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Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books


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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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Interview with picture book author Dian Curtis Regan

Dian Curtis Regan is the author of more than 60 books for young readers, ranging from picture books to YA novels. Her books have received many honors, including Best Books for Young Adults, Children’s Choice Awards, Junior Library Guild selections, Los Angeles Times Recommended Book, and New York Public Library’s Best Books. Space Boy and the Space Pirate was a 2017 finalist for the Colorado Book Award, and the winner of a 2017 Crystal Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. Space Boy and the Snow Monster is brand new this fall. Dian lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

For what age audience do you write?

My books range from board books and picture books to young adult novels, and anthology stories. Mostly I write humor, although I’ve published fantasy, mysteries, and even a tall tale.

Tell us about your latest book.

SPACE BOY AND THE SPACE PIRATE, the second picture book in a trilogy, was a 2017 finalist for the Colorado Book Award, winner of a 2017 Crystal Kite Award from SCBWI, and the one book chosen by Colorado Humanities and the Colorado State Library Association to represent the state at this year’s National Book Festival in Washington D.C.

The third book, SPACE BOY AND THE SNOW MONSTER, was published a few days ago. The trilogy has been picked up by the international Space Foundation as “certified imagination products.” I am honored!

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

I hope readers get caught up in the fast-paced adventure when Niko’s imagination turns a cardboard box into a spaceship which blasts off to other worlds with his loyal crew: Tag, his dog, and Radar, his robot copilot. To quote Kirkus: “Intergalactic derring-do–and home in time for supper.”

Henry: “…and it was still hot.”

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

After publishing books in all genres, I can say that each book, from idea to finished product, is extremely challenging. No, it doesn’t get easier with each book. Plus, the shorter the text, the more difficult it is to get it right.

Henry: Coming up with the idea, deciding the manuscript is ready to submit, and everything in between.

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

To be conscious of where my time goes each day. It’s easy to waste hours on social media, but writing is a solitary endeavor. You have to turn off the noise. I have a sign in my office that says, “What you do today is important because you are exchanging a day of your life for it.” That is sobering enough to get me into the chair.

Henry: That is a great, mindful quote.

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

When I lived in Venezuela, I wrote three anthology stories completely different from anything I’d ever written. I’d been suddenly thrown into a totally different dynamic from living in the USA. But I’m proud of the stories. They would not have been written if I hadn’t moved to South America. ( SHATTERED—Knopf, SOUL SEARCHING—S&S, and FIRST CROSSING—Candlewick)

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Never send out a project too early. Stories need time to “steep.” Put it aside for a couple of weeks—or months. Your “undermind” will continue to work on it. When you pick it up again, you’ll be amazed at how many changes you’ll make.

Also, be aware of language. Rise above worn out descriptions, characters, and what my friends and I call “word pockets.” How can you say or show something better and more creatively?

When editors say they receive 50,000 manuscripts a year, it’s up to you to give them something they’ve never seen before. Something that makes them sit up and keep reading. It may take years to get your project to that place. Take the time.

Henry: That said, one must strike a balance between innovative and so far out that editors won’t take the risk.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“When it comes to disciplining yourself to write, guilt is very useful.” — Susan Meyers, author

Henry: Also “Discipline is the refining fire by which talent becomes ability.” – Roy L. Smith

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

I do a lot of “circling” before I settle in to work. Is that strange? When asked the same question, Ernest Hemingway said, “First, I defrost the refrigerator.” I can relate to that.

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

Time travel. What a great way to do primary source research. Or, imagine sitting with Margaret Wise Brown and her writer friends as they discussed one of her works in progress called Goodnight Moon…….

Henry: Also, a great way to never miss a writing deadline!

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

C.S. Lewis (because NARNIA), Lloyd Alexander (I met him once and tried to tell him he’s the reason I am a writer, but instead, I burst into tears), and Lucy Maud Montgomery (because ANNE OF GREEN GABLES).

Henry: I assume dinner would include crunchings and munchings.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Right now, I’m rather fond of Radar, the toy robot in Space Boy. At the beginning and end of the stories, he’s a small stuffed toy, but as the adventures begin, he grows tall and becomes an equal crew member alongside Niko and Tag–fighting battles and overcoming enemies.

Henry: Robots can make interesting characters. I just sold a picture book with a robot protagonist, TWO PIRATES + A ROBOT. It’s Firefly meets The Giving Tree.

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

Besides reading? Last year, we bought an RV. It’s a great way to travel—with the dog and cat. However, I do keep working while my husband drives. Other than that, my high school friends and I have started having our own adventures. We’ve been to Europe, Alaska, New York, the Caribbean, Nova Scotia, and even a visit to the Anne of Green Gables house on Prince Edward Island.

What would you like it to (accurately) say on your tombstone?

Visit diancurtisregan.com!

Henry: Best. Answer. Ever.

Where can readers find your work?

The Space Boy books should be available at any bookstore or online. Since I’m often asked for autographed copies of various titles, my new website is set up to take orders here: http://diancurtisregan.com/product/autographed-books/

To learn more, and to download a curriculum guide, visit diancurtisregan.com and spaceboybooks.com.

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Dian.


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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.

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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.

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

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

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


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Helpful Advice for First-Time Convention Attendees

I’m a children’s book author, with a love of fantasy and science fiction that stretches back to elementary school, where I repeatedly borrowed WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE from the library. It should come as no surprise, then, that I enjoy attending and moderating panels at pop culture conventions like San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC), WonderCon, Condor, and San Diego Comicfest.

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The folks at Eventbrite requested that I leverage my convention experience to write a post offering helpful tips. Want to have fun at a convention? Of course you do! I divided my suggestions into two categories: for convention attendees and for convention panel moderators. WonderCon

WONDERCON 2016: Moderating a children’s literature panel with (l to r) Barney Saltzberg, Caldecott-winner Dan Santat, Bruce Hale, NY Times bestseller Antoinette Portis, and Caldecott-winner Jon Klassen

FIRST-TIME CONVENTION ATTENDEES

Conventions offer a variety of activities, including: individual presentations, art exhibits, book signings, vendor displays, movie sneak peaks, and themed discussion panels. Here are some tips for first-time attendees to get the most out of their convention experience:

  • First things first: purchase your badge(s). This must be done WELL in advance for high-demand events like SDCC.
  • Plan your lodging. If you attend a big convention from out of town, a nearby hotel reservation (or gracious friend’s house) is a must, preferably near public transportation.
  • Plan your transportation. How will you get to the convention, and if you drive, where will you park? Public transportation is a great choice to avoid parking hassles at heavily-attended conventions.
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  • Plan your activities*. Review the convention schedule to decide which events you will attend. Some conventions may offer multiple enticing events at the same time; the convention equivalent of Sophie’s Choice. *Or not – some people enjoy choosing events as their mood dictates throughout the day. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
  • Review in advance the convention facility map to see how close the events are located to each other. This is particularly important if events are scattered across multiple buildings, like at DragonCon and SDCC. Hence the importance of the aforementioned “Plan your activities”.
  • Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. You will likely be doing a lot of walking. I’d recommend NOT wearing a costume at your FIRST convention, because it adds some complications. But, if you MUST wear a costume, see my costume-specific suggestions at the end of this list.
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  • Bring a friend and a mobile phone, both fully charged. It’s more fun with a friend, and a phone will help you reconnect if you attend separate events. You’ll also want to have your phone (or camera) so you can take pictures of pop culture icons, displays, cosplayers, and other strange persons.
  • The more popular the event, the bigger the line. In some cases, lines are so long that you may not gain admittance. This makes me sad. So, move briskly from one event to the next if they are in different rooms. In the most extreme cases, like Hall H at SDCC, you must get into a line the prior evening to obtain a wristband to even be eligible for entry. What!? Why is Hall H so popular? In a word (well, two words), movie stars. My honest advice for first-time attendees is to skip such events. You essentially commit ALL your time to getting in (and staying in, see below) that room. I prefer to attend multiple interesting (but less sought after) events where I’m actually likely to get a seat.
  • If you miraculously manage to get into a room with multiple events that interest you (e.g., Hall H at SDCC), stay there. SDCC does not clear rooms of attendees between events. But if you leave (for say a bathroom break), you will not be readmitted. Hence the importance of the aforementioned “Plan your activities”, including how much liquid you imbibe. Now you know why Howard Wolowitz wears a “stadium pal” in Big Bang Theory Season 4 Episode 8.
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  • Ask permission before taking a photo of someone. I’ve never had anyone decline, but it’s the polite thing to do.
  • Don’t bogart the talent. Sometimes, you may encounter panelists (more true of authors than movie or TV stars) outside a convention room just prior to the event or at a signing. It’s fine to politely introduce yourself, offer them kind words, and request a signature. But once you’ve had your turn, let someone else interact with them.
  • There may be sexy or scantily dressed cosplayers in attendance. The normal rules of society apply – you don’t get to touch them! You don’t want to vex a superhero.
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  • Bring credit cards and cash if you plan on buying stuff. There are often very tempting purchases in exhibit halls and artist alleys. But don’t buy more than you can carry. Hence the aforementioned advice to bring a backpack. Sherpas are also very handy for carrying your stuff.
  • Bring food and water. If you’ll be attending for a full day, you’ll want to eat and drink. You can visit convention food stalls, but they are typically pricey, and can involve waiting in LONG lines. I advise against drinking alcohol. You’ll be in tight quarters and challenging conditions, so you’ll want to keep your manners and wits about you.
  • Bring a hat. This suggestion is relevant only if you are planning to wait in a long, outdoor line, such as for gaining admittance to the coveted Hall H events at SDCC. It can be sunny and hot, and a hat can help keep you cool.
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  • Bring a 4″ diameter cardboard poster tube. This suggestion is only relevant if you plan to purchase artwork or posters. A tube will enable you to carry your paper treasures without risking them getting bent or torn. I wouldn’t go smaller than 4″ diameter, or you’ll have trouble rolling, inserting, and retrieving your artwork. Plastic tubes are on sale at some conventions for about ten bucks.
  • Bring a back pack. It’s not only good for carrying your food, water, hat, and poster tube, but it enables you to schlep your purchases hands-free.
  • Don’t cut in line. This is unfair to others. Some conventions, like SDCC, do a great job of organizing lines for panels, book signings, etc. Be a good citizen and follow the rules. Don’t make me stop the car!
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  • When walking about the convention, expect to move slowly due to thick crowds. Look where you’re going. Don’t text and walk at the same time, or you may get a Harley Quinn mallet in the face.
  • While this may be difficult given the density of some convention crowds, if you stop to look at a display, speak with someone, take a photo, or pull an item from your backpack, step toward the display or wall so as to leave a pathway for others to pass.
  • Don’t walk in front of people if it is clear they are taking a photo of something. Conversely, take your photos quickly so you don’t make people wait long. “None shall pass!”
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  • COSTUMES offer advantages and disadvantages. They can be great fun to wear and are natural icebreakers, offering others a reason to interact with you. However, some preclude you from being able to wear the aforementioned handy backpack. Some costumes can make accessing your wallet, eating, or using the bathroom a challenge. Some costumes can be heavy, hot, or otherwise uncomfortable to wear. Others can limit the ease with which you can see or breathe. Bulky costumes can make it hard to maneuver, especially down crowded exhibit hall aisles. And some are SO bulky that you need a friend to accompany you, just to help you get into and out of it (for aforementioned food, water and bathroom breaks). Fake weapons typically require you have them checked and tagged as safe.
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FIRST-TIME CONVENTION PANEL MODERATORS

As mentioned above conventions often offer themed discussion panels. Such panels are typically organized and hosted by a moderator. As a panel moderator, your job is to ensure an entertaining and informative experience for BOTH the audience and the panelists. A panelist should be a good steward of everyone’s time so that all the panelists can engage with their fans. Here are some tips for first-time convention panel moderators.

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SAN DIECO COMIC-CON 2015: Moderating a fantasy literature panel with (l to r) New York Times bestselling authors Brandon Sanderson, Maggie Stiefvater, Kami Garcia, Jonathan Maberry, and Zac (Heather) Brewer

  • Once the convention approves your panel, provide logistical information to your panelists. They’ll need to know prior to the event where the panel will be held, when to arrive, how they get their convention badge, whether they can bring a guest, who else is participating on the panel, how the panel will be run, how to get a hold of you, whether they’re allowed to give out swag, and if there will be a signing event after the panel.
  • Don’t assume everyone in the audience knows who your panelists are. Prior to the event, communicate with your panelists or look at their website so you can give an accurate introduction. Do NOT ask panelists to introduce themselves (I’ve actually seen that).
  • The audience will almost certainly have questions for the panelists, but just in case (and to get the ball rolling), prepare some questions of your own in advance.
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    WONDERCON 2015: Moderating a children’s literature panel with (l to r) Salina Yoon, Brian Won, Newbery Honoree Jenni Holm, Pura Belpre Honoree Joe Cepeda, and Caldecott Honoree Molly Idle.
  • I like to create a PowerPoint presentation for both introducing the panelists and showing the questions I’ll ask them. It’s not required; only diehard moderators do this. But, in my experience, attendees enjoy a visual element like images or videos. Let the convention organizers know in advance if you’ll need a projector, audio speakers, etc. Bring your own laptop and VGA/HDMI connector. Bring a spare copy of your files on a thumb drive and a printout of your introductions and panelist questions, in case your computer fails.
  • Guide your panelists. Ask questions in such a way that more than one panelist can respond. If panelists aren’t responding because questions don’t apply to them, then ask those individuals a question directed solely at them. If, on the other hand, a panelist speaks too long, don’t be afraid to gently break in and redirect to another panelist.
  • Control your audience. An effective introduction will get the audience excited to hear from the panelists. When I open up a panel for audience questions, I ask them to raise their hands, and select them one at a time. Some conferences will have a standing mic set up, at which panelists can line up prior to asking their questions. If there is no such mic, I will repeat audience questions so everyone in the room can hear it. If a question meanders, I will gently ask the person to state their question. If a question is inappropriate or somehow puts the panel in an awkward position, I will move on to the next audience question. Again, I’ve prepared questions in advance, just in case the audience runs out of questions.
  • Remind the audience at the end of the panel of the time and room where the panelists will subsequently be doing a signing event.

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SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON 2014: Moderating a sci-fi & fantasy literature panel with (l to r) New York Times bestselling authors Jonathan Maberry, David Brin, Jim Butcher, Rachel Caine, Jason Hough & Marie Lu.

I hope that these suggestions make your convention-going experience a fantastic one! If you have additional ideas, feel free to submit them via the Comments section. I hope to see you at a convention some time.

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The author, Henry Herz, wearing a costume that does not impede his ability to
see, breath, eat, walk, or access his mobile phone. Claymore sold separately.


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Day 1 of San Diego Comic-Con 2016

Here is a photo journal of my first day at San Diego Comic-Con 2016 #SDCC2016:

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Family cosplay of the terrific animated movie, The Incredibles.

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Speaking of The Incredibles, director Brad Bird (who also did the amazing Iron Giant movie) was in the house.

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Inflatable T-rexes terrorize an unsuspecting convention-goer.

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The talented picture book author/illustrator Ben Hatke (JULIA’S HOUSE FOR LOST CREATURES, NOBODY LIKES A GOBLIN) was interviewed by the rockstar fantasy novelist Patrick Rothfuss (THE NAME OF THE WIND). They stare with disdain at lesser mortals.

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And in the audience was fantasy novelist Laini Taylor (DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE series, DREAMDARK series).

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Yours truly with the blurry, but still talented Ben Hatke.

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Four goddesses of the YA fantasy pantheon: Alexandra Bracken (DARKEST MIND series), Kami Garcia (BEAUTIFUL CREATURES series and THE LEGION series), Mary E. Pearson (THE REMNANT CHRONICLES series), and Marissa Meyer (THE LUNAR CHRONICLES series).

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The bright and snarky urban fantasy author Seanan McGuire (OCTOBER DAY series). She said the audience could ask her anything (if they dare).

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As luck would have it, author Mary Robinette Kowal was there to accept the challenge, and asked Seanan about the time she was a phone sex operator.

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Apparently Star Wars wookies come in all kinds of girly colors.

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In the kind of ridiculous mashup you only see at Comic-Con, a mother and son cosplay as Ms. Frizzle (THE MAGIC SCHOOLBUS) and demon hunter Constantine.

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An incredibly accurate cosplay of the Floki character from the TV series Vikings.

13UrukHai

“What do you mean I can’t get into Hall H!?”

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“Your puny wall cannot keep us out, Donald Trump.”


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Fun at WonderCon 2016

My sons and I made our annual pilgrimage to WonderCon to enjoy great art, revel in geekiness, and meet lots of interesting people. Here’s a samplingWC2016-05

Josh & Harrison outside the LA Convention Center

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The BACONNATION food truck. It’s porktastic!

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Not to be outdone is the Godzilla-themed MeSoHungry food truck.

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Why, yes, I WAS wondering what a Star Trek-cat mashup would look like. Scotty is a Scottish Fold! Chekhov should’ve been a Siberian.

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Captain Mexico and Mexican Punisher and a Trump pinata saying “Por ser un pendejo”. Well played, guys.

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Harrison as a dwarf barrel-rider from The Hobbit at The OneRing.net booth. He’s got the long hair – just needs a beard and some scale mail.

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My sons in front of our books at the Mysterious Galaxy booth.

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Josh with a Type-2 Energy Weapon, more commonly known as the Gravity Hammer – a powerful, two-handed melee weapon used by the Jiralhanae in the Covenant Empire. Or so I’m told.

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A quick photo prior to our panel. From right to left, authors: Barney Saltzberg, Josh Herz, Harrison Herz, Dan Santat, Bruce Hale, and Lisa Yee. Lisa was not part of our panel, but she is legally required to be present when Dan is in public. 🙂

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I secretly brought a furry trapper hat to make a THIS IS NOT MY HAT joke. Little did I suspect that all other four male panelists would be sporting hats. From right to left: Jon Klassen (including priceless expression), Antoinette Portis, Bruce Hale, Dan Santat, Barney Saltzberg, and Henry Herz.

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Me looking all moderatory while Bruce Hale answers a question from the audience.

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Me looking like the cat that ate the canary because I’m signing books with Jon Klassen, Antoinette Portis, Barney Saltzberg, Dan Santat, and Bruce Hale.

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This is Jon Klassen, but THIS IS NOT MY HAT. I’m wearing Bruce Hale’s famous fedora!


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Interview with picture book author Tammi Sauer

Tammi Sauer was a teacher and library media specialist, but is now a full-time picture book author. She’s visited hundreds of schools and spoken at various conferences across the nation, including at Disney World! Woo-woo! She has sold 25 picture books to major publishing houses (Bloomsbury, Disney*Hyperion, HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Simon & Schuster, and Sterling).

In addition to winning awards, many of her books have gone on to do great things. For instance, MOSTLY MONSTERLY was selected for the 2012 Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories program, NUGGET AND FANG is currently featured on the Spring 2015 Scholastic Book Fair DVD which was shared with more than 50 million students, and CHICKEN DANCE was recently developed into a musical by ArtsPower National Touring Theatre and currently has 53 shows scheduled for spring 2016.

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For what age audience do you write?

I write picture books. My audience ranges from 3-103. You are never too old to enjoy a picture book.

Henry: unless you’re 104…

Tell us about your picture book, YOUR ALIEN.

YOUR ALIEN (Sterling, 8/4/15), illustrated by Goro Fujita. When a little boy meets a stranded alien child, the two instantly strike up a fabulous friendship. They go to school, explore the neighborhood, and have lots of fun. But at bedtime, something seems wrong with the alien. Can the boy figure out what his new buddy needs most of all?

So far, the book’s received wonderful reviews.

“Not since E.T. has extraterrestrial entertainment stood such a good chance of making kids (and their parents) tear up.” – Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Will likely inspire preschoolers to stare hopefully heavenward looking for their own close encounters.” – Kirkus, starred review

Henry: I very much enjoyed this book. Bonus points for doing a science fiction (one of my favorite genres) picture book! I’m working on a sci-fi PB that involves time travel.

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

I hope readers will discover that friends and family are the most important things in the universe… no matter who you are.

Henry: Aliens are people too. That’s why they like Reece’s Pieces. Just ’cause they sometimes invade earth is no reason to hold a grudge.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

When it comes to writing, my biggest challenge is coming up with a good idea. Some people can come up with 2,453 ideas before breakfast. Not me. Once I have that strong, fresh, irresistible-to-editors idea, though, the fun begins.

Henry: Hah, I am the yang to your yin in that regard. Great titles and ideas come easily, but the execution, especially the revisions, is the heavy lift for me.

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

The Mayor and Edmond City Council declared July 9, 2015 in Edmond, Oklahoma, to be Tammi Sauer Day. Woo!

Henry: Awesome. Are there pose-able action figures available? Now had that been declared by the Council of Elrond, that’d really be something…

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Getting published takes a solid understanding of the craft, some talent, and a little luck.

Henry: Plus the skin of a rhino and the patience of a sloth.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

Yes! Years ago, I found this quote by author Lynn Hazen:

“My main considerations for any picture book are humor, emotion, just the right details, read-aloud-ability, pacing, page turns, and of course, plot. Something has to happen to your characters that young readers will care about and relate to. Oh, and you have to accomplish all that in as few words as possible, while creating plenty of illustration possibilities. No easy task.”

Henry: No easy task indeed. If you’ve never tried writing a PB, you’re in for a surprise.

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

I don’t have any strange rituals, but I do enjoy having a 32oz. tropical tea next to me at all times.

Henry: So, you are against measuring tea in the metric system? Is this an indictment of the public education system?

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

My favorite is a unicorn. A unicorn would be a big hit at school visits.

Henry: Indeed. And unicorns appear in lots of KidLit, including Peter Beagle’s THE LAST UNICORN, J.K. Rowling’s HARRY POTTER series, Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s UNI THE UNICORN, and my (as yet unpublished) BEST PET IN THE CASTLE.

Tell us something about yourself that not many people know.

In 1987, I had a huge crush on Jason Bateman. I even wrote a computer program called “Bateman Fever” in my eighth grade computer class. I am still pro-Jason Bateman.

Henry: He is a talented actor, but my tastes run more toward Kate Beckinsale. Still, I’ve never written any Kate-centric software…

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

I love to read, ski, travel, spend time with family and friends, and eat out as often as possible.

Do you have any other books you’d like to mention?

GINNY LOUISE AND THE SCHOOL SHOWDOWN (Disney*Hyperion), illustrated by Lynn Munsinger, and ROAR! (Paula Wiseman/S&S), illustrated by Liz Starin.

Henry: I’m a big fan of your work. I have to tell you that I came up with this great idea for a picture book. So, I first did some research to see if there were any similar books already published. Thanks for nothing for MOSTLY MONSTERLY, Tammi! 🙂

Where can readers find your work?

My books are available on Amazon, in Barnes & Noble, and at many indies across the nation. Signed copies of my books can be found at Best of Books in Edmond, Oklahoma, or through the store’s website: bestofbooksok.com.

Henry: Thanks for taking the time to visit with us, Tammi. Take note: YOUR ALIEN sequel YOUR ALIEN RETURNS will be published on October 4, 2016. I’m told it will not feature Sigourney Weaver, facehuggers or chestbursters, sadly. For even more Tammi news, see her website at http://www.tammisauer.com. This interview can also be read at the San Diego Books Examiner.