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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 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.