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Interview with Kathi Appelt

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Texan author Kathi Appelt is an award-winning writer of over thirty books. She writes poetry, novels and picture books. Her first novel, The Underneath, was a National Book Award Finalist and a Newbery Honor winner .In addition to her writing, Ms. Appelt is an amazing teacher and mentor for writers around the world. Recently, I caught up with Kathi and we chatted about her advice for writers and which artists inspire her own work.

 

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

 

I grew up in Houston, graduated from Spring Branch High School, and then moved to College Station to go to school. With the exception of a stint in Iowa and a year in Dallas, I’ve lived in College Station every since.

 

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

 

Oh how I wish I had a “normal” writing day. I’ll just say that I write a lot, but not every single day.

 

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

 

I work hard to always have my audiences in the back of my mind; however I’m not sure that the age of the audience affects my process of writing. That seems to be pretty much the same across the board. Which means that every story starts out a mess and then after revising, revising and revising again, it somehow turns into a real story.

 

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

 

Not really a specific curriculum except to read like crazy, and then write like even crazier. I also really encourage my students to turn to their hearts. That’s where I think they’ll find the most inspiration for their stories.

 

Who are your favorite writers and why?

 

I’m particularly fond of Cynthia Rylant for the ways that she can turn a phrase. And I love Toni Morrison for her courage. I’m also a fan of Mary Oliver’s for the honesty of her work.  

 

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

 

See above: read, read, read; write, write, write.

 

What are you working on now?

I’m finishing up a middle grade story that will be out sometime in 2013. The title hasn’t been set yet, so you’ll just have to wait with me to find out what it’s going to be called.

 

Do you have any upcoming appearances or events you’d like me to publicize?

 

Not until October when I’ll be in Wisconsin for an SCBWI event. Folks can check my website for upcoming events.

All of Kathi’s books are available for purchase either online or at your favorite local bookstore. Check out her website www.kathiappelt.com/ for more information about her books and upcoming events.

Picture Books

The Top Holiday Books by Texans – Yeehaw!

It’s almost 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. I promise you’ll find something perfect for all the kids on your list!

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.

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.

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!

A Christmas Carol Pop Up, 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.

Rocky Mountain Night Before Christmas by Joe Gribnau and Salima Alikham                When Santa loses his voice and all the reindeer get sick it is up to the tiny calf Sugar Lump and his cow friends to pull the sleigh and save Christmas.

Librarian’s Night Before Christmas by David R. Davis and Jim Harris                                      A hard working librarian is surprised by Santa who with the help of his elves cleans up the library and puts away the books in a blink of an eye.

Christmas Kitten, Home at Last by Robin Pulver and Layne Johnson                                Santa and Mrs. Claus worry about what do with Cookie, a homeless kitten. Unable to keep the kitten themselves (Santa is allergic!), they luckily find a perfect home for a very special kitty.

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

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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 Debbie Gonzales

February marks the Year of the Tiger according to the Chinese calendar. Tradition promises that 2010 will be a year of action and change. One author who embodies all of the positive Tiger characteristics is Debbie Gonzales. Between writing books, maintaining her creative website and organizing events with the Austin chapter of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators), Debbie is always in motion. Recently I visited with Debbie about inspiration, discipline and the craft of writing.

Where did you grow up?

As a child I transferred all over the United States with my father’s business. I’ve lived in California, Arkansas, Texas, Colorado, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. But I proudly call Texas my home! I was born in El Paso and have spent most of my years in the Dallas area. I love the Lone Star State. There’s no place like it.

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

Here is where I struggle. Because I am working hard to build a new career as a freelance writer, most of my time is spent working on projects for my beloved clients. I craft teacher guides, design curriculum, teach creative writing workshops, annotate lessons with state academic standards, and work on web copy. I also have several other academic projects in the queue. All that to say, I have to be ultra-determined to chisel out time for my creative work. So, a normal day, you ask? It’s up at 5:00 for an hour of creative work. And then, from 8:30 until 4:00 it is all about my business. After spending some evening time with my sweet hubby, I might sneak back to my desk and crawl back into my fiction for a few hours before calling it a great day.

Where do you get your inspiration?

From my well over 35 years of working with children. I have had the privilege of working with kids from ages 2 to 20; troubled kids, rich kids, poor kids, funny, silly, and sad kids. I’ve been able to experience the drama of life while sided up, shoulder top shoulder with the finest people on this Earth…kids! Most of what I have written about has been pulled directly from an experience or observation I have had with a child. I truly consider myself to be blessed with such riches.

Who are your favorite writers and why?

When I first began this journey, my favorite authors were those that I felt moved children, especially kids that were reluctant to read (What a joy it is to witness a child’s first delight in reading independently!) Jerry Spinelli can get a kid to read. So can Louis Sachar, Lois Lowry, Mildred D. Taylor, and Marion Dane Bauer, to name a just a few.

Of late, because I have the honor of getting to know some the finest writers in the nation, I have come to love not only the amazing work of a number of contemporary authors, but appreciate their personal demeanor, as well. I am truly grateful for the incredible selflessness of so many talented and successful writers who play a huge role in the success of countless fledging authors. Off the top of my head, to list some of my current favorites Kathi Appelt, Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, Stephanie Green, Nancy Bo Flood, Liz Garton-Scanlon, Uma Krishnaswami, Rita-Williams Garcia, Deb Wiles, John Dufrense, and Jane Kurtz come to mind at this moment.

Tell us about your books and what you are working on.

In addition to the Gilt Edge Early readers, I have two completed middle grade novels that I am quite serious about publishing, ALIEN ALL-STAR and BEAR MOUNTIAN.

Both novels have had a wee bit of buzz, and after yet another rewrite, maybe they’ll find a home with a nice publisher. I won’t stop working on them until they do.

Describe your website. (It’s so cool!)

“Simple Saturday” is a direct result of my years, and years, and years of working with kids. The premise is to weekly present a variety of inexpensive, simple, yet entertaining activities for families to enjoy together. That’s it. In addition to books reviews, and posting teacher activity guides, I include all kinds of things to do…magic tricks, art and science activities, anything and everything…simple pastimes intended to bring families together for some low cost fun. The way it works is that on Friday I post the materials needed to make Saturday’s activity. A step-by-step, tongue-in-cheek, description of the activity is posted early on Saturday morning, complete with goofy pictorial shots of my husband demonstrating some of the steps. Honestly, the response to my blog has been astounding! Truly, I post on Saturday morning and just watch the page view counter soar. Wow! I am having fun with the website, and it seems lots of other folks are enjoying it, as well. Come by and see me at http://www.debbiegonzales.com and join in the simple-and-sometimes-very-silly fun!

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Find a community of writers. Surround yourself with people who are serious about the craft. Let me repeat…serious about the craft. Craft, first. Publishing second. Work on your skills. Hone them while keeping your eye on the prize. Also, actively participate in the larger community of writers. Volunteer to help with your local SCBWI group. Establish a critique group. Become involved in whatever ways your schedule will allow you to do. Stay positive and always move forward. When you do, I believe that is when the good stuff happens. Keep writing. Don’t stop. Support others, and they will happily support you.

In February I will be assuming the role as Regional Advisor for the Austin SCBWI Chapter. We already have so many great events planned for 2010. I’d like to encourage your readers to check out our website at http://www.austinscbwi.com to keep abreast of the great things happening in Austin, Texas. Y’all come join us! We’d love to see you.

Are you a author or illustrator with a recently published book? Any questions or comments? Please contact Melissa at melissaburon@yahoo.com or visit her blog Book Addict at http://melissaburon.livejournal.com.

This interview also appeared in the Houston Banner newspaper.

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Interview with Varsha Bajaj

January is for new beginnings. After spending a few years overseas, I have an immense respect for people who pack a bag, get on a plane, and begin again in a new country and culture. One award winning Texan writer did just that. Varsha Bajaj left India in 1986 to attend graduate school in the United States. Now more than twenty years later, Varsha is an American citizen, wife, mother and successful author. I caught up with Varsha recently and visited with her about families, perfume and the craft of writing.

Where did you grow up?
My story begins in Mumbai, India. My slice of Mumbai in the early 1960s was a
rambling house built in the 1930s surrounded by coconut, guava and beetle nut
trees. I was raised in a joint family; my father’s parents and his
sister lived with us.

My father and grandfather were perfumers and sampling strips of sandalwood
and jasmine were always being sniffed and perfected. Making perfumes became a
part of my imaginative play. Didn’t everyone make perfumes of dirt, crushed
flowers and pebbles?

What made you want to become a writer?
I have always loved books and reading. As a teenager I considered becoming a journalist, and dabbled in poetry to express my teenage angst. (Isn’t that mandatory?) I didn’t consider becoming a writer until much later in life. I guess the possibility of making a living as a writer didn’t seem real. I trained and worked as a therapist for several years. I began writing after I had children and started reading to them. The amazing picture books I read to them inspired my own creativity.

What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?
I try to “write” for at least two hours several days a week. This does not include time spent in doing research, brain storming, reading writing related blogs etc. There are times when I write for much longer, it happens when I am in the thick of a project and the ideas and words are flowing especially freely. I wish I was more disciplined about writing schedules, but life can get in the way.

Where do you get your inspiration?
I get inspired by my kids, by the headlines, by my memories, and by issues that are important to me.

Who are your favorite writers and why?
Among picture book writers I admire Mary Ann Hoberman, Doreen Cronin, Jane O’Connor, Kevin Henkes and Kathi Appelt among others. They make picture book writing seem easy and effortless while it truly is one of the most difficult things to do. I equate writing picture books to writing poetry.
I love the magic of Kate DiCamillo’s stories, the simplicity of Jeanne Birdsall’s Penderwick books and Beverly Cleary’s adventures. I would have loved Sarah Dressen as a teen. Her characters are so real. I enjoy Houston writer, Dotti Enderle’s Fortune Tellers Club series. Austin’s Cynthia Leitich Smith introduced me to the world of vampires with her paranormal books set in Texas.
There are so many writers and books that I love, I could go on and on. So many books. So little time….

What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Read, Read, Read. Read and study as many books as you can. The road to publication is paved with rejection, so be strong and be patient. And become a member of SCBWI (www.scbwi.org) if you write for children.

If you want to learn more about Varsha, please visit her web site: http://www.varshabajaj.com. She is the author of the award-winning book, How Many Kisses Do You Want Tonight. Sleeping Bear Press will will publish her latest book T is for Taj Mahal: An India Alphabet Book, in September 2010.

This interview first appeared in the HOUSTON BANNER newspaper.