Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books

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In-Person Reading/Signing of I AM SMOKE at Mysterious Galaxy Books

Mysterious Galaxy Books hosted a reading/signing of my creative nonfiction picture book, I AM SMOKE.

Acclaimed middle grade author Chris Baron graciously “interviewed” me about my book. My faithful hound Iroh also showed great interest in the book. A good time was had by all.


Interview with children’s author Marsha Diane Arnold

Called a “born storyteller” by the media, Marsha Diane Arnold’s picture books have sold over one million copies and been called, “whimsical,” “inspiring,” and “uplifting.” Her books have garnered such honors as Best First Book by a New Author, Smithsonian Notable, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and state Children’s Choice awards. Recent books include GALÁPAGOS GIRL, MAY I COME IN? and LOST. FOUND, a Junior Library Guild selection illustrated by Caldecott medalist Matthew Cordell, which received three starred reviews. Marsha was born and raised in Kansas, lived most of her life in Sonoma County, California, and now lives with her husband in Alva, Florida, near her family.

For what age audience do you write?

The best stories, those that hold enduring truths, are really for all ages, so  

I like to say I write for all ages. (My publishers usually note my books are for ages 4 to 8.) Before moving to picture books, I wrote an award-winning, syndicated column entitled homegrown treasures. My column was read by grandparents, parents, teens, and toddlers, all sitting together, enjoying “story.”

Mostly, I write picture books. I also write board books, like BABY ANIMALS TAKE A NAP and BABY ANIMALS TAKE A BATH, and am working (from time to time) on a chapter book and middle-grade novel.

Henry: I’m in the same boat. I’ve published only picture books, but am trying my hand at middle-grade.

Tell us about your latest book.

GALÁPAGOS GIRL began as a tiny seed in 2007, when I visited the Galápagos Islands. My naturalist guide was Valentina Cruz, whose family were some of the first inhabitants of the remote island of Floreana in the Galápagos.

Through email and video chats, Valentina shared her adventures growing up on Floreana with her parents and eleven brothers and sisters – stories of living with wild nature, of swimming with sea lions, of finches flying into their house to sample her mother’s homemade jam. Her idyllic life led her to become a biologist and naturalist guide so she could share with the world her knowledge and love of the islands and their unique flora and fauna. She’s the inspiration for my fictional character Valentina in the book.

I’m thankful to have Lee & Low as my publisher and Angela Dominguez as my talented illustrator. GALÁPAGOS GIRL is bilingual with an author note and back matter that includes information on each of the animals mentioned in the book.

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

In general, my wish for my readers is that my books give them some whimsy and fun, a lot of enjoyment and entertainment, heaps of inspiration, and something to ponder.

I hope when my readers read GALÁPAGOS GIRL, they will feel the joy of being in nature. From a unique perspective, they will glimpse a way of life different from their own. I hope they’ll close the book with a desire to help keep all wildlife safe.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Those rejections! They always make me question my value as a writer, but eventually, “I pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again.”

Henry: Yes, the two most valuable author attributes (after writing ability) are being thick-skinned and indefatigable.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?

I can do it. Being an introvert and filled with self-doubt most of my life, that’s a powerful lesson. Each of us can do it!

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

Author visits! What wonderful times I’ve had visiting schools from California to Puerto Rico, from Germany to Kenya. In Alabama, I had to run three miles at a school where they’ve been celebrating THE PUMPKIN RUNNER with a day of races and games for six years! At one Kansas school, they built a tornado on the school’s roof to celebrate THE BRAVEST OF US ALL. One librarian called my visit a “Big Vivid” for the school community, an inspiring memory that will stay with them forever. In truth, my visits to schools have always been “Big Vivids” for me.

Henry: Run three miles!? Now, that’s a commitment to a school visit!

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Think of rewriting as polishing a stone until it’s smooth and bright and beautiful.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

I have two that come back to me again and again over the years.

You must concentrate upon and consecrate yourself wholly to each day, as though a fire were raging in your hair.” Taisu Deshimaru

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals… In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.” Henry Beston

Henry: Lovely

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you work?

No strange rituals here. Maybe a walk in nature, which, sadly, for many today, may seem like a strange ritual.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

The power to let everyone see that all humans, all creatures, and all plants are part of a precious web of wonder. Then maybe we’d respect and care for one another as we should.

Henry: I’m reminded of the Tree of Souls in the Avatar movie.

That’s my serious answer. My not-so-serious answer is to be a Teleporter! Is that a word? What fun to be able to transport instantly to any place on this magnificent planet. As inhabitants of Earth, I think it’s our responsibility to experience as much of it as possible. My air miles aren’t stretching far enough, so to be able to instantly move from place to place would come in handy.

Henry: Plus, it would be easier to conduct school visits!

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

I must choose naturalist and writer Henry Beston. Afterall, he’s responsible for one of my favorite quotes.

Charles Dickens – because he’s the master of creating fascinating characters and he still influences the way we celebrate Christmas, what with “A Christmas Carol” and all.

J.R.R. Tolkien – for his brilliance.

Wait! That’s not right. I need some women at our salon.

Henry: You had me at Tolkien

Let’s include Emily Dickinson. She won’t take up much space. “I’m Nobody!” she wrote, “how dreary to be Somebody.” I have always loved her poetry.

To round things out, let’s invite two more. Eudora Welty, Pulitzer Prize winner and lovely Southern lady. Her ON WRITING is so readable, so excellent.

Sheila Turnage, another writer who is a master at creating characters, like her Miss Moses LoBeau, would be my living author. I want to learn from Sheila how to write great middle-grade novels.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Dragons, for certain. The Galápagos marine iguanas on the Galápagos reminded me a bit of dragons.

Henry: “My armor is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane, and my breath death!”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, THE HOBBIT

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Travel! When I’m traveling, I love to hike, scuba dive, snorkel, and see new sites and sights. I also love being home, surrounded by my family, exploring the rural roads in our golf cart, swimming, and investigating the natural world.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

A Kansas farm girl, protector of nature, lover of family, whose writing was enjoyed by all ages.

Where can readers find your work?

Readers can find my books in libraries, bookstores, and online.

They can find me at www.marshadianearnold.com and www.earthsvoices.wordpress.com and at my course at Children’s Book Academy (http://www.childrensbookacademy.com/writing-character-driven-stories.html )

Thank you, Henry, for inviting me to your website! I had fun answering your questions.

Henry: You’re welcome. Thanks for spending time with us.

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Interview with author/illustrator Lisa Desimini

Lisa Desimini grew up reading and drawing every chance she got. Her friends and fellow students told her that she should be an artist when she grew up, and Lisa agreed. She graduated from The School of Visual Arts in NYC. Now, she has written and/or illustrated over 35 books for children. She has also illustrated many book jackets for YA and adults novels.

For what age audience do you write​/illustrate​, and in what genre(s)?

My children’s books are for children ages 3-7. Some of my books are for all ages. My favorite genre is fantasy, but I’ve published non-fiction, too. I adore illustrating poetry collections.

Henry: I met Lisa at a book event at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore, where she was signing her new picture book. I was especially surprised and pleased to learn she also illustrated the covers for the Sookie Stackhouse (True Blood) paranormal fantasy novels!

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book is THE FLEATASTICS. It’s about an acrobatic troupe of fleas that travel from sleeping dog to sleeping dog to put on a show. Sarafleana’s family wants her to be part of their parasite pyramid, but she dreams of having her own act. When someone in the audience says the forbidden “T” word…Sarafleana gets a chance to prove what she can do.

Henry: My agent is right now shopping a narrative nonfiction picture book told by and about fleas. Fascinating little dudes.

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

There are two messages in this book. First, it’s important to do what it takes to follow ones dreams. The second message is that no matter what knocks us down, we have to get back up, brush ourselves off and get back on the horse… But I usually don’t set out with a mission for my books to have a message. It just happens sometimes.

Henry: If you’re a flea, you brush yourself off and get back on the cat.

What aspect of writing​ or illustrating​ do you find most challenging?

For me, writing is more challenging. I write something and, at first, I love it. Then I kind of like it, then I’m not sure about it at all, so I put it away for a few days. When I look again, I say, “OK, this has potential!” Then I show a friend and they make me see something I could do to make it better, so I do it and I like it better. Rinse and repeat and then maybe I send it to my editor and maybe it gets published. I don’t have as much back and forth when it comes to illustration because I’ve been making pictures since I was a little kid.

Henry: I certainly agree that critique groups (the external opinion) is absolutely vital to good writing.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer​/illustrator​?

The powerful lesson I’ve learned is the more research the better! Nowadays, the internet makes it easier to find books, gather information, and see images from different regions. When I was younger I illustrated a book about the Navaho and I thought I did a good job in recreating their hogans, but I got a very sweet letter from the tribe saying they weren’t accurate. I felt terrible. More recently, when I illustrated, SHE SANG PROMISE about a Seminole woman named Betty Mae Jumper, I was thrilled that National Geographic sent my images to the Seminole museum to be approved.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer​/illustrator​?

The memorable experiences for me are when I do a drawing at the end of all my school visits. They’re not preplanned. I use the students’ ideas, and they never cease to amaze me. When their creativity is lit up, there is an exuberant energy in the room. They might call out instead of raising their hands, bounce around, and get a bit loud, but it’s all worth it to me because when creativity is unleashed, it’s wild. It’s not always about being perfectly behaved.

Henry: I also call out instead of raising my hand.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors​ or illustrators​?

I would tell aspiring authors and illustrators to read as much as you can. Go to the library or bookstore every week–read classics and the latest books. Take a class and join the SCBWI. If kid’s books are truly your passion, you will have the energy and desire to follow the ideas that come to you. Some of my ideas have flowed quickly, but most of my books have taken years to come together and sell.

Henry: The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has been helpful to many a career. Their website is http://www.scbwi.org.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

My favorite quote: “You must do the things you think you cannot do.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

Henry: I also like “Whether you think you can, or you think you cannot, you are right.”

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write​/illustrate​?

I like to clean up and organize before I start working on a new project. Then I read a bunch of favorite books. Even if they’re not related to my new project, they get me excited and revved up about stories and the infinite worlds they create.

Henry: Is that preparation or procrastination? 🙂

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

My superpower would be the ability to teleport myself–anytime and anywhere.

Henry: I love it. No time wasted commuting or in traffic. No greenhouse gas emissions.

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

Is it OK if I answer a slightly different question–a dinner with my favorite characters from books instead of authors? I love authors, but Owen Meany, Harry Potter and Pippi Longstocking popped into my mind!! Owen because he is so dearly earnest, Harry because of his bravery, and Pippi because of her adventurous spirit!

Henry: No, it is not OK. This interview is cancelled! Per Wikipedia:

A Prayer for Owen Meany is the seventh novel by American writer John Irving. Published in 1989, it tells the story of John Wheelwright and his best friend Owen Meany growing up together in a small New Hampshire town during the 1950s and 1960s. According to John’s narration, Owen is a remarkable boy in many ways; he believes himself to be God’s instrument and sets out to fulfill the fate he has prophesied for himself.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

My favorite creature is a centaur. I like that they have the intellect of a human and an animal’s wild nature.

Henry: I like them too. One is featured on the cover of my first book.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing​/illustrating​?

When I’m not writing, I like to be with my husband and our kitty Crash, cook, read, watch movies, be in the garden and do yoga.

Henry: But not all at the same time…Yoga cooking!

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

I plan on being cremated and turned into a tree, so my treestone would say, “She always tried to be better and do better.”

Henry: I’m going to go out on a limb and say the root of that choice is that one must be thick-skinned to be an author.

Where can readers find your work?

You can find my work in bookstores, libraries and on my website: http://www.lisadesimini.com

Henry: Thank you for spending time with us, Lisa!

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Put a Cuttlefish On It!

Not familiar with cuttlefish? Wikipedia offers some fun facts about these amazing cousins of squid and octopuses.


Fans of the TV series Portlandia are familiar with the expression “put a bird on it!” It’s a scientific fact that putting a bird on things spruces them up, and makes them pretty.

In celebration of my new picture book, LITTLE RED CUTTLEFISH, and in acknowledgement that cuttlefish are way cooler than birds, we’ve created the hashtag #PutACuttlefishOnIt. Some examples are below. A free cuttlefish.png download is available to help you Put A Cuttlefish On It.

You’re welcome.

“The rock and pool, is nice and cool, so juicy sweet. Our only wish, to catch a fish.” #PutACuttlefishOnIt

Although it’s not mentioned in the Avengers movies, Iron Man has a pet cuttlefish. #PutACuttlefishOnIt

This cuttlefish made an unexpected appearance at a Bernie Sanders rally. #PutACuttlefishOnIt


Photo diary from the 2016 Los Angeles National SCBWI Conference

I had a great time attending the annual Los Angeles convention of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (#LA16SCBWI). Met writing friends, made new friends, heard inspiring speakers, and learned a lot about writing (and that I need a better phone camera). Here’s a photo journal of some of the many KidLit folks in attendance.


Pura Belpre honor and Golden Kite winning author/illustrator John Parra. Check out the fancy lobby of the Biltmore Hotel.


Martha Brockenbrough, author of THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH. Anyone who can write Young Adult and Picture Books is hogging all the talent!


BLEED LIKE ME Young Adult author Christa Desir, one of the first authors I ever interviewed on my KidLit blog.


The kind and charming Simon & Schuster publisher, Justin Chanda.


Ezra Jack Keats Award-winning author/illustrator of HOPE’S GIFT, Don Tate. You will note that his hairline is the inverse of mine. You complete me, Don.


The multitalented author/illustrator/musician and creator of the TOUCH AND FEEEL KISSES series, with over a million copies in print! He’s not this blurry in real life.


The shy and retiring SUPER HERO GIRLS author, Lisa Yee. Flat Dan Santat wasn’t in attendance, but the real one showed up eventually.


The anything but abominable NO YETI YET picture book author/illustrator, Mary Ann Fraser.


New York Times bestselling novelist Neal Shusterman and SCBWI co-founder Lin Oliver.


Last in the alphabet, but not in our hearts, the dapper Caldecott Medalist illustrator of RAPUNZEL, Paul Zelinsky.


The animated Bruce Coville, master author of DIARY OF A MAD BROWNIE, gave an immensely useful presentation on writing.


The ebullient picture book author of BITTY BOT, Tim McCanna.


My literary agency sister, the kind and funny New York Times bestselling picture book author/illustrator, my frint, Antoinette Portis.


These look great. I’m thinking of adding some balconies to my living room.


The sweet but mischievous “ghost gossiper” author/illustrator Pat Cummings.


Editor panel with (l to r): Stacey Barney (G.P. Putnam’s Sons), Kat Brzozowski (Feiwel & Friends), Alvina Ling (Little, Brown), Melissa Manlove (Chronicle), Neal Porter, Matt Ringler (Scholastic), Sara Sargent (HarperCollins), Reka Simonsen (Atheneum) and Kate Sullivan (Delacorte).


The good-natured Caldecott-winning author/illustrator of THIS IS NOT MY HAT, Jon Klassen.


Founder of SCBWI Blueboard, Verla Kay, and effervescent literary agency sister, GOLDIE LOCKS HAS CHICKENPOX author, Erin Dealey.


Jon Klassen recommended the place, so a friend and I had a nutritious lunch at Bottega Louis.


Packing way too much writing talent and charisma in a small package was New York Times bestselling LEGEND series author, Marie Lu.


After a few years of Facebook interaction, it was a thrill to finally meet the author/illustrator of FREDDIE & GINGERSNAP, Vincent Kirsch, even though his dog Ogbert was not present.


Author panel with (l to r): Jessixa Bagley, John Parra, Susan Rich (editor), Barney Saltzberg & Don Tate, moderated by Laurent Linn (not shown).


Why, yes, that is CREEPY CARROTS Caldecott Honoree author/illustrator Peter Brown. Smooth pate? Check. Beard? Check. Write and draw like a boss? Still working on it.


Agent panel with (l to r): Victoria Wells Arms, Ginger Clark (Curtis Brown), Kirsten Hall (Catbird), Brooks Sherman (The Bent Agency), Erica Rand Silverman (Stimola Literary) and Tina Wexler (ICM Partners).


Caldecott Medalist, New York Times bestseller, funny, and unjustifiably humble picture book author/illustrator, Sophie Blackall.


Beach Lane Books publisher Allyn Johnston dishes about what she likes and dislikes in the picture book market. She’s NOT a big fan of art notes from authors.


My favorite photo of the conference because #TeamYeti. From l to r: Mary Ann Fraser, author/illustrator of NO YETI YET, me (hopefully future author of NEVER FEED A YETI SPAGHETTI), and adorably alliterative Ashlyn Anstee, author/illustrator of ARE WE THERE. YETI?


Chronicle editor Melissa Manlove talks about effective narrative non-fiction.


Freelance editor Deborah Halverson briefs us on the state of the KidLit marketplace.


A photo of what Newbery-winning author Richard Peck looks like from outer space. This is a terrible photo of the least terrible author I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. He is a maestro!


And yes, that is MR. TIGER GOES WILD author/illustrator Peter Brown photobombing fellow Caldecott honoree and THE BOSS BABY author/illustrator Marla Frazee.


How star-studded was the attendee list? New York Times author/illustrator of MISS MAPLE SEEDS, Eliza Wheeler, was there.


San Diego SCBWI chapter attended in force. These glamorous gals won the costume contest wearing red carpet dresses. The chapter also won the Chronicle scavenger hunt, and our Susie Ghahremani was selected as one of the illustrator mentees. Not manatees. Not Mentos.


As Ferris Bueller said, “You’re still here? It’s over. Go home. Go.” It was also great seeing San Diego Chapter members and my other talented friends who I failed to photograph: Drew Daywalt, David Diaz, Bruce Hale, Jenni Holm, Dan Santat, Kelly Sonnack, and Harold Underdown.

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Meet the Monsters – Ogres


Meet the Monsters is a web series providing background on the mythological creatures featured in MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES.



Ogres are featured in mythology and folklore throughout the world. They are large, strong, dimwitted and dangerous humanoids who eat humans. Giants, trolls, and ogres are sometimes represented as the other in fiction. For example, Tolkien refers to the ogre-like creatures in THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS as trolls.

The term ogre has several possible origins. In the Bible, Og is the giant Amorite king of Bashan. The Etruscans worshiped a cannibalistic god Orcus. Greek mythology includes the river god Oiagros, father of Orpheus. A female ogre is called an ogress. Or perhaps real-world Neanderthals, which coexisted with Cro-Magnons, were the original inspiration for ogres.

ogre01 Per the New World Encyclopedia, “Another explanation for the ogre myth is that the ogres represent the remains of the forefather-cult which was ubiquitous in Scandinavia until the introduction of Christianity in the tenth and eleventh centuries. In this cult, the forefathers were worshiped in sacred groves, by altars, or by grave mounds. They believed that after death a person’s spirit continued to live on, or near, the family farm. This particularly applied to the founding-father of the estate, over whose body a large burial mound was constructed.”

Ogres appear in the movies Shrek, in the tabletop games Dungeons & Dragons, Magic: The Gathering, and Warhammer, and in the books PUSS IN BOOTS, HOP O’ MY THUMB and, SLEEPING BEAUTY (original version) by Charles Perrault, THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA by C.S. Lewis, XANTH by Piers Anthony, THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES by Holly Black & Tony DiTerlizzi, and MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES by Henry Herz.

ogre2Puss in Boots before the ogre. Note that one of the platters on the table serves human babies (Illustrated by Gustave Doré).

ogre3Hop-o’-My-Thumb steals the ogre’s seven-league boots. (Illustrated by Gustave Doré.)

ogre4Kwakiutl house pole representing the cannibal ogress Dzonoqwa

ogre5Oni (Japanese ogre)

ogre6The ogre from “Hop-o’-My-Thumb” at Efteling

ogre7The ogress Sanda Muhki represented at Mandalay Hill



Interview with YA and picture book author Paula Yoo

Paula Yoo is a children’s book author and TV writer/producer. Her latest book, TWENTY-TWO CENTS: MUHAMMAD YUNUS AND THE VILLAGE BANK (Lee & Low), is a Junior Library Guild “Best Book” selection. Other books include the YA novel GOOD ENOUGH (HarperCollins ’08) and IRA Notables SIXTEEN YEARS IN SIXTEEN SECONDS: THE SAMMY LEE STORY and SHINING STAR: THE ANNA MAY WONG STORY (Lee & Low Books). She is also a writer/producer for TV drama series, including NBC’s The West Wing, SyFy’s Eureka, Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle, and SyFy’s Defiance. When she’s not writing, Paula is also a freelance violinist. She lives in Los Angeles.


For what age audience do you write?

I write non-fiction picture book biographies for the K-3rd grades and YA novels for teenagers. I am also a TV writer/producer for TV drama series.

Henry: Yoo must be a busy lady!

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book is TWENTY-TWO CENTS: MUHAMMAD YUNUS AND THE VILLAGE BANK, illustrated by Jamel Akib (Lee & Low Books, 2014). It’s about the life of Professor Muhammad Yunus, who created the Grameen Bank which gave bank loans to impoverished women in Bangladesh. He won the Nobel Peace Prize with Grameen Bank for his pioneering work in the field of “micro credit” which helped people living in poverty become financially independent and self-sustaining. His dreams of eradicating poverty was his way of trying to achieve world peace so nations did not have to fight each other over resources. I also had the honor of meeting and interviewing Muhammad Yunus for this book. (To find out more, see https://www.leeandlow.com/books/2851)

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

I hope my readers not only learn and become interested in the practical aspects of Professor Yunus’s story about money management and how banks work, but that they also embrace the concepts of compassion and generosity in helping those less fortunate than them.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

The most challenging aspect of writing for me is finding the voice of my characters. What is their point of view, their personality, their flaws, and their speaking voice? Once I figure out the voice of my main character, the rest falls into place easily. I can brainstorm plot and structure and problem solve very easily, but the writing doesn’t truly begin until I have nailed down the voice of my main character.

Henry: Interesting how we all take different paths. I focus on story arc first.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?

A powerful lesson I have learned as a writer is not to take rejection personally. Yes, we put our heart and soul and even bits and pieces of our real lives and world views into our writing, but in the end, the rejection of my writing is NOT a rejection of myself as a human being. Once I learned to make this distinction, rejection in the world of writing and publishing was no longer a negative thing but a powerful and constructive lesson in learning how to improve my writing and making it bulletproof from rejection.

Henry: Yes, if we took rejection personally, no books would ever get written.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

There is not one specific memorable experience, but I would say overall had I never become a writer, I would not have gained a greater depth of understanding and compassion for people. Being a writer AND a reader of books helps you become more compassionate and sympathetic to people’s problems. I feel that writing and reading books has given me a new perspective on why people behave – and misbehave – the way they do!

Henry: Writers are people whisperers.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

My advice is simple. Anyone can START writing a book. Very few people can FINISH writing a book. Finish your book. THEN go back and revise and submit. You don’t know if a book works or not if you can’t get to the end. A successful published book is one that has been rewritten several times over from beginning to END. If you can commit to FINISHING a completed novel or book, that means you have the stamina and fortitude to accept and work with rejection, criticism and revision to create a powerful piece of work in the end.

Henry: Yes, I think the number of revisions required can surprise new writers.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

I have many favorite quotes about writing. But I’ll stick with the opening sentence of Charlotte’s Web which always reminds me that a book must open with the most intriguing and exciting moment possible.

“‘Where’s Papa going with that ax?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.”

Her dad has an AX? Her dad has an ax and it isn’t even BREAKFAST yet? Why would her dad wake up and grab an ax first thing in the morning? How will Fern’s mother react? So many questions and concerns and suspense happen in my brain immediately upon reading that first sentence. It’s also incredibly economical because you know instantly that it’s morning, Fern has a solid relationship with her mother because they’re getting ready for breakfast together, and that her dad has an ax and is about to do something incredibly powerful that is going to change Fern’s life forever once she finds out the answer to her question. So whenever I’m stuck with my writing and having writer’s block, I always remember the first sentence of E.B. White’s CHARLOTTE’S WEB as my favorite inspirational quote to get me writing!

Henry: Newbery-winning author Richard Peck is a master of the intriguing first sentence.

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?

The only ritual I have is to play my violin when I get writer’s block. Aside from writing, I am also a professional freelance violinist. I have been playing the violin since kindergarten. I love playing the violin as much as I love writing. So when I’m stuck, I will play the violin for a bit because it helps my subconscious simmer with ideas and gets me into a really introspective and emotional state. I think writers should all have a hobby or passion outside of writing because it helps open up your subconscious to out-of-the-box creative ideas and solutions for your writing.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Every time someone asks me what superpower I could have, I always instantly think of flying. Even though logically when you think about it, flying is not that practical. It’s cold and turbulent when you’re flying at 3000 feet above the ground. There are other scary birds in the sky who could fly into you. There’s air pollution. And flying means you probably fly about as fast as you’d run on land, and I’m not a fast runner, so flying means it would still take me forever to get from one place to another. A car is much more practical as a means of transportation. But despite all those logical arguments, I STILL want to fly because the view would be spectacular. LOL!

Henry: You get asked that question a lot!? Say, did you read my fictional interview of Edna Mode (from The Incredibles movie) in which she talks about the challenges of flying!

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would they be?

If I could have three authors visit me for dinner (and assuming that if hey are no longer around, they would not appear in zombie form)… there are way too many authors for me to choose from, but off the top of my head, I’d say Stephen King because I am a horror fiction fan, E.B. White because Charlotte’s Web inspired me to become a writer at age five, and Tom Perrotta because I’ve read all his novels and am a huge fan of his writing voice and style.

Henry: A true horror fan should enjoy meeting a zombie version of Stephen King. Wikipedia helpfully adds:

“Tom Perrotta is an American novelist and screenwriter best known for his novels Election (1998) and Little Children (2004), both of which were made into critically acclaimed, Academy Award-nominated films. Perrotta co-wrote the screenplay for the 2006 film version of Little Children with Todd Field, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. He is also known for his novel THE LEFTOVERS (2011), which has been adapted into a TV series on HBO.”

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

My favorite creature that only exists in literature are the dragons from Anne McCaffrey’s dragon books (Dragon Rider, Dragon Quest, The White Dragon books of Pern and the music-related novels Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, and Dragon Drums). I love Ramoth, the regal queen dragon, and Ruth, the quirky and unique runt dragon. I’m a nut about these books and would love to meet and take a ride with these majestic creatures!

Henry: Dragons are a perennial favorite. While I’ve never met a dragon, I’ve done the next best thing, which was to interview Anne’s son Todd McCaffrey for my writing blog.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

When I’m not writing, I like to do four things. 1. Play with my three cats Oreo, Beethoven & Charlotte. (You can follow them @oreothecatyoo on Twitter!) 2. Eat gourmet Top Chef-type food at cool trendy restaurants or authentic hole-in-the-wall diverse spots in LA because I’m a diehard foodie at happy hour budget prices. 3. Read books. I’m a bookworm who devours several books a week. 4. Watch TV or go to the movies.

Henry: 5. Answer silly blog interview questions.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

The first thing that popped into my head was “She worked hard.” Because I do. Writing is hard work. Period.

Where can readers find your work?

Readers can find my books at your local bookstore (please support your local independent bookseller!) and on Amazon and other online retail stores. You can also find my picture books at https://www.leeandlow.com, and my novel GOOD ENOUGH at http://www.harpercollins.com/9780060790905/good-enough. For more info, visit my website: http://paulayoo.com.

This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.



Interview with children’s non-fiction author Kathleen Krull

Kathleen Krull’s 60+ books have garnered starred reviews and awards.  The Children’s Book Guild of Washington, DC, honored her with its Nonfiction Award for her body of work that “has contributed significantly to the quality of nonfiction for children.” She lives in San Diego with her husband and sometime writing partner, Paul Brewer, and can be visited at http://www.kathleenkrull and friended at http://facebook.com/kathleen.krull


For what age audience do you write?

I write nonfiction, primarily biographies, for all ages.

Tell us about your latest book.

Published most recently from Harcourt is Lives of the Explorers: Discoveries, Disasters (and What the Neighbors Thought). This is the 9th and probably final book in the “Lives of” series, which has kept me going the last 20 years. I hope readers will savor the stories of 20 intrepid souls–from Ibn Battuta to Sally Ride, Marco Polo to Isabella Bird– who took life-or-death journeys with every possible danger, few conveniences, and no GPS.

Henry: Wait. No GPS!? No AAA!?

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

The subliminal message here is to inspire more passion for geography than I had as a kid.  For teachers, a fabulous discussion and activity guide for all nine books is here (http://www.scribd.com/doc/135384966/Lives-of-Series-Discussion-and-Activity-Guide?action_object_map=%7B&fb_action_ids=10201890921534161&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=other_multiline)

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Keeping myself alert without being over-caffeinated.

Henry: It can’t be done. Unless you use mud masks.

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?

Mud masks. I don’t do it every day, but I learned by accident that facial masks really perk a person up. I’ve used ones from the Body Shop, etc., but lately I’ve been using snail mucus masks I brought back from Korea. True story. I also brought back “Roll-on Happy Smile,” a blend of perky essential oils you apply to the temples.

Henry: Off all the secrets of the Orient, you opt to bring back snail mucus to put on your face!?

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

What’s meant the most to me is when young adults tell me they’ve gone into history or science or literature, etc., after being sparked by my books.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Revision is a writer’s BFF.

Henry: So true. I have a friend who says (and I completely agree with her), “I think the manuscript is done twenty times before it’s really done.”

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Being invisible. I could spy and eavesdrop all day long.

Henry: Ah, the fly-on-the-wall superpower. I would have expected that request more from a writer of fiction, unless you also combine it with time travel so you could observe famous historical figures.

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

I’d invite dozens, picking their brains, with someone else cooking & pouring the wine. But the first three who come to mind are Virginia Woolf, Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss), and Tom Wolfe (not Thomas)–perhaps the first time these three geniuses have been linked.

Henry: Wikipedia helpfully offers:

Adeline Virginia Woolf (1882 –1941) was an English writer and one of the foremost modernists of the twentieth century. During the interwar period, Woolf was a significant figure in London literary society and a central figure in the influential Bloomsbury Group of intellectuals. Her most famous works include the novels Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927) and Orlando (1928), and the book-length essay A Room of One’s Own (1929), with its famous dictum, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

Thomas Kennerly “Tom” Wolfe, Jr. (born 1931) is an American author and journalist, best known for his association and influence over the New Journalism literary movement in which literary techniques are used in objective, even-handed journalism. Beginning his career as a reporter, he soon became one of the most culturally significant figures of the sixties after the publication of books such as The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (a highly experimental account of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters) and two collections of articles and essays, Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers and The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. His first novel entitled The Bonfire of the Vanities, released in 1987, was met with critical acclaim and was a great commercial success.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

“She made nonfiction fun.”

Henry: She lived a fun nonfiction life.

Where can readers find your work?

The very best place is the fantastic Yellow Book Road (http://www.yellowbookroad.com) in San Diego.

Click to Tweet: Interview with children’s non-fiction author Kathleen Krull at http://wp.me/p31Xf4-NV via @Nimpentoad

This interview is also on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.

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Interview with prolific children’s book author, Larry Dane Brimner

Larry was one of those weird children who liked to write and who had a grandfather who not only indulged Larry’s written expression, but encouraged it by corresponding with him whether he was across town or in another part of the world. Today, Larry has written more than one hundred fifty-eight books for young readers, and he’s still writing.


For what age audience do you write?

I write fiction and nonfiction for kids between the ages of pre-school to young adult. Although I’m known mostly for my nonfiction for middle-grades on up, my favorite genre is the picture book, which I think requires enormous skill, because the writer has to be so succinct while at the same time he must also pay attention to rhythm, language, page-turns, and format. Long ago, I wrote chapter books, and this is a genre I hope to return to in the next couple of years.

Henry: So true. Picture books are a distinct form of literature.

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book, just out, is STRIKE! The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights (Calkins Creek). It’s about the Filipino grape strike in Delano, California, 1965, which paved the way for Cesar Chavez and his struggling union to come to power. Larry Itliong and the other Filipino Americans who began that strike are often ignored. Yet, without them, the story of Chavez—who actually didn’t want to involve the UFW in the Filipino action at first—may have been painted differently.

Henry: I’ve only written fiction so far, but I think it’s great you are telling tales that need to be told.

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

I hope readers will understand the significant role that Filipino Americans played in this, the most important agricultural strike in U.S. history. I would hope, too, that they come away from the book understanding that we need to be measured in our inclination to place important historical figures on pedestals. Chavez has become almost a martyr by many, yet upon closer examination we learn that he was human, flawed, and motivated in part by ego and a selfishness that eventually led to the UFW’s downfall.

Henry: Good point. A complex and imperfect figure like Dr. Martin Luther King.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

First drafts are hell, pure hell. Most of the time, I am not somebody who shows up at the computer each morning eager to get started. I’ll respond to email first. I’ll answer interview questions like this first. I’ll tidy my desk or do a load of laundry (often washing clean clothes). In other words, I procrastinate and avoid. This wasn’t always the case, but I find (for me) since most of my nonfiction books are contracted before I write them and there’s always a deadline looming that it takes some of the joy of process out of it. On the other hand, those projects—poems, picture books, and even nonfiction books—that I write on speculation are often the most enjoyable because I can tackle them at my own speed without the pressure of having to have them finished by a particular date. Once I have a first draft, though, I love revision and tweaking and refining. I love playing with words. I LOVE HAVING WRITTEN. And I still get a great sense of accomplishment when I can hold an actual book in my hands or see it on a shelf in a bookstore or library.

Henry: Nice. “I love having written” is a great expression.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?

There is, probably, almost always a better way to write something.

Henry: True, and yet at some point we must submit. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

There are so many. Meeting a reader who tells you your book had impact on his or her life. Being told by a father that his child takes your picture book to bed each night and sleeps with it. Being invited to schools and conferences hither and yon to speak about writing and the books you’ve written. Many of my books are about the African American struggle for freedom and equality. Perhaps my most memorable experience was when I was invited to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to speak about writing Birmingham Sunday and being introduced to an audience of 7th and 8th graders by their teacher as a black American writer. (We had not yet met.) The teacher later apologized to me, saying that she didn’t think anyone but an African American could tell the story with such heart. I explained to her there was no need for apology; it was the greatest compliment I’ve ever been paid.

Henry: You’re white!?

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Trust in yourself and your ability to tell the story your way. (I lost this for a while when writing STRIKE! because I’d chosen the wrong fact-checker to vet the manuscript. It taught me an important lesson: choose an objective person to check your work for accuracy rather than a friend or devoted aide.)

Do you have any favorite quotes? 

A favorite quote above my computer is by M. A. Radmacher: “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?

You mean like PROCRASTINATION? I do love white noise—the sound of the washer, dryer, and dishwasher humming while I write. But since I live in a desert and am concerned about our water supply, I listen to classical Spanish guitar instead. I also don’t like to talk about my work until it’s complete because I worry about using up all the words speaking about a topic instead of writing about a topic. It’s also a good way to lose one’s enthusiasm about a topic. I pop in and out of Facebook or email when I’m thinking about what to type next.

Henry: Procrastination is not a strange ritual. It is a lifestyle.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

I would love to have the power to bring peace and equality and adequate food to all people throughout the world (for obvious reasons).

Henry: A lovely, selfless wish.

If you could have three authors/artists over for dinner, who would it be? 

Probably Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and Hemingway. Picasso, because he was quite randy and lived life to the fullest. He’d keep us entertained. Stein, because she had a unique theory of writing rhythm and I’d like to know more about it. Hemingway, because I’ve always admired the way he could turn the most simple of events into an enthralling story with a minimum of words.

Henry: That would be one lively dinner.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I think in another life, I must have been a chef because I love to cook. I’m told I have one of the largest cookbook collections in the U.S. When I’m not at my desk or in my kitchen, I’m either on my mountain bike riding various trails, in the garden, or at the scrap metal yard.

Henry: C’mon, you can’t say “scrap metal yard” without elaboration. Are you constructing a rocket ship?

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Either “The End” or “Larry Dane Brimner is turning the page.”

Henry: Well, that’s a page turn I don’t want to see. 

Where can readers find your work?

At the public library, an independent bookseller like the Yellow Book Road, or your favorite online book retailer.

This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.

Click to TweetInterview with prolific children’s book author, Larry Dane Brimner at http://wp.me/p31Xf4-KL via @Nimpentoad


Photos from the 2014 Los Angeles SCBWI Conference

I had an amazing time yesterday in Los Angeles shmoozing at the Los Angeles SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) conference. I got to see friends from the San Diego and Los Angeles SCBWI chapters, and rub elbows with some rockstar authors and literary agents. Here are some photos:


Dan Santat – hilariously funny picture book illustrator of Ninja Red Riding Hood by Corey Rosen Schwartz. With goatees and enhanced foreheads, we are almost the same, except that Dan is more talented and more Asian.


Aaron Becker – author/illustrator of the Caldecott Honor-winning picture book Journey. At this point, I appear to only be posing with authors who’s hairline matches my own. Sadly, I didn’t have my Journey on hand for him to sign. FYI, his new PB, Voyage, is about to release. My previous interview with Aaron.


Maggie Stiefvater – I was just a big squeeing fangirl when I spotted the lovely and talented YA author of The Raven Boys walking by as I was chatting with Shannon Messenger and Salina Yoon.


Salina Yoon – author/illustrator of Penguin & Pincone and many other picture books. Also, inventor of the “puffin beak cozy”. My previous interview with Salina.


Cindy Pon – author of the YA Silver Phoenix. My previous interview with Cindy.


Bruce Hale – multi-published PB/MG author of Snoring Beauty, wearing his trademark hat. He’d lost his voice the night before, but it was still nice to whisper with him. My previous interview with Bruce.


Megan McDonald – What!? Won the KidLit lottery when illustrator Pat Cummings was kind enough to introduce me to the author of the wildly successful Judy Moody series

Although I don’t have photographic evidence, I also got to say hi to Caldecott Award winner David Diaz, illustrators Lori Mitchell & Tricia Benson, YA authors Christa Desir, Jenn Bosworth, Steph Funk, Jenn Reese & Sara Wilson Etienne, MG/YA author Shannon Messenger, MG authors Kristen Kittscher & Matt Ward, PB authors Denise Vega, Cindy Jenson Elliot, Edith Hope Fine, Jennifer Gray Olson, & Jamie Swenson, and literary agents Danielle Smith, Jill Corcoran, Lara Perkins, Jen Rofe, and Laura Rennert.