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Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books


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Interview with author/illustrator Vanessa Brantley Newton

Vanessa Brantley Newton was born during the Civil Rights movement, and attended school in Newark, NJ. Being part of a diverse, tight-knit community during such turbulent times, Vanessa learned the importance of acceptance and empowerment in shaping a young person’s life. When she read SNOWY DAY by Ezra Jack Keats, it was the first time she saw herself in a children’s book. It was a defining moment in her life, and has made her into the artist she is today. As an illustrator, she includes children of all ethnic backgrounds in her stories and artwork. She wants all children to see their unique experiences reflected in the books they read, so they can feel the same sense of empowerment and recognition she experienced as a young reader.

For what age audience do you write?

I create for ages 3-8 for picture books and then 8-12 for middle grade.

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book is happily called, GRANDMA’S PURSE, written and illustrated by me. It’s been a while. The book is with Random House Publishing and due out in Jan 2018. All about a little girl who finds goodies in her grandmothers purse.

Henry: Grandmas are also known for hiding tissues in their sleeves.

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

Simply the love and relationship of grandchild and grandparent, and that we can find out a lot about a person from what they carry with them.

Henry: So true!

What aspect of illustrating and writing do you find most challenging?

It’s always been the sketching for me. Layout out a book is so very frustrating to me. Each time feels like the first, and I approach each book like it’s the first one. Yeah I know I’ve done it a couple of times, LOL!! I really don’t know why, but it’s a little difficult to wrap my head around it. I think that I over-think it too much, and the need to please OTHERS can really rattle me a bit.

As far as writing is concerned, I am dyslexic and it makes it really difficult to come to an empty page and fill it with words. I don’t spell very well and my vocab is very simple, if you will. Not a really deep one, LOL! I have my own way of expressing myself, and as a dyslexic person I have to do it in a way that makes sense to me first. I love to write poems and sing. Music helps me to tell my stories. I also learn through rhyme. Once I get something, it sticks and I am able to use it however I need. This is how most children with dyslexia learn. I really don’t consider myself a writer, but more of a storyteller.

Henry: And a hugger!

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

That we have to power to tell children stories that can uplift, scare, inspire, provoke empathy, cause them to see their beautiful selves, and to be creative — and that is a pretty power, but even more powerful, NEVER EVER LET ANYONE SPEAK FOR YOU!

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

Just recently, a book that was pulled by Scholastic called, A BIRTHDAY CAKE FOR GEORGE WASHINGTON. Honestly, one of the most painful experiences of my career in children’s books. No one ever wants to be censored or have their book pulled, but this is what happened, and while it was painful, there was so much that I learned from the experience. I found my own voice and my own stories. We often like to give our characters adversity, but we will have none of it in our own very real lives. The fact is, we love adversity and hard times and frustrations put on to our characters. It’s the stuff that good books are made of. But in order to give your character that kind of magic that makes your readers care and feel about the character, you have to sometimes experience your own trials and tribulations as well. How did you come through the very hard stuff? The whole debacle made me turn in and go really deep. While very painful, much like baring a child. Nobody likes the labor pains, but holding the child makes it worth the while, and that is what this book did for me. I doubt that people would have even heard of Vanessa Brantley-Newton if this didn’t take place. Truly what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger for the journey ahead. It’s time to get busy telling children of color and children period, a different type of story. Stories that give them life.

Henry: You persisted!

What advice would you offer aspiring authors and illustrators?

Hone your talent. Really be willing to stretch yourself and put yourself in a real teachable environment. Learn all that you can from watching other illustrators and reading other authors works – people that have made it. What do you love about their creative flow? Compile that information in a notebook or sketch book. Try adding it to your work. I never had the chance to meet Erza Jack Keats, but I was student of his wonderful work. I put it in front of me and tried to copy as much as I could without copying LOL! I studied his line and how he laid out his books. Still studying him today along with Mary Blair and Fiep Westendorp and a host of others. DO YOU! You bring something special to the creative table that nobody else brings! Stop comparing your beautiful self to other people! They can’t do what you do, and you can’t do what they do. We are looking to see what you are going to share with the world.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“Thoughts become things, so get busy thinking right thoughts and watch what happens.”

Henry: Nice. I like the related: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

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

I don’t know if this is a really strange ritual, but seriously music and comedy in my office and lots of dancing heightens the frequency and creative flow. Every single day. Live, Love, Laugh!

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

Oh this is one of my favorite questions ever!!!!! Okay I would like the power of Manifestation. The ability to make it so! To think about something and see it manifest before my eyes.

Henry: I’m gonna’ manifest myself some pizza and beer right now.

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

Langston Hughes because he makes me feel. Maya Angelo because she allows me to see me. Ezra Jack Keats because he’d cause me to do both.

Henry: But, I come in a close fourth, right? 🙂

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Venus because she was love and beauty.

Henry: Congratulations. You are the first author to answer that question with a goddess.

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

Sing Jazz and cook and laugh, laugh, laugh!

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Here lies a woman who loved God and loved people and they all felt it.

Henry: Anyone who meets you feels it! 🙂

Where can readers find out more about you and your work?

Vanessabrantleynewton.com

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us. I had the pleasure of meeting Vanessa. She’s a hugger!


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Interview with middle grade novelist Henry Neff

Henry H. Neff is the author and illustrator of the five-book fantasy epic THE TAPESTRY, along with his newest creation, IMPYRIUM, which Entertainment Weekly named the #1 Middle Grade Book of 2016. Henry lives with his wife and two sons in Montclair, NJ.

neffhenry

For what age audience do you write?

My books are usually classified as middle grade fantasy, but I don’t really write for a specific audience or age group. I simply try to tell a story I find entertaining and figure the audience will sort itself out. While that certainly includes 8-12 years olds, I’d say almost half my readers are teenagers and adults. My stories are categorized as fantasy because they contain magic but you’ll also find lots of history, mythology, and even science fiction. They’re a genre stew.

Henry H.: Speculative fiction goulash. A potpourri of preposterous plot particles.

Tell us about your latest book.

My most recent work is IMPYRIUM (HarperCollins, October 2016). It’s the first in a trilogy that takes place in a distant future when our world is dominated by magical humans, most notably the godlike Faeregines, whose family has ruled the empire over 3,000 years. Unfortunately for the Faeregines, the family’s magic has been fading, and their many enemies have noticed. The story has two main characters: Hazel Faeregine, who is an outcast within the royal family, and Hob Smythe, a non-magical commoner and undercover revolutionary that serves (and spies) within the palace. Some have joked that it’s Game of Thrones—for kids! In addition to writing the story, I create all the interior art and maps. It’s been a lot of fun.

Henry H.: I enjoyed reading IMPYRIUM. My brain unconsciously kept translating Faeregines as Fae peregrines. Elvish falcons!

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

First and foremost, I want them to be entertained. But I also want readers to be challenged, and to make deep and lasting connections with the characters. I rarely work in black and white, and strive to give my heroes flaws and the villains motivation beyond simply being bad guys. There are some tricky topics broached in IMPYRIUM having to do with class, opportunity, the use of power, and institutional decay. As in real life, there are no easy answers to complex questions. Everything involves a tradeoff and there is usually another side to the story.

Henry H.: If we could peek inside villains’ heads, I suspect most of them wouldn’t consider themselves villainous. I agree with you that complex villains are so much more interesting. Gollum is much more intriguing than the uniformly evil Nazgul.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

My rough drafts are painfully slow, as I suffer from a tendency to over-plan and edit while writing them. Having a roadmap is helpful, but excessive planning can smother creative spontaneity. Revising while writing kills momentum and can lead to losing sight of the forest, and instead obsessing over individual trees. If I could wave a magic wand, I’d write rougher drafts and take far less time doing so. If anyone is in possession of such a wand, please get in touch.

Henry H.: Unplug your computer mouse. You can only type. You cannot go back and edit (until the first draft is done). You’re welcome.

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

When in doubt, trust your gut — even if it’s telling you to do something that seems weird or risky. There’s no guarantee of success, but I believe this leads to better stories, a more interesting life, and fewer regrets. No one spends their final moments wishing they’d been more conventional.

Henry H.: However, one should take care not to extend this advice too far. Just because your gut says that a 300-page dystopian picture book sounds like a fun project, you should probably skip it.

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

Does having a family qualify? I reconnected with a former classmate (we attended the same elementary school) after my first book, The Hound of Rowan, was published. Danielle read it, sent a nice note, and we caught up the next time I was in New York (I was living in San Francisco at the time). A decade later we’re living happily in Montclair, NJ with our two beautiful boys. If I hadn’t left the corporate world to teach and write, I’d probably be alone with a bigger bank account and a lot less happiness.

Henry H.: Best. Answer. Ever.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Get your drafts down quickly, grow a thick skin, and truly embrace revision. Also, don’t over-romanticize the profession. This last one is important. Having talked with many aspiring authors, I’ve noticed that some believe publication is the ticket to fame and riches. I can tell you firsthand that it is not, and there are very few children’s authors that can live solely on their writing income, much less amass anything resembling wealth. If being rich and famous is your goal, there are more reliable paths than making children’s books. Write because you have stories to tell and enjoy telling them. If your book becomes a bestseller, GREAT! But don’t allow that to be your goal, much less your reason for writing.

Henry H.: All excellent advice. If I may elaborate, Henry’s thick skin comment refers to both dealing with agent/editor rejections, and unfavorable book reviews. Take solace that ALL authors get rejected. And don’t read reviews of your books. The positive ones don’t tell you anything you didn’t already know, and the negative ones are depressing.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you” from Catch-22, and “Just keep swimming” by the ever-buoyant Dory. The former appeals to the wry cynic in me; the latter to my chipper optimist. It’s the Frosted Mini-Wheats of quotation pairings.

Henry H.: “There is no such thing as paranoia. Your worst fears can come true at any moment.” – Hunter S. Thompson
“Fish are friends, not food.” – Bruce the Great White Shark

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

When I settle in to write, it’s usually with a pot of coffee, noise-cancelling headphones, and Tchaikovsky’s “Arabian Dance” on repeat. There’s something about that piece I find conducive to writing. It has a soothing, almost hypnotic quality that helps put my brain in work mode. According to iTunes it’s been played over 23,000 times, so I’d say that qualifies as a ritual. I also pay tribute to Cthulhu.

Henry H.: “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”
“In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”
Yeah, that’s soothing…

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

Forget flying. My super power would be the ability to write a rough draft in four months or less. I would weep with joy. So would my editor.

Henry H.: A modest, but practical superpower. Well played.

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

J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula LeGuin, and Philip Pullman. Tolkien because he’s the granddaddy of modern fantasy, LeGuin because she’s a marvelous writer whose penned iconic works in both fantasy and science fiction, and Pullman because I think “His Dark Materials” is not only brilliant but fearless. The dynamic would be an interesting one. I’d love to hear Tolkien spar with Pullman about whether The Lord of the Rings has merit beyond a basic children’s story (Pullman’s been highly dismissive of Tolkien’s work as anything resembling literature or even a children’s story of moderate depth). It would be fun to witness two opinionated, scholarly writers have at it. Meanwhile, I could ask Ursula how she manages to craft stories that portray both magic and daily life with such lyrical beauty and realism. I was tempted to resurrect Patrick O’Brien whose Aubrey-Maturin are my favorite books, but I’ve heard he was a superior, standoffish fellow. Sorry Patrick, you can’t come. If I could add a fourth, it would probably be Neil Gaiman. I admire his work and he seems the type to bring a good bottle or two.

Henry H.: That is one high-powered dinner soiree. But the pressure! You know they’re silently correcting your grammar.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

There’s a quotation in Impyrium attributed to a long-dead playwright that reads Keep your basilisks and harpies, your trolls and goblins. There is only one true monster and its name is Dragon. I should note, however, that the dragons I’m talking about aren’t overgrown lizards that are fodder for enterprising heroes. The dragons I’m talking about are mythological entities whose being is tied to some aspect of Nature or the cosmos. In my books, there are only a handful of dragons and they are ancient, godlike creatures whose mere presence is utterly overwhelming to mortals.

Henry H.: Dragon Is correct. Would you like to try Mythological Creatures for $400?

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

Mostly, I chase my kids around. We have two young boys, ages five and three. They keep me pretty busy. Fortunately, I enjoy Legos, frozen waffles, and toilet humor.

Henry H.: The only thing scarier than a dragon is stepping barefoot on a Lego.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

“No vacancy.”

Henry H.: Wouldn’t it be preferable if your tomb remained vacant? Just sayin’.

Where can readers find your work?

You can probably find IMPYRIUM in your local bookstore or library, along with any of the major chains or online retailers. My first series, The Tapestry, can be purchased online and found in the odd bookstore with exceptional taste. My books also have digital and audio versions and some have been translated into a variety of foreign languages. For more information, you can visit my website at http://www.henryhneff.com

Thanks for spending time with us, Henry.


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Interview with Hugo Award-winning sci-fi & fantasy author Tim Pratt

Tim Pratt’s fiction has won a Hugo Award, and he’s been a finalist for Sturgeon, Stoker, World Fantasy, Mythopoeic, and Nebula Awards, among others. His books include three short story collections, most recently ANTIQUITIES AND TANGIBLES AND OTHER STORIES; a volume of poems; contemporary fantasy novels THE STRANGE ADVENTURES OF RANGERGIRL, BRIARPATCH, HEIRS OF GRACE, and THE DEEP WOODS; science fantasy THE NEX; steampunk novel THE CONSTANTINE AFFLICTION (as T. Aaron Payton); various roleplaying game tie-in fantasy novels; and, as T.A. Pratt, eight books (and counting) in an urban fantasy series about sorcerer Marla Mason. He edited anthology SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL and co-edited RAGS AND BONES: NEW TWISTS ON TIMELESS TALES with Melissa Marr. He works as a senior editor for Locus magazine, and lives in Berkeley, CA with his wife Heather Shaw and their son River. Find him online at timpratt.org.

PrattTim

For what age audience do you write?

I have published lots of adult novels and a couple of books aimed at middle-grade readers (age 8-12, more or less).

Tell us about your latest book.

It’s called THE DEEP WOODS, a novella (or short novel, depending on how you count) out from PS Publishing, a marvelous British small press. (The cover art by Galen Dara is fantastic. She’s so good.) It’s essentially a coming-of-age tale about a boy who gets lost in a mysterious wood full of supernatural weirdness, makes friends with another boy who’s trapped there, and tries to help him escape. With lots of fairy lore, video games, hairsbreadth escapes, jokes, banter, villainy, surprises, and sweetness. Suitable for readers from age ten on up, I would think. (My hope is that kids and adults will both find lots to like in it.)

Henry: I’m a huge fan of urban fantasy. This fall, my bedtime picture book, MABEL AND THE QUEEN OF DREAMS, will be published by Schiffer. It features the Fae Queen from Mercutio’s soliloquy in ROMEO AND JULIET. It’s like urban fantasy with training wheels. I’m getting young readers hooked so they’ll read your books as they get older. You’re welcome.

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

Pleasure, combined with an uncontrollable need to convince all their friends and family to buy copies.

Henry: Nice – working both the creative and business side of things with your answer.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

I love drafting like I love eating ice cream or having sex; I love revising like I love doing logic puzzles; I love line-editing like I love perfectly organizing a bookshelf; I hate reviewing copyedits and the second round of proofreading because by then I’m getting pretty tired of my own words. They all have their own challenges, though.

Henry: I hear you. At less than 500 words, my picture books can sometimes have 20 revisions. I find the biggest challenge knowing when to stop revising.

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

The personal lesson is “I don’t know what I think about anything until I write it down.” A more universal lesson is discovering that stories are *really* important to people, and can really change the way they understand, and even live, their lives. As such, I don’t agree much with people who say “Calm down, it’s just a story.”

Henry: So true, particularly for young readers. I hear stories all the time about how books influence the path of people’s lives.

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

I guess “nice meals with lots of writers” isn’t quite what you mean. I almost drowned in a hot tub at a writing workshop once after I had some drinks without accounting for how the high elevation would impact my tolerance.

Henry: Meeting other writers is a valid answer. Sure, blame the elevation on your lightweightedness. 

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Write a lot, and read more than you write.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

There are certainly things I say when the situation warrants:

“The best way out is always through” (from Frost, though I usually misquote it as “the only way out is through.”)
“De gustibus non est disputandum.” (Latin for “there’s no arguing about taste,” basically.)
“Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

Henry: I think Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Your last one reminds me of John Bigboote from the movie Buckaroo Bonzai – “I’m not from this planet, monkey boy.” I always loved the idea that an alien would use an evolutionary slur to insult a human. And that he’d be particular about how his human alias was pronounced.

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

I am opposed to rituals. I fear they would burn cognitive paths I would have trouble escaping. I like being able to write on buses or waiting rooms or bars.

Henry: Or drunk in Jacuzzis? The cognitive path less taken.

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

The ability to stop time, because then I might finally have enough time to do everything.

Henry: That is the most popular answer to that question. Usually writers mention it as a way to help meet manuscript deadlines.

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

I get to dine with living authors fairly often, so I’ll go with the dead: Joanna Russ, Theodore Sturgeon, and William Faulkner, who all hugely influenced me in different ways.

Henry: Hello and welcome to Dining with the Dead. I’m your host, Tim Pratt. That reminds me of the old Steve Allen TV show, Meeting of the Minds. Wikipedia helpfully offers:

“Joanna Russ was an American writer, academic and feminist. She is the author of a number of works of science fiction, fantasy and feminist literary criticism such as How to Suppress Women’s Writing, as well as a contemporary novel, On Strike Against God, and one children’s book, Kittatinny. She is best known for The Female Man, a novel combining utopian fiction and satire.”

“Theodore Sturgeon, born Edward Hamilton Waldo, was an American science fiction and horror writer and critic. The Internet Speculative Fiction Database credits him with about 400 reviews and more than 200 stories. Sturgeon’s most famous work may be the science fiction novel MORE THAN HUMAN (1953). MORE THAN HUMAN won the 1954 International Fantasy Award (for SF and fantasy) as the year’s best novel and the Science Fiction Writers of America ranked “BABY IS THREE” number five among the “Greatest Science Fiction Novellas of All Time” to 1964. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame inducted Sturgeon in 2000.”

William Faulkner – Shame on you, if you haven’t heard of him.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

The fauna of mirrors, which are rooted in Chinese mythology but were made more widely known in Borges’s BOOK OF IMAGINARY BEINGS (which inspired China Mieville’s fine short novel THE TAIN).

Henry: Great answer. The mirrors remind me of the “veil” often used in urban fantasy to separate our world from the world of the Fae. Once again, Wikipedia to the rescue:

“The Chinese myth suggest that an alternate universe exists beyond mirrors. Upon entering the fauna of mirrors nothing is like the world has ever seen. No color, shape, nor size is the same. The creatures that dwell within the fauna are not like any creatures that inhabit the earth. Once the fauna was open, and creatures from both dimensions could pass through freely. There was always harmony between the both worlds, but one day that harmony was disturbed and the worlds came to be at war with one another. In turn, the portal had to be closed to avoid controversy.”

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

Work at my day job, play with my kid, hang out with my wife, drink whiskey, read books, watch horror movies, drink beer, eat cheese, wander around the Bay Area.

Henry: I’m looking you up the next time I’m in the Bay Area for an evening of whiskey, cheese and horror movies. We will stay well away from Jacuzzis.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

He Was Not Particularly Frightened By Goats

Henry: Nor Did Sheep Perturb Him… Though Pigs Vexed Him. I admire a man with realistic goals.

Where can readers find your work?

Bookstores, with luck, and all the usual places online. There are details at http://www.timpratt.org. Oh, and I have a Patreon, where I send a new story each month to supporters, so $1 a month gets you 12 stories a year: https://www.patreon.com/timpratt

Henry: Thanks for joining us, Tim! This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.


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Interview with children’s book author Margo Sorenson

Author of twenty-nine traditionally-published books for young readers, Margo Sorenson has won recognition and awards for her work, including being named a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award in YA Fiction. When she’s not mailing letters to the Adorables (the grandchildren), written by the silly bunnies who live in her yard, she writes down what she hopes are shiny new ideas on random scraps of paper, and reads, reads, reads. She lives in California with her very patient husband who doesn’t mind that she hears voices talking in her head, or that she sometimes stares vacantly into space. Her newest picture book, SPAGHETTI SMILES, taps into her childhood in Italy and her love of Italian food as well as of whimsy.

SorensonMargo

For what age audience do you write?

I write for young readers from three to eighteen, and I write all genres, but, right now, my favorite is to try to write humorous, whimsical picture books that I hope will make kids gasp and giggle—and give them hope.

Henry: I write picture books too. I love both the young age of the audience, and the challenge of telling a story in fewer than 500 words.

Tell us about your latest book.

SPAGHETTI SMILES was lots of fun to write, and I love the way the artist David Harrington took the text to the next level with his vibrant, vivid illustrations. The young hero, Jake, must find a new neighbor for his Uncle Rocco’s crazy, mixed-up Italian restaurant, but it won’t be easy! Everyone loves to eat there, but no one wants to move next door to such a wacky restaurant. When Jake discovers a new bookstore in town, he decides he has to find a way to convince the bookstore owner to be Uncle Rocco’s perfect new neighbor. It was fun to write all the “what if’s” for each different business, such as the pizzas baking in the bank vault, the gas pumps pumping tomato sauce, and lasagna being airmailed all over the world. I hope readers finish the book smiling along with Jake and Uncle Rocco.

Henry: I’ve written a picture book, NEVER FEED A YETI SPAGHETTI, on submission right now. It does NOT take place in an Italian restaurant.

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

I hope they see how they can help someone out by trying hard, that reading is fun, that a community can come together, and that to let your imagination loose can be an amazing experience.

Henry: Letting your imagination loose is fun for both readers and writers!

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

A powerful lesson I’ve learned is to be willing to change – words, characters, ideas, and, yes, myself. Sometimes—well, too often, actually—what we first write down isn’t all that wonderful (blush!). We can think of the writer’s First Commandment as: “Thou Shalt Not Fall in Love with Thine Own Words.” (Writer Ellen Kozak). Revision is key, and being open to the possibilities of change is absolutely critical. This is extremely hard to do, but it makes all the difference. This is true about many things—not only writing.

Henry: So true. We authors sometimes forget that a story aspect that is perfectly clear to us may not be clear to someone who doesn’t live inside our head.

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

If I were not a writer, I would never have been able to make an author visit at Hale Kula Elementary School, Wahiawa, HI, the Schofield Barracks elementary school, where I spoke to 200 kindergarteners and their parents, many of whom were in cammies, about ALOHA FOR CAROL ANN. Tears came to my eyes as I watched the parents and kids interact in the activity the librarian (School Library Journal Librarian of the Year Michelle Colte) had designed for them, based on my book. To think these parents, who put their lives on the line for our country, took the time to show their kids how important reading and writing are by their attendance and involvement was truly inspirational. Being a writer made that possible.

Henry: Nice. I just created my first study guide, based on mythology, for MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Listen, read, read, read, and be willing to change!

Henry: A lion is the product of all the zebras it eats, and readers are the product of all the books they read.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

For writing:
E.L. Doctorow: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
William Faulkner: “It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”
Virginia Hamilton: “Writing is what you know, what you remember, and what you imagine.”

For life:
Writer Anne LaMott: “Earth is Forgiveness School”
Hanlon’s Razor: “Never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by stupidity.”
William Boswell, Washington Post sportswriter: “There is no substitute for excellence, not even success.
Anonymous: “You will not be asked to bear tomorrow’s burdens with today’s grace.”

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

No; actually, I think writing itself is a strange ritual! We’re pulling words out of the air, listening to people talk in our heads, and imagining things happening that no one else can see.

Henry: I have a novelist friend who says authors form a Liar’s Club. We are paid to make stuff up.

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

I would like to have William Shakespeare, Hillary Mantel, and Harper Lee over for dinner, but it would need to be take-out food brought in, because I would be too nervous to cook a decent meal. Their writing is electric and has changed our perceptions of people and of the world as we think we know it. They all have a keen wit, a sense of perspective, and mind-boggling insights into the human condition. I’d just listen in to their jaw-dropping conversation and take notes like crazy.

Henry: So, pizza and beer?

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

I love to read, try to play golf, watch baseball with my husband (go Angels!), visit our grandchildren (the Adorables), and try to be present in the moment.

Henry: Clearly THE ADORABLES is a book waiting to be written.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

I won’t have a tombstone; my ashes will be sprinkled at the library. No, I’m kidding. Seriously, probably “Loving Wife, Mom, and Grandma.” That’s how I would like to be remembered.

Where can readers find your work?

Visiting my website http://www.margosorenson.com will give readers all sorts of links for ordering my books from all the major internet outlets as well as directly from the publishers and on Kindle and Nook for some of them. Brick-and-mortar stores will be happy to order them in, also. I’m always happy to sign bookplates that can be put into the books, as it says on my website, and I enjoy hearing from readers through their parents or teachers.

Henry: Thank you for coming out to play! This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.


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Interview with children’s literature author Judy Cox

Judy Cox is the author of twenty-six books for children, and more than thirty short stories. Her books have been honored with awards such as the Nevada Young Readers Award, Children’s Choices, TIME magazine Best Children’s Books of 2005 and 2009, and the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe award. THE SECRET CHICKEN SOCIETY has been nominated for Young Readers Awards in five states. Judy plays the ukulele for fun and lives in Grants Pass, Oregon with her husband. You can read more about her and her books on her website at http://www.judycox.net.

CoxJudy

For what age audience do you write?

I write picture books for ages 4—8; early chapter books for ages 6—9; and midgrade fiction for ages 8—12.

Tell us about your latest book.

My most recent book is UKULELE HAYLEY. It’s a chapter book for ages 6—9 about a girl who find her talent when she learns to play the ukulele, and ends up saving the school’s music program.

Henry: Until recently, the ukulele only conjured images of Tiny Tim tiptoeing through the tulips. Then, I saw a TV show about the amazing Jake Shimabukuro. I see the ukulele in a whole new light now.

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

I hope readers will gain a sense of empowerment. Learning something new—whether it’s riding a two-wheeled bike, programming a robot, or playing a musical instrument—is empowering.

Henry: Now, if you can learn to play the ukulele WHILE riding a two-wheeled bike, that would really be something!

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Plotting is definitely a challenge for me. Character and dialogue are easier. Fortunately, my husband is a good listener and helps me think up “what comes next” in a story.

Henry: Didn’t we learn from the Seinfeld TV show that dialog trumps plot?

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

Everyone has many stories. A good writer is also a good listener.

Henry: Yes, we must be open at all times. There’s no telling when the Muse will strike.

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

I was invited to represent the state of Oregon at the National Book Festival in Washington, D. C. My husband and I flew to Washington, and then took the train home to Oregon, clear across the United States. It was an honor to be invited and the trip was amazing!

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Persistence is a key to success. Keep reading, keep writing. Keep improving your craft and don’t get discouraged by rejection.

Henry: Exactly. There’s no way to get published once you quit.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”  Thomas Edison
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Albert Einstein

Henry: And thus we get the Rock-Paper-Scissors relationship: Hard Work > Imagination > Knowledge

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

I actually do have a superpower. I’m Apostrophe Woman. I can tell when and where to use apostrophes, a sadly diminishing skill.

Henry: I can be your sidekick… Ellipsis Man

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

I’d love to have Emily Dickinson over for chicken and dumplings, but I’ll bet she wouldn’t come. Instead, I’d invite J. K. Rowling, Mark Twain, and Edgar Allen Poe. They might have a lot to say to each other!

Henry: Why the chicken and dumplings?

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

I know it’s a cliché, but I love unicorns. The whole magical horse-with-a-horn thing gets me every time.

Henry: I thought unicorns were real…

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

I play bass guitar. I’ve been in bands that have played Top 40, Country, Western Swing, Blues, Rockabilly, 50’s and 60’s Rock n’ Roll, and Celtic music. I have eclectic musical tastes. Currently, I play in a 70’s Rock band, and a jazz trio. I also play the ukulele and the bass ukulele. I love playing swing and Tin Pan Alley songs on the ukulele.

Henry: With bass guitar and ukulele, you are really covering the full range of stringed instruments!

Where can readers find your work?

My books can be ordered from local bookstores, as well as online chains.

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


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Interview with middle grade and picture book author Bruce Coville

Bruce Coville is the author of over a hundred books for children and young adults. Though he is mostly known for quirky science fiction and fantasy novels for middle grade readers – books such as MY TEACHER IS AN ALIEN and JEREMY THATCHER, DRAGON HATCHER – he has also written picture books, early chapter books, and young adult novels. In addition, he is the founder of Full Cast Audio, an audiobook company devoted to creating unabridged recordings of great children’s books using multiple readers.

CovilleBruce

For what age audience do you write?

In terms of age, I think I’ve covered about as wide a range as is possible, having written everything from picture books to early chapter books to middle grade novels to YA to one adult novel – and having been editor and lead writer for a magazine for retired people! That said, much the greatest portion of my work has been for the 8 – 12 age group, with most of the books being either fantasy or science fiction.

Henry: I love fantasy and science fiction, ever since reading WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE in elementary school. You know, you could further broaden your range by writing a story for the prenatal… 

Tell us about your latest book.

Through an odd confluence of what I call “calendar gravity” and the general strangeness of publishing, I have two “latest” books, published within two weeks of each other.

The first is GOBLINS ON THE PROWL (Simon & Schuster) which is a sequel to GOBLINS IN THE CASTLE, a book I published back in (ulp) 1992. Fortunately, that first one wasn’t a cliffhanger! The thing is, I loved the characters in that book, and always wanted to go back to them . . . most especially Igor, who is based on my “half-mad twin brother, who lives in the cellar beneath the cellar beneath the cellar in my house.”

At least, that’s what I used to tell my classes back when I was an elementary school teacher. Igor always showed up at the school for our Halloween party, leaping atop a desk and bopping all the kids on the head with his teddy bear. To my great delight, the first goblins book has been constantly in print for nearly a quarter of a century now, and I often hear from teachers that it is one of their essential read-alouds. That particularly pleases me, because I was reading it aloud to my own students back when I was writing the first version of it.

The second new book is called THE DIARY OF A MAD BROWNIE and it was a hoot to write. I spun it off from a short story called “Clean As a Whistle” that I wrote about twenty years ago. The main characters are a somewhat OCD brownie named Angus Cairns, who has a mania for tidiness, and the girl he is assigned to, a dedicated slob named Alex Carhart. It’s sort of like “The Odd Couple” with a 150 year old, foot-high magical creature as Felix, and a 12 year old girl as Oscar.

Aside from their prickly relationship, it turns out that Angus comes with a curse attached, one that afflicts all the males of a family. I don’t want to reveal the details of the curse here, so I will only say that the gods of comedy were smiling on me when I did my research for this one!

Henry: I’ve read THE DIARY OF A MAD BROWNIE, and it’s delightful. I’m hoping Angus will become friends with my upcoming picture book protagonist from WHEN YOU GIVE AN IMP A PENNY.

What do you hope readers will get from reading these books?

Delight. Pleasure. Joy.

Seriously, I don’t write to instruct. I write to tell a story. The thing is, I think if you are any kind of a human being, then what you believe and what you value will rise in the telling, coming from the story itself.

First and foremost I think of myself as an entertainer. I hope that I have, to quote Noel Coward, “a talent to amuse.”

Henry: I often amuse others, sometimes intentionally.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

What surprised and dismayed me as I went along was the discovery that it doesn’t get easier. You would think that after 38 years and 105 books I would have a handle on this. But each book is its own adventure. And since you want to keep improving, you’re constantly raising your own bar, trying to top yourself. That doesn’t always happen, of course . . . it’s not one long upward march to glory.

Henry: Hey, I’m at the beginning of my writing career (I have one traditionally published book out, and two more under contract). Are you trying to be discouraging? 🙂

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

It is something that I believed even before I was able to publish, but that has been reinforced over and over again since then, and that is the profound effect your work can have on children, and therefore on the world.

I began working for children in part because it was the most radical thing I could think of to do. The main social currency in this culture is power. However, because we are also a short-term culture, people who work with and for children (the powerless) are often treated with disdain. But if you truly want to have an impact in the world, working with kids is the best way to do it.

I have a folder called “To Look at on Bad Days” and in it are a collection of the most wonderful letters, letters from adults telling me about the impact my books and stories had on their lives. “I joined the Peace Corps because of you.” “You redeemed my childhood.” “I was abused and found a safe place to escape in your books.”

What more could a person ask for?

Henry: A “To Look at on Bad Days” folder is a fantastic idea!

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

For me, the truly unexpected aspect of writing has been the development of my side career as a speaker, which has taken me all over the world.

In choosing to be a writer, I expected to spend most of my work life hunkered down in my room, pounding away at the keyboard in isolation. And, indeed, that is a big part of my life. But I have also been blessed with the chance to travel the world, speaking in schools from Albany to Sacramento, from Brazil to Bangladesh.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

The first and most important piece is a slight paraphrase of a speech from Winston Churchill: “Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.”

I went to school with people who were better writers than I was. but who will never be published because they gave up. When I am asked the secret of my success, my first answer is always “Bone-headed obstinance.” I’m just too dumb to give up.

Henry: I’m relieved you said “obstinance” and not “abstinence”. Churchill also said, “When you’re going through Hell, keep on going!”

That’s a nice segue to our next question. Do you have any favorite quotes? 

I have a wall full of them! Seriously, I copy things out on index cards and tape them to the hutch above my desk to help keep me on track. I think of all the quotes there, the one that is most important is the one given to me by a friend when I was floundering around trying to make JEREMY THATCHER, DRAGON HATCHER work. My friend was a storyteller, and the quote came from a teacher she was working with, four simple words that I think every writer needs to remember: “Just tell the story.”

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

Coffee! All right, I suppose that’s not that strange, and only slightly a ritual. But it’s as close as I have to an answer for this.

Henry: Coffee is more of a universal right than a ritual.

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

To get stuff right the first time! It would save me so much time and agony! (Not to mention paper!)

Henry: That’s a unique answer. I’m not sure what perfection in an art form looks like, since each agent, editor, and reader can have a different take on the same work.

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

Charles Dickens, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and J.R.R. Tolkien. Wow. I’m not sure how that would work out as a dinner party, but at various times in my life those were my favorite writers.

It was Burroughs, I think, who set me on the path with his JOHN CARTER OF MARS books. He was a terrible writer, actually, but a magnificent world builder and storyteller.

Then came Tolkien, who opened up new possibilities for me.

Dickens I came to later – it took about thirty years for me to recover from having him force fed to me in high school.

Hmmm. I just realized I might have to shuffle the cards and draw three, because I would also want to have the late and much-mourned Sir Terry Pratchett in that mix. His combination of hilarity and humanity is a model I can only aspire to.

Henry: I’m a Tolkien fanatic, and who could argue with Dickens. I reread JOHN CARTER OF MARS books as an adult, and found they’d lost their charm for me. So, I’m with you on Terry Pratchett.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

The unicorn, of course! Did you expect any other answer from the guy who wrote THE UNICORN CHRONICLES?

Henry: Ummm, also the guy who wrote THE DIARY OF A MAD BROWNIE?

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

I love to read, and wish I had more time to do it! I also love going to the theater, especially musicals. I think the world would be a better place if more people would burst into song on a regular basis.

Henry: You clearly haven’t heard me sing…

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

“He made a lot of children happy.”

Henry: Achievement unlocked.

Where can readers find your work?

In good bookstores everywhere! (Seriously, if a bookstore doesn’t have my books, then I don’t consider it a good bookstore. Of course, that’s kind of a personal judgment call.) The big online sites also carry them, of course. And if someone wants a personalized book they can order from my website called, oddly enough, www.brucecoville.com

Henry: I did not see that coming.

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


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Interview with middle grade A SNICKER OF MAGIC author Natalie Lloyd

Natalie Lloyd lives, writes and daydreams in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Her first novel, A Snicker of Magic, was released by Scholastic in February. She listens to bluegrass music, collects old books, and likes exploring quirky mountain towns with her dog, Biscuit.

LloydNatalie

For what age audience do you write?

I’m most excited when young readers connect with the book. I like writing tween characters because they’re still brave enough to wear their hearts on their sleeve. They’re imaginative, curious and hopeful. And I vividly remember how I felt in middle school – awkward, brave, hopeful, self-conscious, curious and afraid- all at once. All of those feelings still tumble together inside me, but they felt much more intense in middle school. As far as genre, I love writing magical realism. I used to think I would write fantasy, and I might do some of that eventually. But I have the most fun writing about the magic a character can find in an ordinary day.

Tell us about your book.

A Snicker of Magic is the story of 12 year old Felicity Pickle, who has moved all over the South with her dog, her sister, and her road-loving mother. The Pickles move back to their mama’s hometown, a quirky little spot in Tennessee called Midnight Gulch. Felicity soon learns Midnight Gulch is famous (or infamous, maybe) because it used to be a magical place, and people who lived there had magic in their veins…until a curse drove the magic away. When Felicity discovers the curse is linked to her own family’s misfortune, she sets out to break the curse, bring back the magic, and find a permanent home for her wandering heart.

Henry: I’d think twice about moving to a town named Midnight Gulch.

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

If a reader enjoys reading the story, that’s an incredible thing for a writer to hear. Readers have shared different ways they connected with the story, and I’m always bowled over. One of my favorites is when readers decide to “Be the Beedle.” There’s an anonymous do-gooder in Midnight Gulch, a mysterious character called The Beedle, who has been doing kind things all over town for years. Some readers have decided to be the Beedle in their classrooms and communities, and that makes my heart spin.

Henry: Not to be confused with Dan Santat’s Beekle.

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

I think most writers do their best writing when they’re brave enough to wear their hearts on their sleeves. That can make other parts of this process painful. But having an openness to the world, and especially a sensitivity to people, makes for better writing and a better life. Even when you’re doing what you love, I think dark days can make you feel pretty low. But the joy I get from writing, and from connecting with readers who’ve loved the book, make all the tough days worth it.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

I would echo Dori from Finding Nemo and say, “Keep on swimming!” Keep writing. Keep reading. Keep going.

Henry: “Fish gotta’ swim. Bird gotta’ eat.” Yes, persistence and a thick skin.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well have not lived at all. In which case, you fail by default.” – JK Rowling

Henry: “Who Dares, Wins” – British Special Air Service

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

I think I write best when my dog, Biscuit, is close beside me. She actually helped me finish A Snicker of Magic in a really sweet way. Sometimes I get so excited about new ideas, that I abandon stories midway through. But I knew if I could picture Biscuit scampering through the scenes, I would keep going—so I wrote her into the story. It worked!

Henry: Biscuit is your spirit animal. Does she get a portion of the royalties?

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

I would be able to find homes for every stray and shelter-animal. I don’t know what kind of powers I would need for that to happen. But I think everybody is an animal-lover once they find the right animal.

Henry: A unique and lovely response.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Definitely Aslan, from C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. The first time I felt book magic, it was because of that series. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe helped me through some tough moments when I was little. Even though the book was fictional, the courage I found in the pages was real.

Henry: Ah, now that was a lion’s lion.

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

I love to travel! I like to explore old antique stores, because I feel like stories are hiding in every book and nook and shelf. I like snuggling with my dog and watching movies, reading, spending time with my friends, and hanging out with my family.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

My next story is set (mostly) in an old cemetery, so I’ve been paying special attention to stones and epitaphs lately. One of the sweetest I’ve seen was on the grave of a child: She went about doing good. I think that’s an amazing way to be remembered. I think I would want something like this:

She loved, bravely.

Henry: And wrote with her heart on her sleeve.

Where can readers find your work?

A Snicker of Magic is available in print and audio in bookstores and online.

I’m on twitter, where I frequently share pictures of my awesome dog: @_natalielloyd. My Facebook is: Facebook.com/NatalieLloydAuthor and my website is www.natalielloyd.com.

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