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 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 Bethany Hegedus

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Most writers long for a dedicated space to write. Some are lucky to have an office. Others make do with the kitchen table or a nook in the laundry room. Author Bethany Hegedus does us all one better – she has a complete barn. Located in Austin, The Writing Barn is a space especially designed for writers and artists to study and work on their craft. Recently I caught up with Bethany and we chatted about the Writing Barn, books and her advice for unpublished writers.

Tell us about what led you to writing and your road to publication.

Ah, the rocky road to publication. Whether it’s a long one or a short one, it all feels uphill as a writer is pursing publication. It can feel uphill after publication, too, but instead of complaining about those darn hills, I try to focus on the writer muscles that are being developed during those apprentice years. Being able to hear “no” and not let it stop our creative selves from exploring and continuing to work, is the muscle that gets developed the most in those early years. When I first began writing seriously, I had wanted to be published within a year. I didn’t know that was unrealistic. Later, I heard Stephanie Owens Lurie, now Editor at Disney Hyperion, say on average it takes about ten years. I began writing in 99 and my first book, Between Us Baxters, came out in 2009 and my second novel Truth with a Capital T in 2010. So ten years was the magic number for me.

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The Writing Barn

 

How did the Writing Barn start? What has been the most exciting thing that has happened so far?

The Writing Barn is the dream I never knew I had and it all happened because I moved to Austin and met and later married my life’s partner who had an incredible 7.5 acres in Austin, where a once working horse barn sat at the back of the property. When I met my husband, he was in the middle of transforming the house on the property into a retreat workshop space for yoga and Sanskrit, which he studies but when we got serious and marriage was in the picture I said, the house should be the house and the Barn, which was to be my office, could be a workshop and retreat center. So we got to work. Or rather our contractor did. We opened in January of 2012 and have grown so much in what we offer in terms of programming, parties, book launches—it’s amazing. The most exciting thing that has happened so far has been hosting the authors and illustrators affiliated with the Texas Book Festival for a welcome party, which included such incredible authors as the new Newbery winner Katherine Applegate and picture book gods Jon Scieszka, Adam Rex, and Bob Shea, and Austrialian author Garth Nix. Oh, and Lisa McMann and Paulo Bacigalupi. The other is the Advanced Writer Weekend Worksops we’re doing. Our April workshop with National Book Award nominee, Sara Zarr, had 32 applicants for 20 workshop spaces. Sara arrives in two weeks and I can’t wait to serve as her teaching assistant and welcome our guests from Texas and out-of-state.

How do you find balance between your writing life and your Writing Barn duties?

Balance? What’s that? Just kidding, I do find that while my writing life and Writing Barn life may not be balanced all the time they do feed one another. When I need a break from drafting, I work on the programming and marketing of the Barn. When there is a big event at the Barn it takes precedence, but with writers coming to write, retreat, workshop and create I am always fed artistically in conversations and in knowing the space is being used creatively by others. I love hearing what retreat guests have to say about how the space allowed them to open up and get hard work done in a serene space.

Who are the writers that inspire you and why?

Sara Zarr is one, which is why I asked her to come teach at the Barn. There is no one better in contemporary realistic fiction and I am excited to hear her lecture on emotional pacing and to read her latest novel, The Lucy Variations. Another, is a writer I am in talks about coming to teach next year. Rebecca Stead. Her voice and her characters are succinct and surprising.

What tips would you give to aspiring writers?

Firstly, that becoming a novelist or a picture book author takes time. My latest book, Grandfather Gandhi, which I co-wrote with Arun Gandhi, grandson to the Mahatma, comes out early next year. I began the project when I was 27 and Arun was 67. When it hits the shelves I will be 41 and Arun 81. I may have been frustrated with the years spent drafting the book, revising, and revising, the near misses at publication and then the contract offer and wait for the illustrator assignment and illustrator vision to be fully realized but I recently saw the final online galleys and the book is a thing of beauty. It’s much more than I could have hoped for in terms of vision and impact and I wouldn’t change one frustrating moment.

Secondly, it’s always, always about craft. A writer must study, read, take classes, participate in workshops, listen to lectures, talk to other writers. Good writers never stop learning and they never stop producing. That’s why I began the Advanced Writer Weekend Workshops to give those who are agented or published, or on the verge of being agented or published a place to go to continue to do the nitty, gritty work of sharpening the tools in our writer toolbox.

What’s next for the Writing Barn?

We have a book release party coming up in May for Ball, written and illustrated by Mary Sullivan. It’s going to be a wonderful day of books, dogs, balls, and a fundraiser for Austin Pets Alive. We’re looking forward to having many writers and writers groups retreat with us this summer and come fall we’ll be hosting the Texas Book Festival Kid Lit Authors & Illustrators again and we’re currently accepting applications for our November workshop with Francisco X. Stork. Slated to be with us in 2014, is agent and author Ammi Joan Paquette and hopefully Rebecca Stead.

You can learn more about Bethany Hegedus and the Writing Barn at http://www.thewritingbarn.com/. Bethany’s books are also available at your favorite online or brick and mortar bookstore.

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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 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.

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Interview with Diane Gonzales Bertrand

Growing up in Houston, my summers were split between the cool quiet of the library and the crazy heat of the neighborhood pool. Now I’m a parent and following the same schedule, this time with my children in tow. Recently I caught up with Diane Gonzales Bertrand an author whose books populate both the children and adult section of our public library. A native of San Antonio, Diane is the Writer-in-Residence for St. Mary’s University in addition to her successful publishing career.

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

Born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, I grew up in the Woodlawn Lake neighborhood where my parents still live. St. Mary’s University, where I teach, is just up the road from the lake, and my house is about ten minutes away. One of my favorite pastimes is to walk the path around the lake for both exercise and inspiration. We Gonzales children spent many summer days there feeding the ducks, trying to build rafts to successfully sail the shallow lake, playing softball in the grass, and swimming in the public pool nearby. Characters in my imagination, especially characters who are children, often talk louder in my head when I am walking the lake. I know the inspiration comes from my own memories there.

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

Since 1988 when I actively started to work toward getting published, I learned to “steal” time to write. While my children napped, or if I sat in a car waiting for their activity to be done, or if the children went to the zoo with their grandparents, I took advantage to write at the computer or with my notebook. When my children left for college, I wrote in longer stretches at the computer. However, I write long hand in my notebooks on a daily basis because I write with my college students, drawing inspiration from the writing prompts I give them. Many of my stories, poems, and novels develop first in a notebook.  hen I take the mornings of days I don’t teach and skim the notebooks for projects I want to expand with a concrete group of readers in mind.  Because I also help my elderly parents as a driver for their errands, I find myself lately “stealing” time in doctors’ waiting rooms, but also get inspired when they tell me about their childhoods during the drive.

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

I am grateful to be a poet as well as a writer for children. The precision of choosing language, creating imagery, and determining line breaks in writing poetry helps me rethink word choices, sentence structure, punctuation, and ways my words can inspire illustrations by the artist in a picture book manuscript.  When I write for older children and teens, I have to been keenly aware of authentic dialogue, gender differences, and cultural attitudes that motivate my characters to make decisions, get active or stay passive, and learn from their peers or their own mistakes instead of relying on an adult to “fix” a problem. Preaching is never an option in writing for children and teens, so I am grateful I have a group of writer friends who read my manuscripts-in-progress and give me critical feedback so that “Diane the Mom” doesn’t interfere with plot and characterization.

In addition to being a successful author, you are also an award-winning writing teacher and writer-in –residence at St. Mary’s University. How do you balance all of your different roles?

I balance roles by having an incredible support system. From my great husband Nick, who makes sure my computer works well or drives me to author’s appearances so I don’t feel so lonely in hotel rooms when I travel, to my parents who helped with the children, or to my friends, siblings, and relatives who tell others about my books.   deeply appreciate my two children, Nick G. and Suzanne, who were intuitive editors and critics when I first started writing for children, and even now at 23 and 25 still discuss plot and characterization with me and help me find a realistic and authentic way to tell a story I struggle to express.

Who are your favorite writers and why?

My favorite writer is the author whose book I am currently reading!

I am a fan of William Shakespeare, Dr. Seuss, and Poet Shel Silverstein. I was inspired to begin writing seriously about my own cultural influences after I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison, and Carmen Tafolla in graduate school. Because of speaking at library conferences, I have had a chance to meet many children’s authors who work hard, inspire others, and always had a friendly word to share with less experienced authors or writers new to the business. I have never forgotten the kindness of writers like Pat Mora and Naomi Shihab Nye in advising me when I first published my books. They taught me to always keep my own artistic needs in mind no matter how busy I am, to be willing to negotiate for a fee a school or library can afford, and to never compromise my values in order to get published.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Writing is a solitary venture, but writing with plans to publish needs a network to support you both professionally and personally. Join a local writer’s group where you can meet other writers to give you critical feedback on your manuscripts, and where you can learn to offer kind, diplomatic feedback on their work too. Join a national group like SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) to learn about the business of becoming an author and go to conferences where you can meet editors and agents and network with other writers too. Try to squelch the jealousy monster when another writer gets published and you don’t.  Bitter feelings stifle creativity. Take a long walk to grumble alone and then “let it go.” Once a manuscript is in the mail, start a new project to take the sting out of rejection and to keep your skills and artistry at their best.

What are you working on now?

I am currently compiling my poetry for a small book to be published by Pecan Grove Press, a small poetry press at St. Mary’s University where I work.  I am working on a short story collection for teens, and hope to have enough stories written to submit the book in 2013.

And I’ve written several picture book manuscripts that are currently circulating among book companies looking for a “home.”

Do you have any upcoming appearances or events?

In July I am presenting a novel writing workshop for the southwest chapter of SCBWI. In the fall I will be promoting my new book Sofia and the Purple Dress in bookstores in San Antonio and Laredo. I am also one of the speakers for the Texas Association of Bilingual Educators Conference October 24-26 2012 here in San Antonio.

You can Diane Gonzales Bertrand’s books at your favorite local bookstore or online.
This interview was also printed in the August 2012 Houston Banner newspaper.

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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.

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Interview with M.G. King

When M. G. King was growing up in southern Indiana on the Ohio River she fantasized about being like her public librarian and driving a rusty bookmobile through snow. And if she managed to chase off neighborhood bullies so children could check out her books, all the better. Inspired by her bookmobile dreams, M.G. penned the picture book Librarian on the Roof! that tells the true story of Rose Aleta Laurell, the brave librarian who climbed the fifty-foot roof of the oldest library in Texas. Ignoring vertigo and violent Texas weather, Ms. Laurell spent a week on the roof , collecting over $40,000 in donations to improve the children’s section and to bring computers and public internet access into her rural, bilingual community. Recently I caught up with M.G. and we discussed her writing schedule, her inspirations and advice for new authors.

 

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

I grew up in southern Indiana, scooping up minnow in mayonnaise jars out of the Ohio River. Now I live in the Piney Woods just north of Houston, Texas, among flocks of house-trim eating woodpeckers.

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

I wake up at 4 am. No joke! Without an alarm, almost every day. I try to write at least 500 words before everyone else gets up. By seven everyone is tromping through the house searching for sneakers and homework, the phone starts ringing, and the dog is begging for a walk. Productivity goes downhill from there. Sometimes the muse hangs on for longer. I can get so focused on the story in front of me that I tune out everything else and I don’t even need to eat. That happens a couple times a year. Right now, writing is mostly a hard slog between interruptions. But that’s a deliberate choice — my kids are at the age where they still think it’s fun to have mom around. I don’t want to miss out. All too soon, I’ll have more time to focus on writing.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Being with my kids and their friends helps me see the world from their point of view — what they find funny or frightening or fascinating. I also read widely. Fiction, nonfiction, every genre, every age range. The world is filled with ideas and words and images, all waiting to be turned into stories.


What has been your biggest writing challenge?

I’ve learned a lot about failure. Traditional publishing is a highly competitive business, and every step is paved with more “nos” than “yeses.” Every day is a choice to give up or work harder. I choose to write because there is joy in creativity, even when there are no guarantees.

Who are your favorite writers and why?

 

Too many to name! Recent favs would include the whimsical Ingrid Law (Savvy, Scumble); for boys, I adore Gary D. Schmidt (Wednesday Wars, Okay for Now) — his prose is funny and honest, and doesn’t condescend to flat stereotypes. I love the poetic style of Kate DiCamillo, and the intelligence of Trenton Lee Stewart (The Mysterious Benedict Society series).

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Read a lot. Read out loud. Hear the way the words flow, or don’t flow. Write even more. The American crime writer John D. MacDonald was credited with the famous statement that you have to write a million words to find your own unique voice.


What are you working on now?

 

I love to dabble in both picture books and novels for tweens. Right now I’m working on a seaside puzzle mystery (think The Westing Game, with sand and sapphire crabs) and a picture book biography for math lovers.

Do you have any upcoming appearances or events?

Not right now. I’m wrapping up school and Skype visits for the year, and hunkering down to focus on my writing for awhile. You can always find me on my website www.mgking.us/.

M.G. King’s books are available either in local bookstores or any online bookseller.

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Interview with Kathy Duval

Ready or not the holiday season is upon us! Halloween is here, Thanksgiving is on the horizon and the specter of Christmas has been with us since the stores started putting up their holiday displays in August. Recently I had the pleasure of chatting with Houston author Kathy Duval. Kathy has written two picture books The Three Bears' Christmas and The Three Bears' Halloween that are a perfect for this time of year. During her virtual visit, Kathy and I discussed her techniques for unlocking creativity and finding inspiration.
 
Where did you grow up— and where do you live now.
 
I was born in Enid, Oklahoma and lived on my grandparent’s farm for my first nine months. Most of my life I’ve lived in Houston, Texas, except for stints in Springfield, Illinois and Providence, Kentucky when my father was in the Air Force.
 
What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?
 
This depends on what I’m writing. If I’m working on a picture book, I may write for an hour at a time, two or three times a day. For me, it’s important to come back to the story often with fresh eyes rather than laboring over it for too long. If I’m working on something longer I might write for a couple of hours at home in the morning, then in the afternoon go to one of my favorite writing hangouts— the Barnes and Noble by my house, or a coffee shop— and write for two or three more hours.
 
Where do you get your inspiration?
 
The way ideas pop into our minds is amazing and mysterious to me. To encourage that process, I carry a journal with me everywhere so I can jot down things that I see or hear that interest me, or ideas or questions that come to mind. I also keep a dream journal. When an idea for a story comes to me, I’m sometimes not aware of what sparked it. However, I have looked back in my dream journal and discovered sketches I’ve drawn of dream characters that later ended up in a story. At night, I often reread what I’ve written that day and while I’m going to sleep I think about what needs to happen next in my story. “Sleeping on it” really works! The next morning, I’m ready to go.
 
Who are your favorite writers and why?
 
I enjoy picture books that are humorous and quirky. Some of my favorite picture books are Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann,  the George and Martha books by James Marshall, and Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes. I also love stories with a bit of dark humor, such as Monsters Eat Whiny Children by Bruce Eric Kaplan and I’d Really Like to Eat a Child by Sylviane Donnio.
 
Recently I’ve enjoyed reading novels by John Greene (Paper Towns), Gabrielle Zevin (Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac) Lynn Rae Perkins (Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth), and Jessica Warman (Between). The characters these authors create are unusual, yet highly believable, with authentic voices and humor.
 
Who or what was your greatest influence as a writer?
 
My mother read to me a lot when I was young, so I’ve always loved books. My favorite books were Winnie the Pooh. My grandfather wrote poetry and journals filled with vignettes of his childhood and family history, so I always had a sense of writing being important. I didn’t start writing, however, until I’d worked in other careers as a teacher and art therapist. After I took a course in children’s writing at Rice University taught by Mary Blount Christian, I was hooked.
 
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
 
Become widely read in the genre you want to write in. Write everyday, read books on the craft of writing, join a writing organization such as SCBWI, and get in a critique group. Take classes and attend conferences. To reach the point of publication, you have to be in it for the long haul, no matter how long that ends up being. If you truly love writing, you will persist. And persist you must!
 
What are you working on now?
 
I’m writing in a new genre for me, a young adult road trip romance. A sixteen year old girl goes on a vision quest and her spirit guide sends her on an adventure with two other teens to Los Angeles, where she searches for a mysterious woman with possible links to her lost family. And yes, love happens on the way.
 
Do you have any upcoming appearances or events you’d like me to publicize?
 
Yes! Put the UFO festival in Roswell, NM in July, 2013 on your calendar. I will be launching my next book, I Think I See A UFO. Dress code: Alien attire!
 
You can learn more about Kathy Duval by visiting her website http://www.kathyduval.com/. Her books are available either in local bookstores or any online bookseller.