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Courtney Alameda


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About Courtney:

Courtney Alameda has always surrounded herself with books. She hosted many national author events with the Provo City Library, and has spent several years as a children’s bookseller with Barnes & Noble. She holds a degree in English LIterature with an emphasis in Creative Writing from Brigham Young University. She lives in California. SHUTTER is her YA debut.

Courtney's Books:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

When I was a child, storytelling came as naturally as breathing, and I had a penchant for both expository and creative writing as an adolescent. However, I didn’t start writing regularly until college, where I discovered YA literature quite by accident.

I don’t recall what I was actually looking for, wandering in the university library that day—but I stumbled into the children’s section and blinked stupidly. Children’s literature? In a university library? My classics-saturated brain couldn’t comprehend the explosion of colorful spines in all different shapes and sizes, picture books heaped beside the novels, their titles bouncy and enticing. But a copy of Garth Nix’s SABRIEL stuck an inch too far off one of the shelves, catching my attention. Something about the girl with the bells on the cover beckoned to me; or more likely, the shadowy creature behind her sank its claws into my imagination. I took SABRIEL home, read it in one sitting, and swore I’d found my calling. I’d always planned on writing dark fantasy/horror for adults, but Nix’s work gave me permission to write it for young people, too.

I also swore to myself that, in ten years’ time, I’d have a book deal of my own—and most everything I did for those years was in pursuit of that goal, including writing every day.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

The first novel that made a significant impact on me was Michael Crichton’s JURASSIC PARK. I was eight, and the moment I finished it, I turned right back to the beginning and read it again. It gave me the confidence to try other novels, including J.R.R. Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS (at age ten), and Stephen King’s THE STAND (at twelve). I believe these works fused in my subconscious and created the foundation for the writing I do today—one part thriller, one part horror, with a dash of fantasy. (Though I do wish those authors were not also all white, male, and two-thirds dead!)

On rare occasion, children’s works like Robin McKinley’s THE BLUE SWORD and Patricia C. Wrede’s DEALING WITH DRAGONS made it into my hands, head, and heart. To be honest, McKinley and Wrede may have been the only children’s authors I read by choice before my discovery of SABRIEL! I have always been drawn to strong female leads, and I attribute that affinity to McKinley’s Harry Crewe and Wrede’s Princess Cimorene. And if I had to name a forerunner for my protagonist, Micheline, I would certainly point straight to teen girl warriors like McKinley’s Harry or Nix’s Sabriel.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

My process is organic, with plots marked only by waypoints stretching from beginning to denouement. I ask my characters to design their own destinies and don’t tell them how to get from one point to the next; ergo, when the writing’s going well, characters’ choices often shatter my preconceived waypoints to build up their own.

SHUTTER was no exception: I threw out two or three drafts of the novel before Micheline accidentally called herself a Helsing, and her world and woes came spilling out so rapidly I hardly kept up with her. These accidental moments are the most inspiring—and frightening—part of my process. I can’t count on the happy accidents, but can only hope the “cock-eyed creative genius assigned to my case*” tosses a bread crumb my way, and that I’m present enough to catch that crumb and run with it.

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

Yes and no. Yes, because I refused to submit my work until I thought it worthy of an agent’s time and consideration—I wrote for years without submitting anything. Patience is one of my stronger suits. No, because I’d never even sent a query letter upon meeting (the Amazing—yes, he deserves a capital letter) John Cusick at the 2012 Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference. You can imagine my shock when he offered me representation!

I couldn’t have been luckier, because not only is John an awesome agent, but when I said, “I like weird monsters,” he asked, “Ever played SILENT HILL?” And right then and there, I knew there wasn’t anyone else who could represent my work the way John would.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

Day? My best writing comes out between the hours of eleven p.m. and four a.m., when the world (and the internet) is quiet and my cock-eyed genius is loud and caffeinated. I shut everything out while I work, blocking auditory distractions with headphones. Working alone and completely disconnected is a must if I want to get anything substantial done.

As for inspiration: I believe life experiences make the best pulp for fiction, and in order to create dynamic characters, writers must live dynamic lives. I aim to do something frightening every day. Also, I find the adage “you are what you eat,” applies to my creative life in regards to the media I consume. Books, music, documentaries, videogames, art, news stories, graphic novels—everything gets tossed into the primordial fires of my subconscious. As for what emerges, well…it usually has teeth.

Can you tell us about your next book?

Suffice to say I’m writing a first draft, have already had one false start, and am working toward a crumb big enough to run with!

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Just this—aspiring writers should write every day, even if it’s just a few sentences scribbled down before collapsing in bed. Writing every day allows “the child in the cellar**” of your creative subconscious to breathe and stretch. Leave her cooped in the dark too long and she suffocates, taking your work with her.

And to quote Churchill: “Never, never, never give up.”

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

Hands-down, peer critiquing has been the most important aspect of my development. Nothing has helped my hone my skills as has the careful, sensitive critique of another writer’s work. Also, having the opportunity to listen to how other readers interpret—and misinterpret—unfinished manuscripts has always been illuminating and an education in itself.

Secondly, the active deconstruction of published novels taught me what professional writing looks like, from big things like theme down to the word-by-word nitty-gritty. I have a few authors who consistently provide excellent fodder for this process—Maggie Stiefvater for characterization and beats, Holly Black for magic systems and tight plotting, Rick Yancey for lush prose and symbolism, and Neal Shusterman for voice.

Finally, nothing could replace the act of sitting down every day to write. Nothing.

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

I should say something brilliant like Michael Chabon, Cormac McCarthy, or Neil Gaiman, but really, I want a chance to shake Garth Nix’s hand and tell him thank you. And if I had to choose one character to wish to have invented, it would be his Sabriel.

*Elizabeth Gilbert, Your Elusive Creative Genius, TED 2009
**Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, Anchor 1995

Ronni Arno


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About Ronni:

A communications specialist, Ronni Arno has written for several magazines, blogs, and websites. In a previous life she worked as a publicist in Hollywood, and eventually built a home in Maine.  She is a keen SCBWI member and contributor to the kidliterati.com blog. 

Ronni's Books:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I’ve always kept diaries and journals, I loved writing stories as a kid, and I even wrote cheesy romantic poetry when I was a cheesy romantic teenager.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you?

I adored the Dr. Suess books when I was younger. As I got a little older, I read every Judy Blume book ever written, and I loved the Nancy Drew books. The first book that made a huge impact on me in high school was THE CATCHER IN THE RYE. I still have my original copy. I could read that book over and over and learn something new about Holden Caulfield each time.

Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

Dr. Suess, Judy Blume, and Roald Dahl were biggies.

Can you talk us through your career so far? What were the key moments?

I started college as a Creative Writing major, but decided after my Freshman year that it wasn’t a practical major for the “real world,” so I switched to Communications. I got plenty of jobs and enjoyed them, but something was always missing.

About two years ago I told my husband that I wanted to write a book, and he told me I should. I then spent half an hour trying to convince him that it was a crazy idea, because didn’t he know how hard it was to actually get published? He told me it would be impossible to actually get published if I didn’t actually write the book. And, since he’s a wise man, I figured I’d better take his advice and write the book.

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

The first book I wrote was a middle-grade fantasy that was a ton of fun to write. I queried it, got some requests, but ultimately realized that, while it had some potential, it wasn’t the right book. The experience was invaluable, though. I learned so much about the writing process. The next book I wrote was RENEE REINVENTED. I entered it into some Twitter contests before querying, and I was thrilled to receive requests. That gave me the confidence to query my dream agents. Sarah Davies was the number one agent on my list, and I crossed my fingers extra hard when I sent my query to her on January 17. I was absolutely thrilled when she asked for the full on January 20. On January 24, she asked if we could speak, and she offered representation on January 27. I said yes immediately, even though the manuscript was still out with other agents. I just had a gut feeling that she was the one! I am eternally grateful that she pulled me out of the slush pile. She is truly amazing.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I don’t have one particular writing spot. Sometimes I write on my couch (very glamorous!), sometimes I write at my desk, and, when weather permits, I write outside. One of my favorite writing spots is the public library in Camden, Maine. It looks out onto the harbor and it has such a good vibe… the words always flow when I’m there.

I don’t have a set writing schedule. There are some days when I don’t write at all, and there are some days when I write for ten hours straight. Usually, though, it’s somewhere in between. Finding time to write is always a challenge, but as with anything, if it’s important to you, you make the time!

Inspiration comes from many different places. Much of the time it comes from stalking… I mean spying on… I mean listening to my kids talk with their friends. Sometimes it comes when I’m out for a walk with my dog, and often it comes while I’m in the shower!

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Read. A lot. And then write. A lot. And after you’ve done a lot of reading and writing, find a critique group. It’s amazing how much a good critique group can improve your writing. I was lucky enough to get in with a fantastic group that I met on Twitter. So join Twitter! The writing community there is so generous and supportive.  Conferences and organizations like SCBWI are incredibly helpful as well.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

1) Listen to your gut. One of my favorite quotes about writing comes from Ray Bradbury. “Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way.” Much of what I write comes from instinct. As I write freely, I find the storyline and the characters often take on lives of their own. They tell me where to go and I follow.

2) Know your characters. Develop backstory for your characters. Know their birthdays, their favorite colors, and their middle names. Imagine their greatest fears, their biggest triumphs, and, most importantly, what your characters wants more than anything else in the world. Notice the colored flecks in their eyes, the streaks in their hair, and the way they stand. Be able to answer any question about your characters as if you were answering them about yourself. Of course you don’t need to put all this information into your manuscript… but be familiar with it all! It will help bring your characters to life.

3) Plan your plot, but be flexible. I’m not much of an outliner, but I do have a good idea of where my plot is headed. That said, sometimes it’s okay to get off track. You never know if that train is going to take you to a better destination than the one you had planned.

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party?

My favorite authors are the writers in my critique group. I’d make them my almond-kale salad (not as yucky as it sounds), giant stuffed burritos (because everybody loves burritos), and then serve a Carvel ice cream cake for dessert (shaped like a book, of course). I’d invite these authors over because they are the most generous and heartwarming writers I’ve ever met and they deserve ice cream cake.

Which fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

Every time I fall in love with a book I wish I’d invented a character from it. Some favorites include Ron Weasley (for his sense of humor), Peeta Mellark (for his decency), and Lola from CHARLIE & LOLA (for her sass). 

Sarah Aronson


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About Sarah:

Sarah Aronson has been a personal trainer, a physical therapist, and even a school principal.

In 2006 she earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College.  HEAD CASE, her first novel, was published by Roaring Brook Press in 2007 and was named a 2008 Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers. Her most recent novel, BELIEVE, was published in 2013.

Sarah lives in Illinois with her family.

www.saraharonson.com

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

My writing life began in 2000, when I decided to leave physical therapy due to a back injury. I needed to do something else, but I didn’t know what. I looked through Dartmouth College’s employment page. There were plenty of offices that needed help. I hesitated. Maybe I could run for school board. I loved politics. When a friend suggested I try writing, I jumped. I was completely naïve. I was a mom with two young children. I thought, ‘How hard can it be?’

I joined a writing group and found out — writing IS hard. I stepped back and began reading, reading, reading. I attended SCBWI events. I took an online course in writing for kids and submitted manuscripts that now would make me cringe. Later, I earned an MFA from Vermont College. Now I teach a class on writers.com. I speak at some of those conferences. But I’m still learning. I no longer ask how hard can it be!

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

THE SCARLET LETTER and THE PEARL left big impressions on me. I wanted to be Harriet the Spy. The bathroom scene in BLUBBER still makes me cringe. And I had nightmares about Nancy from OLIVER TWIST.

The book that made me want to write children’s books is Robert Cormier’s THE RAG AND BONE SHOP. That ending haunts me.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

HEAD CASE is my version of THE SCARLET LETTER. Frank commits the crime his society cannot forgive. Like Hester Prynne, he must find a way to forgive himself. I wrote the first draft in free verse poetry! Luckily, I had good friends who advised me to revise.

After many drafts, I found the ending. (No spoilers here.) Let’s just say: I need to see story on the page before I can begin to re-imagine it.

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

The old-fashioned way.

I thought about what I wanted and needed in an agent. Then I did my research. I asked trusted friends. When I could, I listened to agents at conferences. When I met Sarah, we clicked. I am very grateful that she could see the possibilities in my writing.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I am a big believer in balance. Work out first. Then breakfast, email, and assorted procrastination. Then I write until lunch.

If I’m teaching, I will spend the afternoon reading manuscripts. If not, I may return to writing, but only if I’m on a serious roll. Usually, I take the afternoon to walk or relax or read. I would say I clean the house, but my husband has evidence to the contrary.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

1 - Say it out loud: I am a writer.

The world needs stories. You are one of the very brave people who is willing to share yours with others. The trick is: finding the best way to tell your story. This process takes time and patience. It takes hard work. By recognizing out loud that you are a writer, you give yourself validation that you are doing important, honorable work.

2 - Read!  Read a lot!

Read in your genre. Read outside your genre. Read for kids and grown-ups. Read the newspaper. Read plays. Read poetry. Every time you read something you love, study it. Figure out what makes it work. Analyze the power of the right word in the right place. Keep an annotated bibliography. Understand what makes a book work for the kinds of readers you want to write for. 

3 - Banish Self Doubt!

Ask questions of the text, the characters, and their motivation, but do not question your intent or abilities. Sit down in the chair and write. Good or bad — this is the job of the writer. It is a skill and a gift and a process. Your goal is to get a little bit done each day.

4 - Keep a writing journal.

Although each book offers its own ups and downs, by keeping a journal you will become aware of your own needs as you learn to write. For example: I know that I get my best ideas walking first thing in the morning. . . without my ipod. And that I always have a ‘crisis of story’ at about page 70. I have learned that I need to keep a notebook of interesting observations — or else I forget what they are! 

Looking back through my journals, I can see that I have grown as a writer. I still try everything, but I no longer obsess over a new beginning. And I like revising a whole lot more than I used to.

4 - Join the conversation.

Share your work with friends. Read and critique their manuscripts. Discuss books!

Trust your writing friends. They are people who will tell you when your story works and when it doesn’t. They are the friends who will help you when you are lost or struggling. My writing friends read everything I write, provide support, and make me laugh just when I need to most. 

Discuss the process of writing with these trusted friends. They will give you the courage to be daring, to make mistakes, and to show and not tell. They will call you back when all you want to know is whether you should change the POV or the tense or if you have this nagging feeling that the character is a boy and not a girl. They will understand why those questions are important.

Are you looking for a great class? Check out writers.com. Or are you ready to take the next step and get an MFA? Check out my discussion: Are you ready for the MFA on my website.

6 - Seek your own truths in story. 

It doesn’t matter whether you are the kind of writer who imagines plot or character first. At some point, you need to decide why you want to tell this story. Why does it matter to you?  Keep searching. What is it about the story or character or plot that comes from your emotional core? In other words: you must know who are you in this book.

Be brave. Do not stop digging until you uncover the truth.

When you write about your fears and pains and wants — when you reveal your truest self in story — your character will be more authentic; your plot points will feel inevitable and surprising. 

7 - Celebrate! 

Write a first chapter? Celebrate! Get to 100 pages? Celebrate! Send out your work? Receive a nice rejection? Receive a form letter rejection? Reward yourself every time you take a chance, and every time you meet your goals. This business is about making mistakes. It is all about ‘do-overs’. You need to write the wrong thing to figure out what the right thing is. So don’t save your big celebration for a launch party. When you learn something new, pat yourself on the back! You are on the journey. You are writing. You are a writer!

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

White space. I need it as a reader. I use it as a writer.

Thinking about writing from a director’s point of view. When I hold the camera, I am in control. I can better see the world I am creating. Pages 110-111 in John Gardner’s THE ART OF FICTION are pasted on my wall. The notion of psychic distance — the craft of understanding how to move the authorial camera — changed my entire approach to narrative.

Try anything! I never discard advice. I always try. 

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

I would like to make my spicy seafood soup for Robert Cormier, Thomas Hardy, Nancy Werlin, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Tolstoy, Michael Chabon, and Tanya Lee Stone - not just because she is a great writer, but she is also my dearest friend and would have my head if I didn’t include her.

A more comforting bowl of ribbolita for E B White, Charles Dickens, Judy Blume, Emily Bronte. . . and Tanya.

I wish I had invented Heathcliff. Or maybe I’m glad I didn’t. If I had, he might have ended up with some sort of physical disability.

Kate Bassett


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About Kate:

Kate Bassett is the Michigan Press Association award-winning editor of her small town’s paper, Harbor Light News, and contributing writer for Traverse Magazine. She has covered Mount Everest climbers, New York Times best-selling authors, and pet pig obituaries with the same philosophy for 11 years: that voice matters.  She lives in Harbor Springs, MI, with her young family.

http://www.katebassettbooks.com

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I just found the first story I ever wrote...I was five, and it was a happy tale about a child who really wanted the neighbor’s dog. And then the neighbor gave the dog to the child. I dedicated it to...my neighbor. Who never did give me the dog. It was my first real rejection, but I kept on writing. In high school I started focusing more on poetry, and in college that was my degree concentration (because I like being broke). Once I graduated from college, I moved to northern Michigan and took a job with my small town newspaper. I still serve as the editor, and I get to write everything from NYT best-selling author interviews to pet pig obituaries.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

Judy Blume was a huge part of my childhood.  But my tastes varied widely (still do!) and I devoured anything and everything I was given, from Sweet Valley High to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. And oh, how I loved Pony Boy.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

Well, my *first* book is trunked in a drawer.  This book, however, went through about five full rewrites before I queried it. I’m a “pantser"-- or at least was a pantser. I had no clue where the story was going when I started it, so every little discovery I made about a character or the way I wanted the plot to move required me to start again from the beginning. I started it about two years ago, but put it away after maybe 10 pages. Then, last January I was on a two-week trip with my family. We went to Lake Tahoe, and while they skied, I started writing. I felt ready to query by the end of June, and then accepted Sarah’s offer the first week in July. It sounds fast, but there was a whole lot of back work that went into it-- like six months worth of research.

When Sarah returned from vacation, she sent me a nine-page document-- basically an editorial letter. It cracked everything open for me, though not all at once. She jotted notes about what she loved and what she thought I could work on, and gave me some suggestions about what direction the story could take. We chatted on the phone, and then she gave me very specific advice: no writing for at least two weeks.  Instead, she said, she wanted me to think things through. To follow plot threads. To know where I was going. That idea was scary and really, really hard for me.  I kept a small notebook and scribbled thoughts down, but I actually didn’t start my last revision until six weeks after getting the letter...This was probably the most important time for my book.  I learned so much about who I wanted my characters to be, what their motivations were, and what needed to change to grow the suspense and tension. I didn’t finish until the beginning of January.

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

I won’t say I was lucky in the agent search department (I did query the trunked book with little success for about a minute before, you know, trunking it)...More that this time, I was super prepared before querying.  I researched like crazy.  Revised and revised and revised my query for over a month.  I sent out a handful of queries, including one to an agent I’d developed a pretty friendly relationship with over Twitter/blogs/etc., who had already read parts of my work.  She requested the full, and as did several others (there were rejections too).  A week went by. Crickets.  Another week started. More crickets.

And then came a few tweets about a manuscript that was being read and loved, and then an email...and then another email late that night asking for a call.  I cried.  After the first offer came in I sent out that slew of “offer of representation” emails, and the first person to jump back-- literally a minute after I hit send, was Sarah.  She was getting ready to hop a plane to London the next day, but said she’s started reading and hoped she’d have time to finish.  Later that evening, she sent me a “halfway done, please don’t do anything without talking to me” email. Which was followed the next day by a “time for a chat?” email.  As soon as Sarah and I spoke, I knew she was the right fit for me. Because she’s amazing.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I have three kids (an eighth grader, a homeschooled second grader, and a preschooler), plus my “day” job, which I do mostly from home. So I write whenever I find the time.  I’m either writing at our kitchen desk while homework is happening at the table behind me, or at my writing desk in my bedroom, or when I can, I slink away to our downtown coffee shop for a few hours.  That’s one of my favorite things to do, especially because my longtime CP-- a fellow Greenhouser!-- can often meet me there. I love working alongside other writers-- soaking up creative energy and bouncing ideas off each other is so fun. In terms of organizing my time...that’s been a New Year’s resolution (for the past five years). I hope to figure it by, say, 2020?

Life is inspiration.  I pull a lot from my own experiences, from little snippets of conversation I might overhear, from a certain image I can’t get out of my head.  With WORDS AND THEIR MEANINGS, a discussion with an old professor about what it really means to be a writer sparked Anna’s character.

Can you tell us about your next book?

I’m working on a new project right now that might be described as “Gone Girl” meets “Graffiti Moon"-- a dual narrative about two people who meet in a bus station in the middle of nowhere, Nevada, and how their paths change course.  I can’t say much more than that because I’m still in the process of writing it!

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

I know everybody says it, but read like it’s your main source of nutrition and write as much as possible.  And when you have a finished manuscript, find readers who will be honest and supportive all at once. Then revise. Read your entire novel out loud. Revise again.  Research agents, know your field, and don’t ever, ever give up!

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

1) The biggest thing I learned from my first book is that it’s okay to plan. I don’t need to outline every detail (though that works great for some people!), but knowing where I’m going is a huge help.  Keeping in mind exactly what I’m trying to say-- what the heart of the story is-- is a good way to stay on track. Now, I put down key points in the plot, and it becomes a matter of connecting the dots.

2) Read a manuscript out loud. A lot.  I’ve always been a big fan of this, and I honestly believe it can be what separates good writing from great writing.

3) Create character backstories. I’m amazed at how much easier it is to develop multi-dimensional characters and motivations if I’ve see them outside the story.

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party?

Weird truth: I used to draw this very dinner party over and over again. My guest list changes a lot, but here’s the current make up: Kurt Vonnegut, Raymond Carver, Rainbow Rowell, Sara Zarr A.S. King, F. Scott Fitzgerald (to fix the drinks), Sandra Ciseneros, Mary Oliver, John Green, J.K. Rowling, Stephen Chobosk, Richard Braughtigan....And the entire Greenhouse, because the authors in this agency are both brilliantly talented and incredibly kind (and super fun, which makes for a good dinner party).

What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

Fictional characters I most wish I invented at this very moment? Eleanor and Park. They are weird and broken and whole in wonderful, very real ways. 

Julie Bayless


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About Julie:

Julie Bayless is a professional animator, but her first love is picture books. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and holds a BFA in Animation and Illustration from San Jose State University. She lives in California. ROAR! (Running Press Kids, 2015) is her debut picture book as an author/illustrator.

http://www.juliebayless.com

Julie's Books:

Jennifer Bell


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About Jennifer:

Jennifer Bell is Assistant Children’s Buyer at Foyles Bookshop in London, one of the world’s biggest bookstores. Her role there includes hosting crowd-friendly children’s book events and coordinating school tours with teachers and librarians, so she mixes very widely with both authors and readers. She lives in London and IVY SPARROW is her debut novel.

Jennifer's Books:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

After I left university, I had a few jobs which gave me no opportunity to be creative, so I started writing in the evenings when I’d get home. It was so freeing and addictive. It used to be the only part of my day that made me happy. I haven’t stopped since.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

I had to read a heap of war literature for my English A-levels. I remember reading a particularly emotional section of Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, sitting in the middle of the common room, with loads of noise around me – everyone chatting or listening to music, or on their laptops. But it was as if nothing could reach me whilst I was in that book. That was probably the first time I felt the power of a novel.

I guess the only writing hero I had during childhood was J. M. Barrie. I was obsessed (and still am) with Peter Pan – it’s my favourite story of all time. Dark, magical, adventurous and the language is just beautiful. For me, nothing will ever come close to the incredible magic of that story.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

I had this idea for a short-story about a little girl who met Death’s childhood assistant, a character I named the Grimling. As I was developing this character I started imagining a world where dead characters met and interacted with each other – that’s where the seeds of Lundinor came from. I knew exactly how I wanted the book to feel – like you could easily imagine it being real, so I worked on the details of the story world first before building a plot around it. The key moment, I guess, was finishing the first draft. I sent it out to a few friends and then worked really hard on the second draft, using all their feedback.

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

It is super hard to get an agent and what happened to me was incredibly lucky. I started out the same way everyone does – with a copy of The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and a big highlighter. I had planned to send the manuscript out to a handful of agents, based on their client list and what they said they were looking for. The lucky part came when two of my friends - who had been through the experience before - recommended two agents to me. I sent my manuscript to both of them and was utterly stunned when they both got back offering me representation.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do your organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I work full-time in a really busy bookshop, so there isn’t a great deal of time for writing. I cram an hour in on my lunch break in the staffroom and then I write on the commute to and from London. There is no strategy; it’s just fit it in when I can. It’s not difficult, because I love writing.

It isn’t hard to find inspiration when you work in one of the biggest bookshops in the world. I am very fortunate to meet interesting people every day, to work with hugely inspirational booksellers who are also themselves writers, artists and designers, and to spend my time in one of the most amazing cities in the world.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

When you know the age group that you want to write for, and genre you want to write, go and read. Read everything you can get your hands on that’s written for a similar age group and genre. If you don’t know what that is, then go down to your local bookshop, talk to a bookseller and get them to recommend some titles for you – I’ve done this many a time for aspiring children’s writers. You need to know what’s out there and what you’re up against. I meet a lot of self-published authors who are looking to get their books stocked and I can always tell straight away when they haven’t bothered to read any children’s books. The difference in their writing always shows.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

I write exactly the kind of stories that I enjoy reading, so if I’m not enjoying writing them, there’s a problem. That’s what I learned during the first draft. If I was struggling with a chapter, finding it difficult to write, or boring, then I’d scrap it and rethink where the story was going. I spent a lot of time trying to make the story as fun and exciting as possible and part of that was learning to cut whole sections that I’d spent ages trying to get right.

Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party? Which fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

I’ve been very lucky to have met many of my writing heroes through my job – Rebecca Stead, Frances Hardinge, David Almond (I could go on) but I have yet to meet Rick Riordan. It would be a dream to meet him. His books are so much fun, so easy to get lost inside and I speak to children every day who tell me how much they love them. I’d love to tell him that.

The fictional character I wish I’d invented? Peter Pan, of course - the boy who never grows up, to whom even death is an adventure.

Romily Bernard


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About Romily:

Romily Bernard graduated in Literature and Spanish from Georgia State University. She now lives with her partner in Atlanta, rides horses, and works in corporate law. FIND ME is Romily’s debut novel and was a finalist in the 2012 Golden Heart Awards.
www.romilybernard.com

Romily's Books:

FIND ME Trailer:

Julie Bertagna


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About Julie:

Julie Bertagna is an author with a track record for children’s and YA fiction that is both commercially successful and critically acclaimed.  Her dystopian sequence – EXODUS, ZENITH and AURORA (which publishes with Macmillan UK in June 2011) - has won her a loyal fanbase and garnered many stellar reviews.

EXODUS was shortlisted for the Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year, won the Lancashire Children’s Book of the Year, won a Friends of the Earth Eco Award (UK) and a Santa Monica Green Literature Prize (US), US Booklist’s Top Ten SF/Fantasy for Youth 2008, The List’s Best Books of the 21st Century, and has been translated into many languages.

ZENITH was shortlisted for the Angus Award in Scotland and won the Catalyst Children’s Book Award.

Her contemporary YA novel THE OPPOSITE OF CHOCOLATE was shortlisted for the Booktrust Teenage Fiction Award and won the Erskine Stewarts Melville Prize.

Julie is also the author of a couple of titles for younger readers. DOLPHIN BOY was shortlisted for the NASEN Special Needs Award and the Blue Peter ‘Book I Couldn’t Put Down’ awards. THE ICE CREAM MACHINE was made into a TV series on Channel 5.

Most of Julie’s books are published in the UK by Macmillan Children’s Books; the EXODUS trilogy is published in the USA by Walker.  For a full list of her books, reviews, and lots more info, see Julie’s website at www.juliebertagna.com.

Julie joined Greenhouse in 2011 and looks forward to the next phase of her career with the agency.

Julie's Books:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I can’t remember a time when my head wasn’t full of stories. I was always escaping into other worlds, reading and making them up myself, and later wrote freelance for newspapers. But it wasn’t until my first year as a young teacher that I got around to writing a book. The school was in a deprived urban area and it was hard to get the children - mostly lovable young tykes - to read.

I began to write THE SPARK GAP for those kids and, to their delight, put some of them in the story, never believing that one day it would be a published book. Last week, via facebook, one of my ‘characters’ - now grown up - got in touch! 

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

When I was four my dad took me on my first visit to our local library, a grand old pillared building that seemed like a palace to me. I was outraged when I found my beloved book, HEIDI, there. I’d thought HEIDI was mine alone and had no idea there was another copy in the world. I remember being amazed when dad said I could choose books to take home. But I only wanted one: HEIDI. I sat down on the floor to check if this really was the very same book and realised with a great thrill that I could read the words underneath the first picture all by myself: ‘they came to the little village of Dörfli...’

I was ill a lot with chest complaints and lived in my head. Books became magic carpets that took me on endless adventures: to Narnia, to Austria with the CHALET SCHOOL girls, on quests like THE SILVER SWORD and into the mystical worlds of Alan Garner and Ursula Le Guin. Like Anne of Green Gables, I dreamed of becoming a writer one day…

Can you talk us through your career so far? What were the key moments?

To my amazement Judy Blume’s agent, Herta Ryder, the first one I tried, took me on right away. I never met her because I was furiously re-drafting my book before I had a baby and she had just found out she had cancer. Despite being so ill, she placed my book with a publisher just three weeks before she died. Judy Blume wrote her obituary in The Guardian, saying the young writer who was Herta’s ‘last mission’ in life would never know how lucky she was. But I did know.

Everything else that’s happened since - writing other books, working with fantastic people, winning awards, meeting readers and new friends and some of my writing heroes, and all the ups and downs and setbacks along the way - rests on that moment. When things feel difficult, I always remember that great act of faith and it spurs me on.

Another key moment was working with Sarah Davies on EXODUS. A fantastic editor, Sarah went out on a limb and put her faith in me. Together, we turned it into a book that has won readers all around the world. It feels like another key moment to be working with her again!

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organise your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

My writing day begins when my husband and daughter leave for work and school, and ends when they come home and want fed! I often work in the evenings.

When Natalie was little I’d scrabble for time to write, so I’d take her to play in a park and when she fell asleep in her buggy I’d sprint for a cafe and write at top speed until she woke. Now I mostly write at home in a lovely bright room that looks out onto a little city oasis of trees and wildlife - and in winter when it’s miserable outside I tuck myself away in a tiny study that’s actually an 1860s wine cellar. But I still head out with my laptop to a local cafe, or if it’s sunny there’s a beautiful spot in the Botanic Gardens overlooking the city - writing amidst the buzz of the world, in different places and atmospheres, brings inspiration.

Key scenes in my books were written in that way - beside a Scottish loch that was so still and silent it felt primeval, on a boat on a starlit Greek sea, in a glacier in the Swiss alps, or by candlelight in my garden with the midnight sky still twilight overhead. It mentally separates me from ‘normal’ life - and the always-looming housework! - and catapults me into the world of my story. A good workout in the gym with the ipod blasting also unblocks my head!

Can you tell us about what’s coming next from you?

Writing the EXODUS trilogy brought me back to the great love of my teenage years - big stories of love and tragedy that took me right out of myself into other worlds and times. Now that I’ve written an epic about the end of the world as we know it, I thought I’d go a step further, beyond this planet… into the not-too-distant future on an over-populated Earth, where a girl in the throes of a devastating loss has the chance to leave her world far behind. And in a faraway universe there’s a boy whose world is about to crack apart… It’s an epic love story across universes that turns our world on its head. The ideas are very much in flux so that’s all I’m saying for now.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Be your own fiercest critic but hold onto your own vision and self-belief (not easy). Find people who can help you become the best writer you can be - listen hard to them but also to your own instincts. Use your heroes as inspiration when the going gets tough or things are not working out as you’d hoped - the journeys of other writers, sports people, etc. can help you find your own true grit. Always go that extra mile and never settle for ‘good’ - aim for ‘great’.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

A lifetime of reading and absorbing how great writers make a story work. Self-discipline: putting in the necessary effort and hours. Having the nerve to go off at an unusual tangent while sculpting an idea and honing the words to find a way of telling a story that feels uniquely my own.

Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

I’d have a rowdy rabble. I’d resurrect Shakespeare, also Edith Wharton and Henry James - two great friends who would analyse the world with blade-sharp wit. I’d have Philip Pullman and Anne Fine for that same reason. Jo Rowling and fellow Edinburgher Debi Gliori would fit in nicely on that score too, so the more the merrier. And I’d have actor/writer Rupert Everett as wine waiter, just to stir things up even more.

I wish I’d invented the one and only Cassandra Mortmain in Dodie Smith’s I CAPTURE THE CASTLE - and Dr Who

Martha Brockenbrough


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About Martha:

Martha Brockenbrough’s debut novel, DEVINE INTERVENTION, was one of Kirkus Reviews’ top 100 books for teens in 2012. Kirkus called her debut picture book, THE DINOSAUR TOOTH FAIRY, “millions of years ahead of [its] time.” She’s also author of a middle grade opus called FINDING BIGFOOT: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW, which will be shelved in nonfiction.

In addition, Martha has also written two nonfiction books for adults. She founded National Grammar Day (every March 4, in case you want to add it to your calendar). She’s worked as the editor of MSN.com, as a high school teacher, and as a journalist, covering everything from fitness and parenting to pop culture. And she’s written game questions for Trivial Pursuit and Cranium, as well as lyrics for fake holiday tunes sung by actors on a real TV Show. Martha lives in Seattle with her family.

http://marthabrockenbrough.com/

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

If a writer is someone for whom writing is terribly difficult, then I became a writer when I was four years old and my parents told me I’d need to be able to spell my last name in order to get into kindergarten. Those jerks! I did get even with them, though, so it’s all good. Later in elementary school, I had a wonderful teacher who let me write stories whenever I had finished with my boring work math. She set up a tree in the corner of the classroom with words tied to the branches, and I’d pluck a word and use it as my inspiration. Unless I didn’t like the word. Then I would pick another. Shh. Don’t judge. As I went through school, though, I absorbed the conventional idiocy that you can’t make a living as a writer, so I did other things until I turned 30 and had my first child and realized that I was no sort of parent if I wasn’t brave. (And for the record, I did not make her learn how to spell her last name before kindergarten. I did tell her, though, that a half-man, half-sheep monster roams the woods. She still kind of believes me.)

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

I didn’t have a large childhood library at home and I was too shy to check out a lot of books at school (I checked out the same one, again and again, because I could find it without help). But I did read whatever I could get my hands on. I used to rip through a Nancy Drew book a day the summer I was 7. That’s around the same time I tried to read Call of the Wild on the airplane. I had no idea what was going on, other than the dogs. Which was really enough for me. But I loved Shel Silverstein. I loved Lloyd Alexander. Ellen Raskin. L.M. Montgomery. All of those classics, really. I’d love to someday write a book a kid loves as much as the books I loved when I was little—stories that could stop time, transport me elsewhere, make my heart pound.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?
Let’s pretend I didn’t write two books for adults first, okay? My first published novel for young readers is actually the third or fourth one I wrote. I had to get those out of the way so that I could learn that I could write a novel. I don’t say how to write a novel, because each one is different and anyone who promises an unvarying formula is most likely producing book-like objects. These are to books as Twinkies are to éclairs. I know which I prefer.

Anyhoo, the origin of the story was a dream I had in high school. In it, I was dead. And on the refrigerator. And from that vantage point, trying to communicate with my family, who could not hear me. I woke up sobbing. Utterly wrecked. That feeling stuck with me. Over the years, other things accumulated: the friend who died of cancer on her twenty-third birthday, the refrain my former high school students use to say, “When my real life begins…”

I wrote DEVINE INTERVENTION for them, and for anyone who is waiting for their real life to start. Real life starts the moment you realize you are that person in the mirror. But I didn’t want things to be too heavy. So, while my protagonist dies, it’s at the hands of her inept guardian angel. Incompetence, heavenly bureaucracy: these things are rich with comic possibility.

I read the first few pages of it to Arthur Levine at an SCBWI retreat. He said to send it when it was ready. And it took more than a year from that point, but I sent it. He bought it. And it became one of Kirkus Reviews Top 100 books for teens in 2012, something I never dreamed would happen.

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

Everyone’s agent story is different. I’d heard Sarah speak at a couple of SCBWI conferences and developed an intense intellectual crush on her. I like her wit and intensity, I do! I also admired many of the writers she represents. I think those are a couple of great ways to get an agent: to see them in person and to get a sense of their style and perspective, and to see if that matches yours; and to understand their taste in books, because that must match what you produce. And then there’s the matter of having your very best work ready to go by the time you query. It’s tempting to send things out before they’re ready—before you’ve had writer friends critique them, before you’ve read them aloud, before you’ve spent weeks or months apart from the work. Try not to, though. This is a slow business anyway, and the more you cultivate patience and certain standards, the better.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

Now that my kids are both in school fulltime, I get up at 5 a.m. and either work out or get things organized. And by things, I mean email and other potential distractions. Once the girls are in school, I work on whatever project is currently on my front burner. I write picture books and novels, and sometimes will have more than one going at a time—generally a picture book and a novel, although I have had my hands in more than one novel at a time. I try to get into what Jack Gantos calls “a tunnel of focus.” Once I fall out of it, I go on to something marketing related. Or to a freelance project, because that is how I pay the bills. By afternoon, I am usually sort of drained, so I read for an hour before getting the kids at school and doing the homework/dinner/yes, you have to take a shower routine. The reading is really important, not only for inspiration, but also for a sense of connection to the writing community. I am thrilled to be one of many, many voices telling tales to young readers, and I love knowing authors and their work.

As for where I work? My office is in an attic, which is what all little girls dream of. There are no cobwebs or trunks full of moldering gowns and/or jewels, alas. (Though there is a plastic skull and my collection of dinosaur fossils.)

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Read. Read a lot. Read to discover how good writers working today are—very, very good. Read to discover how they do what they do, which is make you care about a character and experience his or her triumphs and losses as if they are your own. And read to discover what you like and what is maybe not your thing. This accomplishes a couple of things: It tells you what sort of writing you perhaps should be producing, and it also tells you that this business is subjective.

That gets me to my second bit o’ wisdom. Not everyone likes every book. And not everyone will like your writing. Oh, it is so painful, especially when they dislike your writing to your face. (Tip: Keep your face away from Goodreads.) But it’s all right. People are entitled to be complete idiots. Total jerkwads. And you are a good soul trying your best, so be kind to yourself during the hard days.

Don’t be deluded about things, though: Honestly, your book has to be better than similar ones already on the shelves. Otherwise, why publish it? You are going to have to work hard. You’re going to have to learn the craft. You’re going to have to write something original. And you’ll have to rewrite it a bunch of times. If you’re not up for that, it’s okay to do something else. In the amount of time you might invest in this work, you could learn to bake a really good cake, and almost everybody likes cake, which will mean almost everybody will be happy to see you coming.

If you must do this, though, know that it demands patience and a willingness to fail, paired with more willingness to get up and get going one more time. 

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

I’ve always been a huge language nerd. I read Elements of Style when I was in 8th grade and LOVED IT. And, say what you will about some of the particulars in that manual, the truth is that anyone who follows their advice will be a better writer. Period. So, as a swimmer learns how to move swiftly and efficiently through water, writers have to learn the same with language.  Knowing how to put a sentence together in myriad ways that still work on a grammatical level (or on a purposely ungrammatical one) is invaluable. I learned German in high school and Greek in college; both have also helped me understand the structure of English better. The words are our tools. The better we understand them and the ways they can be laid out, the better we can write.

The second, as I mentioned earlier, is the importance of reading. Don’t skimp here. Also, you don’t have to finish every book you start. If you’re not loving something, though, ask yourself why. This is part of reading as a writer does—going beyond pure enjoyment of the story and understanding the writer’s choices and how they add up to something soul-stirring.

The third isn’t an aspect of craft, perhaps, but one of character. Most people who try to write books don’t finish. Of the ones who finish, most don’t find agents. Most don’t get published. Of those few people who do get published, most books don’t become bestsellers. When you tell someone you’re a writer and they say, “Will I have heard of anything you’ve written?” the answer is most likely going to be no. Unless you’re at an SCBWI conference. So developing a sense of perspective is great. I fail at this regularly, of course. But we are all teeny creatures living finite lives on the skin of a fragile planet that is one among millions in the ever-expanding universe. Whether and how much we succeed is almost irrelevant. What is important is that we have tried, and along the way, we have tried to serve our fellow humans. That is what stories are supposed to do, whether by entertaining, enlightening, enveloping in comfort or some other thing that is good but might not begin with the letter e. It’s how we love the fact that we are alive, and how we love those who are alive with us. In doing those two things, we have enjoyed the richest of human blessings.

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party? Which fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

Geez, I am such a socially awkward introvert. It would freak me out to know these authors were coming to my house. But let’s just say the place was clean for once, and that someone else had gone to the grocery store for me so that I could just focus on cooking something tasty while I drank a fortifying glass of wine, I would assemble a mixed crowd of living and dead authors: Neil Gaiman (living); Markus Zusak (living); Jaclyn Moriarty (living); Agatha Christie (dead—but at whose hand?); Shel Silverstein (dead, but still so lively); Lloyd Alexander (dearly departed); and E.B. White (immortal).

There are so many characters I love: Junie B. Jones, Hermione Granger, Skulduggery Pleasant, Bartimaeus the djinn (who also is invited to my dinner party) … hmm. What they all have in common is a commitment to being fully themselves, whatever that self is. Each one is funny and sympathetic and flawed. And I think why I love them so is that is how I want to be: committed to inhabiting the full catastrophe of myself, strengths, weaknesses, idiosyncrasies… that’s how I will know my real life has begun. 

Tami Lewis Brown


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About Tami:

Tami Lewis Brown grew up on a Kentucky horse farm and later left a career as a trial lawyer to earn an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College.

She lives with her family in one of the oldest houses in Washington DC. Her first picturebook - SOAR, ELINOR! - will be published by FSG in 2010. 

www.tamilewisbrown.com

Tami on facebook

SOAR, ELINOR!:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

Unlike many writers, I didn’t grow up with any ambition to write a book. I’d never met an author and I figured books were only written by dead people. I can’t really explain it, but I was a successful trial lawyer and woke up one morning realizing I wanted to write children’s books. Within a year I’d quit my job at the law firm and enrolled in Vermont College’s MFA in Writing for Children.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

GO DOG. GO! by P. D. Eastman was the first book I read completely by myself. Suddenly, I held the power of story and imagination right in my own hands. Giving that power to children - who generally have very little control over anything in their lives - is one of the big reasons I love writing for a young audience.

My absolute favorite all-time author is Roald Dahl, but not for his ability to create wacky characters or fantastic worlds. Dahl knew how to drill deep into a story’s emotional core and uncover human truth with a sense of humor. When my second-grade teacher read about Charlie Bucket’s four grandparents sleeping together in one bed and eating nothing but weak cabbage soup, I was undone.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

I began working on THE MAP OF ME while I was a student at Vermont College. After graduation, I entered the first twenty pages for an SCBWI Work In Progress grant and was shocked when the judges, including Linda Sue Park, selected it as the winner. I’d been working with Farrar Straus & Giroux on my picture book, SOAR, ELINOR! so I was thrilled when they agreed to publish THE MAP OF ME, too.

Was it hard to get an agent ? Can you talk us through the process?

My process of getting an agent was fairly unorthodox. Through Vermont College and SCBWI, I’d had the opportunity to meet quite a few agents, and although I liked many of them, I didn’t feel my writing or my career were ready for that step. At about the time I completed THE MAP OF ME I met Sarah Davies and we hit it off. I knew she’d be a fabulous agent for me, and (luckily) she liked my writing too. So Sarah is the only agent I’ve ever approached about representation. I suppose that makes it sound easy, but a lot of thought, background work, and great good luck, obviously, went into it.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

In the past, I’ve fit writing around my studies and working as a writer in residence/librarian at an elementary school, but now I write full time. My routine varies according to my writing goals, and the stage of my work in progress, but I generally ‘arrive’ at work, in a small office at the top of my house, every morning as soon as my son is off to school. I usually finish my day by reading something I find inspiring - maybe a novel by Katherine Paterson, or a story by Eudora Welty, or even something written by one of the other Greenhouse authors - and taking notes about writing elements I like, just before I go to sleep.

Can you tell us about your next book?

My next book is still a bit of a secret. I don’t like to say too much before a final draft is done. I can say it’s a mystery, it’s set in a place I know very well, and it’s a little bit creepy, but with lots of heart.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Don’t jump the gun trying to be published too soon. Learn your craft first by reading lots of current books, studying writing technique, and practicing by writing thousands and thousands of pages.

When you are ready as a writer, publishing opportunities will present themselves.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

I blog about writing craft at Through The Tollbooth with eight other accomplished children’s writers, and we’ve talked about every craft topic under the sun, but for me it comes down to Voice, Voice, and Voice. It’s that allusive element that sets a wonderful manuscript apart from an ordinary one.

As I’ve matured as a writer I’ve developed my own authorial voice, which extends across everything I write, as well as the specific voice of a particular novel or story. My voice is that combination of the way I look at the world, the way I express myself on the page, and whatever else it is that makes me – me.

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

Planning my guest list I’d start out with M. T. Anderson, Kathi Appelt, Deborah Wiles, and Katherine Paterson. They’re friends of mine, I love their books, and we’d have a great time talking about their latest projects, or maybe just gossiping. But if it’s a dream dinner party, let’s add F. Scott Fitzgerald, Eudora Welty and Roald Dahl. And Faulkner. I’d love to meet Anne Frank, too, although obviously that would be bittersweet.

I wish I’d invented Harriet Welsch, the heroine of HARRIET, THE SPY. Harriet is seriously wacky, a bit mean, but lovable all the same. Her story (and her character) were utterly groundbreaking when the book was published in 1964, and she’s still just as fresh and sassy today.

Caroline Carlson


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About Caroline:

Caroline Carlson has worked as a paraprofessional children’s librarian and as an editor at an educational publishing company where she wrote, edited and developed English Literature and psychology texts for children of all ages. She is a graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She is currently Assistant Children’s & YA Literature Editor at Hunger Mountain, the VCFA journal of the arts. She is also a published poet (for adults) and has won several awards for her work. She lives with her husband in Pittsburgh, PA.

http://carolinecarlsonbooks.com

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I’ve wanted to write children’s books for nearly as long as I’ve been reading them. In elementary school, I entered Cricket magazine’s writing and illustrating contests every month, and one of my poems was printed in the magazine! It was about a seafaring rat, and I can still recite it upon request.

I kept writing through high school and college, although none of my work was as wildly successful as the seafaring rat poem. I enrolled in lots of writing workshops; I studied poetry (which I learned to love) and screenwriting (which is completely impossible). But more than anything, I wanted to write the sorts of stories I loved to read: stories full of magic, mystery, adventure, and heart.

After college, I worked as a textbook editor and wrote on the weekends, but I realized pretty quickly that if I wanted to be a professional writer, I had to make writing a priority in my life. I had to give it the respect it deserved. So I headed back to school, this time for a master’s degree in writing for children at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I learned an enormous amount about the craft of writing, I wrote more than I ever thought I could, and maybe most importantly, I started to call myself a writer.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

One of my heroes is my hometown librarian, who has excellent taste and always knows the perfect book to recommend. She introduced me to books like THE DARK IS RISING by Susan Cooper and CHARMED LIFE by Diana Wynne Jones—books that I love now as much as I did then. Other favorite authors were Lois Lowry, Madeleine L’Engle, and (a little later) Philip Pullman and Neil Gaiman.

I come from a family of book lovers, and some of my nicest childhood memories are of reading with my parents. It took us a few years, but my dad and I read all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s LITTLE HOUSE books together. (To be fair, Dad did most of the reading.)

Can you talk us through your career so far? What were the key moments?

When the most exciting moment of my writing career arrived, I was dressed as a penguin.

It was Halloween, and because I’m a fan of penguins, I’d decided to dress as one. I have a crocheted penguin hat, complete with eyes and a beak, and I was feeling very sophisticated and professional in my costume as I sat in my living room in front of a giant bowl of candy, waiting for trick-or-treaters to arrive.

Then the phone rang. It was Sarah, calling to tell me that HarperCollins wanted to buy my first book. At least, I think that’s what she said—it was a little hard to hear through the penguin hat’s earflaps. I clasped my hands to my beak, said a few incomprehensible things (like, ‘I’m dressed as a penguin!’), hung up, and danced around a little in the living room. Then I ate several fun-sized Butterfingers from the trick-or-treat bowl to celebrate.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organise your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I write best in the morning, before all the world’s distractions have wriggled into my brain. I usually get out of bed, have a cup of tea, and shut myself in my tiny office—the only room in our house where my computer can’t connect to the internet. I stare out the window. I watch squirrels run across the neighbors’ yard. I wonder if it’s too early to take a nap. I get more tea. And then I write.

I usually work until lunchtime, and then I take a break to read or catch up on e-mails and errands. If the weather’s nice, I like to take a walk in the afternoon, and sometimes the snags in my writing untangle themselves a little bit over the course of the walk. If the weather is grim and snowy, I hide indoors and read some more and bake far too many cookies.

Although I shut myself off from the outside world as much as possible when I’m writing, I find that it’s helpful—both to my writing and to my sanity—to read the newspaper, listen to the radio, spend time with friends, and travel as much as possible. Those are the places where story ideas live.

Can you tell us about what’s coming next from you?

After I finish writing the third and final book in the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates series, I’m hoping to write more adventurous stories for middle grade readers. I’m particularly excited about two ideas that might turn into books someday: one is about a boy who dreams of being a detective, and the other is about a girl who gets accidentally mixed up in the end of the world.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Write for the joy of it. Write the books you love to read. Don’t worry too much about the aspects of publishing you can’t control. Instead, focus on what you can control: writing the best book you know how to write, working hard, and having as much fun as possible in the process.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

Plotting a story comes fairly easily to me, but it took me a while to learn that characters should be more than tools in service to a great plot. In fact, characters should have emotions! They should make decisions! They should have goals! This is hardly a revolutionary concept, but my writing became much stronger once I stopped tugging my characters through the story and let them pursue their own needs and desires.

In graduate school, I studied with the very wise Franny Billingsley, who taught me to think of a story’s climax as a crossroads: the place where the main character’s external journey meets her internal journey. Characters don’t always have to resolve their internal and external conflicts at the same moment, but when they do, the result is a satisfying and emotionally charged climactic scene that ties the whole story together.

One of the most important things I’ve learned to do recently is let go. Sometimes a scene, or a chapter, or a character, or an entire draft just isn’t working. Sometimes it can be patched up and fixed, but sometimes it can’t, and that’s okay. The things you learn from writing a messy, unfixable story will make your next story even stronger.

Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

In addition to my favorite childhood authors, whose books I still read and reread, I’d love to meet some of the authors I’ve discovered as an adult. I’m a huge fan of books by Michelle Cooper, Jaclyn Moriarty, and Elizabeth C. Bunce, so I’d like to grab a coffee with them and ask them if they’d be willing to lend me some of their collective brilliance.

My all-time favorite protagonist has got to be Cassandra Mortmain from Dodie Smith’s I CAPTURE THE CASTLE. I’d like to write while sitting in the kitchen sink, like Cassandra does, but I’m not sure my landlord would approve.

Sarwat Chadda


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About Sarwat:

Sarwat Chadda was raised on stories of Saladin, Richard the Lion-Heart and the Crusades, viewed from both sides, and started out writing role-playing game scenarios. He was a senior engineer in a past life, but now writes full time.

Sarwat lives in London with his family. His Indian epic THE SAVAGE FORTRESS was chosen by USBBY as an ‘Outstanding international book’ at ALA 2013.

www.sarwatchadda.com

Meet The Author:

Introduction to ASH MISTRY:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I started writing in the early eighties. I was totally into Dungeons and Dragons and we’d recently fallen out with our current games-master. If you haven’t played it sounds a bit strange, but each person creates a character and the games-master creates the setting and the adventure. Traditionally it’s a dungeon populated by monsters that the characters must explore.

I took over the role of games-master so set about creating weekly adventures. The early ones were all pastiches of Tolkien and Conan. I moved onto writing horror, a sort of modern-day gothic and that’s evolved into my chosen genre.

The role-playing helped me immensely as a storyteller. You had direct contact with your audience, i.e. the other players. You could tell if they got confused or their attention was wandering, or if they were on the edge of their seats, listening to every word.

Then in 2004 a friend suggested I try my hand at writing a proper story. That night Billi SanGreal was born. A version of that chapter eventually became my entry into SCBWI UK’s Undiscovered Voices competition, back in 2007.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

I loved THE HOBBIT. I still do. It was read to me at primary school and I was converted. I ploughed through Greek mythology, then Norse, then Celtic, The Arabian Nights and more recently Hindu myths.

I read the Willard Price adventure series and moved, as you do, into fantasy as a teen. The Conan books were probably the biggest influence as they were light on myth, deep on scene setting, and blood raw on action. Then Moorcock and the entire ETERNAL CHAMPION series. I have a thing for melancholy, brooding heroes. Then somewhat belatedly I turned back to Tolkien with LORD OF THE RINGS.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

I wrote my first draft of DEVIL’S KISS filled with enthusiasm and no knowledge. The key moment was finishing it - 100,000 words, most of them rubbish.

I had my first book. It was then that I realized I could become a writer. It’s fulfilling the commitment to write and produce a book that’s so important - writing THE END to something. Then I was roundly, and rightly, rejected. Not a problem. I wrote another. Then another. I took classes and entered competitions. I’d decided not to submit to agents until I had won a few, seeing that as my best way of keeping off the slush-pile.

I entered the Cornerstones WOW Factor competition and then, almost by chance, the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices competition.

I was shortlisted on the WOW Factor and one of the winners with SCBWI. It was this that proved to be the turning point, though I didn’t know it at the time.

Meeting Sarah was the next key moment, but the one I knew was going to change my life was when Devil’s Kiss went to auction. That was the moment I knew I could quit my day job and become a full-time writer.

Now, a year later, I can honestly say that it’s exceeded my expectations big time.

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

I was roundly rejected with my first attempts of writing, and quite rightly so. They were pretty bad. But I made a very conscious decision then to avoid agents and not submit. Agents say that if you write well and have a great story, THEY WILL FIND YOU. That is true. And one way they find you is via competitions.

I wrote for two years solidly, 10pm till midnight, on draft after draft after draft of DEVIL’S KISS. Not rewrites or polishes, but chuck it all in the bin and start again.

So when Sarah called to meet me, I was very anxious, especially as the story she’d read I had subsequently dumped in the bin. I warned her that the new version was pretty extreme and (though I didn’t tell her this at the time) had been violently rejected by a couple of agents as being (and I quote) ‘poisonous and no bookseller, parent or librarian would let a child touch it’.

So thank god Sarah liked it! Still, she wanted it rewritten (keeping the poisonous and vile bits) and that’s what I did.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I drop the kids off at school and then go straight into the writing. I try and do all the first draft and rewriting in the morning, whilst I’m fresh, and leave the paperwork and correspondence to the afternoon. That’s not rigid but gives me a structure to work with. I try and not write over the weekends, but will do some work Sunday evening (for example this interview), usually stuff I’ve promised to others like interviews or articles.

I’ve taken to writing at my local cafe. Firstly, they don’t have WiFi, so I’m not distracted by idle websurfing or YouTube. I like the background activity. I have a study, but can’t be in it all day - it’s just too dull. I’ve spent most of my life in open-plan offices so can tune out pretty easily.

Inspiration usually comes from places and history. Mythology and religion play a big part in my stories. They are the fundamental blocks on which our world’s cultures have been built.

And real life, of course. Billi wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for my daughters and my role as a parent. DEVIL’S KISS wouldn’t exist if not for my visit to an intensive care unit for babies. All these things tumble around in my brain, and my work is tying them into something that has structure, some sort of meaning.

Can you tell us about your next book?

I grew up reading Greek and Norse myths. Hercules was my favourite hero and Thor my favourite god. Nothing was as awesome as the tale of Ragnarok. I’ve been a fan of King Arthur the moment I picked up a plastic sword and all these influences have been refelcted in my first two books, my love of mythology and legends.

With my new trilogy, ASH MISTRY AND THE SAVAGE FORTRESS, I wanted to introduce a mythology perhaps less well-known in the west, but as awesome as any Greek tale of gods and monsters. It’s time we brought some Indian heroes into the mix.

The setting and mythology of the Indian subcontinent is awesome. Not just in depth but scope. The desert cities of Rajasthan could be straight out of the Arabian Nights and the mythology is still current and part of people’s lives. If you visit Indai you really get the feeling the legends could be real, and just around the corner. I’ve travelled the regions, from the Himalayas to the deserts and its the most exotic and exciting place imaginable. It’s a fantasy world for real.

Ash and his sister, Lucky, are your average British kids. Ash’s biggest worry is the speed of his internet connection. The boy’s a geek but a geek who gets caught up in a four thousand year war between the gods and Ravana, the demon king. I love it that Ash is a reluctant hero, no special powers, no training and no idea of his destiny. The Indian religion believes in the idea of reincarnation and that’s the premise of the book.

What if the greatest evil the world have ever known was about to be reborn and the only one able to stop it was a 13 year old boy?

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Write and write and write. Chuck it away and start again. But finish whatever you start.

Accept rejection and learn the craft. It does not come naturally and putting sentences on a page does not equal writing. The harder you are on yourself, the easier agents and publishers will be.

Avoid autobiographical works! Ultimately all characters reflect the writer, but don’t do it in a way that’s obvious, and it usually will be.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

Rewrites. Be prepared for them. Some are very big and you’ll wonder if you can incorporate changes and ideas that have come from your editors. Remember you wouldn’t be here if you couldn’t do it. Have confidence in your abilities.

Don’t get over-confident, and take advice!

Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

It’s a dinner party so you’d have to invite Oscar Wilde. THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY is one of my favourites.

Mikhail Bulgakov. I’ve only just discovered him but OMG. Insane. He comes across as a very cool cat.

Phillip Pullman. I entered the world of children’s fiction through HIS DARK MATERIALS. He’s probably the main reason I became a writer. 

I wish I’d invented Bilbo Baggins. THE HOBBIT is the most perfectly formed children’s book ever.

Gina Ciocca


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About Gina:

Gina Ciocca graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2002 with a degree in English. She’s been reading and writing for as long as she’s known how, and notoriously brought books to parties and picnics while growing up. Gina loves creating flawed but likable characters, writing the perfect kissing scene, and making people fall in love with falling in love. She lives in Georgia with her husband and son. 

Gina's Books:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I’ve literally been writing since I knew how. In second and third grade, my friend Bridget and I would write stories about each other as the love interests to celebrity offspring during class and then swap notebooks to read them. They were long-winded and plotless, but so much fun! I can’t ever remember a time when I didn’t love books and the imaginary worlds they can take you to.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

I absolutely can. It was Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. My school used to give us a half an hour or so for quiet reading time, but when I read this book I was so absorbed in the imaginary forest kingdom that thirty minutes felt more like two. I can still remember blinking and looking around as the teacher told us to close our books. It had felt so real to me – the golden trees, the rope swinging over the creek – that I was actually disoriented upon finding myself back in a sterile, fluorescently lit classroom. It was the first time I realized words could create magic.

My other childhood storytelling heroes are probably very common for my generation: Ann M. Martin’s BABYSITTERS CLUB Series (I was totally Mary Anne), Francine Pascal’s SWEET VALLEY TWINS series, Lucy Maude Montgomery’s ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, and anything by Christopher Pike.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

I wanted to be an author my entire life, but I didn’t write my first book until I was almost 30, despite all my bookish obsessions and the fact that I had a BA in English. The latter was probably part of the problem – I had no idea what to do with my degree, and writing so much for school sort of burned me out. Once I graduated, I took an office job that had absolutely nothing to do with what I’d studied – or loved. I didn’t read or write for ages. As a result, I was pretty miserable, but it took me a long time to make the connection. I thought I was unhappy because I worked long hours for terrible pay in a place where I was over-utilized and underappreciated (which didn’t help!). Things got a little easier when I changed jobs in 2004, but it wasn’t until I suffered a miscarriage in 2009 that I took a step back and reevaluated my life a bit. Then a light bulb went off: I’d abandoned my outlet, and I needed to get back to doing what made me happy. I decided I was finally going to write a novel.

When I did, it was truly a rookie mess. 96,000 words, and at least 25,000 of them completely unnecessary. But I had no clue; I was just so proud of myself for finally seeing a concept through from beginning to end. Unsurprisingly, this was not the novel that got my foot in the door. But it *was* the one that broke me in, that introduced me to the online writing community, and that helped me find friends and critique partners that I treasure to this day.

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

It was hard, though due in large part to how green I was when I started querying, and the fact that I was querying a novel that didn’t fit in anywhere. It was about college-age girls, which I had no idea was not considered YA when I wrote it, and New Adult was not yet a thing. It was also paranormal in the post-Twilight era, which meant most agents ran screaming from it.

Querying LAST YEAR’S MISTAKE was totally different. I was older and wiser, had a lot more research and experience under my belt, and knew I had a marketable story. Agent responses started off slow, but once I revised my query and started entering contests, the requests really poured in. I think I had 14 or 15 agents request material, and two offers of representation. I chose John Cusick because I loved his editorial suggestions and felt they’d make the story stronger, and because he was so genuinely enthusiastic about the manuscript. The rest is history.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I used to write in my down time at work, but since I had my son in August 2013, I’m now a stay-at-home mom. Some people might think this makes it easier to write. They are wrong. My son cried constantly when he was first born, and I didn’t have time to shower, let alone write. Now, thank goodness, he’s mellowed out enough that I can write during his naps and after he goes to bed. Early morning and post-sunset are my time for my other kids – my stories.

Inspiration comes from everywhere: dreams, memories, people, places, songs. If one of those things makes me feel a certain way, I live for the challenge of trying to replicate it in a novel.

Can you tell us about your next book?

I have two finished manuscripts, the newest of which is a YA Contemporary that was ridiculously fun to write. The other is a YA psychological thriller that I’m currently revising, and I’m also converting a YA romance novella into a full-length novel. My writing cup runneth over, and I love it!

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

I would kill to have dinner with V.C. Andrews. She passed away in the 80’s, but I bow to her ability to write the dark and twisted. One of these days I’m going to get brave and do a re-imagining of FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC. And as I serve her wine at my dinner party, I’ll ask her to tell me on DL if she despised the ghost writer they hired after her death as much as I did.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

I have several. Do your research, don’t be afraid of critique, surround yourself with topnotch CP’s, and write even if you’re not totally feeling the love for what you’re putting on the page. To quote myself, Let Your Suck Flow. http://writersblog-gina.blogspot.com/2011/12/just-let-your-suck-flow.html

Marina Cohen


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About Marina:

Marina Cohen is an elementary school teacher and the author of several novels available in Canada including, Chasing the White Witch, (Dundurn, 2011), Mind Gap, (Dundurn, 2011), and Ghost Ride, (Dundurn, 2009) which received Honor Book in the Ontario Library Associations’s 2011 Red Maple Fiction Awards. INN BETWEEN is her U.S. debut.

Marina's Books:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I’ve always loved writing. As a kid I wrote stories, poems, and songs. But I guess you could say I began writing seriously in my early twenties. At that time, I wrote a lot of scary short stories. I submitted one to a magazine called Terminal Fright, but when it was kindly rejected, I was devastated and abandoned writing for a few years. Luckily my brain couldn’t stop plotting, so when I finally decided to write again, I had the plot of my first novel completely worked out in my head.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you?

One of the earliest books that had an impact on me was Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who. I remember being fascinated with the idea that an entire world could exist on a spec of dust. I worried about the worlds I could be crushing beneath my feet and wondered if perhaps my world was nothing but a spec of dust on a flower in some giant’s garden. The story opened up so many possibilities. And so began my search through strange doorways, and tiny cracks, looking for other worlds and rifts in time and space.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

I once heard a song that began: Follow the Light that glows through your bedroom window tonight… The idea intrigued me, and in my mind I imagined a fantasy in which all light disappeared from the universe and three kids, armed only with a jar of fireflies, set out on a quest to restore it. I thought about the story for years before I began to write. Once I set myself to it, I completed the first draft in about six months. I submitted it to every publisher and was rejected by all. Eventually, I joined a critique group and learned the art of editing. I also got to know a lot about the writing industry, as well as how to write a half-decent query that didn’t mention both Harry Potter and Star Wars! (Yes. I did that.) After five years of writing, rewriting, submitting, and rejection, I got my first contract.

Was it hard to get an agent ? Can you talk us through the process?

Signing with the amazingly talented and supportive John Cusick (who subsequently brought me to Greenhouse Literary!) was a dream come true. I’d written a few books that were published in Canada and finally worked up enough courage to query agents. Because I didn’t honestly believe I’d get one, I started with my top five dream agents. I fired off e-queries that included a sample chapter. Twenty-four hours later, John requested the full. I was so excited. I sat on pins and needles awaiting his response. When he emailed me saying, “I’ve finished your manuscript. Can we talk?” I was over the moon. I recall our first conversation. It went something like this: John: “I read your manuscript and loved it!” Me: “That’s so awesome!!” John: “Now I need you to completely rewrite it.” Me: “???” John gave me the best feedback ever and I spent the next half-year rewriting the manuscript as per his suggestions. I consider myself to be so incredibly lucky. John Cusick, Sarah Davies, and everyone at Greenhouse are so supportive. They believe in more than just the writing—they believe in the writer. I used to feel like I was freefalling. Now I feel like I’m flying—with a huge safety net beneath me.

Describe your writing day.

I wish I could say I have a great writing routine but alas, I don’t. I can’t even say I write every day like most writers I know. (Unless you count thinking—because I’m always thinking, which of course equals plotting!) But actual writing happens when I’m quiet and alone. In a busy, chaotic house that’s the tough part. I sneak in an hour here and there—sometimes as little as fifteen minutes. When people say they’re too busy to write, I say it’s all about choices. Do you really need to clean that floor? Wash those dishes? Take that shower? Okay, maybe that last one…

Can you tell us about your next book?

I’m so excited about my next book! It’s called INN BETWEEN and it’s a creepy MG about a road trip and a brief stay in a bizarre hotel in the middle of the Mojave Desert.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

My best piece of advice to aspiring writers is to persevere. Though it’s nearly impossible at times, believe in yourself and your writing. Attend workshops and conferences, or join an online critique group. Other writers are a huge source of inspiration and support!

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

1. Sleekify. While revising the first draft of my first manuscript, I clipped, trimmed, pruned—heck, I took a machete to it. Nearly cut the thing in half. I learned to make every word count—no superfluous descriptions or gratuitous characters or scenes. When you write thrillers, you want to keep things moving, keep your readers turning those pages.
2. Use “said”. I think the first draft of my first manuscript had every single dialogue tag in existence.
3. Thoroughly develop characters. Constantly working on this one.

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party?

Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and Edgar Allen Poe. On Halloween. At midnight.

Winifred Conkling


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About Winifred:

Winifred Conkling has loved writing since third grade when she taught herself to type. She went on to become a journalist and author of adult non-fiction books, rediscovering her love of children’s fiction when she became a mother.

She has also taught reading to inmates at a maximum-security prison, run a marathon, spent the night in a dung hut with Samburu warriors, and volunteered with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India.

Winifred is pursuing an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and three children.

http://www.winifredconkling.com/

Donna Cooner


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About Donna:

Donna Cooner holds a Doctorate in Education and is Director of the School of Teacher Education and Principal Preparation at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado.  She has published 17 picture and board books for children—all in the mass market or religious market and has also written children’s TV shows for PBS. She blogs at www.donnacooner.com

Donna is a gastric-bypass patient and SKINNY is her first novel.

SKINNY TRAILER:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

My father was a school teacher and my mom was a school secretary. The idea of becoming a writer was never a career option. Mostly I wanted to be a marine biologist, but you can’t do that very well if you get motion sickness at the drop of a hat, so I became a teacher and then, eventually, a teacher of teachers. But all along the way I wrote stories. Not for money. Just because.

I wrote them on notebook paper tucked away in dresser drawers, in journals with bright blue pens, and finally on computers in a file labeled “writing.” And something strange happened. I learned I could make money with what I wrote. It was such an alien concept. You make up something in your head and people pay you for it.  My first experience with being ‘paid’ for my writing was when I won the local newspaper contest for a Father’s Day essay. I was eight and I won a clock radio (remember those?). It was very cool.

Later...much later...I found myself writing for PBS and making a lot of money (at least it was for me) with what I made up in my head.  Teaching at the university and still writing on the ‘side’, I was the only one writing for the television show that wasn’t a full time writer. I just couldn’t make the leap. All of my childhood values of job security and common sense were screaming at me to not give up the day job as a teacher.

I read hundreds, maybe thousands, of picture books in my former life as a kindergarten teacher. When Halloween candy was coursing through their tiny veins, or the firemen had just brought the huge red truck with sirens to the school that morning, or when no classroom management strategy worked, I could always count on a picture book to calm the savage beasts (otherwise known as cute little five year olds). In only a couple of pages of a classic picture book like p.d. eastman’s Are You My Mother? or Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, or Bill Martin’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, I’d have all thirty three sitting, listening and reciting along. All it took was the magic of a picture book. I loved picture books. No really. They saved me. As a 20 year old teacher teaching all alone in the basement of a 100 year old school, I LOVED picture books. I loved them all (and I have the insurance rider on my picture book collection to prove it), but I especially loved the repetitive, patterned text that had my five year old audience chiming in at every page turn. So that’s exactly the kind of book I started writing and publishing.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

The first books I remember reading were by Dr. Seuss.  I could read them independently using the short rhyming words as predictable cues.  Learning to read before entering school, I quickly became a library addict.  I read everything I could get my hands on including the CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, A WRINKLE IN TIME, and ANNE OF GREEN GABLES to name a few.

When I was a little older, my family spent one week a summer at a lake house in the hill country outside of Austin. My aunt, uncle and cousins would go too, and the two families would crowd into the house for a week of boating, water skiing, swimming and hiking.  Much to my older sister’s frustration, my week was also full of reading. I couldn’t wait to explore the uncensored bookcases full of paperback novels left by previous vacationers. There were so many books (and authors) I had never seen on the children’s shelves of the library. It was a whole new world and was in direct conflict with the ‘real’ world outside. My sister tried every guilt trick she could think of to get me to put the books down. The conversation usually ended with her storming off to ‘have fun without me’. Within minutes, I was already back in the worlds created by authors like Agatha Christie, Daphne DuMaurier, Victoria Holt, and John Le Carre.  Don’t worry. I didn’t stay inside and read for my WHOLE vacation (although I’m sure my sister would claim otherwise). I swam and boated and water skied, but the struggle between the ‘head’ world vs. the ‘real’ world has continued throughout my life.

Can you talk us through your career so far? What were the key moments?

After publishing over twenty picture books with mass market and regional publishers, I stopped writing for children to focus all my efforts on writing for tenure at a research university. I was granted tenure, but longed to write something a little more creative than ‘The applied multiple regression correlation of the blahblahblah’ and ‘Complexity arises in the behavioral sciences when one departs from the orthogonality of factors in the blahblahblah’.

I was also facing a life event that was incomprehensible. My beloved mother had been diagnosed with stage four cancer. There was no stage five. I spent a great deal of time in hospitals and doctor’s offices trying not to think of the unthinkable, that my mother could actually die. I saw family after family torn apart by the diagnosis that someone-child, mother, father, grandparent- was facing cancer, and slowly I started to write about it.  This new stuff definitely wasn’t picture book material, and I had lost most of my connections to the children’s book publishing world during my time away from the business. 

I knew I needed a new creative writing start so I submitted twenty pages of my first attempt at a novel to participate in the critique groups for a local writing conference, but had little more than that completed. My biggest hope for the weekend was that I would be motivated to finish the book.  Both critique groups that weekend were thoughtful, tough and encouraging. More importantly, both resulted in a better manuscript. I certainly left with the desire to finish my book, but I also left with amazing connections.  I followed that up, about six months later, by attending another writing conference in California.

The critique groups were again small, intense and focused.  One of those groups was made up of four other writers who were all just beginning to query agents.  We kept in touch and that small critique group became the YAMuses (www.yamuses.blogspot.com). I might never have met them if not for that conference, and I thank my stars every day for their support and encouragement. Nobody understands this frustrating, exhilarating world like they do. That amazing group cheered me on to finish the manuscript for SKINNY.  I connected with Sarah Davies, and Greenhouse Literary offered representation in May, 2011.  It was a huge turning point in my career.  After that, everything exploded (in a totally good way).  Within a few months, I sold SKINNY to Scholastic (US) and Egmont (UK).

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organise your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

Not long ago my horoscope said, ‘Puttering around is part of your creative process. So don’t fret if it takes you a few hours of wandering from room to room to get comfortable. This is just what you do before you finally settle into work.’

I’m not a big follower of horoscopes, but I couldn’t have described my writing process any better. I putter around. I wander around from room to room-like the Facebook room and the Twitter room and the email room-before I finally settle in to actually write. The puttering around also involves cleaning the vents in the laundry room, taking bubble baths, drinking lattes, and staring at people in the coffee shop. Some days I avoid the blank page with almost any distraction. I also don’t write every day. There I said it. I write in chunks of time when I can squeeze it in between a full time job and everything else in life.

I’ve always thought a writer’s life SHOULD be like this-wake up, do some Yoga, fix a cup of tea, settle in to my special writing place with my cat curled quietly in my lap and my dog snuggled in at my feet. I type out pages and pages of new words onto the blank screen and then break for lunch.

Unfortunately, the TRUE story of my day is more like this-I wake up late for work, grab a Lean Cuisine on the way out the door, think about my story in the car, have a budget meeting at 9, a dissertation defense at 10, a disgruntled student at 11 and Lean Cuisine at 12. And so it goes until I get home around six and try to write something before bedtime while I dodge the cat on my desk (see picture) and pull the new lab puppy (goat) off the dining room table.

There’s also a secret, hidden part of my own personal writing process that I don’t like to admit or talk about. I’d much rather write about all my successful writing strategies and plot devices, but I’ve learned from many, many past experiences that it is an integral part of the process and I can’t avoid it.

Ok, so I here I go… *standing up*

‘Hello, my name is Donna and I’m a procrastinator.’

It’s been four days since my last writing session (wait, I think I’m getting that confused with confession). Anyway, here’s what it looks like and maybe someone out there can relate:  Today is Saturday and I have time to write. Ahhhh...sitting down in front of the computer. Open manuscript? Not yet. Open facebook. Read. Post. Open twitter. Read. Open online news. Check email. Check celebrity fashions. Nice shoes. Shop for shoes online. Now, I’m ready to open the manuscript and get down to business. Cat jumps on desk. I tell cat to get down. Cat doesn’t (repeat several times). Pet cat. Notice cat hair on shirt. I should really wash that. Do a load of laundry. Ok, back in front of the computer. Open manuscript! Look at word count. I need more words. Plot out wordcount on calendar beside my desk. Look at screen. Time for lunch. Ok, back in front of the computer. Now, I’m really doing it. Write a sentence. Read the sentence. Change the sentence. This is going sooooooo sllllloooooowwwwly. You know what would help? Listening to music. Go on ITunes. Look for song that I can’t remember the title for… email fellow muse for title. Get title. Download song. Listen. Perfect. It’d sound even better with some good speakers. Shop for speakers online. They’ll come in the mail in a week or so. I should check the mail. Walk to mailbox. Sun feels really good...warm. Sit outside and promise God I’ll go inside and write when the sun goes behind that cloud over there. Ok, I’m back.  So is all of this bad for the process or just part of it? Who knows? Maybe, I’m not procrastinating. Maybe, it’s something different.  I just know that so far it works for me.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Attend a Conference. I encourage any aspiring writer to go to a quality writer’s conference that includes critiques with editors and agents. Almost all my big breaks happened as a direct result of attending a conference.  At the actual time I attended each of these conferences, I had no idea what would evolve, but I was open to making those contacts and putting myself, and my writing, out there.  I hate mingling. My basic introverted personality screams out in horror at the idea BUT if there if ever a time to meet and greet, it’s at a writing conference. Writing is an incredibly solitary endeavor most of the time, but conferences remind me that personal connections in this business are so important. I’m always a bit amazed at how one connection, leads to another, leads to another. Yes, you need the writing to back it up, but face to face time is critical, too.

Be kind. There was a woman at one of the critique groups at a recent conference who had left her toddler alone for the first time to come and read aloud her picture book manuscript. She was nervous, teary eyed, and terrified at being critiqued for the first time by an agent and eight other writers. It didn’t matter how good the story was, she needed some plain, old fashioned kindness. There was a time I needed that kindness and I hope I never forget what that felt like.

Laugh. This is a tough business and it isn’t getting easier. The good news? Children’s writers are funny. When I’m with them I laugh a LOT and that is always a good thing.
Find a support group that serves as a team. When the team wins, you win. My blogging group, the YAMuses, have an amazing success story and we celebrate every tidbit of positive news. A good writers’ group should function like that - supportive, challenging and focused toward the success of all. I’ve been involved in groups in the past where it was apparent that some participants had absolutely no desire to help anyone else in the group. They just wanted their moment in the spotlight. You can’t have a softball team full of fantastic catchers-you need every position to play their unique best.  My writing group also serves as critical beta readers.  The feedback I receive contradicts, encourages, challenges and expands what is already on the page.

Keep ‘Normal’ People Around:  I’m lucky to have wonderful writing buddies who understand the process and the desire for a saleable writing product, but, just as importantly, I also have people who have absolutely no clue what it’s like to try to write and publish a novel. ( In fact, most of the people around me fall into this latter category--Thank God). When they do find out about my secret other life, they ask me questions like how? and why? Sometimes I know the answers. Sometimes not. They like to bring it up at cocktail parties and work meetings. They pull me out as an instant curiosity when the conversation dwindles, then everyone looks at me with brows furrowed like I’m the nearly extinct Purple Painted Geko of Timbuktu. Once discovered, I catch them narrowing their eyes at me, wondering if something they just said or did will end up in a chapter somewhere for strangers to read. I hate to tell them (and I usually don’t), but it just might.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

Take Risks.  I think my best writing is often the pieces that are closest to my deepest fears and heartaches. When readers relate to my writing, it is often when I take the biggest risks to share those deepest hurts. And that’s when I’m inspired as well. But that kind of inspiration isn’t easy. It’s putting those deepest emotions right out into a very public world. Hearing how complete strangers connect with the story of SKINNY is inspirational at the deepest level. After all, isn’t that what we are all hoping to do? Connect? But those seeds of inspiration for writing, and hopefully what ultimately inspires readers, means risk. We have to challenge ourselves to give characters our deepest held private emotions and then trust it’ll be okay.

Do Your Research.  Seriously, research is one of the BEST THINGS EVER about being a writer. It’s an open ended adventure down a road to discover new plot twists, specific details and unusual characters. You may eventually get to Oz (and finishing the WIP), but you’ll definitely discover a few tangent poppy fields along the way. Research on a writing project allows me to become a ‘pseudo expert’ on anything and everything that interests me. It’s the total excuse for attention issues, but you might be surprised what people will tell you when you lead with, ‘I’m writing a book and was just wondering what it’s like to be a ... fireman...or bartender...or cab driver...or tight rope walker’.

Nail Down the Character Detail. I sort of knew what my characters looked like, but I needed more detail and specificity. One reader’s comment about my main character was, ‘but what does she LOOK like?’ and, when I thought about that question, I honestly didn’t know. I also needed consistency with my character descriptions. On page 11, the best friend has blue eyes, but on page 58, she has brown eyes. So, off to the store I went for glue sticks, post it notes, poster board, and teen magazines. I selected pictures to represent all my major and minor characters, and created a Character Board for my desk. Now, I double check every name with the board to make sure the descriptions of each character is richly described and consistent throughout.

Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party?

Judy Blume - Who knows more about children’s books? I heard her speak at a conference this summer, and I was in awe. She’s gracious and smart and beautiful. I could barely stammer out a hello when I saw her later in the hotel coffee shop. Book Royalty.

Stephen King- I liked his book on craft, but I also love the way his mind works. He takes the usual and turns it into the unusual, and even bizarre. That creative twist is fascinating, and often horrifying.

Suzanne Collins - I’m a huge HUNGER GAMES fan. I would love to ask her about her publishing journey and her creative process.

Harper Lee – I just reread TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for about the hundredth time.  It never gets old.  Of course, I’m intrigued by her personal story as well.

Pat Conroy - I grew up on the Gulf Coast of Mexico and was so moved by the opening chapter of PRINCE OF TIDES.  Pat Conroy’s books are all about setting to me and the southern feel of his writing voice is completely addictive.

What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

I love Junie B. Jones.  Having taught that age for years, I totally relate to her humor.  Even as an adult, I think the books are laugh out funny.  Barbara Park creates a character that is delightfully revealed through every line of dialogue and action.  Studying those little chapter books is a great exercise for any writer on how to develop character voice through showing and not telling.

Elle Cosimano


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About Elle:

Elle Cosimano is the daughter of a prison warden and an elementary school teacher who rides a Harley. She majored in Psychology at St Mary’s College, Maryland, and set aside a successful real-estate career to pursue writing, She lives with her husband and two young sons in the Washington DC area.

www.ellecosimano.com

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

In elementary school I wrote my first epic poems about pirate kings and short stories about runaway boys on box car trains. Later, I wrote angst-ridden poetry by flashlight in my dorm room with the summer camp equivalent of The Dead Poet’s Society (all of which I eventually burned in a bonfire sacrifice to the goddess of ex-boyfriends and broken hearts). In college (a small liberal arts school), writing was at the core of every academic concentration. I majored in Psychology and flip-flops, and reflected on my authentic self. I wrote a lot back then.

I stopped writing after college. Got caught up in building a career and starting a family. Unwritten stories and high blood pressure both kept me awake at night, until my doctor said something that changed everything. He said ‘You are too young for your heart to stop beating’. He was right. It was a very Allison Reynolds/Breakfast Club moment. To realize I had grown up, and let my heart die. More than fifteen years had passed, but I started writing again.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

As a small child, my Uncle Bob read me faerie tales from an enchanting collection called Pepper and Salt or Seasoning for Young Folk by Howard Pyle. I don’t think this book is in print any longer, but I still have my copy, a later re-print bearing an original copyright date of 1885 by Harper & Row.

The first middle grade stories I fell in love with were THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN by Lloyd Alexander. And as a teenager, I discovered the works of S.E. Hinton and fell in love with storytellers who paint the darker, grittier underbelly of young adult issues by capturing them in a collection of beautiful moments. I rarely recall a story in its entirety (I have a horrible memory), but I come away from certain books with a handful of haunting or beautiful or gripping moments, and those unforgettable moments are what I strive to create in my own work.

Can you talk us through your career so far? What were the key moments?

I was at a conference for my former employer. We were doing an icebreaker and had to wander the room of a hundred real estate agents and share an interesting fact about ourselves. I came up with nothing. It was a light bulb moment when I realized that after twelve years, I was miserable in my career. I wasn’t doing what I wanted to be doing with my life. I couldn’t ignore all the stories in my head that haunted my work days and kept me awake at night. So I announced to one hundred people that I was writing a novel, because the first step to achieving a goal is to say it out loud and become accountable for it.

That summer, I took an eight week sabbatical and wrote the first draft of DEAD BLUE. When it was finished, I attended the Big Sur Writing Workshop. I told myself that if the agents, authors and editors hated my book, I would go back to my real estate job. Instead, they loved it. They coached me through the process of researching and selecting an agent. After long talks with my husband, I sold my car, we worked up a tight family budget, and I left my job to write full time. Two months later, I found The Greenhouse.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organise your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

Both my children are in school during the day, so I use that time to write. I treat it like a regular work day and try to avoid interruptions. The evenings and weekends are spent with my family. I worked nights and weekends for many years, so it is a rare treat to enjoy so much time with my husband and children. The kids and I also spend about 3-4 months a year living in a palapa (thatch roof open air house) in a small village on the Mayan Riviera. The sun and fresh air is good for my soul, and my process.

Can you tell us about what’s coming next from you?

I am currently developing the sequel to DEAD BLUE. I’m thrilled to continue Nearly and Reece’s story. I’m also working on a stand-alone project I’m really excited about, called HOLDING SMOKE. The manuscript has been accepted into the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program, and I am deeply honored to be working hand in hand with the extraordinary Ellen Hopkins on revisions. Beyond that, I am researching the early Maryland colonies for a historical thriller. And I’ll spend the Day of the Dead in Mexico this fall to research another thriller I’m developing.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Read. Read. Read.

Read everything you can get your hands on in your genre. And read blogs too. There’s a wealth of information on craft, finding the right agent, self-promotion, and writing a saleable book!  Submission guidelines and agent preferences are more accessible than ever. Read. Research. And most importantly, follow directions.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

1) Fearlessness:  I’ve learned it’s okay to start over… from scratch. That cutting huge chunks of a manuscript only hurts as long as you wallow over the scraps on the floor. I’ve learned to move on, get back to work, and make it better.

2) Trust:  I’ve learned to trust my prose. I am terribly guilty of overwriting, as most new authors are. I have to remind myself that sometimes less is more, and that strong pacing can depend on economy of words. It took practice (and a little superglue on my backspace key) to understand that I don’t need a lot of words, just the important ones.

3) Subtlety:  I am still learning the fine art of nuance. Subtlety goes hand in hand with trust. In addition to trusting my prose, I’m trusting my readers to “get it” without feeling the need to shove their faces in every point. I’m learning that a lighter hand can often leave a deeper impact.

Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party?

WOW, this is hard. Okay, here’s the short list.

Melissa Marr, Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, Carrie Ryan, Maggie Stiefvater, Kristin Cashore, Andrew Smith, Rachel Caine, Kim Harrison, Charlaine Harris, JR Ward, and Diana Gabaldon. I am deeply in love with all of their books. I would be too nervous to do anything but squeak, but I’d fill their bellies with the world’s best pot roast and keep their cups overflowing with wine, because I am grateful for their stories.

What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

Cassel Sharpe from Holly Black’s CURSE WORKER series. The premise of this story is so unique. A mobster with the ability to wield curses! Sounds far out. But he’s relatable because he’s got the usual teen issues too… sibling rivalry, a mom with “issues”, a weird grandpa, family expectations that don’t jive with his own desires, societal prejudices, schoolwork, and a problematic relationship with a difficult girl he just can’t seem to get over. All around brilliant.

Sue Cowing


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About Sue:

Sue Cowing grew up in Galesburg, Illinois, but moved to Hawaii to study Chinese history and still lives in Honolulu. 

After earning an MFA at Vermont College she gave up a career teaching American and Asian history to write; she is also an avid taiko drummer and practices t’ai chi.

YOU WILL CALL ME DROG is her first novel. To better hear Drog’s voice, she actually made the puppet - and wore it! 

www.suecowing.com

YOU WILL CALL ME DROG:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

My sister wrote poems starting from age six and got praise for them, so that seemed like a fun and natural thing to for me to do, too.  Playing with words and making up stories became my favorite rainy-day activity in grade school.  In fact, I was a little too good at it, because many of the stories I invented to make life more interesting (or to provide myself with great excuses) were called lies.

Some of my childhood storytelling heroes were anonymous.  I was fascinated by Greek myths, especially the stories of Hercules, Midas, Persephone, and the Amazons.  I also loved Hans Christian Anderson, and the Grimms and, later, Poe.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you?

Mom read to my sister and me at bedtime, and I was glued to any story with a magic object in it, a lamp or a ring or a mirror.  She would read Aesop’s fables and have us guess the morals.  And classic tales like East of the Sun, West of the Moon, The Nightingale, and especially The Snow Queen, were unforgettable.

But the first book I remember as mine to own and read was Holling C. Holling’s PADDLE TO THE SEA, given to me for my eighth birthday.  I identified both with the little canoe figure and with the Canadian Indian boy who carved him and set him in a melting snow bank. It was a kind of quest story that read like non-fiction, and I followed the canoe’s progress through the Great Lakes, down the St. Lawrence River, and out to sea.  I simply loved that book and am not surprised it is still in print.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

I doubt if many authors’ first published books are the first books they wrote.  I have a drawer full of manuscripts.  Some never quite breathed, some will probably always be short stories, but some may yet be books.  Way back in 2002 I thought YOU WILL CALL ME DROG was a short story and brought it to my writing group to get some help tightening and polishing it.  So I groaned when a trusted writer friend said, ‘Sorry, Sue.  I think this needs to be a novel.’ I saw she was right, and that meant I was facing at least a couple of years of hard work.  Not knowing even where to begin, I took out a kids’ book on papier maché from the library and made Drog, the puppet character from my story, so that I could hear his voice.  I had always been clumsy at papier maché in grade school, but this time I had more patience (because of course I was busy stalling), and he turned out exactly as I had pictured him! 

In the original story, Parker could actually take the puppet off but couldn’t resist for long the puppet’s demands to be put on again.  Then Donna Jo Napoli said to me at a workshop, ‘Wouldn’t it be a lot scarier if he couldn’t get the puppet off at all?’ That led to more drafts that introduced the Aikido element and brought the dad more into the story.  Then another writer friend read my ‘final’ draft and said, ‘Should you have even more about the Dad?  Isn’t this mostly about him and Parker?’ Another three drafts.  By the time I submitted the story to my ‘particularly editorial’ agent Sarah Davies, I’d finally become smart enough to welcome and consider any question or suggestion that might make this a better and more publishable book. 

Was it hard to get an agent?  Can you talk us through the process?

It was way too easy. One day Drog, the puppet character in YOU WILL CALL ME DROG, looked down from the shelf (yes, I can take him off) and said to me, ‘Sooooo.  Planning to spend the rest of your life submitting and waiting around to be accepted?  Get me an agent!’

I went prospecting on the internet and struck gold that first day.  I loved the name Greenhouse Literary and the atmosphere of the website.  Here we were in the middle of an economic downturn with veteran children’s editors being let go every week, yet Sarah was saying she’s looking for exciting new novels and if you have written one don’t worry, you are too going to the ball!

She made the process of submitting queries and manuscripts sound so simple and straightforward that I drafted a short query letter, pasted in five pages of the story, and pressed ‘send’. Sarah replied within twenty-four hours asking to see the whole manuscript.  I could get used to this!

Fortunately Sarah loved Drog, though he’s SO not her type. She read the whole story and said the kinds of things about it that an author longs to hear. She thought the manuscript could be submitted as is, but she wondered if I’d be willing to hear her questions and consider some small changes. Of course I said yes and of course the changes weren’t that small, but somewhere along the way we signed a contract and after a couple of revisions I was able to send Sarah a book that she sold in a month.

Describe your writing day.  Where do you write?  How do you organize your time?  Where do you look for inspiration? 

At 4:30 every morning, seven days a week, I go into the study at one end of my L-shaped house and write.  I’m not rigid about this and never set the alarm, but I discovered a few years ago that this is a kind of secret time, a way of adding two free hours or so to the day.  At 4:30 AM, no one contacts me or interrupts my thoughts, and no one (including me) expects me to do anything else.  The only sound I hear is the thunk of the newspaper hitting the driveway. I guess you could have the same kind of pure time after midnight, but I’m not a night owl. 

I often start out with a little journal writing or read a poem or two to get me going (my current favorite is Ted Kooser). I’ll work until about 6:30 then fix breakfast, get some exercise, read email, and get on with the cacophony of chores and amusements and demands for attention the world throws at us all each day. None of that can make me feel scattered, because I have already done the most important thing first.

On Wednesdays those two hours become eight or ten, because Wednesday is my Hermit Day. On Wednesdays I don’t speak or read email or answer the phone or the doorbell between 8AM and 4PM.  I’ve persuaded my family and friends to simply pretend I’m not home on that day and not to turn on the radio or TV in the house before four. Being able to let the rudder go for hours on end helps me get more deeply into things.  If someone asks me what I got done on a Wednesday, I just smile.  So I have a minimum of twenty hours a week to write, but that’s just the scheduled time.  I’m writing or think about writing much of the time. 

Here’s an observation for anyone who would like to try having a day like that.  Chances are that the very first week, something will come up on that day that you feel you just have to do, and you’ll be tempted to switch days that once.  It’s a little test from the universe.

Can you tell us about your next book?

I’m not sure what that will be yet, but things I’ve learned while revising YOU WILL CALL ME DROG for publication have led me to reread a couple of other manuscripts I have and see new possibilities for them. 

The most likely one is called, for the moment, LIFE WITH BRAVO.  It’s about Zach, a somewhat too comfortable, daydreaming eleven year old whose brilliant and funny dog Bravo and hard-bitten friend Gilbert show him the painful paths friendship and sharing can take - and no, the dog doesn’t die.  NO MORE DEAD DOGS!

Are there any tips you can give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

As far as I know, the best way to get published is to have a completed manuscript in hand that you’re passionate about.  If you’re not at that point yet, set aside your research on agents and publishers and work on your book.  Write the book only you can write.  Before you submit, identify the absolute and unchangeable heart of the story without which it would not work or be yours, and then make up your mind that you will at least consider changing anything else.  Get lucky by being prepared.

Oh, and join The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  These are your people.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

Voice, of course. Learning to set aside adult perceptions and listen instead for the way a child would say things. And not just a child, but that child who is your particular character, in contrast with the other characters.  I’m constantly working to build that contrast as a way of developing characters.

I love to write (and read) stories that blur the line between fantasy and reality, that contain a touch of something fantastic made to seem real, or possibly real (is it? isn’t it?) by placing it in an everyday setting. That’s a fine and tricky balance, but when it succeeds, there’s a wonderful kind of tension and leap to belief.  When it fails, of course, the rotten tomatoes fly.  I’m always trying to figure out how to achieve that balance. 

Some of the manuscripts gathering dust in my drawer take themselves too seriously and read like pre-teen soap operas.  The one thing I’ve noticed about soap operas is that nobody in them has a sense of humor.  Stories with humor in them are a lot more fun to write, and I especially like a vein of saving humor running through stories with serious themes.  Christopher Paul Curtis’s THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM is a perfect example of this.  Someday I would like to do it all and write a humorous, character-driven, historical mystery with a thought-provoking theme.  Whew!

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party?  What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

Of course it’s always risky to invite people you haven’t met, but I would take a chance on Phillip Pullman and Katherine Paterson, and even seat them together!  Also Paul Fleischman and Brian Selznik and Douglas Florian.  Of those I have met, I’d include Kate DiCamillo; the ever elegant, dramatic, and mysterious Richard Peck; Kathleen Duey; and Karen Hesse.

I’d be in heaven if I could invent a character like Thomas, the boy from Guus Kuijer’s THE BOOK OF EVERYTHING, who ‘saw things no one else could see.’

Alison DeCamp


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About Alison:

Alison DeCamp grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and graduated from Michigan State University with enough credits to be a doctor but chose to be a teacher instead. After eight years of middle school and high school language arts, she left teaching to stay home with her now teenage children and write.  She lives with her family and dogs in Northern Michigan, overlooking the lake.

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I think I’ve been writing since I was able to form words on paper. I remember getting up in the morning and having a need to write. I was really fortunate to have a mother who encouraged all of my creative outlets.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you?

We had a book by Charles Dickens where one half was Captain Boldheart and the other was The Magic Fishbone. I love that book. I stole it from my parents’ house. Don’t tell my sister. The other books I loved were anything by Edward Eager, The Twenty-one Balloons, all of the Nancy Drew books. Who were your childhood storytelling heroes? Anne Shirley, Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, Harriet the Spy (I carried around a spy journal for a while, but I never broke into anyone’s house).

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

I’ve had the idea for a book about a boy in a lumber camp for years. I finally gave myself a deadline to start writing it in September 2012. I thought I had finished it in December and entered a contest where I got great feedback but it didn’t go any further than that. I outlined a plot, I found a voice, I changed the beginning 15 times, I outlined a plot again, I added 25,000 more words, I became more intentional, and I found an agent who helped me hone my story even more. The key moments were letting go of things I loved but got in the way of telling the story. Sarah always reminds us not to “over egg the pudding.” I have the tendency to put so many eggs in, it should be an omelette. I also had many, many illustrations scattered throughout the story, but initially they weren’t even related to the words on the page. I don’t know what I was thinking.

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

It is hard to get an agent. But it should be. For me, I entered contests, queried, had as many people I could find give me feedback on my writing, queried some more, entered another contest, and after querying for about 3 months, I accepted Sarah’s offer of representation. I honestly can’t remember the last time I was so excited.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I have a former art studio that my husband and I transformed into a writing studio. I’m a slow-riser, so I usually get up and get the kids off to school, drink my tea/honey/milk concoction, get dressed, and head to my studio. I turn on my stereo and start writing. It’s not every day, but when I can write regularly it’s the best. My kids are older and don’t require as much of my time, so feasibly I can go write at 3 in the afternoon, my husband will make dinner and call me when it’s ready. It sounds perfect, doesn’t it? It’s not. Most days don’t work out that fluidly. Many days I find as many reasons as I can not to write. I go online. I go for a walk. I watch Veronica Mars and pretend it’s research. I do think just taking part in life has the most inspiration—reading, talking to people, traveling, spending time with other writers, listening to podcasts—all of these things have led to ideas.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

I think it’s really important to be humble--listen to everyone’s critiques and don’t shoot them down right away. Always, always write and have another idea percolating. Ideas are seeds of hope. And don’t compare your story or journey to anyone else’s. I’ll be 49 when my first book comes out and frankly, the timing is great. Also, if I lived in a more populated area, I would attend more conferences and network. The world of children’s writers is a really giving and kind one.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

Developing voice, and recognizing it, has been so valuable. I don’t know how it happens, but (and I’ll probably jinx it by saying this) the more I write, the more easily these voices seem to develop. Also, simply varying sentences—length, word choice, etc. Reading aloud has been invaluable in this sense. And being intentional. I always ask myself if what I’m writing is propelling the story forward. Sometimes, especially in the first draft, it isn’t, but as I write the second, third, fourth drafts, I have to remember to get rid of scenes that don’t make the reader want to know what’s going to happen next.

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party?

Mark Twain, because I think he’d have great stories to tell and would be funny and wouldn’t have any weird hang-ups I’d have to explain to my children later; Neil Gaiman, because I think he’d be a terrific conversationalist; and Jack Gantos because he might be the best to round out this weird trio. I have to say I’ve chosen these three more because I think they’d be fun at a party and less because they’re my very favorite authors. It’s all about the party.

Which fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

Harry Potter, without a doubt. 

Alexandra Diaz


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About Alexandra:

Alexandra Diaz grew up in a bilingual Spanish/English-speaking family in various parts of the US, but has also lived in Puerto Rico, Austria, and Britain.

She graduated in English and Communications at Lake Forest College in the US, but went on to receive her MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University in England.

Her writing has appeared in newspapers, literary magazines, children’s magazines, foreign-language magazines, websites, and anthologies. She has also written two one-act plays which have been performed at Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago Illinois and The Rondo Theatre in Bath, England.

Although writing is the only career she ever wanted, Alexandra has worked as a nanny, teacher, web designer, financial administrator, and waitress to name but a few.

Alexandra lives in New Mexico.

www.alexandra-diaz.com

Alexandra's Books:

Meet The Author:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I was always making up stories and fantasies in my head as a young child, usually with the pretense of ‘I wish this would happen to me’. I was about nine when I started writing my first ‘book’ — a remake of THE PARENT TRAP but with triplets instead. It was at age nine that I had my first publication in a small nature magazine. I continued writing short stories/novellas into my teens, always knowing that being a writer was the only job I really wanted.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

Our first grade teacher read us CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E.B. White and I was really excited when my mom bought me a copy, though it was a few years before I read it on my own. One of the first books I remember reading over and over again was PANKY AND WILLIAM by Nancy Saxon. As my reading ability improved, A LITTLE PRINCESS by Frances Hodgson Burnett became my favorite.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

I wrote my novel as part of the MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. It started from the statement, ‘Brent Staple is such a banjo.’ The original idea was to have a ‘school’ where the three girls would teach boys how to become good boyfriends. That was quickly dropped as the girls took control of their own story. That’s when it turned from a good idea to a real idea.

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

I did try several agents; a few didn’t bother replying, a couple said thanks but no thanks, and others sent a form letter addressed to ‘Dear Contributor’ or ‘Submitter’ which made me wonder if they had even read it. I asked people in the writing/publishing business for recommendations or suggestions. I came across an agent who liked the book, but didn’t think she could sell it. Fortunately, she suggested I try sending it to Sarah at Greenhouse. Very pleased I did.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I write whenever I can, which isn’t always as often as I’d like. In addition to writing, I have a regular job and an occasional job, both which have varied hours. Life in general tends to get in the way so I don’t bother with a set timeframe but manage to fit writing in where I can. I definitely do the classic scribbling on scrap paper when I should be doing something else, though I prefer a computer for serious writing.

For inspiration, I watch people, listen to what goes on, pay attention to circumstances, or merely think ‘what if’. If there’s something interesting, I’ll make note of it and develop the idea from there.

Can you tell us about your next book?

A fish-out-of-water story, Becky Sloane is forced to move from NYC to Wyoming by her crazy mum. Knowing only how to communicate with fists, Becky quickly locks horns with the local community. When her angst results in burning down a barn, she has no choice but to face the consequences.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Getting published is very much like applying for a job: you see the ideal post in the paper, have all the credentials, put a lot of time in getting your CV ready, send it in…and you don’t even get an interview. Often you have to apply for many jobs before something comes up. Trying to get published is the same thing. Without becoming too obsessive, you have to keep at it and not be afraid to put the time into your writing that it deserves.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

Workshopping is crucial. Things always make sense in my mind, but don’t always translate on to the page. It’s very helpful to have fresh pairs of eyes making me aware of things I can’t see, pointing out what works, and bouncing off suggestions to improve the things that don’t work.

If I don’t have anyone to workshop, or just need to sort out a problem on my own, I find writing out my thoughts/concerns helps me resolve it. I can go over and over things in my head and not get anywhere, but if I actually start writing ‘I don’t know what to do about this character. She’s funny but not necessary. Maybe if I…’ I can usually figure out what needs to be done.

In a way it’s like thinking out loud, and that’s why it’s so useful to read my work out loud. I usually think I don’t have time or don’t feel like it, but if I actually read my work out loud to myself, I can hear the conflicts better.

Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

I would love to have Judy Blume, Jaclyn Moriarty, Mildred D. Taylor, Maurice Sendak and, if they were alive, Wilo Davis Roberts and Roald Dahl. They would be welcome to bring along any of their characters, but I would also like Luna Lovegood from HARRY POTTER and Emily of New Moon from the novels by Lucy Maud Montgomery, just for some extra variety.

Lindsay Eagar


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About Lindsay:

Lindsay Eagar lives in the mountains of Utah with her young daughter. She has a BA in English from UVU and is now working towards her BS in History.  A classically trained pianist and an un-classically trained rock guitarist, Lindsay has also interned at a literary agency.

Lindsay's Books:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

Storytelling has always been in my blood. When I was seven, I read Little Women, and my heart thumped at double time when Jo slipped into her writing frenzies. That was me, that was exactly how I felt--like I had stories I needed to fall into.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

When I think of childhood books that made an impact, Roald Dahl’s books parade through my mind: The BFG, George’s Marvelous Medicine, The Witches, Matilda, and Fantastic Mr. Fox were read and re-read until the spines fell off. But my favorite book (of all time) is Dahl’s Danny, the Champion of the World. It’s not your typical zany Dahl book: no made-up words, or invented candies or machines, or wacky villains. It’s simple and quiet and sincere.

Other authors I read: Beverly Cleary, Lemony Snicket, Judy Blume, Sharon Creech, and, of course, J.K. Rowling.

Teenaged and young adult Lindsay loved Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, and anything by Neil Gaiman.

My storytelling hero was my dad. Bedtime reading was a ritual, but he also distilled many a Greek myth or Conan the Barbarian comic into entertainment during yard work or a road trip. As I got older, he put so many books in my hands: Great Expectations, The Martian Chronicles, Lord of the Rings, The Fountainhead… We still toss books to each other--right now he’s getting schooled in the current offerings of YA fantasy.

Can you talk us through your career so far? Highlights?

I decided to seriously work on my writing craft in 2009, when my daughter was born. (Becoming in charge of another human’s survival has changed many a person’s perspective!) I was out of excuses--I knew I hadn’t put in the work required to be the boss-level writer I’d always dreamed of being.

So I stumbled through a first novel, and it was vomit-inducing. My second book was almost readable, but still dreadful. My third book was bad, but instead of shelving it, I revised. And revised. And revised. I rewrote it six or seven times, and with each draft, I got better (cue hallelujah chorus).

HOUR OF THE BEES was my fourth novel. When I wrote the last chapter, I was giddy. I’d finally written something that wasn’t crap. 

This is only the beginning of what I hope will be a long, adventurous career as a writer, but the highlight so far was signing with Sarah. During our first phone call, I was so nervous, I turned into a star-struck, bumbling fool. But the words she used to describe my manuscript--strange, luminous, dreamlike, arresting--gave me a wave of calm. This was a person who understood what I was trying to do with my book, and she worked so hard, guiding me along revisions, helping me stretch BEES to its potential. When she sent a nine-page editorial letter plucking my book apart to get it ready for submission, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. She’s truly special.

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

I got my agent the old-fashioned way: the slush pile.

I didn’t query until I was ready, which meant trunking the book I thought would get me an agent and writing another one (HOUR OF THE BEES). I spent a year as a remote intern for another literary agent, which meant I read client manuscripts, read requested materials (fulls and partials), and read queries. It was an amazing education! When I finally wrote my query, I knew what it was like on the other side, and I made sure my manuscript and query were as good as I could make them.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time?

I write with cheap blue Bic pens (always blue!) in lined notebooks, where I ignore the lines. When I edit, I use a hard copy and lots of Post-its. I write longhand for several reasons:
It slows down my brain, forcing me to be thoughtful with every word. Plus, I catch more mistakes when reading on paper.
It’s portable. No batteries or electricity required, and paper is less fragile than a laptop or tablet.
It’s easy to jot down a sentence or two when I have five spare minutes.
My eyes refuse to adapt to modern technology and have a hard time staring at screens.

I don’t have a special time carved out for writing. Instead I steal little bits of time throughout my day and am amazed at how quickly sentences add up.

Speaking of time, I’m learning there are times in my writing process to think, and times to write. The trick is for me not to write when it’s time to think, and not to think when it’s time to write.

Music is an important part of my creative process. During those times I need to think, and not write, I plug in headphones and lie on the floor, or go for a run, or drive around aimlessly with music cranked, usually U2, Vampire Weekend, or bagpipes.

During the times I need to write, and not think, I assign songs or playlists to my works-in-progress. The music anchors me to my story, to the mood, and to the original thoughts and feelings I had back before the book was written, when it was just a little kernel of an idea. For HOUR OF THE BEES, I listened exclusively to Clint Mansell’s hauntingly gorgeous score for The Fountain. It’s been played on my iTunes over four hundred times, but I don’t care! It’s the perfect sonic companion to my book.

Where do you look for inspiration?

This is such a massive answer, so I’ll offer just one specific.

Plants. No lie. Most of the time, the little spark for my book ideas come from plants, flowers, or trees. I’m not a gardener or anything--I have no connection to plants other than just being human on a planet full of things that grow. I think it mostly stems (hee hee, stems) from the fact that my settings and worlds come first. History, geography, learning something new about a culture I thought I understood… All of these are ripe with ideas for the plucking, and for whatever reason, the flora comes first. (No surprises that HOUR OF THE BEES features a very significant tree.)

Also, the same repeating theme seems to crop up in all my stories: death, or rather, the complex relationship between living and dying. I get all carpe diem in everything I work on.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

1) Read. Reading puts fuel in your writing tank. It’s studying the masters.

2) Learn the industry. I learned about publishing through Google University. That’s where I found an internship for a literary agent, where I learned even more about the children’s market, the querying process, and what differentiated a great manuscript from one that was red-hot.

3) Be willing to work harder than what will show. Your finished book might be only 50k words, and you’ll know you wrote a lot more words than that to get to that point, words that were tried and tested, but deemed not good enough, and were cut and thrown away without a proper memorial… Nobody will understand how hard you really worked to bring a good book to fruition. It doesn’t matter. Sometimes you have to write the wrong words to get to the right ones. Be willing to go through that process. If you think it’s a lot of work… It’s more than you can even imagine.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

1) Less is more. If you think of writing as a gnarly fishtail braid, then the less strands you have to hold onto, the easier it will be to weave together. This applies to prose, plotting, dialogue, adjectives, everything.

2) Pick one or two things that are the un-negotiable core, or heartbeat, of your book, and be willing to trash anything else that isn’t working. Storytelling is supposed to be fluid. Changeable. Flexible. Not everything can be off-limits from the ax.

3) Character is king. Usually when I’m having a problem with my plot, it’s because I’ve forgotten to treat my character like a 3D person, with choices, preferences, anger, fears, things that excite them, the ability to lie, etc. Plot cannot be forced; it must come organically from the characters you’ve created, or else readers can sense the author tugging the strings above the stage.

What favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party?

Erin Morgenstern would bartend.
Laini Taylor would decorate.
Daniel Handler would be the stoic, tuxedoed host who never breaks character.
Christopher Hitchens would sit in the corner and drink, saying smart things which, I’d realize later, were actually insults.
Maggie Stiefvater would valet park all the cars… Oh, wait, that’s probably not a good idea.
It’d be a heck of a party, is what I’m saying.

What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

Pippi Longstocking. Her name alone just boasts of color and strength and fun.
I also covet Ian Malcolm, Bartholomew Cubbins, Long John Silver, Miss Honey from Matilda, and everyone in Peter Pan.

Ashley Elston


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About Ashley:

Ashley Elston is the daughter of an attorney and grew up surrounded by talk of court cases and the law in general – all of which triggered the ideas in her debut YA novel, THE RULES FOR DISAPPEARING. She has a Liberal Arts degree from Louisiana State University and worked for many years as a wedding/ portrait photographer. She is also a licensed landscape horticulturist. Ashley lives in Shreveport, Louisiana with her husband and three young sons. http://ashleyelston.com

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I wrote short stories and poetry when I was in high school. After I was married and had my boys, I started writing again. It was a great escape for me.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

The Nancy Drew books were my favorite. I devoured them. Also, adored any book by Judy Blume.

Can you talk us through your career so far? What were the key moments?

I wrote a book before RULES FOR DISAPPEARING that is safely tucked away in a drawer where it belongs! It was a great learning experience and for that alone, I’m glad I wrote it. Right now, I’m waiting for my editorial notes on RULES and have started writing the sequel. Key moments for me - joining Greenhouse.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organise your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

With three sons and the small business I own with my husband, I write whenever I can. Mostly, it’s at night when everyone else is asleep and the house is quiet. Although, I am trying to set a schedule now for regular writing hours. I have a small office in our home where I write. I’ve tried coffee shops but that’s too distracting for me.

Can you tell us about what’s coming next from you?

I’m working on the sequel to RULES and have another idea floating around in my head right now. Hoping to work on it soon.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Don’t stop writing. If one project doesn’t work out - start something new.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

Plotting - so important. I was a panster but now embracing being a plotter. Reading is a must - and not just in the genre you write. And patience. 

Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

Judy Blume. Ken Follet (Pillars of the Earth - one of my favorites). Sidney Sheldon (I know he’s gone but I think he would have been fascinating to talk to).

I wish I would have invented Jason Bourne. 

Erin Fletcher


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About Erin:

Erin Fletcher is a morning person who does most of her writing before sunrise while drinking excessive quantities of coffee, believes flip-flops qualify as year-round footwear, and would spend every day at the beach if she could. She has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics (which is almost never useful when writing books) and lives in North Carolina.

Ryan Gebhart


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About Ryan:

Ryan Gebhart is a graduate from Ohio University. He has studied and worked abroad in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Ecuador. In addition to being a writer, Ryan is also a pianist and painter, and once was commissioned by the University of Texas to paint a portrait of their Longhorns mascot. THERE WILL BE BEARS, a middle-grade about family, friendship, and bears, is his debut novel.

Ryan's Books:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

My fifth grade teacher Mrs. Virost introduced creative writing into the regular English curriculum, and I thought it was just the greatest thing, being able to make up whatever I wanted. Way more up my alley than structured essays. This desire for a creative outlet was renewed as I was finishing my master’s in Spanish, spending countless hours prepping for structured comprehensive exams. I got so burnt out from the rules and rigidity of academia, so I was all, I’mma write about people who live on the moon!

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you?

Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton. I read it in fifth grade and it sealed the deal that I wanted to become an author. The fact that he was able to make the most absurd concept—a theme park with actual dinosaurs—sound like the most realistic and plausible thing, it just blew me away. And I was convinced that some day, maybe I could do that too.

Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

When I was a little middle grader myself, I wasn’t reading much in the way of MG novels—I’d gone straight from Go Dog Go to Stephen King and Michael Crichton. Okay yeah, so there was more of a transition period, but I dramatize for effect. And to this day, they’re still my favorite authors.

Like Crichton, I want to create absurd scenarios with convincing amounts of detail… but maybe with a little more characterization raspberry. I love the guy and his books, but his characters were pretty generic and stilted, and basically just served as a method to get his ingenious scientific ideas moving on the page.
And Stephen King. Man, can that guy write. He could write a horror story about indigestion and I’d read it from cover to cover. He understands suspense as well as a surgeon understands human anatomy. And he does it with such ease and grace you can tell he’s enjoying what he’s doing. You know he wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

If I could have as much fun with writing as King does, then I know I’ve made it. Currently, it’s still a struggle as I learn the essentials of good storytelling. And the essentials of life, I can’t leave that out…

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

I think this quote from The Simpsons (season 7, episode 4) best sums up how I wrote THERE WILL BE BEARS: “Lisa: But you know Bart, some philosophers believe that nobody is born with a soul. That you have to earn one through suffering and thought and prayer...”

I wrote the rough draft for BEARS in three weeks, then spent the next three years revising it. I knew from page one that I wanted to tell a simple, yet funny story of a kid and his grandfather going on a hunting trip. The story had cute moments and interesting anecdotes, but no real point or meaning or tension. It was only through a grueling three-year trial of revision that I discovered my story’s themes, my characters’ wants, needs, and fears, and now I really feel that the story has a soul completely independent from me as a person.

Was it hard to get an agent?

Yes, lol.

Can you talk us through the process?

BEARS was the fifth novel I queried, so by that point, I already knew the importance of a simple, yet solid query, gripping opening pages, and a unique voice. So when I first queried BEARS way back in the long, long ago (January 2010), I got a pretty respectable request-to-query ratio. And that first offer of representation, man, that was an amazing feeling, but I had no idea how much work still needed to be done before my manuscript was worthy of publication. My first agent and I went out on submission to editors with a story that wasn’t fully formed, and all fourteen editors rejected it. In hindsight, understandably so. Soon thereafter, my agent and I parted ways.

So yeah, an offer of representation is a great accomplishment, something to be truly proud of, but it’s no guarantee of a book deal. It took another round of intense revisions until my book was discovered by not just one amazing agent, but two: John M. Cusick and Scott Treimel. And they went to town on my book, really bringing to the surface questions I hoped no one would ask, because that would have required too much work on my part. I’m so thankful for their scrutiny, and for their resistance to submit the book until it was in true fighting form, despite the fact that I was itching to get back out there.

Oh yeah, and that book is now getting published by award-winning Candlewick Press smile. Goes to show what good, patient agents can do to a book.
*struts*

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time?

My writing process is wholly inefficient and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. I’ll confess: I don’t write every day. Sometimes the thought of writing—and the inevitable anxieties that come with it—is so unappealing that I’ll go several months without opening my WIP. For me, writing can be an unhealthy endeavor. Often I find myself so lost in my head that I neglect basic human necessities—socialization, sleep… erhm… bathing. To this day, I’m still learning how to be a well-rounded writer and artist as well as human being.

Where do you look for inspiration?

When it comes to a novel-sized project, I believe it’s good to bring in many different elements that, at first glance, might not seem to play well together. For BEARS, I combined my experiences and emotions from working at a hunting ranch with and old idea I had about a boy busting his grandfather out of a nursing home. The way these two ideas played off each other yielded some surprising, unexpected, and rewarding results.

I also threw in a dash of Taylor Swift for good measure.

Can you tell us about your next book?

Going along with my last response, about bringing together two or more contrasting ideas, my WIP is about an eighteen-year-old confronting the challenges and unrealistic expectations of first love, all while the world is coming to terms with the discovery that we’re not alone in the universe. Not gonna lie, this has been a tough one for me to write, because now I’m fully aware of everything required of a publication-worthy book. I’m getting there, slowly, and I really hope once it’s finished that this one will surprise readers.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

if you have patience (in my case, years of patience), a good idea, and the ability to take criticism well and to revise, then the odds of traditional publication are ever in your favor. But don’t be arrogant about your genius, and… well, even if you are arrogant it doesn’t matter, because the publication business rarely has time for that. Be courteous and respectful with any professionals you may come in contact with. And not just so you can get an agent and editor, but come on. It’s just common decency.

Also, go on real life adventures. I never would have come up with the idea for BEARS had I rejected the random offer to work a season at a hunting ranch in Wyoming. It wasn’t just great source material, but also… dude, it was fun.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

The hardest element of the craft for me to develop is plotting. Making every page consequential to the following involves a lot of consideration and ample time in between considerations. But if you look back at the bigger picture, eventually you’ll see how all the little puzzle pieces fall into their proper place, and you’ll almost feel stupid that you didn’t see it earlier.

Since I prefer to write my stories in first person, setting needs to be shown in a way that’s relevant to the POV character. You don’t want to over explain, but you also don’t want to leave the reader in a white, description-less room. It’s a balancing act that requires spot-on observations and finesse. Also revision. Everything requires revision.

I think, for me, the easiest element to convincingly pull off is voice. I never try to follow trends, or to write anything unappealing to me, and that’s half the battle to creating great voice right there. I’m pretty sure that if I were to write a historical fiction, or a Harlequin-type romance, or the next The Hunger Games, the voice would be embarrassing because my heart just wouldn’t be in it. I write about awkward characters, characters with random anxieties and likes. I’m random, anxious, and awkward, so the voice just comes natural. Find what comes effortless to you, and your writing voice is good to go.

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party?

Stephen King, Andrew Smith, Patrick Ness, and Allie Brosh.

What fictional characters do you wish you’d invented?

Annie Wilkes, Hans Moleman, and Butters.

Harriet Goodwin


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About Harriet:

Harriet Goodwin read Medieval English at Oxford University before training as a singer. She sang and toured with various internationally renowned ensembles before having her four children, but now focuses on oratorio and recitals. 

She lives in a remote village in Staffordshire, England.

www.harrietgoodwinbooks.com

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I started writing in direct response to a dream I had one night about a boy falling through the surface of the Earth into a ghostly Underworld. I remembered the dream in the morning, scribbled the gist of it down and began writing tiny amounts every day (my fourth child was only a couple of weeks old at the time and I had my hands full!).

I wrote in secret, keeping it even from my husband; I was so busy and sleep-starved that I knew the magic of my new passion would wane if I spoke about it. The precious moments I spent writing were true ‘me-time’.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

It was a book bought for me by some American friends of my parents called THE LITTLE RED LIGHTHOUSE AND THE GREAT GRAY BRIDGE by Hildegarde Swift and Lynd Ward. It was about a proud little lighthouse that guarded the ships coming down the Hudson River and grew jealous of the great bridge built above it. I still have the book now and read it to my children. Strange bits have been added by my three - or four - year-old self in red biro. One of these words very clearly reads PINEAPPLE. I think it best not to ask. . .

Later on, I loved everything by Roald Dahl, Frances Hodgson-Burnett, Enid Blyton, Laura Ingalls-Wilder, Arthur Ransome. . . Anything I could lay my hands on, really.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

As I said earlier, I wrote the first draft of THE BOY WHO FELL DOWN EXIT 43 in short bursts - and totally in secret. I wrote in longhand in seven large notebooks, all of which I still have. Once I had finished it I told my husband and family and a few close friends about it. At that point I sent the manuscript off to Cornerstones - a British literary consultancy - for an in-depth report.  I had absolutely no idea whether what I had written was any good or not. Cornerstones asked me over the phone for the title of the book, and I replied that it didn’t have one yet.  ‘Could you come up with a working title then, please?’ was the response. I remember staring out of the kitchen window and replying, ‘Oh – just call it THE BOY WHO FELL DOWN EXIT 43.’ And the title stuck!

After the report came back, I laid aside the manuscript for a few weeks, as Cornerstones suggested. It was a hard thing to do though; I was desperate to get my teeth back into it. When I did get going, I set about ‘showing’ the story more, rather than telling it, and strengthening the characters.

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

No, it was ridiculously easy. But it should have been hard. I am also a professionally trained singer, and I know all too well how hard that particular journey was.

This is what happened. . .

I had finished the second draft, and was considering whether or not to send the manuscript back to Cornerstones for a second report, when I heard about the inaugural SCBWI UK Undiscovered Voices competition. I decided to stick my neck out and risk letting my story loose in the big wide world – so I mailed my submission and forgot all about it.

About six weeks later, the phone rang and I was informed that I had been chosen as one of the twelve winners. Sarah Davies was on the panel of judges; she contacted me and asked me to meet her in London, and a week or so later I signed with her.  It was all quite incredible - a time I will never, EVER forget.

There followed a period of exhaustive revision. Exhaustive and exhausting!  Never have I climbed such a steep learning curve in my life!

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

There’s no set pattern, since I have four boisterous children. My youngest has just started school, so at least now I have school hours in which to work.  Once they are back from school the computer is firmly switched off until after bedtime.

Right now, with THE BOY WHO FELL DOWN EXIT 43 just published, the second book in the initial throes of the editorial process, and masses of other ideas lining up inside my brain just begging to be listened to, things are a little more hectic than usual (this is a polite way of saying I am finding it hard to stay sane). There are launches to prepare for, school visits to arrange, newspaper and radio interviews to give. . . And now the Borders Book of the Month news has sparked a torrent of heart-warming phone calls, texts and emails too. I wouldn’t have it any other way! 

Whatever happens, though, I always make time to write something every day. Sometimes it’s only a few hundred words, but that feels fine. So long as I do a little, then I am able to retain the thread of the story and keep the characters alive and the action strong. Other times I have a marathon session and splurge out lots all in one go.

More and more I find that I visualize the scene as I write. And even though it sometimes takes a while to get back into the story at the start of a writing session, I always find myself getting sucked in eventually.

Usually I work in my writing shed at the top of the garden, from which there is a great view of our cottage.  But I also write in the local coffee shop and the library, and have been known to compose chapters on car journeys too. I do a lot of book plotting when swimming, which is what I do to keep fit.

I refuse to do things which don’t, in my eyes, matter.  I do no ironing (you can buy white school shirts that don’t need ironing – and the rest of the kids’ stuff gets messy in three seconds flat anyway!) and watch almost no TV. The children do their fair share around the house. Even the little ones can do tiny jobs, especially clearing up the bombshells that are their rooms - and this mummy is not a slave! We live a rural life surrounded by fields and fresh air – and without wanting to give the impression that my children wander around the countryside in bare feet, they do lead a very rural and independent existence.  It is what I had, and within reason I don’t see why it should be any different for them.

I obviously have to be very organized with all this going on – and usually it all just about hangs together. But sometimes my brain goes all soggy and I know I need a rest. I picked up the phone the other day and asked to speak to Glenridding (one of the central ghost characters in THE BOY WHO FELL DOWN EXIT 43). . . At that point I knew it was time for a hot bath, a long sleep and a day off!

As for inspiration, I do not seek it. It comes when least expected. I recently had a wonderful idea for a third book whilst standing under a light bulb in the bathroom!

Can you tell us about your next book?

The next book is an adventure story and a ghost story rolled into one. It is darker than THE BOY WHO FELL DOWN EXIT 43 and is called THE EXTRAORDINARY LEGACY OF ELVIRA PHOENIX (or at least that is its title for now).

It’s about a boy called Phoenix who is handed a letter from his long-dead mother, instructing him to return to her childhood home and dig into the peculiar mound across the river. But Gravenhunger Manor is a dark and mysterious place, poisoned by its own terrible history – and Phoenix cannot know that he is on the brink of re-triggering an ancient and malevolent curse. What secrets are locked inside the little attic bedroom – and why has every visitor to the house left in such a hurry? Together with Rose, the daughter of his father’s new girlfriend, Phoenix embarks upon an extraordinary adventure, uncovering a stash of fabulous treasure inside the earth…and a whole lot more besides.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Write your own story; don’t try to copy someone else’s ideas or style.

Write every day.

Know that nothing is impossible.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

First and foremost, learning to show not tell. Understanding that was a great eye-opener. It makes your writing come alive.

Knowing the backstory so well you don’t have to explain it.

Slashing as many adverbs from your work as you can manage. They weaken writing rather than strengthen it.

Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

I hate dinner parties. In my experience no one ever says what they mean and everyone gets tediously sloshed.  Having four children is an excellent excuse not to go to any.

But I’d share a chocolate brownie or two with Meg Cabot of PRINCESS DIARIES fame any day. I am a recent convert and reckon she would be superb company.

I also love Dickens. Of course I’d have to drag him up through an Underworld Exit and cut short his Inbetween Time by a good few years, but I’m sure he would solidify very nicely and not complain. Yes, I think coffee and brownies with Meg Cabot and Charles Dickens would be excellent fun.

As for a fictional character I wish I had created myself, it would have to be David Almond’s Skellig. Just the thought of Skellig makes me shiver and smile and think and cry. What more could you ask for?

Shannon Grogan


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About Shannon:

Shannon Grogan is a kindergarten teacher, writer and illustrator, and she holds degrees in Early Childhood/Elementary Education, and Illustration. She lives in a tiny logging town in Western Washington with her Canadian husband, kids and Chihuahua. FROM WHERE I WATCH YOU is her debut novel.

http://shannongrogan.com

Shannon's Books:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I’ve been writing and drawing since I was a kid. In college I wrote short stories in creative writing classes and knew I’d write novels someday, maybe when I was older, with lots of life experiences to write about. But once I finished reading the last Harry Potter book I decided I couldn’t wait, and I started writing an MG that turned into a YA because I wanted my characters kissing.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

Maurice Sendak and Tomie dePaola were my heroes because of their illustrations. For words I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, and Nancy Drew. I had every Nancy Drew book and I snuck-read The Hardy Boys even though I was told by the librarian that they were for boys. But nothing influenced me more than Judy Blume. I read everything Judy wrote and then I read it again, and I probably read Deenie three times, and I checked the library one hundred times a week to see if they had a copy of Forever. It was always checked out.
As a teen I read a lot of Harlequin romances, but my heroes were VC Andrews, Danielle Steele, and Stephen King.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

My first full novel--a YA paranormal romance (an angel story)--took over a year to write. The key moments were: writing the first page, then the first chapter, then thirty pages! At thirty pages I felt like a real writer because I’d never written anything that long on the computer! Getting past page fifty was huge, and then finally, finishing.

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

Yes, it was hard to get an agent. With my first book (angel story) I sent over 110 queries over a year and a half. I had less then 5 requests out of 110 queries! It was crushing. Sarah was one of those 110 rejections. She was very kind about it though. The only thing that kept me sane through the hell of querying was to keep writing. So if you are querying, keep writing! I kept writing.
Our local SCBWI was bringing top notch editors and agents to the annual conference and I was lucky enough to get my top pick for a MS consultation--Sarah!  I worked HARD HARD HARD on my first 5 pages for the meeting with her because I wanted to have the best possible feedback.
That was my favorite SCBWI conference ever. Sarah nominated me for a Most Promising WIP mention and asked me to query her when I was done! And nearly two years later, I was ready to query! I spent 6 months writing and revising my query letter because I was hoping to not repeat the 110 rejection thing.
On my fourth day of querying, I started getting full requests. 8 of the total 13 queries I sent were full requests! And by the next week, I had four offers of representation. It was amazing. And of course I picked Sarah.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I have a day job as a teacher, but I get home an hour before my kids so I make the most of that one quiet hour where it’s just me and the dog. When my kids have ballet and baseball I write at the library or Starbucks. I can get in a few hours per week this way. But I write mostly at night.
I love watching scary movies for inspiration, but mostly I read, and ‘talk’ to my online writer pals.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Write, every week
Read in the genre you write.
Buy books. I love the library, but writers should also buy a few books a year. Karma?
Query wisely! Take time with your query letter. Have it critiqued. Research agents and follow their submission guidelines. I botched this with an agent I queried and they were kind enough to email me back and say ‘hey, you forgot…’ This agent ended up offering!
Support! Join SCBWI. Have critique partners. It helps when you’re ready to give up to have folks around who get it, who know what it means to get a partial, and why you check your inbox 500 times a day, or how it feels when you haven’t touched your story for months and then have an epiphany!
5. Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?
1. Reading-- craft books, blogs, and books in the genre you write. Nothing has taught me more about writing than the books I’ve read. Why do I love it so much I read it four times?
2. Revising.
3. Revising.

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party? Which fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

JK Rowling, Tomie dePaola, Maurice Sendak, Judy Blume, Stephen King, Charlaine Harris, Thomas Harris, Michael Crichton, Peter Benchley, Maggie Stiefvater, Jennifer Donnelly, Sarah Dessen, and Patricia Cornwell. All of these folks have contributed in some way to me as a writer and I would feed them well because I love their books--fantasy, magic, funny, coming of age, twisted, psychotic, dark, disgusting, scary, disturbing, creepy, romantic, and people on the menu.

As for the fictional character I wished I’d invented? That is hard. For kid-lit it’s a tie between Strega Nona and Harry Potter. For adult fiction there is a three-way tie between Jack Torrance from The Shining, Hannibal Lecter, and JAWS (the shark). Yes JAWS was a book first, an excellent, disgusting, scary, and thrilling book.

Teresa Harris


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About Teresa:

Teresa Harris wrote her first novel (23 pages long and about a pair of time-traveling cats!) when she was in fifth grade. 

Since then, she has earned her Bachelor’s Degree in English from Columbia University, and an MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College where she received numerous awards. 

A former publisher, Teresa lives in Teaneck, New Jersey with her family.

[photo by Gwendolyn Moore]

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I first started writing a lot in middle school, though sadly none of it was very good. In fact, what I was writing was a mish-mash of what I was reading at the time. So, imagine the Baby-Sitter’s Club members attending Sweet Valley High with the Sleepover Friends. 

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

We read BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA and ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY in elementary school. These books, aside from being beautifully written, were the first books that I can remember evoking an emotional response in me. Reading them marked the first time I connected to fictional characters in such a way that their pain became mine. These were the first books that made me cry, and I remember marveling at the power books could have, a power I hadn’t known existed before.

For this reason, Katherine Paterson and Mildred Taylor were — and still are — my childhood storytelling heroes. I also loved Judy Blume and R.L. Stine. No one could make me laugh like Peter and Fudge, and only Stine could make me sleep with the lights on. 

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

I began writing my first middle-grade novel while a student at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I started it so many times. So, so many times, but I never got tired of it, because I loved my characters and I really wanted to tell their story the best way I could. By the time I finished Vermont College, I’d written 110 pages. Then, I was on my own. I had to develop my own writing schedule, with no college advisor to hold me accountable. That was scary, but I took it one day at a time, two pages a day, until at last I finished. Selling that novel a few months later was the best day of my life.

Was it hard to get an agent ? Can you talk us through the process?

I queried one agent right after I finished my novel. To this day, I have not heard from her. Acceptance, rejection, nothing. I like to think my novel excerpt stunned her speechless, but that’s probably not the case. I queried Sarah after I met her at a Vermont College alumni retreat. I liked her immediately, and queried her with the first three chapters of my novel when I got home. Sarah asked to see the rest, I sent it, and prepared myself for a long wait. But the long wait never came. Sarah called me two weeks later and told me she was interested in representing me. The rest, as they say, is history.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

Organization has never been my strong point, so I just tell myself that I am going to write every day. Sometimes I start writing in the afternoon; sometimes I don’t do so until midnight. As long as I write, that’s all that matters.

Sometimes, if I’m feeling stuck, I’ll pluck a book off of my shelf for inspiration. If I’m having trouble with humor, I may reach for those good old Fudge books. For trouble with description, I may reach for a book by Katherine Paterson or Nancy Farmer, because they both do it so well. Of course, after reading their work, I’m immediately humbled, but also inspired enough to go and try to create my own great scenes.

Can you tell us about your next book?

I think it’s best to know one’s limitations in writing — and in life. Mine are sports that require hand-eye coordination, reading maps, and outlining my novels. Therefore, I can say only this about what I’m working on now: one is a fantasy novel set during the Harlem Renaissance and the other is a tween first-love story with a hint of magic. I’m not trying to be secretive. I just never really know what my novels are truly about until I write my way through them.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Focus on your writing, not the sale. Always work on improving your writing as much as possible and the sale will come. Also, don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day of writing, or write something that you hate. We’re not surgeons; no one dies if we slip up.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

Finding my middle-grade voice was a huge triumph for me. Working with my editor has taught me a lot about tightening plot. It’s tempting to use everything in a novel — every plot line you’ve ever thought of since you started writing in middle school — but you can’t. You really can’t. There will be other books. Go ahead and save some plot for them. And, lastly, it sounds so Writing 101, but I’ve learned it’s really important to keep asking yourself, ‘What does my character want?’ Forgetting for a moment can leave you completely lost within your own novel, and novel no man’s land is not a fun place to be.

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

I would invite Rita Williams-Garcia and Jacqueline Woodson because I think they’re brilliant; Neal Shusterman because he’s hilarious; and Nancy Farmer because she’s so creative. I just want to pick her brain over free-range chicken and a side of mashed potatoes.

I wish I’d invented Gilly Hopkins (created by Katherine Paterson). That little girl is tops in my book.

Jill Hathaway


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About Jill:

Jill Hathaway grew up in Iowa and is a high-school English teacher, having graduated from the University of Northern Iowa. She subsequently received her MA in Literature from Iowa State University.

She now teaches, writes and lives with her husband and small daughter in the Des Moines area.

http://jillscribbles.blogspot.com/

Jill's Books:

SLIDE:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

In high school, much like Rollins in SLIDE, I produced a zine. It was called Salza and featured reviews of local bands, poetry, and my own artwork.

It wasn’t until 2007 that I attempted a real novel. Since then, I’ve written a few books. SLIDE is my first novel to be published.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

I could lie and say my favorite book was TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, but only in my adulthood did I come to truly understand the complexity and beauty of that novel.

Truthfully, the books I remember from my childhood are BUNNICULA AND THE DOLLHOUSE MURDERS. In middle school, I read SWEET VALLEY HIGH and FEAR STREET and THE SECRET CIRCLE (the first time they came out). In high school, I moved on to Stephen King and Clive Barker.

Can you talk us through the writing of your latest book? What were the key moments?

SLIDE was conceived when a co-worker and I were trying to think of concepts for a really cool novel. I remember thinking it would be so crazy if you found yourself in the head of a killer. From there, it was all about figuring out how to make that happen. I didn’t have an outline, so it was kind of exhilarating to find out what happened next. It was like discovering a really great story, only I was the one telling it.

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

It was hard in the sense that I didn’t get an agent with my first novel. So, from the time I started writing seriously, it took me three years to come up with the right story to snag an agent. SLIDE attracted a lot of interest from agents, and I signed with Sarah about a month after sending out queries.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

It depends on the season. I teach during the school year, so I have to find time for writing at night and on weekends.

During the summer, I usually go to a coffee shop in the morning and write for a few hours while my husband cares for our young daughter.

When I’m drafting a novel, I try to write about 2,000 words per day. The momentum is enough to keep me going. My greatest inspiration is music. I’ve come up with countless plotlines listening to Pearl Jam or A Perfect Circle during my commute.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Keep writing, keep reading, and keep going — no matter what.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

1. Revision
2.  Revision
3.  Revision

I find brainstorming and drafting (except the dreaded middle) fairly easy. I’ve only recently discovered how important the revision process is. For SLIDE, Sarah gave me a 10-page, single-spaced editorial letter. I completely tore the manuscript apart and put it back together again. It took months, but now it is so much better.

When I started writing, I thought all I had to do to revise was print out my manuscript, omit a few adverbs, and check my spelling. What I’ve learned, though, is that every manuscript has its own challenges. You have to learn to identify the problems unique to your manuscript and then find a way to make it work (love that Tim Gunn).

Also, during revision you get to do all sorts of cool things like develop theme and character, things you might have been too rushed to do in the rough draft because you were so focused on getting the story out of your head and onto the page. Stories really come alive during revision.

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

I’d invite Donna Tartt, Wally Lamb, Courtney Summers, and Suzanne Collins. They’ve all created such compelling characters. That said, I wish I’d invented Katniss Everdeen. She’s so strong and independent; yet, she has weaknesses that make her real.

Kat Helgeson


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About Kat:

Kat Helgeson is a social media specialist, an ex-circus performer, and a dog lover. She lives in Lombard, IL with her husband and an unmanageable book collection. YOUR MACHINE ANATOMY is her debut young adult novel, co-authored with Hannah Moskowitz.

Kat's Books:

Amy Holder


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About Amy:

Amy Holder’s debut YA novel, THE LIPSTICK LAWS, published with Houghton Mifflin in April 2011.  With a passion for chocolate, hair straighteners and all things Saturday Night Live, Amy’s abandoned her former life in psychology and education to throw herself into writing. She lives in Pennsylvania with her verbally challenged sidekicks (pets).

www.amyholder.com

Amy's Books:

THE LIPSTICK LAWS:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

As a little girl, I always dreamed of being an author.  I started writing humorous poetry when I was six years old after falling in love with Shel Silverstein’s writing.  After that, I was never far away from paper and a pencil to jot down the many stories in my head. 

My poetry quickly led to fiction writing in second grade, and my first chapter book in third grade.  My middle school years were filled with journaling about all of my tween trials and tribulations, followed by spouting teen angst into melodramatic poetry during high school.

Writing has always been an important part of my life, but it wasn’t until after college that I really started thinking about pursuing it professionally.  I studied psychology in college and once I was out in the real world working in the field, I realized I wouldn’t feel completely fulfilled unless I was able to do something I truly adore.  Writing is that something … and I feel very lucky to have accomplished my childhood dream.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

My parents read to me every night as a child.  Their animated renditions of Dr. Seuss books cemented my love of storytelling forever. However, the first book I remember reading on my own that really made a huge impact on me was A LIGHT IN THE ATTIC by Shel Silverstein.  My copy became totally worn and dog-eared from reading it over and over again.  His fun poetry sparked my love of writing and reading at a very early age. 

Shel Silverstein was definitely one of my childhood storytelling heroes, along with Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Katherine Paterson and Madeleine L’Engle, just to name some.  My early years would not have been the same without their amazing stories and imaginations.  They still inspire me to this day. 

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

My writing day varies depending on what I’m working on and the stage it’s at, if I have a deadline, if I’m promoting a book, and if I have a decent supply of chocolate on hand. 

Most days I’m glued to my computer in my office - writing, revising, brainstorming, catching up on emails, connecting with other writers, working on promotional things, or cyber stalking…er…I mean social networking. 

As far as organizing my time, I’ve tried to write down schedules to set aside times in the day to get specific things done, but I usually end up using these well-intended schedules as scrap paper for something or another.  I’m better at spontaneous scheduling, which is a complete oxymoron, I know.  I’m also a master at to-do lists ... I love to cross things off – it’s liberating and keeps me on track.

I can find inspiration from anywhere or nowhere at all.  I’ve always had a very vivid imagination, so sometimes idea sparks will come to me out of thin air … some may call that insanity.

Creative inspiration can also be triggered by memories, something I hear or see, a song, a smell, a quirky word, an interaction, something that makes me laugh, a dream, etc.  Writing can be a full sensory experience (aka insanity)!

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

My tips are to practice your writing craft daily, read the genre you want to write, study the publishing market, never give up, and network your tail off (the more people you know in the industry, the better).  I also think it’s important to be careful not to stifle your own writing by comparing it to other writers’ successes or failures.  Always avoid a creative comparison coma by celebrating the uniqueness of your individual writing style and journey. 

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

1) I’ve learned it’s really important to write what I love, not necessarily what’s popular.  Loving the project I’m working on guarantees that I’ll be able to write authentically while having fun with it. 

2) Voice is also very important to me.  I like to make sure the voice of my narrator/main character is unique and interesting enough to be in the driver’s seat of my story. 

3) It’s key for me to focus on keeping the pace active, eventful and engaging.  My goal is to entertain readers from the beginning through the end without boredom … and I usually like to add in some quirky humor to keep my writing moving in a fun direction. 

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

I’d love to have a fun, laugh-fest, girl-power dinner party with Sophie Kinsella (Madeleine Wickham), J.K.Rowling, Louise Rennison, Meg Cabot and Judy Blume. 

Of course, if someone like Henry Cavill wanted to stop by, I’d gladly make an exception to the girl-only author rule.  After all, it’s important to remain flexible and open-minded. 

I wish I had created Harry Potter and his whole wizarding world.  I adore the magic and endless creativity that J.K. Rowling put into bringing his epic series to life. 

I also wish I had created Ebenezer Scrooge from A CHRISTMAS CAROL because he’s such an awesomely vile character who goes through an incredible transformation.  Hmmm… maybe I can mash-up the two with a twist to create my own character: Scrooge Potter, a greedy, hallucinating boy wizard with a penchant for making pottery.  Now that’s an idea! Excuse me while I get to work writing…

Elissa Hoole


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About Elissa:

Elissa Hoole’s debut novel, KISS THE MORNING STAR, grew from her love of Kerouac and was inspired by a road trip out West Now settled in northern Minnesota, she teaches middle school English and writes.

She still suffers from acute wanderlust from time to time, but road trips now involve a mini-van and a chorus of “Are we there yet?” from two small dharma bums-in-training. Her second novel, SOMETIMES ALWAYS, SOMETIMES NEVER published with Flux in 2013.

www.elissajhoole.com

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I’ve been writing since I was a kid — my first novel attempt, when I was about nine, involved a girl who wanted a horse. Go figure.  By the time I was in junior high school, I was writing much more sophisticated…um…angsty rhyming poetry.  Which of course I had abandoned by high school as I adopted a more experimental style — mostly written in tiny handwriting on graph paper while I was supposed to be doing calculus.

In college I took my first writing fiction course, where my (amazing) professor gave my first ‘literary’ short story a B! and I was so appalled and angry I completely revised it and got an A to spite him.  That was also the semester I got my first rejection, from the campus literary magazine.  I wrote more shorts in the years to come and racked up a nice collection of rejections, but I always struggled with the brevity of the form.  To this day, my revisions are often akin to hacking at a jungle with a machete!

I started my first novel in 2000, and except for a few periods of time when I had newborns and such, I’ve been writing them ever since.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

As a kid (and, well, now) I would read anything that you put in front of my face.  I loved Anne Shirley and Laura Ingalls Wilder and Jo March and Mary Lennox and Harriet M. Welsch, but I also pored over old biology and astronomy textbooks that my dad would pick up for me at garage sales and heavy Dickens tomes I found in the basement and raggedy stacks of silly paperbacks from the school book orders.

At some point in my childhood I ran out of books and sneaked my way into my dad’s old books, where I discovered a lot of interesting things at the hands of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., John Irving, and Tom Robbins.  I admit that I stole most of those books.  How else was I going to reread the sexy bits?

Can you talk us through the writing of your latest book? What were the key moments?

KISS THE MORNING STAR can be traced back to a little character sketch in my journal years ago about the daughter of a minister who tries to sneak books about Buddhism out of the library of her small town without her dad finding out.  Which is sort of funny because nothing of that story remains in the current novel except the dad’s name — Pastor Jake Marshal l — and the appearance of a little bit of Kerouac material.

I guess I’d have to say that the key moments in this book were:

a) When my first beta readers told me that the story began like fifteen thousand words after I started it,

b) When two agents told me that the story really needed to be told in first person, and

c) When I realized that the ending I had written (which involved a bunch of unlikely events including a creepy, creepy guy named Owen who still freaks me out) was not actually what I wanted to have happen to my dharma girls.

I love this book, partially because so much of the actual geography of their trip is based on an amazing summer that my husband and I spent road tripping and backpacking (yes, with Kerouac in our packs), but mostly because Anna and Kat have become so close to my heart.  I don’t know that I’ve ever liked my own characters more.

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

It was hard in that I got a lot of rejections, and it took me querying three novels before I found Sarah, but along the way, each time I was ready to give up, I would get just enough forward progress to keep it up.  Form rejections became one shiny personalized rejection.  The second novel got a partial request and at last a full request (never mind that the agent seemed to disappear off the face of the planet after that…)

When my phone rang three days before Christmas, the last thing on my mind was my novel, but there was Sarah, calling me from London (at midnight her time!), telling me that she had enjoyed my book so much that she had to call.  When I later had to make a choice between agent offers, that call swayed me — her enthusiasm for my book was so impressive, even as she very honestly told me that it needed a lot of work.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

Being a mom and a teacher and such, I have to be pretty flexible about when and where I write.  I write on the couch, mainly, though a painful bout with a pinched nerve in my neck is forcing me to rethink that now.  I write to the sound of specially chosen music (KISS THE MORNING STAR’s playlist includes a lot of Ani diFranco and the Kerouac tribute CD, Kicks Joy Darkness) and the sound of small children fighting.  I write in the front seat of the car on road trips and perched on the edge of the sandbox.  Mostly, though, I write at night, after everyone else is in bed, with a cup of cold coffee beside me.  I think I’ll plead the fifth about that whole time organization thing, though…

Can you tell us about your next book?

In between KtMS and the book I’m working on now, I wrote my first fantasy novel, a retelling of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night with talking seagulls.  It was a great change for me to write something light after the seriousness of Anna and Kat’s journey, but my current WIP is another contemporary realistic book about a teenage girl — Cassandra Randall, eye-rolling atheist in a family of fundamentals — who starts an anonymous Tarot-card reading blog that not only causes trouble with her conservative church community but also raises huge cyber-bullying concerns at her school.  It’s different from KtMS, but it shares some themes about friendship, belief, sexuality, and personal identity.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Flock to other writers, but screen them for drama.  Writers can be the only people who understand what you’re going through, but they can also be needy or competitive, so choose with care.  I couldn’t do anything that I’ve done without the support, camaraderie, encouragement, and occasional kicks in the pants from my writing friends.  They celebrate my good moments and help me brainstorm my way through the walls.  Ask questions, read their books, learn from them.  Find beta readers who will tell you the truth when they read your work — not only the good parts, but all of it with kindness and a sincere wish for your success.  Be wary of people who give hard and fast rules about writing, but don’t be afraid to give some of their methods a chance.

And mostly, keep writing, even when you fail.  Even when you succeed.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

I guess probably the biggest thing I’ve learned about writing books is the value of the revision process.  Sometimes big, scary revisions.  Sometimes revisions that, initially, I don’t like.  Sometimes revisions seem overwhelming, and sometimes they seem like a lot of work, and sometimes I wonder why the hell I’m so slow that it takes me this many tries to get it right, but every revision that I’ve done carefully and thoughtfully has improved my book. 

I wish I could say that I have finally mastered plotting or (ack!) outlining or writing query letters or dynamic characterization or pitch-perfect dialogue or schmoozing with publishing people, but alas.  I’ll just have to take comfort in the idea that all things can be fixed in revisions.  (Well, except the schmoozing part.  That may require a cocktail.)

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

I’m so bad at this question.  As much as I love reading books, I’m sort of struck dumb at the thought of gathering my favorite authors together in a room.  Would Thoreau mingle well?  Would the English poets get too cliquey or insist that everyone speak in iambic pentameter?  Would I need to seat them according to genre, or time period?  Maybe I could develop a lovely epistolary relationship with some of my favorite authors instead?  I know I’d love to exchange bashful letters with Kerouac and Burroughs, though I’ve already written a poem for Ferlinghetti and sent it to him, so I’m not sure where we’d go from there. 

I think I wish I could have written Ponyboy Curtis.  Also Salamanca Tree Hiddle, but she would make me cry so much.

Jessie Humphries


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About Jessie:

Jessie Humphries received a B.A. in Theatre Arts from San Diego State University and a law degree from UNLV— an education which might make her a bit over-dramatic in the courtroom, but brazen enough to write a legal thriller. She currently practices law and has a successful writing blog called the B-Word: www.jessie-humphries.blogspot.com. She lives with her family in Las Vegas.

www.jessiehumphries.com

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

After having my second child, I found myself cooped up in the house a lot—holding babies, feeding babies, crying with babies, etc. I started reading for fun, which was not something I had been able to do for years. Throughout law school and those first years of practicing law, all my time was devoted to educational or work-related reading. So when a few of my colleagues started a reading club, involving mostly young adult books, I was all over that. I began devouring books and somewhere along the way I had the crazy thought, “I can do this! I can write a book. Compared to taking the bar, it’s got to be totally easy.” Turns out it’s not as easy as I thought, but more rewarding than I could have anticipated.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you?

The first book that comes to my mind is WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak. I remember sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the floor of my elementary school library, being mesmerized by the librarian’s reading of the book. I think I loved the idea of being transported to a terrifying yet magical place. Facing fears and confronting “monsters” has become one of my favorite themes.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

Writing my first book was a hot mess. I was on fire with the idea of creating another world, fascinating characters, and an enchanting setting. I had no clue what I was doing of course, but it didn’t matter. I was swept away on an adventure unlike any other I’ve ever experienced. But when I was done, and shared it with a few people, it came to my attention that…it SUCKED! As in, the total opposite of awesome: derivative, cliché, confusing. I was crushed, because it was true. I had never taken a creative writing class. I had no idea what story structure was. And I certainly didn’t know that a bunch of dream sequences was a writing crime punishable by death. That’s when I stopped writing for a while and started researching. I got online and began reading blogs, finding that authors and agents are pretty generous with their writing advice. One of the most important recommendations I found was to attend a writing conference. So I did, and that’s where I met my two current critique partners who have taught me everything I know. It took many more years of writing crap before I learned some solid writing skills and began catching the attention of agents.

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

Yes, I would say landing a top agent like Sarah Davies is somewhere between “hard” and “the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life.” But like anything rewarding, I don’t regret the time, effort, sacrifice, pain, sweat, tears, and popped-out rib (not joking) that it took to make it happen. I realize for some select few, signing with their dream agents a few days after querying is possible (but even then we don’t know how long it took them to become prepared). It didn’t happen like that for me. Over the course of several months, I received many no’s while at the same time receiving several yes’s. Some of those no’s were on queries, and some were on partial or full submissions. Though before any offers of representation were extended, I received several R&R’s (Revise & Resubmit requests). I took these very seriously and spent many months carefully considering feedback from agents on how I could improve my manuscript. It was a marathon up treacherous and steep terrain, but when I signed with Sarah it was one of the best moments of my life. I felt like Rocky (IV), making my way to the top of the Russian mountains. Sure it’s “hard” jogging through three feet of snow, chopping down trees and pulling a bobsled in subzero weather, but there’s nothing like spreading your arms to the sky and screaming a victory roar to the soundtrack of “Eye of the Tiger.” This is an analogy by the way—I didn’t really find a mountain and do that. Well, maybe I did. I guess we’ll never know…

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time?

This is what a good writing day might look like (Warning—this list might cause light-headedness, nausea or stomach pain): wake up at 6:00 a.m., ride my beach cruiser up the street to a comfy couch at Starbucks, write until 7:30 a.m. when I have to get all the kids up, dressed, fed and off to school, go back to writing at 9:00 a.m., pick up kids at 11:30, make lunch, dinner, get some work done for my other job, carpool to basketball, dance and soccer practice, etc., and then go back to writing again from 7:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. when Barnes & Nobel kicks me out. That’s about seven hours of writing time if I’m lucky. I don’t “organize” my time as much as I “squeeze” as much of it out of life as I can.

Where do you look for inspiration?

I draw a lot of inspiration from various forms of entertainment. Of course I love books, but movies and television series are also really inspiring. For KILLING RUBY ROSE, my inspiration was a mix of the awesome book series HEIST SOCIETY by Ally Carter, and the fascinating Showtime television series DEXTER, which is based on a book series by Jeff Lindsay.

Can you tell us about your next book?

Since KILLING RUBY ROSE is a series, my next book will be the sequel. My favorite part about writing this follow up book so far has been the romance. In the first book, Ruby and Liam are just getting to know each other and finding out if they can trust one another. Yes, in the first book they have some crazy attraction going on (involving a few fun kissing scenes), but in the next book they are falling in love. Of course, the question is whether or not their love can survive more murder, deceit and adversaries that they never see coming.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

• Write your heart out because you love it, and revise your guts out because you have to.
• Take the time you need to get it right. Don’t query or submit prematurely. I’ve made that mistake and it caused me more stress and heartache than was necessary.
• Get involved in the blogosphere. There is no better way, in my opinion, to learn the ins and outs of publishing. There are way too many helpful blogs out there to ignore.
• Go to conferences and meet other writers. Get out of your hole and put yourself out there: talk to other writers about your books, pitch to agents, make contacts with editors and publishers.
• Never stop writing. It’s easy to bogged down in social media, queries, etc. Always come back to the stories and write as much as you can.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

I love lists:
1) Find your “voice”—work hard to develop your distinctive style of writing that is unique to you. Whether you write beautiful prose or snarky dialogue best, focus on what you do best and maximize it. 
2) Read—study what other successful authors do to craft a good story. Read within your genre (and occasionally outside your genre for balance) to learn the rules, the dynamics, and the structure that will help inspire and teach you how to do it right.
3) Get to know your characters—create a “Character Bible” where you list every character and every detail about them, whether it will matter or not. I never used to do this and it showed. Spending time with your characters outside of the scenes that actually make it into your book can be very valuable, and make all the difference in how your reader connects with your story.

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party?

I would invite Ally Carter, JK Rowling, Suzanne Collins, and Oprah. I know that Oprah doesn’t exactly write books in my genre, but it would be the most fabulous dinner party ever, right? She’d invite Celine Dion to serenade us, Wolfgang Puck to feed us, Ellen Degeneres to entertain us, and buy us all cars as a party favor. Hey, a girl can dream!

Rahul Kanakia


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About Rahul:

Rahul Kanakia has short stories with various fiction magazines and is featured in Tu Books’ Diverse Energies anthology. He is also a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Rahul is currently studying for his M.F.A. in fiction writing at Johns Hopkins University. ENTER TITLE HERE is his debut young adult novel.

Rahul's Books:

Dawn Kurtagich


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About Dawn:

By the time she was eighteen, Dawn had been to fifteen schools across two continents. The daughter of a British globe-trotter and single mother, she grew up all over the place, but her formative years were spent in Africa--on a mission, in the bush, in the city and in the desert.

Dawn's Books:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I was twelve when my mother brought a leather-bound notebook home to me from Boston. It was the most beautiful book I had ever seen. I wrote my very first novel in it (in pencil, because I was worried about ruining the beautiful pages!). That was the beginning of a long obsession with novels and notebooks.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

I wasn’t born a natural reader. But I loved stories. In nursery school, our teacher read Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, and I was mesmerized. But without my mother asking (begging) me to read to her, my life today would be very different. One day when I was 11 or so, she brought home ANIMORPHS (in which a group of kids are given the ability to morph into animals by a dying alien!) by K.A Applegate and the rest is history.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

The Dead House was born out of illness and a need for catharsis on my part. When I was very sick in 2012, I experienced what’s called “inversion syndrome”, wherein I slept during the day and was awake all night. My life became nothing but a series of long nights, and it dawned on me that someone who had only ever known the night would have a pretty interesting story to tell. And if there was a dark half of the equation, there had to be a light part too, and so my main character(s?) were born. And so was the house.

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

I was very lucky this time round. Excluding the time taken to perfect my letter, my manuscript and my pitch, my query journey was quite short—five weeks in all—and I had multiple offers of representation. The hard part was making a decision!

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I like to write all over my house. Some days, the lounge. Some days, my study. Other days, in bed! I write best in the evening, I think, and the early hours after midnight (whether I’m getting up early or staying up late). Inspiration comes from everywhere. The weather, nature, music, books, films, myths, legends, history—every experience and sensation gives something back. I can be pretty haphazard and unpredictable, but it works for me.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Keep writing and never stop. Learn your craft, and learn from the books you read. Never think you are done. Keep learning. Don’t let criticism be a rock on your back—let it be the buoy underneath you. Take advice from people who you admire, and who have it made, but chuck it out the window if it doesn’t work for you. Every writer finds their way by feeling around, trying different things, and keeping what works. There is no one right way. Learn that.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

1. Bravery. Not allowing fear to dictate how I write. To be brave in the words I use, and the stories I choose to tell. Allowing the darker side of the story to unfold naturally and authentically, rather than suppressing it because of what might or might not be considered “safe” or “acceptable”. Kids are brilliantly resourceful, wily and smart, and I have learned not to underestimate them.
2. Time. Learning to step back and allow the work to take the time it needs. Turning a book out monthly might be impressive, but what quality of story and writing is it really bound to be? Tied to this is giving yourself time to learn to write. Read books that do it well. Find out why. Break them down and notice the mechanics.
3. Writer Crazies. They happen. It’s okay. Have friends (and an agent) that understand this (it is invaluable when you think the universe is coming to an end).

Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party? Which fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

Hm . . . what would be the most fun? Roald Dahl might be a laugh. He’d bring the giant peach we would both dine in and dine on. Juliet Marillier, because she is a beautiful writer, and would entertain us with fables a la Conor of the druids. Courtney Summers (in case of zombies). Mickey Zucker Reichert and Jennifer Wingert, because they’d help us all have spirit links to cool animals. Gillian Flynn for when things got dicey, and to top it off, J.K Rowling, who would bring the sorting hat.

Lindsey Leavitt


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About Lindsey:

Lindsey Leavitt is a former elementary school teacher.

She grew up in Las Vegas, married her high-school lab partner, and after some years in Birmingham, Alabama, has returned to live in Vegas with her husband and three small daughters.  She is a keen - and very popular - blogger.

www.lindseyleavitt.com

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

Like most writers, I really enjoyed writing as a kid and have a whole collection of journals and stories. But when I hit high school, I let doubt get in the way, figuring I wasn’t as good as the authors I read (yeah, I knew nothing about revision then). Also, I submitted something to the school literary journal and it got rejected because it was too ‘fun’ and not very ‘deep’. It was a short story, not a swimming pool, but whatever. I let it get to me so much that I didn’t sign up for the creative-writing classes I eyed every semester in college.

I always felt a pull, though, and so when my oldest daughter was born and turned out to be a champion napper, I took a huge leap and started writing again. I wrote all sorts of stuff at first — picturebooks, short stories, poetry, until I found my niche and voice in tween and teen novels. Once I got into that, I joined SCBWI and a critique group and read, read, read. It’s an old formula, but a proven one. Sometimes, when my desire to be published overshadowed my focus on craft, I would send stuff out too soon. But actually, it helped me finally face rejection and push through it. Now I get paid money to write ‘fun’ stuff. Take that, lit mag.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

RAMONA QUIMBY, AGE 8. She was me. Or I was her. Or whatever. I was blown away that there was a book about a REAL girl, who got mad and felt insecure and laughed at random things and fought with/loved her family.

Roald Dahl was my literary hero because he broke the rules. He talked about burping and nasty parents, and the kids in his books actually defied adults. But at the same time, there were good, tenacious, resilient characters. Sometimes, when I was reading his books, I would look around to make sure I wasn’t going to get in trouble for reading fiction so true and delicious.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

Well, my very first book was for practice and that nonsense has been burned. I don’t usually support book burnings, but trust me, this was for the best.

My first passable book, SEAN GRISWOLD’S HEAD (which actually will be my second published book), taught me that a story must have a plot. And characters. And scenes. All these revolutionary elements I somehow missed the first time around.

I wrote this book during a pregnancy, the baby haze, and during a major move. The more emotional scenes are mirrors of some of the emotions I went through during that time, and the humor was a welcome respite. I wrote one of my favorite scenes while sitting at a picnic table at the Highlights Foundation Chautauqua conference. It was the first time I’d left my two year old, and the first time I’d taken my writing seriously enough to dedicate a week to it. Taking that step allowed me to cut myself open and bleed on to the page, and from that week on I treated my writing as a career, even if I still hadn’t made any money from it.

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

I got my agent the old-fashioned way — cold query. And serendipitously enough, my agent wasn’t even agenting when I started querying, so I’m grateful for the process that led me to her. It took me six months from my very first query to my first offer, though I took some time off in between to nurse my wounds.

I queried in smaller batches — three or four carefully selected agents. Within those six months, I had some great feedback that led me to make some changes. I learned everything I could about the market climate. I had some close calls that had me raiding my children’s Halloween/Christmas/Easter candy stash. But the most important thing I did was work on another novel. Not only did it help me maintain my sanity level (however low that was at the time), but I also believe having some range made me more appealing as a client.

When I did receive offers, the agents were interested not just in my first novel, but in my WIP (which I mentioned in a one-line pitch at the end of the query). I was very lucky to sign with Sarah, who really got both strands of my writing.

Hard? Yes, but worth it.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

Oh wow. Every day is different. I have young kids, so I squeeze in as much as I can during pre-school. Otherwise, I’m writing during the nights or on weekends, or on the floor of the playroom, or in the hallway during dance classes. Organization doesn’t happen much around here, it’s more of a calculated chaos.

Inspiration: I read like crazy in my genres. I also work with young teens in my church. But mostly, I go back to my own childhood and adolescence and really try to hone in on my joys and struggles (except I’ll, you know, throw in a traveling bubble or something).

Can you tell us about your next book?

I just turned in the first draft of the second book in the PRINCESS FOR HIRE series. It was such a different experience writing a sequel. I already had my main character and some familiar settings, but the challenge was maintaining all the magic of the first book AND upping the conflict. I dare say it was harder than the first.

As far as content, I can’t say much! My main character, Desi, starts to suspect there is more to her magical job than she imagined, and finds herself in some pretty sweet gigs. There is also some bad Shakespeare, a teen beauty pageant, yachting royals and a bit of scandal. Hey, it’s about royalty. Scandal is a given.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Write your heart out. Write your face off. Write like whatever you wrote will win you a lifetime’s supply of candy.

Because…

I know the idea of being published is a sweet seductress and I know that ache of wanting your words out THERE is fierce but…

If you can’t write, it’s not going to happen. Close the submission files and finish the best book you possibly can, revise that book a million times (and I don’t mean spell check), THEN focus on the publishing side. Don’t let all the business stuff overtake the writing, especially that first book, which is such a raw and exhilarating experience.

Just write.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

1. Be authentic
2. Show don’t tell
3. Get to conflict ASAP

Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

Roald Dahl, again because I would like to see his manners, or lack thereof. Kurt Vonnegut, especially because Roald will be there and I suspect they’d hit it off. And Judy Blume, because maybe she would let me touch the hem of her garment.

Catherine Linka


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About Catherine:

Catherine Linka is a veteran children’s book buyer based in La Canada, California.  In 2009 she was awarded the Glenn Goldman scholarship for booksellers from SCIBA. As well as hosting many events for leading authors and creating a speaker series called Writer2Writer, she also runs a teen-advisory board that reviews advance copies of books.

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I’ve always been a writer. In high school, I wrote terrible poetry, but that didn’t stop me from becoming the editor of the literary magazine. (It was a really small school.) In college, I applied for a spot in a poetry workshop and got in. The professor made us submit our work to poetry magazines, and I was amazed when mine was published.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

Kay Thompson’s ELOISE.  Look at a photo of me in second grade and you’d say, ‘Separated at birth!’ I was dying to live in the Plaza and ride the elevator and order room service and have a dog named Weenie and a turtle named Skipperdee. Eloise had adventures and wasn’t well-behaved, and I loved her.

My other love was horses, and I read every horse book I could find, especially Marguerite Henry’s. My absolute favorite book of hers was THE WHITE STALLIONS OF LIPIZZA about Hans, a baker’s son who drives his delivery cart through the streets of Vienna and watches the dressage horses walk from their stables to the Spanish Riding School. Hans wants more than anything to become one of the riders. It’s an impossible dream, but Hans has a way with horses, and he is hard-working and resourceful and is given a chance. Even now I still want to go to Vienna and see the Spanish Riding School.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

My writing nook on the second floor overlooks my garden with windows all around. A hummingbird has claimed my yard and the neighbor’s as his territory.  Wild parrots roam our neighborhood, and a young falcon has lingered on the perimeter of our pool.

Morning is my time to write. I often awake before the alarm and mull over my characters in the dark. When I’m not fully conscious, I realize things I didn’t see before. 

I write for 2-3 hours, unless it’s a weekend and I’m on a roll. I don’t give myself a daily word count. I usually begin by rereading a scene or two to get back into the story, and I’m always asking myself what the characters are feeling. 

I don’t look for inspiration--it kind of smacks me when I least expect it.

Can you tell us about what’s coming next for you?

I’m working on a companion novella about Wren, a character in A GIRL CALLED FEARLESS. My plan is to make it an e-short. Writing this has let me explore Wren’s story, because I needed to know why she did what she did. I was surprised when I realized what Wren had gone through--which I think is a good example of how you create a character, but he or she has a life of their own. It’s also been fun to explore the world of ‘Debutante Auctions’ that is only hinted at in A GIRL CALLED FEARLESS.

We’re also talking about a possible sequel to A GIRL CALLED FEARLESS. The ending concludes Avie’s adventure, but all sorts of things could happen next--some romantic-- some threatening.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers looking to get published?

Remember that writing a great book and getting published are two different things. Getting published means offering a publisher a book that holds commercial promise. Publishers invest in books, and they need to feel that your book will attract an audience big enough to pay back what they invested.

It’s hard, because you have to write the book that tugs at your heart. You can’t not be who you are inside.

However, if getting published is important to you, then you need to understand what makes books appeal to a broad audience and see if perhaps you can re-imagine your story to enhance those elements. It may mean strengthening a romance or upping the tension or making a character irresistible.

So read, read, read in the genre you write for. Spend time in a bookstore, checking out what’s on the shelves.

Can you describe three aspects of the writing craft that have been most important to you as you’ve developed as a writer?

‘What does your character want?’ always confused me, because characters don’t always know--consciously--what they want. But then I read FROM WHERE YOU DREAM by Robert Olen Butler, and he has this amazing chapter about longing, and it clicked. A character can long for something, and it moves him or her to act without necessarily knowing why. But I, the author, have to know what the character doesn’t, because satisfying that longing is the character’s journey.

Understanding every character’s motivation and how that affects the story. If I understand what moves a character, even ones with minimal screen time, they become more real. It’s especially important when portraying an antagonist. If you don’t want the villain to come off as a cardboard cutout, the villain has to have plausible, realistic desires and motivations even from their twisted villainous point of view. It’s much scarier when you see someone who is rational in their totally demented way.

Pacing is the thing I struggle with most, and thank God, I have an editor. Lots of YA authors don’t realize that pacing is critical. Move too slow and the reader gets bored and that is death.

What favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

First, I would never invite authors to a dinner party, because I’d much rather have a chance to talk one on one. Instead, I’d invite Mary Roach to go out for barbecue, because I loved her books STIFF and PACKING FOR MARS, and I’d want to hear all about her latest project. And if Oliver Sacks had time, I’d love to have coffee with him, because he explains weird brain things so clearly anyone can understand them.

Jon Mayhew


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About Jon:

Jon Mayhew is a man with a dark, cinematic imagination.

He lives down on the marshes of Neston, between the ancient English cities of Chester and Liverpool.  An English teacher for twenty years, he now works as a specialist teacher for children with autism.

He and his wife have four children, and when neither teaching nor writing Jon plays in ceilidh bands and runs marathons. 

MORTLOCK is his first novel, to be followed by THE DEMON COLLECTOR.

http://pages.bloomsbury.com/jon-mayhew/

Mortlock Video:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I’ve always written. I can remember the feeling of excitement when the teacher used to give us a free-writing lesson. The blank page rarely threatened me. As a teenager, I used to write terrible pastiches of Sword and Sorcery stories: barbarians and wizards in mythical lands, all the usual stuff. I was also a keen role-playing gamer and developed stories through that.

As teaching took more and more of my time, my writing became instructional - I’d develop schemes of work, write exemplar openings, that kind of thing. Now and then I would start a story but never finish it. Then in March 2006 I had my ‘lucky break’. While training for the London Marathon, half way through a ten-mile run in deep snow, I broke my ankle. Badly. I found myself sitting down for six weeks with a laptop in front of me. I wrote 95,000 words of utter tripe, but it was a start!

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you?

I remember my father reading me Kipling’s Just So Stories but otherwise I didn’t read much as a young child. The class reading scheme had a negative impact on me. Then at the age of about 11, I had this awakening in which I read anything and everything - Ray Bradbury, Andre Norton, Michael Moorcock, Dickens, Brian Aldiss, Tolkein, Richard Adams. I can sympathize with young lads who aren’t excited by books, but something clicked with me and reading at that age.

Tove Jansson and the MOOMIN books especially grabbed me. I read MOOMINLAND WINTERLAND at night by reflecting the light from the landing off a biscuit tin lid and on to my pillow. I loved the strange creatures Jansson drew, and the satisfying contrasts between peril and domesticity. Cute woodland creatures that talked to me of loneliness and isolation. They are strange books indeed and not served well by the TV representation.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

My broken ankle was the point at which I realized that bum on seat equals first rule of writing. In November 2007 Alfie Mortlock became a real character in my head while watching my son perform in a school production of Oliver, and I started writing. This coincided with my reading the brilliant NECROPOLIS RAILWAY by Andrew Martin, which is a mystery about the railway line that used to take corpses out to the new municipal graveyards of London.

Cut to May 2007. Deep depression. I found it impossible to generate interest in MORTLOCK and it hit slush piles everywhere. Then I broke my ankle again, running down a Welsh mountain. Lin, my wife, took pity on me and bought me a weekend writing course with Cornerstones [a British literary consultancy]. That weekend the manuscript was basically ripped apart. I scuttled off into a corner, and then came back with a plan to revise it completely.

The next key moment was listening to Sarah’s critique of MORTLOCK and seeing again how it might be taken to another level. She taught me to think beyond the main events of the novel and about where the ‘camera’s eye’ was focused. She also gave me confidence in my ability to improve my writing and to learn.

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

I had kept in touch with Helen Corner of Cornerstones. She always said I would get an agent given time and that gothic stories were selling well. I’d had a couple of near misses with publishers so I jumped at the chance when she offered to submit to agents for me.

Again there were plenty of rejections - one agent said that MORTLOCK ‘left her cold’. But then, in the space of 24 hours, I had the luxury of choosing between two. In the end there was no competition. I met the first agent face to face and she was lovely, but Sarah’s experience and knowledge of children’s literature just shone through. The first agent hadn’t read HOLES (my favourite book). Sarah had bid for it when she was Publisher at Macmillan.

I didn’t actually meet Sarah for several months, but she was always on the end of the line and e-mails flickered back and forth across the Atlantic!

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organise your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I’m a bit of a guerilla writer! With four children and a day job, I write when I can, where I can. Sometimes I’ll hide in the playhouse at the bottom of the garden. I’ve written on trains, in pubs and coffee houses, in the greenhouse (funnily enough) and in the car. I do have a room with a desk, but sometimes it’s too accessible. Usually I write for a few hours in the evening between eight and twelve, and then at the weekend I’ll take a large chunk of the day if I can. Thursday and Friday are dedicated writing days.

Inspiration comes from music - orchestral stuff, film themes, but music from my teens seems to inspire me. I wonder if it awakes the neural pathways of my youth! I also find running gives me chance to think and imagine.

Can you tell us about your next book?

It’s called The Bonehill Curse and again, it’s a dark, gothic, Victorian supernatural adventure. It’s set in London a little later than Mortlock and The Demon Collector and there are crossover characters. A terrible bully of a girl called Necessity Bonehill comes face to face with an evil genie and has to save the world. Think Arabian Nights through a grimy Victorian lens.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

I think to succeed you must be able to accept criticism. It’s no good arguing over every point. I always think if I have to explain something to one of my crit readers, then I’ve failed to communicate.
Being flexible, reasonable and willing to adapt makes you a good prospect, which is music to an editor’s or agent’s ears.

Again, like many things in life, you improve with persistence and practice. Keep writing, keep trying, but don’t bang your head on a brick wall. If it’s not working, try to find out why.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

Learning that the story is not just a series of joined-up events, but that the characters’ development flows through those eve
nts and everything that happens must do so for a reason.

Making each sentence as active as possible, avoiding passive and flat phrasing.

Realizing that chapters should be short and end with a cruel, barbed hook!

Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

Eoin Colfer - I saw his ‘one author show’ and really enjoyed it. A funny man who writes great books. Philip Ardagh because I suspect he might read this and would definitely be offended at not being invited to an imaginary dinner party. My fellow Greenhouse author Sarwat Chadda because he’s my evil twin (only a bit younger and better looking). I’d also invite Charles Dickens just so he could read A CHRISTMAS CAROL to us.

Fictional character? It’s got to be Elric of Melnibone, an albino with a magic sword that drinks enemy souls. I was hooked on Michael Moorcock’s ETERNAL CHAMPION series as a teenager and Elric is the man.

Cori McCarthy


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About Cori:

Cori McCarthy studied poetry and screenwriting before earning an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Kirkus called her debut YA novel, THE COLOR OF RAIN, “[an] elegantly written and emotionally cathartic page-turner.” Her second novel, BREAKING SKY, will be out from Sourcebooks Fire in March 2015.

www.corimccarthy.com

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I discovered poetry and short stories in eighth grade via the attentions of a phenomenal English teacher. He encouraged me to not only interpret the words, but to start writing my own. Even as I penned those very first poems, I knew that I had discovered my life’s passion.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

My first visceral reaction to literature came through Katherine Patterson’s JACOB HAVE I LOVED. It was the first time that I read a story which upturned all my feelings, made me hurt, and then at the end, brought me through to a new world of emotional awareness. To this day, I can reread that story, weep, and then feel all the pieces of me align in new ways.

Can you talk us through your career so far? What were the key moments?

I earned a BA in Creative Writing from Ohio University in 2005 and then excitedly moved on to a graduate certificate course in screenwriting through UCLA. But screenwriting felt entirely too limiting, and I stepped away from writing, becoming the coordinator of an afterschool program for at-risk school-aged children in Appalachian Ohio. It was then that I put together my love of writing with my passion for children’s limitless enjoyment of stories and applied to Vermont College of Fine Arts’s MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults.

Though I had always known that writing was paramount in my life, it was not until I enrolled in that program that my path to becoming a career writer lit up before my feet.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organise your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I do my best writing in the morning at the local coffee shop. I used to write at home but since the birth of my son in December 2011, I’ve needed to segregate my mommy-brain and writer-brain—an every day struggle!

Can you tell us about what’s coming next from you?

I’m currently working on a YA novel that is high stakes and very close to my heart. Sarah has encouraged me to keep the premise under my hat, but I can share that it’s very different from THE COLOR OF RAIN.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Everyone says write and read every day, and that’s important, but it is also important to build a network of trusted fellow writers. As a previously struggling poet and screenwriter, I can attest to the nasty competitive nature of selling your words, but I would not be publishing without the friends I made at VCFA and the supportive words we swap with each other every single day.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

Writing a fast, terrible first draft is key to my productivity, but I’ve also found that it’s essential to plot ahead of time (while giving myself permission to change said plot on the fly) and to never censor my words or characters’s choices.

Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

Oh, I ache to meet Stephen King, and assuming this dinner party comes with a time machine, I would also invite Walt Whitman. I bet the three of us would have quite the conversation. My favorite fictional character is, and always will be, Jane Eyre. No other character in literature can take a fictional beating with such grit and grace.

Dawn Metcalf


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About Dawn:

Dawn Metcalf has no good excuse for the way she writes. She lived in a normal, loving, suburban home, studied hard, went to college, went to graduate school, got married, had babies, and settled down in northern Connecticut. Despite this wholesome lifestyle, she’s been clearly corrupted by fairy tales, puppet visionaries, British humour and graphic novels. As a result, she writes dark, quirky, and sometimes humorous speculative fiction.

http://www.dawnmetcalf.com

INVISIBLE Trailer:

Wendy Mills


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About Wendy:

Wendy Mills was born in Virginia, spent several years in North Carolina, but now lives with her family on the tropical island of Bokeelia, off the south-west coast of Florida where she spends her time writing and dodging hurricanes.  She’s had a couple of adult mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press, under the name Wendy Howell Mills, but now is establishing herself as an author of contemporary YA. 

Wendy's Books:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

In the fourth grade, our writing assignment was to write a story in a page or two. While I had been dabbling with poems, and even had written a play for my class to perform, it was the first time I really remember writing a story. It turned into thirty pages, and won me a trip to a writing conference. My fate was sealed!

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

That’s one of the reasons I enjoy writing for children so much. I vividly remember many of my childhood favorites, while half the time I can’t remember where I put my car keys. That’s how much impact those childhood stories had on me. A WRINKLE IN TIME was a particular favorite, as was PIPPI LONGSTOCKING and FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER. I loved, loved, A BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA. I also enjoyed the CHRONICLES OF NARNIA series, TRIXI BELDEN, THE DRAGONRIDERS OF PERN, and anything by Judy Blume. I could go on and on.

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

It was pretty heady at the time. I didn’t have much luck agent-wise with the first few children’s stories I wrote. Then I wrote my first young adult book, POSITIVELY BEAUTIFUL, and sent it out to the five or six agents who were currently selling the most young adult (I discovered this useful nugget of information on Publishers Marketplace). The interest was pretty intense compared to what I’d seen before, so I knew I was on to something!

I had several offers to read the partial and the full manuscript, including from Sarah. Then I received the email from Sarah asking if the story was still available, and if she could talk to me. We talked for an hour and a half, and at the end of the conversation she asked to represent me. I was ecstatic, because I felt that we really clicked. But I asked for some time, which Sarah encouraged me to take. By the next morning, I had told so many people “Sarah is exactly what I’m looking for in an agent!” that I realized she WAS, and that it was silly for me to keep looking. I emailed the other agents and pulled the manuscript from their consideration.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time?

I do my best writing in the morning, and I often get up before the kids so I can get some uninterrupted time. When I’m in the throes of writing a book, it often feels like an obsession. I get to the point when I can barely think about anything else and all I want to do is write.

Everybody’s process is different. I’m more of an organic writer, in that it’s hard for me to outline completely ahead of time. When I start, I do know my main character’s flaw, the theme, and the climax of the story. Much of the story develops in my mind from there, and my first draft reads like a big outline. I enjoy the editing process, so I take the free-flowing ideas and whip them into some semblance of shape.

It helps to have a wonderful agent like Sarah who has extensive editing experience. Even after I went through my entire process, I received pages and pages of notes from her and completely rewrote the book. I am extremely happy with the way it turned out and have (I hope!) improved my writing/outlining skills. As a side note, I would say be very careful with your choice of critique partners. You need to be able to trust their judgment and motivations completely.

Where do you look for inspiration?

Everywhere! I listen to friends and their stories and find myself thinking, wow, what a cool character THAT would make. If I can, I make myself a note so that I remember it.

I’m always looking for high-concept, commercial ideas, so when I’m watching the news or reading books and magazines, I’m often filing away possible story ideas. I enjoy the “what if” question, so if something rings a bell for me, I will spend some time thinking: what if that happened to me, or my family? How would I react? What would be the consequences? Sometimes it’s just an interesting exercise, but sometimes I come up with a good idea. That’s how POSITIVELY BEAUTIFUL came about. I read about a young woman who decided to remove her breasts and ovaries on the basis of a genetic test and started thinking about how that would feel, the choices she had to make, and the obstacles she would face. POSITIVELY BEAUTIFUL grew from there.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Read, read, read! Read everything, but especially the kind of story you want to write. I had just started reading young adult again when I wrote POSITIVELY BEAUTIFUL. Sarah suggested I read as much young adult as I could (which I was already doing, but then it became a mission!). It really deepened my understanding of the conventions of young adult storytelling.

Also, I bought a subscription to Publishers Marketplace so I could see what was selling. Reading the pitches helped me immeasurably with writing my query.

Can you describe aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

1.  Hone your ability to recognize good ideas. Do research on what’s selling, not so you can write the same thing, but so you can recognize a high concept, original idea when you see it.

2.  Don’t get too attached to your story. Accept that not everything you write is going to sell, especially at the beginning. Be willing to put something aside if need be, and chalk it up to practice. Every bit of writing you do improves your writing skills.

3.  Write down ideas as they come to you. It’s too easy to forget them later.

4.  Study books that you particularly like. Dissect the story, figure out WHAT about it was so appealing to you, and figure out how the author did it.

5.  Accept that your writing process is as individual to you as your fingerprints. Do what works for you, not what other people say you should do.

6.  Have faith in yourself. Listen to criticism, absorb what seems right and true, and let the rest slide off you. There are plenty of bestselling books that are well-written, but are not my favorites because of personal taste. Know that not everybody is going to like your story. That’s okay.

Megan Miranda


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About Megan:

Megan Miranda studied Biology and Anthropology at M.I.T. where she won awards in bioengineering. She worked in biotechnology for several years before teaching high-school Science. She has a young family, writes full-time and volunteers as an M.I.T. Educational Counselor. 

www.meganmiranda.com

FRACTURE:

HYSTERIA:

Michelle Modesto


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About Michelle:

Michelle Modesto is an associate editor at Gold Man Review, a west coast literary journal. She is also a former tattoo artist and works as a dog groomer and rescuer. She loves hockey, mudding and redneck things. She lives in Northern California with her two kids and a couple of bed-hogging bull mastiffs

Michelle's Books:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I was always reading and writing as a kid and was even voted “most likely to be an author” in my eighth grade yearbook. Unfortunately I dropped out of school soon after and didn’t really keep up with it. I did keep reading though, and in 2009 I discovered YA fiction and fell in love. I’ve been writing every day since. 

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who
were your childhood storytelling heroes?


Pet Sematary changed my life as a kid. I read that thing on repeat until the pages fell out. Stephen King, John Saul and Michael Crichton were my childhood story telling heroes.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book?

It’s kind of hard to remember. Writing, for me, is very manic. I’ll have an idea I think is perfect at the time. This usually gets through the first draft fairly quick. Then upon rereading there’s a lot of self-loathing and doubt. Then I just try to mold these random and sometimes weird ideas into something coherent. Ideas strike me at odd times. Most of my notes are written on my skin because there never seems to be paper around when inspiration hits. I once wrote three chapters on various body parts in the Walmart parking lot. 

Was it hard to get an agent ? Can you talk us through the process?

Writing the query letter was the hardest part. It took me just as long to write the letter as it did the book. I had everyone I know read it and when I felt confident, I made a list of agents--there were five. I ended up with two offers of representation the same week. It felt good after a year of rejections on a previous project.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize
your time? Where do you look for inspiration?


I write every day. I get to work two hours early before anyone gets there so I have that time alone without distractions. Then I write again on my breaks and again in the evenings, but by then my brain is pretty fried, so evenings are mostly used for research. I find inspiration in everything.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to
get published?


1) Don’t write because you want to be published. Write because you love it.
2) Follow agents and editors on Twitter. They are a goldmine of information.

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What
fictional character do you wish you’d invented?


I’d love to sit at the grownup table with GRRM, Gillian Flynn, and the Guillermo del Toro/Chuck Hogan combo. I can’t count how many times I have said I wish I’d written Tyrion Lannister and Beetlejuice.

Hannah Moskowitz


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About Hannah:

Hannah Moskowitz is the author of several novels for teens, including BREAK, an ALA Popular Paperback for Young Adults, and TEETH, winner of a 2012 Stonewall Honor. Hannah studies at the University of Maryland. Find out more at www.untilhannah.com.

Annemarie O'Brien


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About Annemarie:

Annemarie O’Brien has an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. In addition to her own writing, she teaches writing courses at UC Berkeley and Stanford and edits children’s books for Room to Read. Before that, she worked for many years as a Privatization Advisor and Consultant in Russia where she got her first borzoi dog, Dasha.

It was through her experience of finding Dasha, coupled with stories her Russian Professor told her about his ancestors who bred the famous Woronzova line of borzois for the Tsar, that her debut novel LARA’S GIFT evolved. Annemarie currently has two borzois, Zar and Zola, and keeps her hand in with all things Russian through her advisory work with Eurasia Strategy & Communications.

www.annemarieobrienauthor.com

Annemarie's Books:

Meet The Author:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I never thought of myself as a writer. But in 1996 when I started writing stories in Russian for Safet Keso, my professor in Sarajevo, Bosnia, he recommended that I get them published. I quickly realized that it would be much easier to get published in my native language and started writing in English. When I returned to the United States in 1998, I took writing courses at UC Berkeley and Stanford where I now teach, and then enrolled in the MFA Writing for Children and Young Adults program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2006. My writing career officially took off when I graduated in 2009.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

The first book that had a true impact on me was an adult book called FOUNTAINHEAD by Ayn Rand. It showed me that I should follow my heart in whatever I do. My favorite picture book was HARRY THE DIRTY DOG by Gene Zion. My favorite childhood heroes were Lassie, Lady and the Tramp, Kimba and all of the dogs in 101 DALMATIANS. With all these animal characters, it’s no wonder I’ve written a book about a borzoi dog named Zar.

Can you talk us through your career so far? What were the key moments?

Ten years ago I got a tour of Knopf. As I gazed around the room at all the wonderful books Knopf publishes, I said to my friend, ‘It’s my dream to one day get published by Knopf’. She laughed at me and said, ‘Yeah, you and everyone else.’ I knew she was right, but I didn’t give up. I worked on my craft, got a MFA in writing for children and young adults, and along the way my manuscript, LARA’S GIFT, won the 2009 Houghton Mifflin Clarion Award for best manuscript and was a finalist for the 2010 Katherine Paterson Writing Prize. I now teach writing for children courses at UC Berkeley and Stanford and edit books for children for Room to Read. The biggest moment in my writing career was when Erin Clarke, editor at Knopf, offered me a contract for LARA’S GIFT.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organise your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I am always thinking about my craft and can write anywhere. I don’t get big blocks of time to indulge in my writing and have to steal moments throughout the day to work on some aspect of my craft. I am forced to be efficient with my time and rarely ever have writer’s block. My inspiration comes from within. I want to write books for kids that I wanted to read.

Can you tell us about what’s coming next from you?

There are three book ideas that I’m working on. One is set in Thailand about a girl sold to a brothel by her uncle and how she uses her weaving skills to buy back her freedom. The second is a YA love story inspired by my own experience of losing my first boyfriend to a car accident. The third is a companion book to LARA’S GIFT that is set during the Gorbachev period and mirrors my own experience when I lived there and got my first borzoi.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Persistence. Don’t give up. Take writing courses. Join SCBWI. Form a writing group and think about getting a MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

Read. Read. Read.

Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

This is a tough question. Through VCFA, I am fortunate to know many good authors and have had the pleasure of dining with them. Depending on what I was working on in my own writing, the answer could vary widely from Markus Zusak, MT Anderson, Mal Peet to Pushkin, Tolstoy or Chekhov. The characters I wish I had created include Harry Potter, James Bond, Lassie, Yuri Zhivago, Howard Roark and the Little Prince.

CJ Omololu


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About CJ:

CYNTHIA (CJ) OMOLOLU majored in English at U.C. Santa Barbara because she liked to read, not because she liked to write. Eventually, she discovered that the voices in her head often have interesting things to say.

Her YA novel DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS from Walker/Bloomsbury is about a girl growing up in a hoarded home and the difficult decisions she has to make to keep the family secret safe. Published in 2010, it was included in the ALA Quick Pick list as well as numerous state reading lists.

Released in June of 2012, her newest TRANSCENDENCE is a YA novel about reincarnation and destiny with the sequel INTUITION due in June of 2013, both from Walker/Bloomsbury.

www.cynjay.blogspot.com
www.cjomololu.com

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I got a very late start – I didn’t write anything longer than a grocery list until after my kids were born in my 30s. I never kept a journal, never wrote short stories, but when my kids were small I thought that maybe writing kids books wasn’t that hard. I was VERY wrong about that, but writing picture books led to writing YA, which has turned into my real passion. Goes to show it’s never too late to start something new.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

While I didn’t write when I was young, I read A LOT. The book that made the biggest impact on me was one I got from my Scholastic Book order in fourth grade – DAR TELLUM, STRANGER FROM A DISTANT PLANET by James R. Berry. It’s a science fiction story about a kid who makes telepathic contact with someone on another planet who helps him solve global warming. I recently found a copy of it on Ebay and bought it right away.

I also loved the ALL OF A KIND FAMILY series by Sydney Taylor, I think because their lives were so different from mine in Southern California in the 70s.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

I got the idea for my first YA novel DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS when I was reading a magazine on an airplane. There was an article about adult children of hoarders and I found it fascinating as they talked about their lives as kids and how it affected them as adults. This was back in 2008, before there were any TV shows about hoarding and it was relatively unknown. I’d just started writing YA and found out that nobody had written a hoarding book, and for me, that was the best reason in the world to do it.

I got in contact with several of the women who were profiled in the article and they were invaluable in telling me stories and reading drafts to tell me what was right and what was wrong. I knew that my main character Lucy was going to find her mother’s body in the middle of their hoarded home and that she was going to try to ‘fix’ the house before calling 911. One woman asked me what was going to happen at the end, and I told her that I wasn’t sure (at that point, I wasn’t much of a planner), but I thought that Lucy would eventually call for help, realizing that none of the problems were her fault. She told me that this wasn’t the way this story ended and gave me what would eventually be the ending of the book. I won’t give out any spoilers, but it’s pretty controversial, and the deeper I got into the book the more I realized she was right – this was the only way for Lucy’s story to end. I learned at that point that a book is never written in a vacuum; that you need input from other people to make the best book possible.

Was it hard to get an agent ? Can you talk us through the process?

Okay, I’ll be honest here – I’ve had two agents. I met my first agent at a conference, sent her a manuscript and after revisions, we signed together. I’d never really gone through the query process and when that relationship came to an end, I was unprepared for how difficult it would be despite the fact that I’d already published three books. I sent out some queries and got some good responses, but from the beginning, I really loved Sarah’s enthusiasm and the wise ideas she had for the manuscript.

I think choosing an agent is a combination of information and gut feeling – you have to go with the person that ‘feels’ right as well.  Changing agents isn’t something that you do lightly and I’m so glad to be with Greenhouse Literary.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I’m useless in the morning, so I don’t even try to write before about 11:00 AM. I do things like walk the dog and catch up on laundry and settle down to write for a few hours after lunch. I used to just jump into a project, but now I do a modified version of the concepts in the writing book SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder – I have an actual bulletin board with index cards where I outline the scenes of the book. If I’m drafting, I keep myself to a hard 1,000 words a day (sometimes 2,000 depending) minimum and I can’t go to bed until I’ve done that.  When I’m on a roll, I often write late into the night – honestly, my best work usually comes between 11:00 PM and 2:00 AM, but as I have to get up with my kids at 6:30, I can’t do that for long.

First drafts are hard for me, so the goal is just to get the story down on paper and I usually do heavy revisions, sometimes (okay, often) involving chopping off the last five chapters and doing them all over again. Several times.  I try not to read anything in the same genre while I’m writing, but I always read a few pages of NICK AND NORAH’s INFINITE PLAYLIST by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn because it’s one of the best examples of character voice and it always gets me fired up. That, and tons of coffee.

Can you tell us about your next book?

The book I’m finishing right now is a YA thriller involving twins. That’s about all I can say right now but I LOVE it and hope I get to share it sometime soon.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Don’t find out how hard it is to get published, or you’ll never try. Make sure you spend the time perfecting your craft and writing lots of books that won’t ever get published because then when you do write something that’s ready, it’ll be awesome. I think a lot of people are focused on being published rather than learning how to write better and don’t necessarily start with their best work. I usually spend two or three months just thinking about it without putting one word down and that to me is the most valuable “writing” time I have.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

1.  Take your time.
2.  Gets lots of advice from several readers.
3.  Nothing in your work is sacred.

Natalie C. Parker


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About Natalie:

Natalie C. Parker has degrees in English Literature and Women’s Studies and works in Higher Education. A fine amateur cellist, Natalie lives in Lawrence, Kansas, but spent long summers as a child with grandparents in Southern Mississippi. Find out more at http://nataliecparker.com/.

Natalie's Books:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

My first serious attempts at writing started in high school, when I somehow conned my English teacher to let my novel (a contemporary retelling of the myth of Persephone and Hades) be my Senior Honors Project. This novel went on to be rejected by a handful of agents, which was perhaps an incredible blessing.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald was the first book I remember wishing I could live inside. Later, I read The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander and The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper and discovered what it was like to get detention for reading beneath my school desk. It was worth it.

Can you talk us through your career so far? What were the key moments?

The first key moment came before I found an agent. It was when I handed my first post-high school attempt at a novel to a small group of friends who are all published authors. They read it and told me it was good, but my next would be better and the biggest favor I could do for myself was to put it aside and write something new.

It was the “something new” that captured the attention of my agent, Sarah Davies. And that was the moment I realized that patience is key and there’s no substitute for hard work except more hard work. 

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

It took me less than two weeks to find an agent, so in that respect, it was quite easy. However, I worked on my debut novel for nearly a year before deciding it was ready to query. Within hours of sending queries, I had requests for the full. Within days, I had scheduled phone calls. And within two weeks, I’d made my decision.

The hardest part was writing the book.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

My ideal writing day begins with a cappuccino and an abundance of vision. But most of my writing days begin with regular black coffee and an abundance of cats. I write before and after my day job, and all through the weekends.

In terms of inspiration, I’m always on the lookout for music that sounds the way I want my books to feel. I keep collections of songs on various iPods and turn to them frequently. I also find adventures inspiring, but they’re more fussy about being kept in boxes. 

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

I think it’s important to remember that going fast isn’t always preferable. The slow path may be frustrating, but it creates incredible opportunities. Mostly revision. And opportunities for revision are always a positive thing.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

Can I say critique partners, critique partners, and critique partners? No? Alright, then I will say reduction, firm mythologies, and active characters. I’ve recently discovered that keeping my prose concise doesn’t necessitate killing the poetry (and I think the modernist poets would agree!), establishing firm rules for the way a story-world works will leave me with fewer headaches, and stories are far more interesting with they happen outside of the protagonists’ head.

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party? Which fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

Ursula K. LeGuin, Susan Cooper, and Tony Morrison.

And I wish I’d invented Princess Eilonwy from Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain. She’s proud, resourceful, and carries the physical manifestation of her will with her at all times. I am a sucker for a beautiful metaphor.

Valerie Patterson


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About Valerie:

Valerie Patterson was raised in the Florida panhandle where the Gulf of Mexico inspired a love of blue and a fascination with the horizon and what lies beyond.

An attorney in her day job, Valerie graduated in May 2008 with an MFA in Children’s Literature from Hollins University, where she twice received the Shirley Henn Award for Creative Scholarship. She has also won a Work-in-Progress Award from SCBWI. 

Valerie lives with her husband in Leesburg, Virginia.

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I first started writing poems and short stories in grade school.  My fourth-grade teacher was Miss Lona O’Kelley.  I wrote and put together a soft-cover book of limericks for her after she taught us the form.  Miss O’Kelley was the type of teacher who continued to correspond with students long after she taught them.  She has since passed away and she probably never knew the influence she had on my writing. 

I continued to write poems and short stories in high school and college, but I didn’t write a novel until after I turned 30.  Yikes.  I’ve since completed an MFA in Writing for Children.

Can you remember the first book that had an impact on you?  What were the key moments?

The first book that really affected me was The Golden Treasury of Poetry, edited by Untermeyer.  I loved the sound of words and the use of imagery.  Many of the poems were beyond my comprehension at that age, but the music of poetry read aloud stayed with me. 

Once I learned to read, I devoured novels as well as poetry.  I loved classics such as LITTLE WOMEN.  Like millions of girls, I saw myself as Jo scribbling away in the garret.  TO KILL A MOCKINGIRD is probably my favorite book.  I felt like I was Scout.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book?  What were the key moments?

By first book, I assume you mean the first one published (not the first one written)?  I have a tendency to start writing when I have a character and voice in my head and maybe a scene — either early in the story or at the end — but I don’t have a clear vision of the overarching plot.  As a result, I tend to meander and lose my way through the brambles of the middle part of the novel.  I write to find out what happens so, in many ways, I’m not an efficient writer.

In THE OTHER SIDE OF BLUE the key moments for me included the scene in the boathouse on the anniversary of Cyan’s father’s death.  The sense of grief and disconnectedness between Cyan and her mother loomed large in that scene and became a pivot point.  The controversial and difficult scene with Mayur in the cave came unbidden; in fact, I at first rejected where the characters seemed to be headed.  I finally gave in, though, and wrote that part of the story as it came. Sustaining Cyan’s voice — with its edge of anger — was a challenge. 

Was it hard to get an agent?  Can you talk us through the process?

Before Sarah, I had queried only two agents — one more than ten years ago after I’d written my first two novels (both still in drawers) and one more recently for an historical novel.  For that one I received a boomerang rejection — and I’m actually grateful because I don’t think the agent would have been right for me. 

I was fortunate to have someone recommend me to Sarah, and Sarah saw potential in my writing, particularly in what became THE OTHER SIDE OF BLUE.  When she read the first excerpt, the novel was unfinished, and Sarah challenged me to complete it.  I did, and she took me on as a client.  Revision ensued, and Sarah’s instincts were spot on.  I am grateful to have her guidance.

Describe your writing day.  Where do you write?  How do you organize your time?  Where do you look for inspiration?

I continue to have a full-time job outside of writing, so I write when I can and wherever I am.  My best writing seems to be done at my home computer with no distractions (except for a cat that will sit on my lap).  But I’ve written scenes in longhand on airplanes as well.  I fail to write every day, and I know that my writing is better when I write as close to every day as possible.  That daily act of writing — even for ten minutes — helps keep me close to the story and, almost more importantly, the voice of the character.  It’s amazing what can happen by writing short bursts every day.

Inspiration for me comes out of memory and sense of place.  Settings usually are integral to my stories.

Can you tell us about your next book?

My next book is in the chaos of revision.  My main character, Jessica, is finding her way toward becoming an adult, and I’m finding my way in discovering how best to shape her story.  This book — entitled in draft SUMMER OF THE CARIBOU — will honor those intense adolescent friendships that often substitute for family relations.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Maybe because I’ve taken a long time to develop as a writer (I’m still developing), I believe the writing process takes time.  Some wonderful writers publish their first novels at a young age, but not everyone can — or should — do that.  For some of us, we need the practice of writing more than one novel before we’re ready to seek publication. 

Sometimes I think writers are too quick to send work out.  I’d recommend that writers let their work get cold before they try to revise it.  Then I’d suggest finding a critique group or trusted reader who can give helpful, honest feedback.  Many writers rely on their spouses to be their first readers; I don’t — I rely on mine for emotional support and on others for the constructive feedback I need to hear. 

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

Understanding and developing voice.  Trying to explain voice is like the Supreme Court Justice who tried to define pornography — you know it when you see it.  But knowing it when you see it and being able to develop your own voice in any piece of writing is a leap of faith.  It’s digging deeper into the soul.  It can be a frightening thing, to take that journey.  I think that’s why some people only skim the surface of their writing and never get deeper. 

Plot.  OK, I am cheating on this one because I am still learning how plot works.  Finding the way to bring the character and the problem together and ratcheting up the tension is crucial — yet I find it eludes me at times. 

Character.  Often I’ll think I understand my character and then critique group partners will ask me about what the character would do in a particular situation or why the character reacts a certain way, and I’ll look at them blankly, feeling a panic come over me.  I don’t know the character like I should after all.  My friend Ellen reminds me that Diane Chamberlain says we want characters who are so real, we’ll be tempted to take them as tax deductions. 

Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party?  What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

The list would be long, but I know I’d invite Laurie Halse Anderson, Richard Peck, Barbara O’Connor, and Sherman Alexie. 

I first met Laurie when we were roommates at the beginning of our year abroad as foreign-exchange students with American Field Service in Denmark.  Laurie, from New York, was outgoing and endearing.  A shy strawberry blond from Florida, I had never been away from home.  Laurie nicknamed me ‘Sunshine’.  A few years ago I saw her speak in public, and only then did I realize that I knew her.  Her writing is amazing — I admire her range and depth.  I read WINTERGIRLS in one sitting and couldn’t put it down.  Her ability to write so compellingly and beautifully about such a difficult subject is incredible. 

Richard Peck — need I say more?  He is an icon.  Whenever I hear him speak, I am awed and find myself trying to write down every bit of wisdom he imparts (which is basically everything he says!).  I admire his command of story, his humor, and his passion for literacy.

I’ve never met Barbara O’Connor but I have all of her books.  As a Southerner, I admire her writing voice and her characters.  She also blends in humor seamlessly, a skill I wish I could emulate.

I had read and admired Sherman Alexie’s work before I saw him at a conference.  He mesmerized me by his ability to speak with all the drama and passion of his writing. 

With such illuminating writers at the dinner party, I’d find myself hovering at the edges of the conversation, soaking it all in. 

Of all the memorable characters in fiction, Scout Finch is the one I wish I had invented.

Gavin Puckett


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About Gavin:

Gavin Puckett spends his working day travelling to schools throughout Wales to teach children of all ages about social issues. He lives in South Wales with his wife and young son. MURRAY THE HORSE was the UK winner of the Greenhouse Funny Prize 2013.  It is Gavin’s first book and will be published as part of a three-book series called ‘Fables from Stables’. Gavin is currently busy working on Books 2 and 3.

Photograph © Ceri Wyatt Photography

Gavin's Books:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I started writing stories, purely to make my little boy laugh.  We’ve always made a point of reading to him before bed time and it’s something we love to do as a family, but part of the fun (as I’m sure lots of parents would agree) has always been making up stories!  We are big fans of rhyming texts in our house and became fans of authors like Julia Donaldson and Jez Alborough, whose tales are both heart warming and funny.  I had written a few things over the years, (nothing serious, just stories for my work, or silly poems for weddings / birthday parties etc) which always seemed to go down well, so I decided to try my hand at writing story texts, tailored to what I knew my little boy would like.  After writing my first text I was hooked!  Thankfully, my wife and son found them funny too, which inspired me to write more. 

Do you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

The first book that made an impact on me was probably The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton. I must have been about five or six and I remember having the story read to us at school by our teacher.  I can still remember the characters from the book thirty years on, which is pretty good for me, considering I can hardly remember what I did last week!  Weirdly, my little boy now goes to the same school and had the same story read to his class recently. He talked about it so much we went out and bought it for him so we could read it at home.  It was really strange reading it after all these years and it brought back lots of memories.  As for childhood storytelling heroes – without a doubt, it has to be Roald Dahl.  I remember getting Revolting Rhymes for Christmas in the mid-eighties and finding it hysterical.  I could read it from cover to cover then happily start all over again.  This is clearly the book that developed my fondness for rhyme.  I have another fond memory of staying as a child at my grandparents’ house.  It was a Saturday, and I’d saved my pocket money to go and buy Roald Dahl’s The Witches.  I remember going back to their house that afternoon, sitting on the bed upstairs and becoming totally engrossed in it.  That was probably the first time I’d ever experienced reading a novel that I didn’t want to put down. 

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

The whole concept of the Murray the Horse story happened by chance really.  I had written one or two other stories before writing Murray and had been pondering over ideas for my next.  Then one morning whilst driving my car, the radio station I was listening to had a feature asking listeners to suggest ‘sports or activities that are undertaken backwards’.  At that particular time I was driving past a field with a horse standing in it.  I remember bizarrely thinking to myself I wonder if horses can run backwards?  That same morning, I started to scribble down some ideas for a story about a racehorse that discovered he could run backwards.  Later that evening, Murray the Horse was born.

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

Most sites online tell you how difficult the industry is, so I’d never really pinned my hopes on getting an agent, let alone a publishing deal.  My wife had suggested I send some of my stories off and I kept saying I would, but always found an excuse to put it off.  I did eventually send something to an agency, but had no response (just as I expected).  Then one night whilst browsing online, I came across the Greenhouse Funny Prize.  I had about five stories written at that point, so thinking I had nothing to lose . . . I decided to enter Murray.  After a few weeks, I completely forgot about the whole thing; then a month or so later I was amazed to get an email from Polly Nolan telling me I had been shortlisted to the final six. I was even more amazed the following week to be told I’d actually won!  The prize included representation from Polly, plus a trip to the York Festival of writing.  The festival really opened my eyes to how the industry works, especially the sheer volume of people seeking representation from agencies.  I left York feeling very inspired and even more appreciative of the opportunity I’d been given. 

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

At present, I work nine to five, so (as much as I’d love there to be) there isn’t much room for writing during the day.  Most of my writing is done late evening, or sometimes even in bed on the laptop when everyone’s asleep.  I find it very relaxing and it’s something I look forward to, especially if I’ve had a busy day at work.  Ideas can pop up pretty much anywhere.  I drive a lot and often think of things whilst out on the road. Some ideas stem from something I’ve heard my son say, or from a child at one of the schools I visit.  My memory isn’t the best, and I’ve learned over time to jot down a rhyme or an idea for a story straight away so I don’t forget it.  I now keep a notepad in my car at all times for that very purpose.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

I don’t feel I’m qualified enough at this moment in time to answer this question!  However, one thing I’ve learned in the short space of time I’ve been doing this is not to be afraid of letting someone read your work.  I suppose I’d always feared failure and being knocked back, which is why I’d been so reluctant to send stuff off in the first place, but I’m SO glad I did.  Having people like Polly Nolan and Leah Thaxton [Children’s Publisher at Faber and co-judge of the Greenhouse Funny Prize] say they like my story is the biggest compliment I could have hoped for.  It’s also been an enormous confidence boost and goes to show, you don’t know until you try!

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

Firstly, I read a lot more than I used to (including children’s books).  Secondly, I try to write whenever time (and my wife) will allow me to!  Thirdly, since most of my writing is done at night, there are times when I get a complete block and maybe only come up with a few sentences in one sitting.  There’s nothing worse than staring at the screen with tired eyes, desperately trying to think of a rhyme, or a new direction to take the story.  When this happens, I now simply turn the computer off, walk away, go to sleep, have a cup of tea . . . Sometimes I don’t go back to the text for a day or so.  I find that when I eventually do go back, things are always a lot clearer.

Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party? Which fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

That’s a tough one . . . Obviously, I wish I could invite Roald Dahl. I would have loved to have met him.  Julia Donaldson, I think her stories are probably the ones my son will remember us reading the most, so I’d love to ask her about them.  (I’d actually love to get the chance to do that one day).  I think I’d also invite Michael Rosen.  I think he’s incredibly clever and I really like listening to him talk, especially on the origins of words and letters.  Maybe he could even shed some light on the word ‘Puckett!” As for a fictional character, I’d probably choose the BFG.  A big, friendly giant who eats snozzcumbers and wanders the streets at night, giving good dreams to children by blowing them in to their homes through a pipe . . . Genius!

Jeyn Roberts


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About Jeyn:

Jeyn Roberts grew up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and started writing at an early age, having her first story published when she was 16 in a middle-grade anthology called LET ME TELL YOU. 

When she was 21, she moved to Vancouver with dreams of being a rock star, graduating from the University of British Columbia with a degree in Writing and Psychology. For the next few years she played in an alternative/punk band called Missing Mile before moving to England where she received her MA from the prestigious Creative Writing graduate course at Bath Spa University. Jeyn is a former singer, songwriter, actress, bicycle courier and tree planter.

An avid traveler, she’s been around the world, most recently, teaching high school in South Korea.

A lover of animals, Jeyn volunteers regularly with helping abandoned and abused animals, especially cats. 

www.jeynroberts.co.uk

DARK INSIDE TRAILER:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I wrote my first novel when I was thirteen. It was pretty much a compilation of everything I’d seen on television that season.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Betty Smith. I read it as a teenager and it’s probably the one book I never grow tired of reading again.

As a child I was really into THE THREE INVESTIGATORS, THE HARDY BOYS, and pretty much anything by Judy Blume.

Can you talk us through the writing of your latest book? What were the key moments?

The key moment was when I finally decided to start writing it. I’d had the idea in my head for years but I wanted to wait till I felt I could do it justice.

Creating my characters was a wonderful time for me because they really came together. None of them felt like strangers - it was as if I’d known them all for a long time.

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

I was very lucky finding The Greenhouse. They were the first on my list. In fact, they’d turned me down a year ago with an earlier novel but I was impressed with their professionalism. When it came to trying a second time, I went right back!

I had sent my novel to Julia and was shocked when I found a strange number on my phone the next morning. She’d tried calling me several times. I was in Korea at the time so our hours were far apart. When I got back to my desk, I found an email from her, saying she’d tried calling me and would call again before she left for Bologna the next morning. I was horrified when I realized my phone batteries were about to die! I had to sneak home during my break. I could barely walk my legs were shaking so much! Julia ended up calling me at four in the morning her time, trying to get a quick conversation in before the taxi showed up to take her to the airport. It was such a whirlwind day! I’ll never forget it!

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I’m a coffee shop writer. I do my best work when I have my iPod blasting and I’m surrounded by strangers with a hot beverage. I’m quite the night owl so I tend to write in the evenings, often until I get kicked out because the poor staff want to go home! When I’m stuck on inspiration I like to go for long walks and try to work things out in my head. It really works for me.

Can you tell us about your next book?

I’ll be working on the sequel to THE DARK INSIDE. I’m very excited about it. I’m also doing some editing on another novel and I’ve got some great new ideas flying around. I’m always at my best when I have about twenty different thoughts attacking me at once. 

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Every single writer starts at the beginning and there is a first time for everyone. Be open to criticism. When we write, we get so involved with our own characters and stories sometimes we are blind to any faults we might make. It really helps if others are willing to lend a hand and offer suggestions. 

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

I really miss being in school. My professors and fellow classmates were wonderful at giving support and criticism. I’ve also learned to look at my own work with a critical eye and that’s really important with being a writer. It also helps to have a good muse (also called a friend) who is willing to put up with me when I get too obsessive over what my character happens to be doing at any given moment. I can think of two friends who are way too patient with me! 

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

Only three? That’s not fair! I guess Stephen King, Ernest Hemmingway, and Douglas Coupland. As for a fictional character? Harry Potter, hands down!

Erica Lorraine Scheidt


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About Erica:

Erica Scheidt lives in San Francisco and works for a non-profit organization, while also serving on the board of directors of ISIS, a 10-year-old non-profit focused on sex education and disease prevention.

As a teenager, Erica studied writing with William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Jim Carroll at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Boulder, Colorado. In 2007, she was nominated by Rick Moody for the Best New American Voices anthology and in 2008 received an MA in creative writing at the University of California, Davis. Erica is a longtime volunteer at 826 Valencia, working with teen writers who are crafting their own stories, and is passionate about writing by teens and for teens. USES FOR BOYS is her debut novel. 

www.ericalorraine.com

Erica's Books:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I always wrote. I always, always wrote. And I was nothing but cocksure bravado as young writer. I would tell people that I would be published by 17. And then 19. And then 25. And then I stopped saying that.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you?

At some point, around 17, I got my hands on Hubert Selby Jr.’s LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN and I just couldn’t believe what he was doing. It was spare and poetic, but also brutal. His language was so raw. I’m not even sure I could read it today, but at the time it seemed to open up all sorts of possibilities.

Can you talk us through your career so far? What were the key moments?

I attended Naropa University in the late 1980s where I met all these big writers, from all over the place and the thing I was struck by was their single-mindedness. All of these wildly different artists had that in common.

Later, I was fortunate to study with some really generous writers, like Lynn Freed, Lucy Corin, Rick Moody, and Pam Houston in particular. These teachers were each, in their own way, intolerant of laziness. But if you worked hard, they responded in kind; Pam must have read half a dozen early drafts of USES FOR BOYS.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organise your time?

I like to write in the early morning, when I first wake up, drinking coffee, until I’m so hungry that I have to get up and make breakfast. I sometimes have a hard time getting my focus back after I’m up and about. The afternoons are great, because my girlfriend comes home with her daughter and the house just fills up with kids and cooking and we dance around a lot.

Can you tell us about what’s coming next from you?

I’m working on a new novel about a 16 year old girl that tries on and discards identities like some girls try on clothes. It’s a künstlerroman, but her art is her identity.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Finish. Finish your story or book or poem, or whatever. Just finish it. I keep revising and revising until the story gets under my skin.

Michelle Schusterman


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About Michelle:

Michelle Schusterman is a musician and travel writer. After a few years as a Texas band director, Michelle lived and taught in Salvador, Brazil and Seoul, Korea but now lives in New York City with her husband.

Michelle has played the steel drums in several bands over the past decade, and has recorded four CDs in addition to countless live performances. She is an editor for Matador Network, an online travel magazine and media company, as well as a teaching assistant for an online university. I HEART BAND is her debut work for children.

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

Like most writers, I wrote horrendous amounts of stories and terrible, terrible poetry when I was little. Oh, and I went through a brief phase after reading HARRIET THE SPY that involved carrying around a black-and-white composition notebook and spying on everyone. I still have it; apparently, I saw some interesting things. (I should add that I lived in New Orleans at the time, and this phase coincided with Mardi Gras. Lots of fascinating things for a young spy to observe during that madness!)

In high school my focus shifted to music, which was my major when I went to college. I began writing seriously while living abroad in Brazil a few years later. I had a travel blog and started a YA novel about clones. When I moved to Korea, I developed a bad case of pneumonia and tuberculosis that put me in bed for a few months and caused me to lose my teaching job. It was either write or stare at the ceiling all day. So I finished and revised my novel and started querying, and got an online internship with Matador Network, a travel site and media company. Turns out getting sick led to a pretty awesome career change!

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

Roald Dahl was and will always be my favorite children’s author. (He’s actually my favorite travel writer and photographer, too. His biography is pretty astounding.) It’s hard to remember that far back, but I’m pretty sure the first book I read of his was MATILDA. The rest – CHARLIE, JAMES, THE BFG, the wonderful WITCHES – followed shortly. HARRIET THE SPY was definitely a big one too – I don’t remember how many times I read it, but it was a lot. And I was a huge Beverly Cleary fan in elementary school. Ramona felt like a close friend.

In sixth grade, I read every single book in the original Nancy Drew series. When I discovered there was a modern (at the time, anyway) Nancy series, I was in heaven. I was 13 and at an outlet mall with my mom, aunt, and sister. We went into a bookstore first, and I came out with two four-packs of new Nancy Drews. I promptly parked myself on a bench outside while my family shopped. Six hours later, I’d read the first four books and started the fifth as soon as we got into the car. Nothing like a good mystery!

Can you talk us through your career so far? What were the key moments?

Getting tuberculosis changed a lot. When I got back to the US from Korea, I became a full-time freelance writer. It took several months and wasn’t the easiest transition, but it was worth it.

When I realized the aforementioned YA novel wasn’t going to be The One that led to representation, I started on another book. And I had an epiphany – I wasn’t a young adult writer, I was an middle grade writer. I love reading YA (and MG and adult, for that matter), but the stories I want to tell are very much middle grade. So I wrote a story about a 13 year old girl who contacts ghosts through her blog, and it was the most fun I’d ever had writing anything. When it was time to query, things went a little differently; I had two offers in the first week.

Sarah calling was absolutely a key moment. She’d requested the full manuscript on a Saturday. Sunday afternoon I was writing at a Starbucks when my phone rang. She offered representation right there, and I was floored. I remember the barista asking if I was okay – apparently I turned pretty red.

Another key moment of my writing career happened in Puerto Rico. I was on assignment for Matador at the Saborea food festival. I joined a group of journalists and photographers waiting for Ted Allen, host of the Food Network show Chopped, to finish a demonstration. Really, I just wanted a picture with him, but I sucked it up, told myself to act like a pro (even though I felt like a total fraud), and interviewed him for about ten minutes. I was terrified, but he was incredibly nice and it went really well – well enough that when I interviewed a few Iron Chefs later that day, I had a little bit more confidence. That whole trip was a transition for me; it was when I started to believe it when I called myself a journalist.

And of course, an incredibly key moment was getting the I HEART BAND deal! That felt so serendipitous; it happened so quickly, and it’s about band! My very first book deal is about something that defined my childhood (and adulthood) – music. It’s wonderful.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organise your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I won’t lie – sometimes I write in bed in my PJs. But my favorite place to write is the library. A few months ago, I discovered that the library in downtown Seattle has a writers’ room with private cubicles and lockers and plenty of outlets for laptops. It’s not just peaceful, it also has an “office” feel that puts me in the right frame of mind; it’s time to work. (Something that writing in bed, no matter how pleasant, doesn’t offer.)

As far as organizing my time, I just set daily goals that I know are doable. I write at least 2,000 words of fiction a day (with obvious exceptions – holidays, traveling). With my editorial responsibilities for Matador, it’s more of a weekly thing; sometimes I’ll edit three submissions in a day, sometimes I’ll spend two days researching an article.

I also allow myself very short Internet breaks. For example, when I hit 1,000 words, I’ll open Tumblr for five to ten minutes.

As for inspiration, I’d say travel is what does it most for me. It’s where the two sides of my writing career collide. I can’t think of the last time I visited a new place and didn’t leave with an idea for a story. A few months ago I was in Québec City, passed a sign for a ghost tour (les vísítes fantômes!!), and immediately ducked into a cafe to jot down an idea. In New Orleans last fall I visited the architecturally stunning campus of a “Home for Unwed Mothers” run by nuns – story idea. Being in a new place makes me start asking “what ifs,” and “what ifs” are what lead to stories.

Can you tell us about what’s coming next from you?

The I HEART BAND series has some pretty tight deadlines, but I’m also working on a project I started outlining last year. It’s my first attempt at steampunk and involves a young pickpocket with a unique ability who’s searching for her father, a boy with a camera who’s recruited by a secret society for his unusual photography skills, and how their friendship is threatened when they discover they’re supposed to be enemies.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Nothing new here, but this is what I was told from the beginning and I still feel is absolutely true: 1. Keep writing no matter what, and 2. Don’t compare yourself to others.

Writing can be excruciatingly hard when it feels like the rejections are piling up, but it’s vital; with every sentence you write, you get better. And it’s nearly impossible not to compare your career with other writers, not with Twitter and Facebook and blogs that allow us to read about the successes of others every hour, every day. I wrote four books before I got a book deal. Some writers will write one book, find an agent, and sell that book. Others will write ten books before an agent even requests a full. That doesn’t necessarily make the first writer better than the second. And wondering ‘why did that happen for her and not for me’ won’t get you any closer to your goal. Just keep writing.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

1. Outlining. Every writer has a method. Some go for the ‘seat of my pants’ method, and it works. Others plot on notecards, or make timelines, or just word vomit a huge synopsis. After a lot of trial and error (with emphasis on the error), I’ve found that I absolutely need to outline. With I HEART BAND, I went with the Snowflake Method, and it’s been amazingly helpful. In the past, I’ve ripped through the first several chapters of a rough draft, then inevitably drag in the middle – I know how it ends, but I don’t know how to get there. But when I have a good outline, there’s no lull. I can still change and adjust the outline as I get to know the characters and they take over the story; but having the bones of that story first makes all the difference in the world.

2. Voice: the difference between the book I queried unsuccessfully and the book that landed representation. Some writers have it right off the bat; with others, it takes time to develop. For me, I really think it was that switch from YA to MG. My natural storytelling voice is tween-y. I say that proudly.

3. Dialogue. Obviously there’s overlap between dialogue and voice, but even when I find a character’s voice, I’ll still come across stiff dialogue when I go back to revise. Reading dialogue out loud is invaluable.

Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

The dinner table: Lemony Snicket, Roald Dahl, Eva Ibbotson, J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman, Maurice Sendak, Madeleine L’Engle. I’d serve poached salmon and pan-fried oysters, with lemon tarts for dessert.

I wish I’d come up with Willy Wonka. The man owns a magical chocolate factory. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Of course, inventing Harry Potter would’ve been a pretty nice deal, too.

Tess Sharpe


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About Tess:

Born in a backwoods cabin to a pair of punk rockers, Tess Sharpe grew up in rural Northern California. Following an internship with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, she studied theatre at Southern Oregon University before abandoning the stage for the professional kitchen. She lives, writes and bakes near the Oregon border. FAR FROM YOU is her first novel.

Tess's Books:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I started writing when I was 10 because my big sister decided to write a book and I of course wanted to do everything that she did. I never really looked back.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

The book that made me want to be a writer is A TOWN LIKE ALICE, by Neil Shute. Which is honestly not the best book for a nine-year-old to read because it’s all about the Bataan Death March, torture, and people dying of malaria and exhaustion. But it is THAT book for me, the one that changed my life and inspired me to write.

I spent my childhood greatly influenced by L. Frank Baum and Edward Eager. Eleanor Estes, as well, was a huge part of my reading and later writing life. In my work, I always aspire to express the beauty in the simple and the ordinary that she captured so brilliantly.

Laurie Hales Anderson, Meg Cabot and Markus Susan were my favorites as a teen (and now!). 

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organise your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

A writing day with no research is just me, my bed, and my laptop. I tend to write better at night, but I try to get at least half of my word count (1500 words) done during the day—otherwise my schedule would turn entirely vampiric.

Inspiration is everywhere! I once got a book idea taking the trash out at work. I opened the dumpster and thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be creepy if there was a dead body in here?’ and voila, there was the first scene.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Write. Write. Write.

Read. Read. Read.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

But seriously: Know your market, make friends with other aspiring writers, do your research, and be prepared to face a lot of rejection. Be tough, be tenacious, and always be ready and open to learn and grow as a writer.

Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party?

William Shakespeare, Harper Lee and Joss Whedon. (Does it count if he’s just a screenwriter?)

Tricia Springstubb


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About Tricia:

Tricia Springstubb has had a number of children’s books published, and worked with several highly regarded editors before taking time out to put her daughters through college. Her Scholastic Little Apple title, TWO PLUS ONE MAKES TROUBLE, sold well over 100,000 copies, and her story ‘Last Summer’ appeared in an anthology alongside work by Lois Lowry and Robert Cormier. Tricia has much experience as a writer in residence and guest author in schools. 

She lives in Cleveland, Ohio, where she writes full time, having worked for many years as a children’s librarian in a public library; she is also a frequent book critic for a Cleveland newspaper.  In 2009 one of her short stories won the Iowa Review Fiction Award, judged by Ann Patchett.  She is also a recipient of an Ohio Arts Council grant for her work.

www.triciaspringstubb.com

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I began writing around the same time I began reading - the two have always twined together for me.  I shamelessly imitated my favorite writers for many years.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

I loved Nancy Drew and Pippi Longstocking and Mary Poppins, and I had an edition of Hans Christian Anderson with illustrations that made my hair stand on end.  But the first book that made me truly swoon was A GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST by Gene Stratton Porter.  It was so romantic and heart wrenching and exotic, not to mention Elinor’s struggles with her mother were even worse than my own.  I both identified and was swept off to a totally new world.

Can you tell us about your writing career so far?

I published over a dozen books for children and young adults, all of them without an agent, and then for years focused on writing for adults, and working as a librarian.  My first novel, GIVE AND TAKE, grew out of a short story that an editor urged me to expand. It’s about friendship, family, identity, first love, how much of ourselves we keep and what we give away, and there’s a lot about nature and gardens - all themes I continue to return to.  A key moment came when my editor helped me see that it didn’t have to have a happy, tidy ending - that, in fact, an ending like that would cheat my readers.

When I started to send out work for children again, I realized how much the publishing world had changed, and that I really, really needed an agent. I’m so glad to have landed at Greenhouse, and hope WHAT HAPPENED ON FOX STREET is the beginning of the second half of my career as a children’s writer.

Tell us about FOX STREET.

I wrote FOX STREET at least three times.  Originally it had far more sub-plots and a cast of thousands.  A number of people who looked at it praised the writing but said there was way too much going on. I put the book away for a while, but never stopped thinking about Mo and Merce and the Wild Child.  A key moment was realizing that what really moved and interested me was Mo’s relationship with her father — her coming to understand he isn’t perfect, and can’t protect her from everything.  All the book’s other themes — the things we have to let go, the new things that replace them — flow from that.

I rewrote the book from scratch and this time it worked!  I had to learn to let go of things myself, in order to find the heart of the story.

What comes next from you? 

FOX STREET ends with Mo’s realization that a part of her life is coming to an end.  I hope to follow wherever she goes next.

Was it hard to get an agent ? Can you talk us through the process?

When I began to look for an agent, I sent out eight queries.  I got a couple of nibbles, but Sarah was the one who called me up on a Sunday night and said, ‘I love this’.  I’ve been grateful many times over for that passion of hers.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I make my coffee, read my e-mails, and then I write for as long as my brain holds out, or, if it’s a work day, till I have to leave for the library where I work in the children’s room.  I’m very strict about all this! I have a desk by a window that looks out on the street, so I can watch people go by.  I write fiction in the morning and work on book reviews in the afternoon, if I can.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

I’ve gotten plenty of rejections, but somehow been too unimaginative to give up writing.  I think persistence is key, and trying new things.  Don’t get stuck in one setting or voice or genre. 

And be sure to have writing friends, who will reassure you you’re not alone and not a lunatic.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

Plot is something I always struggle with, but I think I’m getting better at it.  Character and voice go together for me, and once I find either of the two, I’m off and running.

Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

I’d love to have dinner with Virginia and Leonard Woolf.  I think my husband and I would really get along with them!

No one but Harper Lee could have invented him, but I love Boo Radley.

Chana Stiefel


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About Chana:

Chana Stiefel has written over twenty children’s books and dozens of articles for Zillions, Discovery, Children’s Television Workshop, Parents Magazine and others. DADDY DEPOT is her first trade picture book.

Chana's Books:

Shawn Stout


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About Shawn:

Shawn Stout’s delightful new character Penelope Crumb is all set to rival Ramona, Clementine and Judy Moody! As well as PENELOPE CRUMB, Shawn’s also the author of the FIONA FINKELSTEIN mini-series. She earned an MFA in Writing for Children at Vermont College of the Fine Arts in 2009 and lives in Frederick, Maryland with her husband and two dogs. 

Penelope Crumb Trailer:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I’ve been writing all my life. I used to draw and illustrate stories when I was really little, and write in journals, but I never showed them to anyone, and I never imagined that I would be lucky enough to write books for children.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you?

I read THE SECRET GARDEN a million times and loved getting lost in that world. I was convinced that we had a secret garden in our house somewhere, and I spent hours looking for a badger hole that might hold the key. 

Describe your writing day. Where do you write?

I write whenever I can—early in the morning while everyone else is sleeping, or in the evening after I’ve put my daughter to bed. I have an old wooden table that I use as a desk. It’s messy but it’s got everything I need—piles of books on writing, notes with scribbles on them, blank notebooks, my laptop, and my Jane Austen action figure.

Can you tell us about what’s coming next from you?

I have a new middle grade series with Philomel (an imprint of Penguin). The first book, PENELOPE CRUMB, is scheduled for release in August 2012. The second one, PENELOPE CRUMB NEVER FORGETS, will come out in Spring 2013.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Persevere.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

I can name one: Don’t be afraid of early drafts. I used to worry so much about my first/early drafts that I wouldn’t be able to develop the story because I obsessed on what was wrong in the first couple of chapters. I’ve learned that early drafts are supposed to be awful, and that the real writing comes through during the revisions.

What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

STARGIRL by Jerry Spinelli.

Laura Tims


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About Laura:

Laura Tims is an undergraduate in Creative Writing at Goucher College, Maryland. She is originally from Freeport, Maine. PLEASE DON’T TELL is her debut novel.

Laura's Books:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I’ve always done it automatically, like sneezing. I decided I would be a writer at about the same time I figured out people had to be something. Asking myself what I was going to be when I grew up kind of felt like asking a tree if it was still going to be a tree in a few hours, you know?

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

I fell in love with the Harry Potter series, like every other kid in the universe. I pretended to be Hermione for an entire year in elementary school.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

The nicest moment was when it stopped being “time to go write” and started being “time to go hang out with Joy” because that was when I realized I really knew my main character, and I liked her, and that meant the book was probably worth writing. The first draft took a month. It was a rad and scary month, and full of homework that did not get done.

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

I majorly lucked out in that it was relatively quick and painless, because I had some great people telling me what not to do. I wrote the book in October, revised in the first half of November, sent out the first queries in the second half of November and signed with Sarah in the beginning of January. The best part of it was knowing I made the right choice by going with her.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I love to write outside! (When it’s too cold outside I write in bed like a slob.) I usually write in the morning for a couple of hours and then I squeeze it into any free time I have during the rest of the day. Inspiration to me is the same as hard work. It’s nice when an idea just comes to you, but more often I have to sit down and brainstorm until I come up with something that works.

Can you tell us about your next book?

Sure! It’s about a small town where someone disappears every time it snows, and a group of kids hunting for the monster they think is taking the missing people. The working title right now is BLACK ROCK, but that’s subject to change.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Don’t be afraid to change direction when you’re first starting out! If your first book isn’t the book that gets you published (and it rarely is) try taking your second book in a totally different direction. You might discover that the genre you never thought you’d write is the genre that comes easiest to you. Experiment – this is the best time for it!

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

Realizing what it means to know a character has been one. Pages of notes do not mean you know a character. That only comes through writing. It’s also been nice to realize that I really do need to plot things out in advance – some people don’t, and I’ll always be jealous of them! The last important thing that I’ve realized may not be part of the craft, but it’s that I love being part of the community. There’s nothing like feeling that you’re not alone.

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

Uh oh—Arya, Daenerys, Brienne, Lady Catelyn, Cersei, and Sansa from A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, please. Add in Katsa from GRACELING and the titular Bitterblue from BITTERBLUE and Elisa from THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS and Hermione and Evanjalin from FINNIKIN OF THE ROCK and Gemma from A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY and…

I’d invite them all to a dinner party and I wish I’d invented them all!

Talia Vance


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About Talia:

Talia Vance is a practicing litigation attorney who lives in Northern California with her family. Before law school, she worked as a freelance writer, drafting scripts for corporate training films, and also as a horse trainer.  Talia has the distinction of having sold two different debut books - SPIES AND PREJUDICE and SILVER - to two different publishing houses - all on the same day!

SPIES AND PREJUDICE trailer:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I ‘wrote’ even before I could read, acting out stories with my stuffed animals and little people when I was four or five. 

The first story I recall writing with a pencil and paper became a puppet show involving a news broadcast where everything goes wrong.  I wrote it in the third grade, and performed it for all the classes in my elementary school.  I wrote a play in college that was produced as part of an undergraduate script writing program, and worked for a time as a freelance scriptwriter for human resources training films. 

Despite a lifelong desire to write a novel, I didn’t sit down to write one until the summer of 2008.  I can’t explain why I finally decided to stop talking about it and start doing it, it was just time.  That book became SILVER, which will be published by Flux in 2012.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

There were so many books that impacted me, but as an early reader, I loved GO DOG GO and anything by Richard Scarry.  CHARLOTTE’S WEB is the first book that made me cry.  I saw the movie first, and then started reading the book even though it was probably too advanced for me.  I had a dog-eared copy of that book for years and years. 

Can you talk us through the writing of your latest book? What were the key moments?

SILVER started out as a fictional account of my love affair with my husband, who I met when I was sixteen.  It soon became clear that the truth was too strange to make believable fiction, so I changed the characters quite a bit. 

Still, Brianna is probably the most like me of any of my characters.  I love paranormal books, and I knew I wanted magic and mythology to play a big role in the story. 

I decided to focus on Ireland because of its rich supernatural history.  I was particularly interested in what happened to all that magic once Christianity took root, and that became the jumping off point for the supernatural aspects of the story. 

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

Yes and no. 

It was hard in the sense that there was rejection, and rejection is always hard. 

I found my agent the old-fashioned way.  I sent queries and sample pages if allowed to do so.  I received everything from no responses, to form rejections, to requests for the manuscript.  The process took 4-5 months, with revisions to the manuscript along the way.  In the end, things seemed to happen all at once. 

I was lucky enough to get multiple offers of representation, and I felt like the Greenhouse was the right home for me, even though it meant a complete rewrite of a significant part of the manuscript.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I have another career that takes most of my time during the week, so I write at night and on the weekends.

I write on my favorite corner of the couch with a laptop and cup of coffee.  My inspiration usually comes when I’m driving to and from work.  That’s when I can really start to visualize scenes and stories.  A lot of the details don’t come until I actually sit down and write, but I always have a general idea of the characters and story beforehand.

Can you tell us about the book you are working on at the moment?

I am currently working on SPIES AND PREJUDICE, pitched as Veronica Mars meets PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, which will be published by Egmont in 2012. 

It’s the story of Berry Fields, a teenage private investigator, who gets in over her head as she investigates her “dead” mother’s past and has to rely on the one boy she is determined to hate.  I love writing Berry.  She’s smart and kick ass, but vulnerable in ways she doesn’t realize. 

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Write.  Don’t just think about it, sit down and do it. 

Get feedback on your writing from people who are involved in publishing, not just family and friends.  And then rewrite. 

Read widely, both inside and outside your genre. 

Analyze what works and doesn’t work for you in the books you read and try to figure out why. 

Then write some more.  Not writing is the only thing that is guaranteed to keep you from getting published.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

Dialogue, emotion and plot. 

Since my background is in writing scripts, I feel like dialogue came the most naturally to me as a writer, but I had to learn to incorporate emotion and internalization to really flesh out a scene.  And plotting is hard.  Critical, but hard. 

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

Simone Elkeles, Sarah Rees Brennan, Stephen King and Lauren Oliver, so long as they like take out.  And I wish I’d invented Lizzy Bennet.  She’s lovely, smart, flawed, and always has the perfect retort.  And she gets the guy. 

Vin Vogel


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About Vin:

Vin Vogel is a Brazilian illustrator and character designer based in New York City. He has illustrated more than 45 books for children and young adults, and has illustrated and provided character designs for a variety of print, animation, apparel and web projects. THE THING ABOUT YETIS is his debut picture book. Samples of Vin’s art and illustrations can be found at http://vinvogel.com/.

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

As soon as I started writing, when I was around 5 or 6, I immediately started creating my own comic books and picture books with my own characters. I guess I can say I started “writing visually” before that, though, creating stories without text.

My primary school used to publish a book every year called “Our stories”, which was a compilation of each classroom’s best stories: I won twice at ages 7 and 9. I always wanted to be a picture book writer and illustrator: I spent a huge amount of my childhood illustrating and creating stories.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

I think it was Richard Scarry’s “Best Word Book Ever”. I was 5 or 6, and I immediately fell in love with the illustrations. I’ve always been a big fan of the Golden Books series.

If you consider documentaries on animal life storytelling, then Jacques Cousteau certainly was one of my first heroes. I dreamt of being a marine biologist and doing documentaries. Nature and picture books are an old passion of mine.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

My creative process tends to get started visually: simply by doodling the characters, they start to show me their personalities. When you become intimate with your characters and get to know a bunch of their idiosyncrasies, the story unfolds in an easier way.

This is how “The Thing about Yetis” started. I put a bunch of visual ideas together and I found myself with a plot that was later developed in association with editor Heather Alexander and art director Lily Malcom.

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

It took me 3 months from the moment when Heather Alexander (from Dial B, who is the editor of my first book as an author, “The Thing About Yetis”) convinced me that I needed to have an agent to the day John Cusick and I signed our agreement. I clicked with John immediately and I wanted him to be my agent from the get-go, although he wasn’t representing picture book authors when we first met. What a fantastic surprise it was when he told me, during a SCBWI conference, that he was beginning to represent PB’s. The surprise was even greater when he told me he wanted to represent me.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I spend most of my day illustrating, either for commissioned work, for pleasure or by trying to come up with a new idea for a book. So I’m constantly working, even when I’m taking a coffee break or on a subway ride: I carry my 3x5 in notebook (sometimes even smaller than that) and an automatic pencil EVERYWHERE I go, because an idea can pop up at any time.

NYC is a huge source of inspiration for me. I love to sit in a café or walk around the city and just watch people passing by. Personal experiences, reading and watching TV and movies are very important too, of course. More importantly than inspiration is habit, though. Paraphrasing Octavia Butler: “Habit is persistence in practice”.

Can you tell us about your next book?

My agent John Cusick and I are currently working on three new ideas for picture books. More to come!

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

The three P’s: passion, practice and patience. A whole lot of each one of them!

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

I’d invite Jack Kerouac, Roald Dahl and Charles Schulz (so we could work on a book called On the Road to the Chocolate Factory, Charlie Brown).

Tough question! I think I’d pick Conan, from Hayao Miyazaki’s anime series “Future Boy Conan”.

Tommy Wallach


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About Tommy:

Tommy Wallach lives in Brooklyn, was raised in Seattle, and attended undergrad in New York and grad school at Stanford. He is a singer-songwriter and author whose writing has appeared in McSweeny’s, Tin House, Wired, Salon, Zyzzyva, the Huffington Post, and other magazine. WE ALL LOOKED UP is his YA debut.

Tommy's Books:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I started writing in a serious way in high school. One of my first finished stories was published in Issue 6 of McSweeney’s, when I was 17. This made me think a career in writing would be easy. Ha.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

My early heroes were all genre people, particularly Piers Anthony, Orson Scott Card, and R.A. Salvatore (NOTE: Drizzt Do’Urden is the shit). But I think it was Nabokov who opened up my brain to all the things good fiction could be--playful, intellectual, experimentally, disturbing, sublime. I was so young and callow when I first read Lolita that I actually thought Humbert Humbert was the good guy. In my defense, I was probably around Lolita’s age at the time, and she came off as mercurial and mean, just like the girls who wouldn’t give me the time of day at school. I read it again as an adult and was deeply creeped out that Nabokov/Humbert had managed to seduce my 14-year-old self so completely.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

I started my first book when I was eighteen. It proceeded in fits and starts over about a year and a half. A lot of people apprentice in short stories, but I’ve always found short stories much, much harder to write; they require an economy of thought and language that my verbose, rant-prone mind isn’t capable of. To put it another way, you can get away with a couple weak paragraphs in a great novel, but not in a great short story.

It was a pretty amazing feeling, when I finished that first book, because it meant I was really capable of scaling the mountain of words a novel requires. It got much easier after that.

Was it hard to get an agent ? Can you talk us through the process?

I found representation for that first novel fairly easily, but I don’t think they were very good at their job. We barely communicated, and I didn’t receive the correspondence from editors until after I fired them. My third novel was semi-picked up (an agent agreed to work on the book with me, but after 6 months of editing, she dropped the project entirely). Apocalypse Already, my novel that’s scheduled for release in 2015, was pitched to something like 80 agents. A few expressed interest, and one (can you guess who?) offered immediate representation. That level of faith/excitement made my decision a pretty easy one.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I write seven days a week, always in a coffee shop. I find working at home way too distracting. Wait, no. Actually, it’s more that the distractions on offer at home are much less time-consuming than the distractions on offer at a coffee shop. At home, I’ve got the piano and the guitar and the desktop computer with games on it. At a coffee shop, it’s just little things--a too loud song, a too pretty girl, etc.

I’m very OCD with my time in general. My writing, however, usually doesn’t take up too much time. I set a word limit of 1000 words on any day that I’m not primarily editing. This work generally takes between 1 and 2 hours of actual writingness (couched in 2-3 hours of sitting there). The rest of my day is taken up with music (my other passion) and my day job (teaching and writing curriculum for LSAT, GMAT, and GRE). And being super lazy.

Can you tell us about your next book?

The book that’s coming out in 2015, APOCALYPSE ALREADY [aka WE ALL LOOKED UP], is about four teenagers dealing with the possible end of the world. Beyond that, it’s about how one can live a worthwhile life in the shadow of death. (I hope it’s about that, anyway.) My next book is still inchoate, but it seems to be about the evolution and disintegration of a friendship between two boys, and specifically how there is a pernicious consequence to boys’ inability to use the word “love” when speaking about friendship. Vague enough for you?

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Write more than one book. The most common thing I see in aspiring writers is that they write one book, and then when it doesn’t sell, they either give up, or start looking into self-publishing. The apprenticeship period for serious writers is usually close to a decade (mine was 7 books and 12 years, from when I first decided to try and be a novelist to when I got my book deal). Don’t put your apprentice work on the market--for your own sake, and the sake of readers everywhere!

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

1) As a teacher of the GMAT, I’ve steeped myself in the minutiae of English grammar. I can’t describe how important this has been for my writing. No one should be allowed to write who can’t define a participle, a gerund, the past perfect tense, parallel structures, or the difference between essential and non-essential modifiers. Language is a toolbox. Know your tools.

2) Good books are about something more than the story and the language. When I was young, I thought that “good” books had amazing sentences, and “bad” books had amazing stories. Then I realized that plenty of good books have amazing stories and only reasonable sentences (Le Carre comes to mind), and plenty of bad books have amazing sentences and pretty dull stories (I’m not naming names on that one). The thing that really differentiates amazing books from bad books is thematic coherence. Great books are about something, whether they’re by James Joyce or Philip K. Dick. Know your theme.

3) Outlining and writing backstory is fine, but not necessary. Never do this stuff instead of writing. If you must outline/write backstory, do your 1,000 words of book first, then go back and do the other work. I’ve watched too many writers paralyze themselves with outlining.

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

I’d love to have a long chat with Jonathan Lethem (specifically, to encourage him to write some more science-fiction). I think Ursula K. LeGuin and I could have an amazing talk over a cup of tea. Also, I know this is cheesy, but I’d really love to have James Frey over for dinner--so I could punch him in the face. I’d do it, too. 

Sharon Biggs Waller


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About Sharon:

Sharon Biggs Waller lived in the UK for six years, after meeting her own British constable and marrying him.  She did extensive research on the British suffragettes for her novel, A Mad, Wicked Folly (Viking, 2014), with the help of the curators of the London Museum—when she wasn’t working as a riding instructor at the Royal Mews in Buckingham Palace.  Today, she is a full-time freelance writer in the magazine industry in the US and UK.  She is a classical dressage rider and trainer, and she lives on a 10-acre sustainable farm in Northwest Indiana, just outside of Chicago with her husband, Mark, two horses, four dairy goats, five cats, two dogs, and 60 laying hens.

http://www.sharonbiggswaller.com

Sharon's Books:

Blythe Woolston


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About Blythe:

Blythe Woolston learned to read when she was very young. It made her unfit for decent work, but it did prepare her for dumpster diving, collecting library fines, and the harmless drudgery of nonfiction indexing. However, one day when she was desperate for something to read, she started writing and discovered it to be satisfying—like making soup or painting with a two-year-old. Her debut novel, THE FREAK OBSERVER won the 2011 William C. Morris Debut Award, a prize given by the Youth Adult Library Services Association for the best YA book by a first-time author. BLACK HELICOPTERS is listed in Kirkus Reviews’ Best Teen Books of 2013. She lives in her home state of Montana.

http://blythewoolston.blogspot.com

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I wrote unintelligible scribbles as an infant. Then I wrote dismal poetry and a couple of short stories. But I had never considered writing a novel before April of 2007. Even then, I was just telling myself a story. I had no intention of writing a novel. I had no outline. I just couldn’t find anything to read that day.

I am not one of those authors who knew that writing was what they wanted to do. I was happy reading other people’s books. I’m still happy reading other people’s books.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

THE MAGIC BOAT by Lula E. Wright. I was six years old. I wrote about it on my blog…

http://blythewoolston.blogspot.com/2009/11/magic-boat-lula-e-wright-1927-ginn-and.html

It isn’t a classic, but it is a loyal friend.

I had a fairy tale book and a copy of Edith Hamilton’s MYTHOLOGY. Someone gave me a horror comic where a scaly, green arm snaked out of the sewers and crushed people into little round balls. You could tell who they were by the remnants of exposed clothing.

I really loved Rosemary Sutcliff’s books about ancient Britain. I found them when I was obsessed with history. Ray Bradbury introduced me to science fiction, which is one of the best things that ever happened to me. There is no end to the wonders of science fiction.

Poe, Hawthorne, Vonnegut, Rilke…it was pretty much the usual suspects after a point.

Can you talk us through the writing of your latest book? What were the key moments?

It is a difficult book about a difficult subject. There is no redemption for my protagonist. The best I could hope for was to make her behavior comprehensible. The key moments were when I hated it and just wanted it to stop. There were a lot of key moments.

Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?

I can’t write a query letter or a synopsis to save my life. No joke. I very nearly didn’t get to go to the dance because I couldn’t tie my shoes. I’m certain my first book would never have been published if Andrew Karre hadn’t read the whole thing on an airplane. I signed with an agent after I’d sent my second book to Andrew. Unfortunately, I hadn’t thought everything through. I wasn’t sure what my own objectives were. I severed my ties with that agent and gave myself six months to think things over.

So how does a person who can’t write a decent query find an agent? I met Sarah Davies at a SCBWI conference in Montana. She liked the chapter I had brought for the workshop session and invited me to keep in touch. When I had the book finished, I sent it to her. So I got my agent by writing the best book I could. When she talked about the book, the things she said made sense to me. She named weaknesses that were true. I quickly came to the conclusion that working with Sarah would make better books possible.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I write at home. I live with other people who have a very impromptu approach to life’s adventure, so a hard-and-fast schedule isn’t something that would work. I like to write in the early mornings or the late evenings when there are fewer distractions. The best possible thing is to be able to walk for an hour before I sit down to write. I actually do quite a bit of oral composing while I walk. Sometimes I talk my way through a scene five or six times before I ever actually type a word.

I don’t look for inspiration; it just shows up. I’m a magpie, constantly collecting shiny ideas. When I’m not inspired, I look through the drift of sticky notes, photographs, and scribbled envelope backs that make a nest around my computer. “My life has gone awry—I didn’t learn to play the bass lute in high school.” That’s on a green, star-shaped scrap. I think my eldest son might have said it; it’s the sort of thing he says.

Can you tell us about the book you are working on at the moment?

I’m working on several things: I’ve got a halieutic novel ready for copyedits; my version of a thriller is about to stumble shaky-legged out to meet editors; and I’ve started a new project that I think is very funny. That last worries me. It may never amount to anything, but I like it.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Writing is like cooking; fresh ingredients matter.

Read outside your comfort zone. The worst thing you can possibly do is to limit yourself to books you know you will enjoy. Read difficult books and dull books. Read picture books and academic nonfiction.

If you aren’t focused on the present moment of writing, stop it.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

1) I taught technical writing for a gazillion years. That experience helped me focus on writing as a tool to transfer information from one brain to another. I tend to approach writing/reading this way, to understand it as a cognitive operation. I also learned to appreciate the power of confusion. 

2) Dialogue is key. Incredible things happen emotionally between the parties in a conversation, even when—maybe especially when—they are talking about mundane things. Even silence is conversation.

3) I benefited from the study of grammar, rhetoric, and poetics. I value punctuation. I value words. I value imagination.

Which favorite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

The dead have lost their appetite, so only the living are invited: Wolf Erlbruch, A.S. King, Guus Kuijer, Koji Kumeta, Margo Lanagan, Ursula LeGuin, Michael Alan Nelson, and Sjon. I’d be a much better writer after that dinner party.

John Gardner’s GRENDEL is an extraordinary accomplishment: a brute poet, the perfect antihero.

Kat Yeh


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About Kat:

Before writing children’s books, Kat worked for many years in advertising and sports marketing at Saatchi & Saatchi. She is the author of two previously published picturebooks:  YOU’RE LOVABLE TO ME (Random House, 2009) and THE MAGIC BRUSH: A Story of Love, Family, and Chinese Characters (Walker, 2011). She lives very close to the water, in a village in Long Island, NY.

Brenna Yovanoff


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About Brenna:

Brenna Yovanoff holds an MFA in Fiction from Colorado State University. She writes short fiction with Maggie Stiefvater and Tessa Gratton, who together comprise the Merry Sisters of Fate.

She lives with her husband in Denver, Colorado.

THE REPLACEMENT:

THE SPACE BETWEEN:

Author Interview:

When and how did you start writing?

I started writing regularly when I was about eleven.  Admittedly, it wasn’t very good, but I had a massive collection of spiral-bound notebooks, and as my little sister can testify, I was very protective of them.  As I got older, I learned about the miracle of document files, which made editing and revision much easier and improved my productivity tremendously.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?

The first book that really made an impression on me was Roald Dahl’s THE TWITS.  It was the first book I ever picked out myself and the first one I bought with my own money.  Looking back, it was a pretty strange choice, considering I was four years old and the cover was a very unenticing brown.  I think I originally picked it because I was fascinated by Quentin Blake’s illustrations, but the story was so enthralling and weird that I had to read it over and over.

Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?

The first key moment was when I got the idea for THE REPLACEMENT.  I started thinking about what it would be like if someone were a changeling in a town where that kind of thing was an open secret, and what life would be like, and the character of Mackie Doyle grew out of that.  The story has undergone some pretty significant changes since I started, and one of the key moments was when Sarah called me after I’d submitted to her and basically said that the world needed to be fleshed out and the ending made no sense, so would I please do something about that, which changed the book entirely, and very much for the better.

Was it hard to get an agent ? Can you talk us through the process?

Well, I was a slush-pile girl, so I can testify that it really does happen. I did expect finding an agent to be difficult, so I wanted to be prepared. I did a lot of research in preparation. I looked at websites and read interviews, then sent queries to agents who seemed likely to be a good fit, not only for what I had written, but for what I knew I wanted to write in the future.  Once I started querying, the actual process went pretty quickly, but I did spend a long time beforehand doing research and going over my letter.

Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?

I’m a morning writer by necessity. I used to be a nighttime person, but I’ve finally accepted that if I don’t work in the morning, I never get to see my family or my friends.  I find that in order to organize my time well, I have to be very strict with myself and set specific blocks of time or word-count goals - otherwise I don’t get as much done as I would like.  I love writing in coffee shops, because I’m one of those people who always needs a little bit of background noise in order to concentrate.

Can you tell us about your next book?

My next book hasn’t been decided on yet, but I can say that whatever comes next, it will probably be strange, and definitely have elements of the fantastical.  I’d love to do a big, panoramic book that has a broad scope and a lot of world-building.

Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?

Read.  That’s the biggest piece of advice I have, and I think it’s something most aspiring writers are very good about.  After all, a lot of people are drawn to writing because they really, really like books.  However, I’d go even further and say, read outside your chosen genre, outside your areas of interest.  Read things you don’t expect to like, or that you’ve never heard of.  Also, this probably goes without saying, but write.  A lot.

Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?

Plotting, plotting, and plotting.  Just kidding (but not really).  There are so many elements of craft that are crucial to telling a good story, but plotting is the one that’s given me the most grief and the one I absolutely had to get a handle on before I was ever going to be successful at telling a story.  You can always get better at craft, and I continue to refine my skills every time I sit down to write, but plotting has been so important - it’s the foundation that all the other elements rest on.

Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?

I’d love to have Neil Gaiman over. He seems like he’d be soft-spoken and charming, with lots of interesting anecdotes.  As far as characters go, I absolutely covet Donna Tartt’s - especially Charles and Camilla from THE SECRET HISTORY, and the entire cast of the THE LITTLE FRIEND.