Book features artist Chuck Fischer’s richly painted depictions of the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, brought to life in intricate pop-up scenes by paper engineer Bruce Foster.

 Our Shadow Garden by Cherie Foster Colburn
A heart warming story illustrated by children who are battling cancer. When ordered through www.childrensart.org, 100% of the profit goes to M. D. Anderson Hospital.

Voices of the Alamo by Sherry Garland, illustrated by Ronald Himler
Through prose and paintings, this book captures the many cultures–Spanish, Tejano, Texan, Mexican, and American–of the people who lived on the land that became Texas.


Art From Her Heart: Folk Artist Clementine Hunter by Kathy Whitehead, illustrated by Shane Evans
The story of Clementine Hunter, who overcame prejudice, poverty, and hard times to create art that is celebrated around the world.

 

 Happy Holiday’s everyone! Wishing you and your family the most peaceful of new years!

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Interview with Jessica Lee Anderson

For a manuscript to be published after being plucked from an editor’s slush pile is the Hollywood equivalent of an actor being discovered in a laundromat. Everyone dreams that it might happen, but it’s an occurrence as rare as winning the lottery. Except that is if you’re Texas author Jessica Lee Anderson. Not only was her first novel, Trudy, chosen from the slush pile, it also won the Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature. Multiple books and articles later, Jessica is now a full-time author and one of the founding members of the Texas Sweethearts. Recently Jessica took some time to visit about moving to Texas, her favorite writers and advice to those of us starting out on our creative journey.

What brought you to Texas?

I was born in Phoenix, Arizona, although my family didn’t stay there long. My father served in the Air Force and we soon moved to Texas. Honolulu, Hawaii was our most exotic station. I’ll never forget the excitement of winning a hula competition.  Those who know me now would never guess I had that kind of coordination.

Why are you a writer?

I’m obsessed with words and stories!

When we moved to San Antonio, Texas, I missed the Aloha State, but books served as a great distraction. Around that same time, I wrote my first book, Fuzzy the Fox. I tried to write my first novel in high school. The story had a strong beginning and a promising ending, but the middle of the book ruined it all. Even though the book was not a success, the experience taught me much about the writing process, especially about revision. In college, I took a children’s literature course that inspired me to write books for children and teens. I eventually went on to graduate from Hollins Universitywith an M.A. in children’s literature.

Describe your road to publication.

I desperately wanted to get published, so I feverishly researched books (like Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market), magazines, and message boards (including Verla Kay’s). I’d read somewhere that craft articles are in high demand and a great way to break into print. I followed this advice—my first sales were craft articles to children’s magazines. Meanwhile, I continued working on my first novel, attended SCBWI conferences, and studied children’s literature at Hollins University. Trudy was pulled from the slush pile at Milkweed Editions (which went on to win the Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature). I continue to read blogs, boards, and books to stay current. 

Who are your favorite authors and why?

There are so many authors I respect and adore—I could go on and on! Judy Blume is one of my favorite authors because she’s a daring writer, and she’s such an intellectual freedom advocate. My fellow Texas Sweethearts, Jo Whittemore and P.J. Hoover, are also favorite authors because they create unique and unforgettable tales. They’re both talented and incredibly kind and generous. 

What advice would you give aspiring authors?

The goal of getting published often feels elusive and overwhelming, so I would encourage aspiring authors to set small, achievable goals (like signing up for a writing course, finding a critique group, researching markets, reading new books, etc.). Since it may be years before a manuscript is published, accomplishing small goals feels rewarding.

Jessica’s next novel, Calli, will be published by Milkweed Editions in 2011. To learn more about Jessica please visit her website at www.jessicaleeanderson.com. You can find her books online or at your favorite local bookstore.

This interview was also published in the print version of THE HOUSTON BANNER, June 2010.