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Interview with Greg Leitich Smith

 

Attorney by day, author by night, Greg Leitich Smith is a special brand of Texan super-hero. Recently Greg took a minute to visit about what enticed him to make Texas his home, how he became an award-winning author and what new projects the Austin-based Superman is working on now.

 

How did you end up in Texas?

 

I grew up in Chicago and I came to Texas for the first time for graduate school, when I got my master’s degree in electrical engineering at UT. I really enjoyed the culture (and weather) in Austin, but I moved back north for law school and then eventually took a job at a firm in Chicago. After suffering through the second worst blizzard in Chicago history (and also having experienced most of the others in the top ten), my wife, Cynthia, and I decided we’d had enough, and made the move down to Austin.

 

Please describe your road to publication.

 

I think for every children’s author, it starts when you’re a child, and with falling in love with reading and writing. When I was very little, my parents would read to my brother and me. Throughout my childhood, we would make very regular trips to the local library, coming back home with shopping bags filled with books. Somewhere along the line, it occurred to me that it might, someday, be kind of cool to write one of these. While I kept that idea in my head, I also liked math and science, and eventually went on to get degrees in engineering and law.

 

More immediately, of course, Cynthia started writing before I did. And the first thing she did was to read children’s books. One of our author friends had told her that in order to write in a genre, you should read at least 100 books in that genre. Cynthia was taking it seriously, bringing home tons of picture books, middle grade novels, and YA novels from the store and library. We would both read them, and had the pleasure of experiencing for the first time in a long time the richness of children’s literature.

 

By the time Cynthia had sold her first novel, RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME, I had decided to try my hand at it, as well. I came up with the idea of doing the Galileo story, set in middle school and as a comedy (this eventually became NINJAS, PIRANHAS, AND GALILEO). I presented the first two pages of the manuscript to an editor at a conference, where they were well-received; although that editor didn’t end up buying the manuscript (she did have some excellent editorial suggestions). I received a couple more editorial rejections, and did some revisions, and eventually Cynthia told me I should send the manuscript to her agent, Ginger Knowlton. I’m almost positive Ginger viewed the prospect of reading a client’s spouse’s work with trepidation, but she read the manuscript and offered representation. The first editor at the first house (Little, Brown) she sent it to bought it.

 

You have published both middle grade novels and picture books. How do you approach writing to different formats and age groups?

 

A picture book is easier than a novel, but it does require that you puzzle out a concept and a story arc, determine if there are enough illustratable images, and then, of course, make the language sing. It has the virtue of being short, typically having only a single plot point, so it’s easier to hold all this in your head at one time. A novel, though, requires the interweaving of multiple story lines and character arcs over a much larger number of pages. Logistically, it’s harder to keep track of. Also, the fact that it is a large number of pages means it takes significantly longer to get a first draft or any kind of draft done.

 

With our joint picture book manuscripts, Cynthia and I have typically come up with an idea and then hammered out a draft in the course of an afternoon (Of course, revision takes considerably longer, and we go through many, many drafts before we decide it’s “right.”).

 

With a novel, it usually takes at least a couple months for a really bad first draft, and that doesn’t include pre-writing (i.e., research, character-building exercises, outlines if any, etc.). And then revisions take as long as necessary, sometimes to the point where almost nothing remains of the first draft.

 

How has your creative process changed through your career?

 

Early on, I would have an idea with a vague notion of the arc and how it would end, and then just sort of muddle through a draft until I had something novel-length.

 

For my more recent projects, I’ve tried to produce something resembling a loose outline. Basically, I use a spreadsheet and make some notes in each “cell” about what happens in each chapter or scene and then follow it in the first draft. I try not to stay completely wedded to it, though, and am willing to deviate if something more interesting/funny, etc., comes to me.

 

It’s still fairly organic, though: I’ll have a couple “proto-first drafts” (say, fifty to seventy-five pages) before I get to a full, novel-length first draft that I can then work on until the final draft.

 

What were your favorite books as a young reader?

 

The first ones that come to mind are SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON and THE LORD OF THE RINGS. I loved the whole idea in SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON of surviving without modern amenities (by which I mean electricity and indoor plumbing, not Wi-Fi!). THE LORD OF THE RINGS appealed to me for its sublime world-building and its themes of good vs. evil, temptation, duty, honor, and rollicking adventure.

 

For more recent books and authors, I recommend many on my blog: http://www.greglsblog.blogspot.com/

 

What project are you working on right now?

 

I’m hoping to be able to make an announcement on a middle grade/tween science fiction/fantasy novel soon. Beyond that, I have been working on a YA set on a ranch here in Texas for a while now, and I think it’s finally starting to come together.

 

You can read more about Greg and his books on his web site http://www.gregleitichsmith.com. His novels and picture books are available at your favorite local or online bookstore.

This interview also appeared in the August 2010 version of the Houston Banner.

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Interview with Lynne Kelly

Do you have what it takes to be a published writer? Recently, Lynne Kelly sold her first book, Chained, which will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. During our conversation we chatted about how she got the idea for her new book, what her revision process was and how she got to the final “yes”.
 

Where did you grow up?
 

I was born in Galesburg, Illinois, but my family moved here to Houston when I was really young, and I grew up in the Spring Branch area.
 

What inspired you to become a writer?
 

I’ve always loved reading, and as a mom and a teacher (I taught special ed. resource in Spring ISD), I loved finding great children’s literature to share with my daughter and students. But it wasn’t until I got the idea for Chained that I was inspired to write. It wasn’t easy to turn the idea into a good story, but once I started writing I found that I really enjoyed it, so I was willing to learn everything I could about the writing process in order to create something people might really want to read.
 

Tell us about CHAINED. How did you get the idea?
 

The idea started when I was at a presentation and heard the tale "Don’t Be Like The Elephant," about how a small rope or chain can hold a full-grown elephant because once they give up trying to break free, they never try again. It’s meant to be an example of learned helplessness or self-limiting behavior, but I got the idea then to write a picture book about a captive elephant. I had no idea at the time it would grow into the novel that it is now. The very first version was horrific–other than the elephant (who talked), there was a talking ostrich, a train, a monkey–and I’m so thankful no one ever saw it. At some point when I was writing the idea hit me, "Maybe this needs to be the elephant’s story," and I wrote a picture book manuscript about a captive elephant that breaks free and returns to his home. After taking it to a couple of critique groups some people noticed that the story needed to be told as a novel, not as a picture book. At the time I couldn’t imagine writing it as a novel, but now I can’t imagine it any other way. So little by little I worked on expanding the story into a novel, with lots of revisions along the way, changing from third person to first person point of view, past tense to present tense, the elephant from a boy to a girl, and more revisions.

There have been so many versions of the story; it’s unrecognizable from the first picture book draft, although you’ll still see that big elephant held by the same small chain that held her as a newly-captured calf.
 

What’s your writing routine?
 

My work schedule as a sign language interpreter varies a lot, and that can be good and bad. I don’t have a day-to-day routine since I have a different schedule each day, but it’s also really flexible. When I’m away from home I often have a laptop with me so I can work on my writing during a lunch break or other downtime. And I always have a notepad and pens in my bag for when I find some time to write but I’m not near a computer. When I am at home during the day, I’m distracted by normal things like housecleaning, TV, and the Internet, so I have to just decide to sit and write for a certain amount of time, then I’ll get on the Internet for a while or get up and do something around the house before continuing to write again. When I’m starting a new chapter or working on a scene I’m having a problem with, for some reason I do better with a pen and paper instead of the computer. It’s easier to let the words flow that way and keep out that internal editor that needs to stay quiet until revision time. I like to do a lot of free writing on paper, then pick out what I want to include in the chapter or scene. Sometimes even for a sentence, I’ll get the paper and pen and write the sentence as many ways as I can, then look at everything I scribbled down to find the best version.
 

Did you have anyone read your manuscript before you sent it off?
 

Sure, I was really lucky to find a couple of awesome critique groups, so several people had seen it a chapter at a time, and a few of them read the full manuscript when it was all finished. Then I got an amazing professional critique from author Uma Krishnaswami and used her feedback to revise again before I submitted to agents.
 

How did you find your agent?
 

I talked to people who had agents and did a lot of research online, and then queried agents who I thought would be a good match for me. (The sites agentquery.com, Casey McCormick’s blog Literary Rambles, and the Verla Kay message boards were especially helpful.) Also, my friend Monica Vavra had signed with Joanna Stampfel-Volpe a few months before, and I knew she really loved her, so she was one of the agents I queried when I was ready to submit. The day I queried her she asked to see my first 30 pages. A couple months later she emailed to tell me she really liked what she’d read so far and asked to see the whole thing if I hadn’t found representation yet. I let her know that I hadn’t, but was expecting a call from another interested agent later in the week. She read the rest of the novel by the next day and set up a phone call to discuss representation.
 

And then she sold Chained!
 

Yes! After I did a few more revisions, she submitted the manuscript to several fantastic editors, and about a month later sold the book at auction to Farrar, Straus, & Giroux. My editor, Margaret Ferguson, has been with Farrar, Straus & Giroux for 30 years, and now runs her own imprint, Margaret Ferguson Books, which launches next year. I’m really excited to be working with such a successful editor and being one of the authors under the new imprint.
 

What project are you working on now?
 

Something completely different– a young adult novel called Reasons For Leaving, about a girl who’s afraid to leave home but is compelled to go on a road trip from Houston to East Texas to find a missing friend. It has some mystery to it, and I hope readers will enjoy its humor too.

 

You can read more about Lynne and her critique group on the blog http://willwrite4cake.blogspot.com/.
 

Lynne’s book Chained will be available soon from your favorite local bookstore. Be sure to look for it!

This interview appeared originally in the July 2010 edition of The Houston Banner.

 

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Interview with Vicki Sansum

December is definitely a busy month. Between the holidays and the end of the year celebrations, there is always too much to do and too little time. Author Vicki Sansum is no stranger to a hectic lifestyle. In addition to her full time advertising job, Vicki Sansum finds time to read, write and organize writing events in the greater Houston area. Recently we caught-up with Vicki and visited with her about finding inspiration in the midst of a busy life.
Where did you grow up?

I was born in Schenectady, NY, moved to Houston when I was three years old and have been here ever since. My father still lives in the same house in Oak Forest where we grew up. My sister lives in Garden Oaks. I love living in Houston, it’s a great mix of people and cultures.

What made you want to become a writer?

I have loved to read all my life. As a child, I’d go to the library every week and check out as many books as they allowed. We always had tons of books in our house so I think it was a natural step for me to want to write. I loved making up stories and writing them down.

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

In today’s world, it’s hard to have a ‘normal’ day. I work full-time so I grab whatever free time I can find to write. Sometimes it’s not until the weekends when I can sit and write. I’m always thinking about my books, you never completely turn off your brain when you’re working on a manuscript.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I find inspiration everywhere. It can be a phrase I hear on the TV, or the radio or something I overhear in the mall. I’ve gotten ideas from stories I’ve read in the newspaper or even noticing an unusual name. Occasionally my husband will say something funny and I’ll file it away for the future. I keep a notebook in the car so I can jot down ideas when they come to me. I have scraps of paper and sticky notes all over my desk, in my purse and on my computer with names, words and phrases so I won’t forget anything.

Who are your favorite writers and why?

I love an author who tells a great story. Whether it’s a children’s book or an adult book, I want the writer to compel me to turn the page to find out what’s next. J.K. Rowling is one of the most remarkable authors I’ve ever read. She has the talent of great storytelling and brilliant writing skills. Recently I’ve enjoyed reading the Luxe series by Anna Godberson and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I loved the Lemony Snicket series. I have read all of Joan Lowery Nixon’s books. Years ago, I read an article in the paper about Joan and saw that she lived in my neighborhood. Having such a well-known author living just blocks away from my house made the dream of becoming an author seem more real. I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and have been a member ever since.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Never give up. Keep writing and honing your skills. Join a good critique group. Attend conferences and workshops and get the support of fellow writers. Read, read and read. Writing is a skill, just like playing the piano. The more you practice, the better you get. Follow your dreams, they will come true.

Vicki Sansum is not only an author; she is also the head of the Houston chapter of the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators. Check out information about Vicki and the chapter at http://www.scbwi-houston.org.

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Interview with PJ Hoover on Book Addict

The Austin-based author PJ Hoover didn’t follow the normal path to publication. Instead, after getting a degree in electrical engineering and then years of designing computer chips, she decided to try her hand at writing. Fast forward a few years later and people around the country are reading her Forgotten Worlds trilogy. We caught up with PJ recently and visited with her about Cub Scouts, field trips and finding inspiration.

 

Describe a normal “writing” workday.

It starts when the kids are off to school. Normally I make coffee and oatmeal and get my emailing and blogging out of the way. After that, I tend to divide my time into chunks. If I need to work on revisions, I’ll revise most of the day. If marketing is key (for example, when a new book is coming out), I’ll focus on mailing lists, interviews, speeches, or postcard design. When revisions and marketing are out of the way, I get to focus on new projects. Depending on what this entails, I can spend the day researching ancient mythology, touring a museum, or jumping into a fun first draft!

 

Where do you find inspiration?

Great question!  I find inspiration everywhere. In books, TV, nature and art. I think about the pictures my kids draw and see what I can make out of them. I listen to the nonsense worlds they sometimes make up. I take pictures of ironic things in everyday life. I go on field trips (many times with the Cub Scouts; Cub Scouts can get in for tours of so many cool places). I try to picture my characters in cool, off-the-beaten-path places, making decisions or falling in love. I keep my eyes and ears open, and while I’m doing all this, I remember to take the time to throw a penny in a fountain whenever I can. After all, wishes can only come true if they exist.

Who are your favorite writers and why?

There’s always Homer because he was one of the first. The longevity of his epics is…epic. In more modern times, I think Suzanne Collins (author of GREGOR and THE HUNGER GAMES) is brilliant. Ditto Rick Riordan (of Percy Jackson fame). Although there are many debut authors whose initial books are wonderful and have made a huge impact, I love seeing authors who are evolving in front of my eyes. These are the authors that have made writing their careers. I can see them grow and succeed which in itself is inspirational.

What do you consider your greatest “creative” success up until now and why?

This would have to be continuing to write. Writing a first book is a great accomplishment, but to keep on writing is even more so. I love that I’ve kept writing. I hope to improve with each book I write. Getting a book published has its share of ups and downs, and to persist in this livelihood is something I am proud of.
 
 
What do you consider your greatest “creative” failure up until now and why?

Anything not a direct success is a failure. So my road to success was paved with failure after failure after failure. As for creativity in failures, one key piece of advice I try to keep in mind when things are not going as they should is this: take a negative situation and ask yourself, "How can I use this to my advantage?" Ponder this question as long as it takes, and an answer will almost certainly come to you. 

What advice would you give aspiring writers?


Read a ton in your genre. Write as often as you can. Reading and writing are ways of practicing. And like with anything and everything in life, with practice makes perfect! And on your revisions, take as much time between drafts as you can. A week. A month. A year. The longer you take, the more objective you’ll be when you come back to it.

 

Be sure to visit P.J. Hoover online at http://www.pjhoover.com and
http://pjhoover.blogspot.com.

This interview also appears in the November 2009 edition of The Houston Banner.

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Kimberly Willis Holt

National Book Award winner Kimberly Willis Holt grew-up all over the world but now calls Texas her home. Author of picture books, chapter books and novels, Ms. Holt will be visiting Houston this month to celebrate the release of her new book for young readers, Piper Reed Gets a Job. Recently, I caught-up with Ms. Holt and visited with her about the craft of writing, small moments and inspiration.

 

 

 

Describe your path to writing.

 

I started writing on June 15, 1994. I didn’t own a computer, but I bought some yellow legal pads and pens and sat at the table on my screen porch.

 

Because I was new to the craft, I took every writing class in my city and attended conferences in a 300 mile radius. Some say you can’t teach someone to write. I disagree. Each of my teachers gave me something that I use today.

 

Like most new writers, I sent my work out too soon, and I was rejected. But I kept rewriting. Eventually an agent agreed to represent me. About six months later my first book, My Louisiana Sky sold.

 

 

Where do you find inspiration?

 

Often, ideas for my books are inspired from small moments in my life.  These moments can range from going down a Louisiana dirt road like Tiger does in My Louisiana Sky, to standing in line to see the fattest boy in the world like Toby does in When Zachary Beaver Comes to Town.  I rarely realize that these small experiences are potential starting points for novels.  They wait patiently until the time comes when they knock on my door and ask to tell their story.

 

Describe a normal “writing” workday.

 

There is no normal writing workday. Those existed before I was published. Now the business of writing plays a role in my hours. Let me give you an example. I recently lost my assistant so yesterday I started my day answering email about booking events. I also answered a query about a picture book manuscript from my editor. Then I had a phone call interview with 88 fourth graders from Abilene. Next I sent out W-9’s, contracts, and books.  This was all before lunch. After lunch I booked some flights and answered more email. Yesterday I didn’t put one word on the page.

 

Now this was not a typical day either. Usually I write in the morning before I do anything. Otherwise the business of writing starts to take over. People look baffled when I tell them I wrote more before I was published.

 

 

You write novels, chapter books and picture books. When you sit down to write, do you have a specific way to approach each different genre?

 

Not really. Each story comes to me in a voice. The voice determines the genre. I usually can only work on one story at a time. I love writing for different ages. I want my readers to grow up with my stories. But that hasn’t been a calculated decision. It just happened.

 

 

 

Who are your favorite writers and why?

 

One of the first children’s authors that I admired after I started writing was Pam Conrad. She taught me the power of similes and metaphors.

 

I learned how to vary sentence length from Han Nolan when I read a beautiful long lyrical sentence in Hand Me Down a Miracle.

 

Roald Dahl’s quirky humor inspires me to stretch because humor is hard for me.

 

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

 

Perseverance and passion endure. Writing is hard.  But when you have a passion for something, it is worth every bit of time and effort.  Work hard, dream hard!

This interview originally appeared in the October 2009 edition of the Houston Banner.

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Interview with Shana Burg author of A Thousand Never Evers

Shana Burg’s first novel A Thousand Never Evers, burst onto the literary scene only a year ago, but it has already collected a basketful of wonderful reviews and prestigious awards. Set in Kuckachoo, Mississippi in 1963, the novel follows a young girl whose innocent act results in the disappearance of her brother. Recently I visited with the talented Ms. Burg about books, writing and inspiration.

Describe your path to writing.

I got hooked on writing in fourth grade, when my teacher assigned us to write a book of poetry. I haven’t stopped since. I’d always write stories, poems, and plays. As a teenager, I worked for an organization that let kids write news stories that were published nationwide. In college, I wrote for the newspaper.

But when I graduated college, I thought writing for a living was a dream, not something you could actually do. So I got lots of other jobs, but I always continued writing on the side. Many years later, I was teaching sixth grade. I took my students to hear an author speak, and something in me sparked. I went home and that afternoon, I began writing my first book, A Thousand Never Evers. I never looked back, even though it took eight years from that day until it was published.

Where do you find inspiration?

I’m drawn to the sixth grade condition. I remember this year in my own development so vividly. It’s a year when all of a sudden the old rules of childhood no longer apply. You look around and see for the first time that people don’t always share their toys, that adults can be fallible. Overnight you’re catapulted into bizarre territory where nothing is normal anymore—most especially not yourself. So I get inspiration for my writing from interacting with middle school students. They always make me laugh and teach me tons.

Describe a normal “writing” workday.

I wish I had one! There’s no normal writing day for me. It’s always a question of juggling a million mom things with the writing. So I take my son to school, clean up a bit, write, do the laundry, write again, plan for a bookstore or library event, write some more. I also do school visits, so on those days I don’t write at all. When I do sit down to write, I set the kitchen timer for 45 minutes and disable the Internet on my computer, so that I’m not distracted by email. (It’s just a matter of pressing one little button.) Those 45 minutes are sacred and nothing can interrupt me. If I get in three writing blocks like this in a day, I’m happy.

Who are your favorite writers and why?

My favorite writers are people who entertain me while teaching about another time and place. Some inspirations are Khaled Hosseini, who wrote The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Also Pearl S. Buck author of The Good Earth. For younger readers, I love Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse and The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis.

What advice would you give aspiring writers and why?

Have adventures; travel if you can, push your comfort zone. Take notes when you meet quirky people. Jot down when your kids say something funny. Journal about the unusual things that happened in your own childhood. If you do this, then you’ll have a treasure trove to pick through when you do get a couple minutes to write. And your writing will spring to life in a way that is uniquely your own.

 

To learn more about Shana, her books and her life, check out her website at www.shanaburg.com.

This interview was originally published in the August 2009 version of the Houston Banner.


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Interview with Author Bettina Restrepo

Bettina Restrepo has splashed onto the literary scene this summer with the picture book Moose and Magpie, an entertaining and humorous book about the life of a moose. A reformed business woman turned author, Bettina has also written a young adult novel entitled Illegal that is soon to be published by Harper Collins. Recently we caught up with Bettina to talk about books, writing and inspiration.

 

Describe your path to writing.

 

I wanted to win a creative writing contest, but came in 2nd place to a girl who had great penmanship. It was straight up and down with pretty loops at the end of the sentences. I don’t know what her story was about – but mine was completely inappropriate.

 

“The Teacher Compactor” was a sad tale about a machine that came to life and ate teachers when they weren’t looking. No wonder I got second place – I thought it wasn’t fair! I quit writing for many years because I hated to lose.  

 

But, I have always loved telling stories. The more convoluted, the better. My husband, an engineer, says I never get to the point. I meander through the fields, describing each flower, the sunset, and the taste of the toast in the inn before I would ever tell you there was a murder. I like to observe and then explain.

 

Where do you find inspiration?

Inspiration is everywhere and in every day life!

 

Describe a normal “writing” workday.

I take my little boy to school and find a workspace. This space might be a library, coffee shop, empty classroom at the school. Sometimes I might even go back home (which is a long drive since my son attends a special school for children with speech and hearing disorders).

 

It doesn’t have to be quiet, but sometimes it helps, because I listen to the characters in my head. They talk and I listen (I am merely the typist). My mind is always listening, so I can’t say that the 2-3 hours that I sit in the chair and rearrange words are my “working” time. I’m always working. Looking. Seeing. Listening. Absorbing.

 

So, I sit in a chair and editing and rearrange words about 15 hours a week. I market myself another 5-10 hours a week (communications with editors, PR, agent, website, bookstores, etc). Then, there is the book keeping part of it. I also nap daily – which is part of my work routine. I need time to dream and recharge – otherwise the people in my head can’t talk. They will just beat their hands against the glass like prisoners without the telephone. I won’t be able to hear them. They will riot. I will be frustrated. All will suffer. Then, school will be over, and I will start my other job. Mommy, chauffeur, wife. I’m lucky my husband hasn’t fired me, yet. Neither has the dog. Both are very forgiving.

 

Who are your favorite writers and why?

I love new writers. Their hearts are big and new, like toddlers. Their words are bright and shiny. They have fought hard to get into the world. 

 

What advice would you give aspiring writers and why?

Be a rat. Rats are savvy. They learn from their mistakes. 

 

Humans can be very determined, but they expect if they do the same thing over and over again, they will yield a different result. This is also the definition of insanity. If I continued to submit the same story I started with in 2002 and never changed or edited it, I would be in the same place – the rejection pile.

 

A rat in a maze that is fed a piece a cheese at one door will learn to visit that door. But, when the cheese is moved, the rat will learn to move.

 

Aspiring writers may have the talent, but you will need the ability to edit and receive criticism to succeed.

 

 

To learn more about Bettina, her books and her life, check out her website at http://www.bettinarestrepo.com. Her picture book Moose and Magpie is available at your local bookstore or at your favorite online book provider.

This interview orginally appeared in the July 2009 edition of the Houston Banner

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Interview with Jenny Moss author of Winnie’s War

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Between the flu, floods and fiscal disaster, it’s easy to get depressed about the times in which we now live. In Jenny Moss’ debut novel Winnie’s War, twelve-year old Winnie is struggling with many of the same problems as we are today. Except for her, the year is 1918 and her small Texas town is trying to escape the ravages of the Spanish influenza. Texans, and those who wish they were, will enjoy the southern flavor of this historical novel. I caught up recently with Houston resident Jenny Moss and spoke to her about her new novel.

 

Winnie’s War is set in the town of Coward Creek. Is it based on a real town or community in the Houston area?

 

Coward Creek is a very fictionalized version of League City, Texas. None of the characters in the book are modeled after actual League City residents. But I spent quite a bit of time roaming around League City studying historical records or family files at the library and the old schoolhouse, walking around the cemetery or the parks or visiting with people associated with the historical society or the library. I wanted to realistically depict a 1918 Galveston County town. There is much about Coward Creek, such as its businesses, the layout of the town, and the ethnicity of its people that is similar to what would have been found in League City during that time.

 

 

You have a science background. What led you to writing for children and young adults?

 

My love of writing actually came first! I’ve loved books and writing since I was a kid. Even when I was an engineer at NASA, I was taking writing classes in the evenings. I began working on novels for tweens and teens after I started reading to my own children.

 

How did you get interested in the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918?

 

A few years ago, stories about the avian flu appeared in the papers. In the articles I read, there was mention of the 1918 influenza pandemic. It made me think about the movie 1918, which was written by the Texas writer Horton Foote and was a fictionalized account of the impact of the influenza on his parents and grandparents. I began to get very curious then.

 

Do you see any similarities between the Spanish flu then and the H1N1 virus now?

 

Like everyone else, I’ve been following news released by the CDC and WHO. It looks they are still attempting to define the characteristics of the H1N1 virus.

 

 

Jenny Moss’ next book Shadow is coming out next year. She is appearing at various schools and libraries in the next few months. If you would like to attend one of her events, or schedule your own, check out her website at www.jenny-moss.com.

This interview was previously printed in The Examiner newspaper on May 21, 2009.