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My Excellent Adventure at the Big Sur Children’s Writing Workshop

I just got back from having an exhilarating time at the Big Sur Children’s Writing Workshop. The stunning scenery was matched by the accomplished faculty. Below are some images from my excellent adventure.

bigsur

The Big Sur Lodge, where we enjoyed wine, delicious food, and more wine. Did I mention the wine?

turkeys

For reasons I don’t fathom, there were big turkeys on the grounds. No turkeys were harmed in the aforementioned delicious food we were served.

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The Big Sur Lodge is nestled on a hillside covered with vegetation, most notable some enormous redwood trees.

forkgrowth

In a scene that could have been taken from Avatar, I saw a fallen tree, clearly long dead, from which green growth sprouted. In the above picture, tiny plants sprout from the leaves and debris that have accumulated in the fork of a tree trunk. I half-expected to see little pixies darting in and out.

redwoods2

A gentle stream added its watery notes to the scenery.

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Majestic tree-clad hills overlook the lodge.

moss

Moss on a log.

bigredwood

A mighty redwood is not impressed by my six-foot wingspan. I’m pretty sure there are some Wood Elves living in that tree.

authors

The distinguished faculty included (from l to r): Andrea Brown of Andrea Brown Literary Agency (ABLA) and New York Times bestselling authors Catherine Ryan Hide and Neil Schusterman.

agents

The immensely talented agents at ABLA (from l to r): Jennifer Matson, Jennifer Laughran, Caryn Wiseman, Andrea Brown, Laura Rennert, Jen Rofe, Jamie Weiss Chilton, and Lara Perkins.


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Interview with fantasy SPLINTERED series YA author Anita Howard

Anita Grace Howard is the author of the Splintered series. The first book, Splintered, captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers–precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now. When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.

HowardAnita

Anita lives in the Texas panhandle, and is most at home weaving the melancholy and macabre into settings and scenes, twisting the expected into the unexpected. She’s inspired by all things flawed, utilizing the complex loveliness of human conditions and raw emotions to give her characters life, then turning their world upside down so the reader’s blood will race.

Married and mother of two teens (as well as surrogate mom to two Labrador retrievers), Anita divides her days between spending time with her family and plodding along or plotting on her next book.

When she’s not writing, Anita enjoys rollerblading, biking, snow skiing, gardening, and family vacations that at any given time might include an impromptu side trip to an 18th century graveyard or a condemned schoolhouse for photo ops.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Finding time to do it. I’m a mother and a wife, and along with social media, traveling events, and interviews/emails to answer, it’s hard to shut out the world and just write. Before I was published, the hardest part was believing in myself. But now that I have readers who like the stories/characters, a publisher, and a blossoming career, even though it’s validating, it raises a whole new world of challenges.

Henry: There’s always another mountain to scale.

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

I would have the power to clone myself. As to why, see my answer to question #1. 😉

Henry: That is the most popular answer, along with slowing time, of my author interviewees.

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

  1. Charlotte Bronte, because she introduced me to gothic romance in the gorgeous and heart-wrenching tale of Jane Eyre.
  2. E.B. White, for giving me my first experience with a selfless character in Charlotte’s Web. Also, when Charlotte died, my love for the bittersweet ending was born.
  3. Christina Rossetti, who via Goblin Market, ignited my passion for imagery and sensory through beautiful and seductive prose.

Henry: What? Charlotte the spider dies!? Spoiler Alert next time!

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Unicorns. But I don’t envision them as easily-fettered creatures whose bones are fine and breakable like birds. In my mind, they have the size and musculature of Clydesdales. They’re large and powerful, yet quiet and wise. Introverted but observant. If necessary, they can be vicious, although to the pure of heart, they’re gentle and kind. They’re a study of contradictions, as all the best mythological beasts are. Obviously, I hope to write about these creatures one day. 🙂

Henry: I appreciate your sentiment, although I feel like unicorns have become a little clichéd, like vampires. I wrote a picture book that features several fantasy creatures auditioning to become a boy’s pet. The unicorn clumsily punctures the boy’s football and soccer ball.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Actually, it’s an epiphany that came to me when I left my first agent, and saved me during my stages of editing the Splintered series.  (This can also apply to unpublished writers, too, via critiquer and agent feedback). If a writer is serious about getting published, they have to be flexible without compromising. I know that sounds contradictory, but there is a way to do it … a formula: Know the difference between pride and vision. If people are telling you to change something in your book that you love, stand back and ask yourself why you love it. Is it personal to you? Something that other people, including your readers one day, are likely not to connect with? Or is it something integral to the characters in your story. Something that’s a part of them? That’s the difference between pride and vision. Pride applies to the glory it brings you. Vision applies to the glory it brings your characters. Never make changes that will compromise your character(s) or their arc, which ultimately IS your book’s vision. But be humble enough to let go of pride and make a change if it will still be true to your character while making your book a more solid read.

Henry: A terrific piece of advice. It reminds me of the well-known “murder your darlings” from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, to wit:

“To begin with, let me plead that you have been told of one or two things which Style is not; which have little or nothing to do with Style, though sometimes vulgarly mistaken for it. Style, for example, is not–can never be–extraneous Ornament. You remember, may be, the Persian lover whom I quoted to you out of Newman: how to convey his passion he sought a professional letter-writer and purchased a vocabulary charged with ornament, wherewith to attract the fair one as with a basket of jewels. Well, in this extraneous, professional, purchased ornamentation, you have something which Style is not: and if you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it–wholeheartedly–and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”

Anita offers more advice for writers/authors on her website and in this guest post.

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

Click to Tweet: Interview with fantasy SPLINTERED series YA author Anita Howard at http://wp.me/p31Xf4-L1 via @Nimpentoad


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Interview with literary agent Kathleen Rushall

Kathleen Rushall is a agent with the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. She represents writers for all age groups of children’s literature, including picture books (fiction and non-fiction), middle grade, and young adult novels. Kathleen also represents new adult, women’s fiction, and romance projects.

RushallKathleen

What types of books especially interest you?

First of all—thanks so much for having me on your blog! I’m excited about this interview and really appreciate the opportunity.

I represent children’s literature across all age groups: picture books, middle grade, and young adult.

I’m most interested in books that make me feel something. Whether it’s heart wrenching or something so funny that it makes me chuckle even when I think back on certain passages.

Books make me feel when I care about the characters. I’m especially interested in books with a strong voice, with characters you wish would crawl out of the pages and live in your world (although this doesn’t have to come across as creepy as I’m describing it here…).

In short, I could love a book if it takes place on the western prairie in 1850 or on a space shuttle in the future as long as I care about the characters.

I represent both commercial and literary novels, but character development and voice are always key.

Henry: Note to self: write a picture book about a space shuttle landing in a 1850 Kansas prairie.

How did you become a literary agent?

I found my first internship at the Sandra Dijkstra Agency while I was working on my master’s in children’s literature. That internship hooked me.

Previous to that I wasn’t familiar with what an agent did. Finding out what role an agent plays in the publishing process was thrilling. I admired the merge of the business side with the creative, and knew I wanted to become an advocate for new voices.

From there I went on to work as an assistant (and wear many hats) at another agency, Waterside Productions, and years later I was able to begin taking on my own projects. I joined Marsal Lyon Literary Agency in 2011.

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

If a bucket of coffee and two big dogs under you desk count, then yes.

Henry: Sounds good to me. Just don’t let anyone challenge you to dump the bucket of coffee on your head. Even to raise funds for ALS.

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

Literary Osmosis. For ALL the reasons.

Henry: A nice twist on the more commonly phrased answer, the ability to stop time.

What advice would you offer to writers hoping to become traditionally published?

Read everything you can get your hands on in the genre that you write. Be an avid reader and know your audience and your market as well as your craft.

Remember that as hard as it is to work through, rejection is a natural part of the process. Every book on shelves today has been rejected at some point. Sometimes it’s nice to remember that everyone’s been through it.

This business is subjective. Every agent has turned down a project because it didn’t feel like the right fit for her or him, but many of those “rejections” do go on to sell, and sell well. Remember that a rejection doesn’t necessarily mean the agent didn’t think the project is in good enough shape or isn’t right for the market. We reject simply because it might not be right for us. Those two reasons are not mutually exclusive.

You may have received a rejection and begin to doubt yourself but you actually have an amazing project on your hands. It’s simply still on its way to finding the right agent or editor—This is a subjective business built on opinion and taste and vision. Just because one agent might not have the right eye for your book doesn’t mean another won’t. Keep in mind that it only takes one “yes”. In short, don’t give up.

Henry: Great advice. Remember, a lion is the product of all the zebras it’s eaten. And many great books were repeatedly rejected. Drew Daywalt told me that his agent took six years to sell the New York Times bestselling picture book, THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT.

Do you read for pleasure, or does reading submissions wear out your reading muscle?

I do! I sometimes don’t know how I have the time to, but I do read and I think it’s very important to read for pleasure. I need to know what’s on shelves and what’s working in the current market. Also, I entered this profession because of my love for reading, so it wouldn’t make sense to me to pursue agenting if I sacrificed the original passion that led me here.

I read a variety of books for fun: from middle grade and YA to romance, new adult, and women’s fiction. I particularly love historical women’s fiction and have recently read some really great YA.

I just finished FAKING NORMAL by Courtney Stevens and enjoyed the voice and larger-than-life supportive relationship in that one. I absolutely loved THE WINNER’S CURSE by Marie Rutkoski. I savored the writing and admired that it portrayed a cunning calculating heroine with her own moral code vs. society’s. (Actually, it put me in mind of Lyra from the HIS DARK MATERIALS books, which are also some of my favorites).

ELEANOR AND PARK by Rainbow Rowell might be my favorite book I’ve read in the last year (I don’t care what anyone says, that one will always have my heart over FANGIRL, although that’s also amazing). SEX AND VIOLENCE by Carrie Mesrobian was incredible with a killer voice. ROSE UNDER FIRE by Elizabeth Wein really got to me—that is a powerful book.

For the younger set, I recently read and loved SPARKY! By Jenny Offill (I am a sucker for sloths…who isn’t?), FLORA & ULYSSES by Kate DiCamillo, and UNDER THE EGG by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (Ah, the sly humor in this one makes it!).

Henry: No one can resist sloths. I wrote an easy reader about a mechanically inclined sloth, Twignibble, who travels the world helping his endangered animal friends. 

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

George R. R. Martin, Francesca Lia Block, and Maurice Sendak.

Henry: Most people know Martin (GAME OF THRONES) and Sendak (WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE). Wikipedia helpfully offers the following:

“Francesca Lia Block is an American writer of adult and young-adult literature: fiction, short stories, screenplays and poetry. She is known best for the WEETZIE BAT series — named after its first installment and her first novel, which she wrote while a UC Berkeley student. She is known for her use of imagery, especially in describing the city of Los Angeles. One New York Times Book Review critic said, “Block writes about the real Los Angeles better than anyone since Raymond Chandler.” She won the Margaret Edwards Award from the American Library Association in 2005 for her contribution in writing for teens.”

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Other than Martin’s version of a Direwolf (which, let’s be honest, I pretend my dogs are anyway), I adore the way dragons are portrayed in Susan Fletcher’s DRAGON CHRONICLES. I’d love to meet one of those little guys (preferably as a hatchling).

Henry: One of my favorite fictional dogs is Oberon, the Irish Wolfhound from Kevin Hearne’s IRON DRUID series. But remember Tolkien’s advice, “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.”

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

Travel, eat, yoga, and spend time with animals and people who make me laugh.

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

Click to Tweet: Interview with literary agent Kathleen Rushall at http://wp.me/p31Xf4-KU via @Nimpentoad


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

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

BrimnerLarry

For what age audience do you write?

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

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

Tell us about your latest book.

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

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

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

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

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

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry: You’re white!?

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

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

Do you have any favorite quotes? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry: A lovely, selfless wish.

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

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

Henry: That would be one lively dinner.

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

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

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

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

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

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

Where can readers find your work?

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

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

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


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Interview with children’s book illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Debbie Ridpath Ohi writes and illustrates books for young people. Her first picture book that she is writing and illustrating, WHERE ARE MY BOOKS?, debuts from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in Summer 2015.

Debbie’s illustrations appear in NAKED! (2014) and I’M BORED (2012), both picture books written by Michael Ian Black and published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. I’M BORED was selected by The New York Times for its list of Notable Children’s Books.

RidpathDebbie

For what age audience do you write and illustrate?

I write and illustrate books for pre-K up through middle grade. My current focus is on fiction, but I also have some nonfiction ideas. So many books I want to write and draw, and not enough time!

Henry: Ridpath Ohi’s corollary to Murphy’s Law: illustrations will expand to fill the time available.

Tell us about your latest books.

NAKED! is a new picture book written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by me. It’s a story about a little boy who doesn’t want to put his clothes on after his bath, and starts running around the house in the buff. I laughed out loud when my editor sent me Michael’s story…so much fun! I also enjoyed illustrating I’m Bored, Michael’s previous picture book.

Also just out: Judy Blume classics reissued by Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, with my illustrations on the covers of the middle grade editions: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Deenie, Then Again, Maybe I Won’t, Blubber, Iggie’s House, Starring Sally J. Freeman As Herself and It’s Not The End Of The World. I also did the interior illustrations as well as cover illustrations for Freckle Juice, The One In The Middle Is The Green Kangaroo, and The Pain And The Great One.

My most recent book projects, though, are WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? and SEA-MONKEY AND BOB. WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? is the first picture book I’ll be both writing and illustrating, and comes out from Simon & Schuster in Summer 2015. SEA-MONKEY AND BOB is written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by yours truly, and comes out from the same publisher in Fall 2015.

What do you hope readers will get from reading NAKED?

I’m hoping that NAKED! will make for some fun read-aloud experiences, especially at bedtime. The focus isn’t so much on his nudity but on the little boy’s innocent delight in his freedom au naturel, how much FUN he’s having as he’s racing around the house, and the chase-to-cuddle interactions between him and his Mom.

Henry: You know some parents are going to be dealing with streaking kids, and you’ll have to answer to them.

What aspect of illustrating picture books do you find most challenging?

It varies from book to book. In NAKED!, it was drawing the boy sans clothes throughout most of the book but also keeping the illustrations appropriate for a young audience. No private boy bits! I admit to panicking a bit at first but then decided to throw myself into enjoying the challenge. It ended up being way more fun than I had expected.

Henry: No private boy bits. ‘Nuff said.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a children’s book illustrator?

How much work goes into creating a picture book, and how collaborative that work can be. So many people think it’s easy to write and illustrate a picture book. Now that I’ve done both, I can dismiss both those myths. To clarify: it’s easy to write and illustrate a picture book. Writing and illustrating a GOOD picture book, however, is entirely a different animal. I feel very lucky to have such great editor (Justin Chanda) and art directors (Laurent Linn, Lauren Rille) on these recent projects; I love the creative collaboration and learn so much.

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

Having Judy Blume tweet me! (see https://twitter.com/judyblume/status/434101492858224640)

Henry: A true fangirl moment for you.

What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?

Draw something for fun every day. Doodle, experiment, push yourself to try new subjects and new media. Don’t get obsessed with technical perfection.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

Here’s one of my favorites from Judy Blume: “Determination and hard work are as important as talent. Don’t let anyone discourage you!”

Henry: Nice. I also like: “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 illustrate?

If I’m at an early stage in the creative process, I prefer silence. If I’m doing something more repetitive (like finessing line work, etc.), I’ll have an audiobook or Italian progrock playing, or DVDs playing on the other monitor for the audio soundtrack.

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

Flying. Who hasn’t always wanted to fly?

Henry: No one, that’s who.

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

Reading, playing board games, writing and making music.

Where can readers find your work?

You can find out more about me and my work at DebbieOhi.com and on Twitter at @inkyelbows.

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

Click to Tweet: Interview with children’s book illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi at http://wp.me/p31Xf4-Ic via @Nimpentoad


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Interview with Timothy Power, author of THE BOY WHO HOWLED

Timothy Power has written THE BOY WHO HOWLED, a middle-grade novel recommended for ages 8 and above. It is a humorous, contemporary story dealing with family and fitting in.

PowerTimothy

Tell us about your latest book.

In THE BOY WHO HOWLED, a little boy named Callum is accidentally left in the woods after a family camping trip. (His parents are extremely upset by it.) He is adopted by a pack of Timber wolves and raised by the rules of the Wild, but when he grows large enough to threaten the Alpha male, the pack kicks him out and he must travel to the city in search of his true family. It is a fantastical, funny, and occasionally touching tale. Not for the serious-minded! The book was published by Bloomsbury USA in hardback in 2010 and came out in paperback in 2013.

Henry: Not for the serious-minded? I’m your man! Kind of like a mash-up of Home Alone and The Grey?

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

I hope readers enjoy many laughs and experience some excitement and suspense as Callum, the “wolf boy,” faces unexpected challenges along the way to rediscovering his human pack in THE BOY WHO HOWLED.

Henry: It is also to be hoped that parents will learn to be more careful when taking their kids camping. Always do a head count before leaving. Always.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

For me, writing is mainly problem solving, trying to make sense of a jumble of words by setting them in the proper order without using too many or too few. It is most challenging when the proper order is not readily apparent, which happens all too often!

Henry: I’m reminded of the scene in Amadeus when the Emperor critizes Mozart’s piece as having “too many notes”.

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

The most powerful lesson I’ve learned from being a writer is patience. For me, nothing good comes from rushing to make sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. Perhaps I am a little dense, for I have to sit with them awhile, long enough for light to dawn and the meaning to come through.

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

Receiving fan letters from young (and old!) readers who have come across THE BOY WHO HOWLED in libraries around the world has been my most memorable experience as a published author.

Henry: What about the paparazzi crashing your nights on the town?

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

My advice to aspiring authors would be to remember that the writing process—and the publishing one—is more akin to a marathon than a sprint. You mustn’t expend too much energy at the start, because the course is long.

Henry: So true. For more on this, read Einstein’s theory on time dilation.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

I can’t remember the actual quotes, but my favorite observation about writing comes from author Gertrude Stein, who said something about avoiding sentences that “leak.” She was an obscure writer at the best of times, but I think she meant a writer should strive to keep the energy in her writing by cutting out extraneous words. Verbosity tends to be leaky, and you really want the sense of the writing to stay afloat.

Henry: Ah, a nautical metaphor. This from a women who said, “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” Leaky!

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

I tend to seek out every distraction possible when writing. Surfing the Internet is not a strange ritual per se, but it brings surprises sometimes!

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

If I could have one superpower, I would choose to fly, in order to soar above the troubles of the world.

Henry: Flying would also save you fighting airport congestion 

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

If I could have three authors over for dinner, I would invite Mark Twain, E. M. Forster, and Louise Fitzhugh. If all went well, Mark Twain would make me laugh, E. M. Forster—author of A ROOM WITH A VIEW, whose motto was “only connect”—would offer me writerly advice, and Louise Fitzhugh would tell me about the inspiration behind Harriet the Spy, one of my all-time favorite kids’-book characters.

Henry: Wikipedia helpfully offers:

“Edward Morgan Forster was an English novelist, short story writer, essayist and librettist. He is known best for his ironic and well-plotted novels examining class difference and hypocrisy in early 20th-century British society. Forster’s humanistic impulse toward understanding and sympathy may be aptly summed up in the epigraph to his 1910 novel Howards End: “Only connect … “. His 1908 novel, A Room with a View, is his most optimistic work, while A Passage to India (1924) brought him his greatest success.

Louise Fitzhugh was an American author and illustrator of young adult and children’s literature. Her work includes Harriet the Spy, its sequels The Long Secret and Sport, and Nobody’s Family is Going to Change.” 

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

My favorite mythological creature would have to be a centaur, because I’m a Sagittarius. I also think knowing Pegasus the flying horse would be a wonderful thing.

Henry: I’m sensing a flying theme going on here. 

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

I am an aspiring hermit, so what I like to do when I’m not writing is simply hanging out at my apartment in a friendly neighborhood in Los Angeles.

Henry: Will you be attending the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles in August? If so, look for me in the hotel lobby with a drink in hand.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

I think I would choose as my epitaph to use the immortal words of Snagglepuss, the animated mountain lion: “Exit, stage left!”

Henry: Heavens to Murgatroyd!

Snagglepuss

Where can readers find your work?

THE BOY WHO HOWLED can be ordered from any brick-and-mortar bookstore, and is available online at all book-selling sites. It is usually discounted on Amazon.com. The paperback is easier to find than the hardback, but the amazing jacket illustration on the hardback, by Spanish artist Victor Rivas, is worth the hunt. Also see Tim’s blog at www.timothypower.me

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

Click to Tweet: Interview with Timothy Power, author of THE BOY WHO HOWLED at http://wp.me/p31Xf4-Gq via @Nimpentoad


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Interview with Middle Grade & Young Adult author Krista Van Dolzer

Krista Van Dolzer is a stay-at-home mom by day and a children’s author by naptime. If someone had told her back in high school that she’d get a degree in math or English, she would have guessed English, no question, so of course she holds degrees in Mathematics Education and Economics from Brigham Young University. She lives with her husband and three kids in Mesquite, Nevada, and enjoys watching college football and researching her ancestors. She is the author of a forthcoming-but-as-yet-untitled debut (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, Winter 2015) and the forthcoming DUEL/DUET (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, Fall 2015).

VanDolzerKrista

For what age audience do you write?

I write both middle grade and young adult across several genres. My debut is historical science fiction, and DUEL/DUET is contemporary. Both of those are MG, but my latest is YA contemporary, so I’m kind of all over the place:)

Henry: We would expect no less from someone who cannot decide between English and Mathematics. ☺

Tell us about your latest book.

My debut hasn’t come out yet–it doesn’t even have a title–but it should come out sometime toward the beginning of next year. I have a longer summary on my blog, but suffice it to say that it’s about a twelve-year-old girl who, through a series of scientific shenanigans, ends up meeting and befriending a Japanese boy. Since the story is set in small-town America in the 1950s, their friendship ruffles quite a few feathers.

Henry: How about “Small-town Scientific Sausage Shenanigans” as the title? You’re welcome.

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

That we’re all different, that those differences should never be used as a reason to treat one another unkindly, and that pork links are capable of bringing people together (unless, of course, they’re vegetarian).

Henry: Indeed, pork links remind us to stop the senseless violence against plant life.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Every aspect? Is that an acceptable answer? The truth is, I struggle with something new every time I sit down to write. (Lately, I’ve been having a tough time with line editing, but if you ask me next week, I’m sure I’ll have a different answer.) I know that’s kind of cliché, but it’s true.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Stop listening to advice. Writing is such a personal thing, and the only person who can teach you how to write is you. You have to read, of course–in fact, I daresay you have to read more than you write, at least at first–but aside from that, you just have to stick your butt in that chair and figure things out for yourself.

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

I don’t eat, drink, or listen to music when I write, ever. I think most writers would find all three of those strange.

Henry: What about pork links!?

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

It’s not really a superpower, but I’d love to borrow Hermione’s Time-Turner sometime.

Henry: Being able to slow or stop time is the most popular response to that question by authors.

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

As my introduction mentioned, I really like watching college football (and tennis!) and researching my ancestors. I’m a budding genealogist, so I like digging through old census records for fun. (For the record, the 1900 United States Census is my all-time fave).

Henry: Genealogy is fun. I found relatives we didn’t know about and uncovered family relationships with mayors, presidents, Ralph Lauren, and Madeleine L’Engle.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

“Loving wife, mom, and friend.” Boring, I know, but those are the only things that really matter, right?

Henry: Agreed. But there’s no law that says you cannot have a pork link also engraved on the tombstone.

Where can readers find your work?

It was a trick question! Krista’s books aren’t out (yet!), but if you keep an eye on her blog and Twitter feed, you’ll be the first to know once they are!

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

Click to Tweet: Interview with Middle Grade & Young Adult author @KristaVanDolzer at http://wp.me/p31Xf4-EK via @Nimpentoad


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Interview with ABLA children’s literary agent Lara Perkins

Lara Perkins is a children’s literary agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Lara works closely with Senior Agent Laura Rennert, with whom she jointly represents a number of clients, in addition to building her own list. She is also the agency’s Digital Manager. Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions.

PerkinsLara

What types of books especially interest you?

I represent all categories of children’s literature, picture books through young adult, and I’m open to all genres within those categories. In all categories, I look for fabulous writing–the kind of writing in which every word matters–and a fresh, engaging voice. I’m drawn to intriguing characters who ring true for me and who can make me laugh, cry, and understand myself and others a little more. Basically, I read to have my heart broken, my mind blown by an unexpected twist, and my world opened to a new point of view or experience. For YA, I like stories that feel substantial and have a definite perspective, and my taste runs fairly dark, though humor is always welcome. I love working with author/illustrators and I have a soft spot for absurdist humor, especially in picture book and middle grade.

How did you become a literary agent?

After college, I was an assistant at the wonderful B.J. Robbins Literary Agency in Los Angeles. When I wanted to find a job in publishing a few years later (after grad school and a move from NY back to CA–the wrong direction to seek a job in publishing!), B.J. did me the great kindness of recommending me to her Northern California agent colleagues. Lucky for me, the brilliant Laura Rennert at the legendary Andrea Brown Literary Agency was looking for an assistant. After observing, learning from, and working with Laura, I knew what I wanted to do with my life, and I just hoped I might be lucky enough to find a home with the incredible ladies at AB Lit. I’m so happy and grateful that I have.

Henry: Happily, Andrea Brown is a real person. She’s non-fiction. So technically speaking, she cannot be legendary. 🙂

What are some Do’s (or Don’ts) for writers querying agents?

Do tell an agent where you think your book fits in the market–both why you think it shares some of the strengths of recently successful books, and why you think it is doing something fresh and unique that will appeal to your audience.

Do include the who, what, where, when, and “why should we care” of your story (a rubric I’m borrowing from my colleague and mentor Laura Rennert). This is the basic information that should be communicated in a compelling way in your pitch.

Do think about the details you choose to include. Do they raise productive questions and help capture the mood/tone of your story? Or do they distract from the main hooks of the story? Focus on only the exciting details that help give a clear sense of what your book is about.

Do personalize; there is so much material available online about each agent. A quick google search will give you a lot of information to work with in personalizing your query. (This is for your benefit, too; you want to be sure you really do want to work with this particular agent!)

Do keep it short and sweet. To test this, try reading your query when you’re tired (or ask a friend to read it when he or she is tired) and see if it still feels tight, clear, and compelling. Does it energize you or put you to sleep?

Please share a literary agent horror story with us.

This was only really horrifying for me, but a few years ago, at the beginning of one of my first editor meetings in NY, I got out a pen to take notes and when I opened it, blue ink instantly exploded all over my hands. I had to run to the bathroom to clean up all the ink before it got on me, the table, and everyone else. Despite my best efforts, I had a blue-stained hands the rest of the day. Luckily pretty much everyone working in kid lit has a good sense of humor, and even though that wouldn’t have been my ice-breaker of choice, it did break the ice! Now I somewhat obsessively check my pen before meetings to make sure it hasn’t been transformed into an explosive device by changes in cabin pressure.

Henry: It sounds like you got off pretty easily. I’ve heard horror stories of agents being pitched in restrooms and (if Sara Megibow is to be believed), at the ObGyn!! That’s just wrong.

What advice would you offer to writers hoping to become traditionally published?

My advice would be to focus on your craft and keep raising the bar for yourself. You can have the best platform or connections, but your work still needs to be strong and original to find a publisher and a readership. As a writer, do your best to produce the strongest, most compelling manuscripts you can–and strive to keep growing and keep challenging yourself, no matter what stage you’re at.

Do you read for pleasure, or does reading submissions wear out your reading muscle?

The reading muscle only gets stronger with use! I read constantly, for work and for pleasure. Anytime I’m in motion (hiking, driving, doing dishes), my headphones are on and I’m listening to an audiobook. You could say that everything I read in the categories I represent is market research no matter how much I enjoy it, but I also read and listen to a lot of adult market literary fiction, mysteries/thrillers, and narrative nonfiction.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh.” –W. H. Auden*

*I hope this is properly attributed; it’s one of my favorite quotes, but I haven’t come across an authoritative source. The former lit student in me stresses over this.

Henry: The consensus from a Google search is that you’ve attributed the quote properly. Please don’t stress.

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

I feel like I should make something up to sound more interesting, but I really don’t, other than needing a cup of coffee in my hand before making any phone calls. But I think that might be more “universally human” than “strange ritual.” I clearly need to work on my eccentricities.

Henry: This is an area in which I can offer some modest assistance…

If you could have one superpower, what would it be (excluding speed-reading)?

Always one step ahead of me! If I can’t choose speed-reading, I’ll choose the ability to function without sleep. I’d be like Mr. Beemis in that Twilight Zone Episode. There would be time now!

Henry: It may tickle you to learn that the most common answer that authors I interview give to that question is functionally equivalent – the ability to slow time.

If you could have three authors (excluding anyone you rep) over for dinner, who would it be?

George Eliot, because I’d love to meet the woman behind that great literary brain.

Ellen Raskin, because I adored THE WESTING GAME as a kid and only recently discovered her illustrations and cover designs, and I’m always fascinated by artists who are equally expressive in both media.

Walter Dean Myers, because MONSTER is a book that returns to me frequently, even years after I read it, and I greatly admire the compassion and intelligence that runs through his work.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature (e.g., Medusa)?

Medusa, and not just because I’m highly suggestible. I’ve always been fascinated and horrified by stories where the rules are so extreme–where all it takes is one tiny mistake–one glance, one slip–and you’re toast.

Henry: Petrified toast! Highly suggestible, huh? Have you ever considered repping someone who’s first and last initials are both H? Just sayin’…

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

I love to travel and to be out in nature. I’m not even remotely an expert hiker (I love it, but I’m slow as molasses), but I’ve been lucky enough to hike and travel in some amazing places, like Malaysian Borneo, Vietnam, and Patagonia. My husband and I try to sneak in travel and outdoor trips as often as we can.

This was fun. Thanks for the terrific questions!

Henry: Thank you for the opportunity to get to know you better.

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

Click to Tweet: Interview with ABLA children’s literary agent Lara Perkins at http://wp.me/p31Xf4-De via @Nimpentoad


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Interview with J. Duddy Gill, author of THE SECRET OF FERRELL SAVAGE

J. Duddy Gill finds humor in weird places and under odd circumstances. She loves to make people laugh, especially kids. ‘The Secret of Ferrell Savage’ is her debut novel and she hopes it’s the first of many, many more to come.

GillDuddy

For what age audience do you write?

‘Ferrell Savage’ is a humorous story for ages 8 to 12. While it’s mostly realistic, I’d consider it a rather tall tale, as some of the events in the story are greatly exaggerated.

Henry: Ferrell → Feral. I see what you did there.

Tell us about your latest book.

‘The Secret of Ferrell Savage’ begins with Ferrell entering a sled race to impress a girl he likes and, for reasons that go beyond his control, he gets her attention and becomes a celebrity in his town. A jealous racing competitor threatens to reveal a secret about Ferrell that even he, Ferrell, didn’t know: he’s a descendent of the infamous Colorado cannibal, Alfred Packer. But it’s actually not a gruesome story at all. The main thing that Ferrell has in common with his great, great, great uncle is that they both became unexpected legends.

Henry: If I only had a dime for every time I tried to impress a girl by entering a sled race…

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

I hope they get a good laugh. I also hope they’ll be inspired by the way Ferrell follows his heart and doesn’t overthink things. He’s got a good perspective on life.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Sometimes, when the scenes aren’t coming to me and the story gets all jammed up in my head, it’s hard to sit down and sort it all out.

Henry: Yup, been there. That’s where belonging to a critique group is so helpful.

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

You have the write the story that’s there inside you. It may not be the story that everyone will like, but someone will like it. Write it for yourself and for that person.

Henry: I agree that you have to write from the heart. But in the end, if you want to be traditionally published, then an agent and an editor must agree that the story has wide appeal.

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

I sent an advanced reading copy to my mom and I didn’t tell that I’d dedicated the book to her. She called me and left a message on my answering machine, crying, telling me how special she felt. I will keep that message on my machine forever.

Henry: Nice. My books are also dedicated to my parents (and others).

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Write the story you want to read.

Henry: But again, what if there’s no market for my dystopian board book, The Very Hunger Games Caterpillar?

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“It takes a heap of loafing to write a book.” – Gertrude Stein

Henry: Then there’s “All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” – Gene Fowler

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

I have to have clean teeth and fresh breath while I write. I keep a roll of dental floss next to my desk.

Henry: I did NOT see that coming.

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

I would like to sing so beautifully that it makes people feel happy and peaceful. As I am now, I don’t sing very well at all.

Henry: My bad singing has a side benefit. I can peel paint or disperse a pack of feral pigs.

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

E. B. White because he had such a beautiful way at looking at the world. Plus, he was hilarious. Do you mind if I just have one? It’s so hard to choose just two more among all the others that I love so much.

Henry: That’s fine. I’ll use your spares to invite Maurice Sendak and J.R.R. Tolkien to my place.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

I’m going to have to say my favorite creatures are talking pigs and spiders. I learned a lot from Wilbur and Charlotte.

Henry: There’s a number of talking pigs in literature: Wilbur, Winnie the Pooh, Babe, Napoleon (Animal Farm), and Olivia. And let us not forget the Three Little Pigs or the five little piggies that correspond to a baby’s toes. Have you ever wondered why one little piggy eats roast beef?

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

I love sharing stories with family and friends and just hanging out with them. I also like to spin wool, knit, and weave. When my kids were little I was obsessed with making all of their toys – dolls, animals, silk scarves, puppets – out of all natural materials. I don’t go as often as I’d like, but I enjoy bike riding or skiing in the mountains.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

I just hope they spell “Duddy” right and don’t make jokes about my being a “fuddy duddy”. I’ve heard them all.

Where can readers find your work?

Under my bed – I have three completed manuscripts collecting dust under there. Also, look for ‘The Secret of Ferrell Savage’ at your independent bookstore, that’s always best. When my next book sells I’ll surely announce it on my website: www.jduddygill.com .

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

Click to Tweet: Interview with J. Duddy Gill, author of THE SECRET OF FERRELL SAVAGE at http://wp.me/p31Xf4-Cb via @Nimpentoad


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Interview with legendary children’s book author Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen, often called “the Hans Christian Andersen of America” (Newsweek) is the author of well over 335 books (she has lost count), including OWL MOON, THE DEVIL’S ARITHMETIC, and HOW DO DINOSAURS SAY GOODNIGHT. Her work has won an assortment of awards–two Nebulas, a World Fantasy Award, a Caldecott, the Golden Kite Award, three Mythopoeic awards, two Christopher Medals, a nomination for the National Book Award, and the Jewish Book Award, among many others. She has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize. She is also the winner (for body of work) of the World Fantasy Assn. Lifetime Achievement Award, Science Fiction Poetry Association Grand Master Award, the Catholic Library’s Regina Medal, the Kerlan Medal from the University of Minnesota, the 2012 du Grummond Medal, the Smith College Alumnae Medal. Six colleges and universities have given her honorary doctorates.

Henry: I’d call you the Leonardo da Vinci of American literature. Damn! Just, damn.

YolenJane

For what age audience do you write?

All ages, all genres except hard science. (Though I have written a lot of Natural Science.)

Tell us about your latest book.

These three books are my latest: ‘How Do Dinosaurs Say I’m Mad’ (Scholastic), ‘The Hostage Prince’ (middle grade fantasy, first book in the Seelie Wars Trilogy, Viking), and ‘Sister Fox’s Field Guide to Writing’ (adult poetry collection for Unsettling Wonder).

Henry: Indeed, Apatosaurus anger management was a literary niche waiting to be filled. Well played.

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

Enlightenment, entertainment, and an appreciation for poetry.

Henry: My poor poetry-writing ability is limited to limericks involving the word “Nantucket.”

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Getting editors to get back to me!

Henry: Hah! Well, editors are notoriously overworked. And with over 300 books under your belt, something tells me anyone would have trouble keeping up with you.

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

Never give up, revise, and keep my BIC (butt in chair).

Henry: For those not familiar with the term, BIC refers to focusing on doing the writing. Technically, if you prefer to write while standing or bathing, that is also acceptable.

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

Getting letters from children and grownups saying that my stories and poems and essays had changed their lives.

Henry: If only we could have gotten Vladimir Putin to read ‘How Do Dinosaurs Say I’m Mad?’

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

If you give up at the first rejection or the first bad review, you will never make it in publishing.

Henry: A writer must be thick-skinned. Like the Ankylosaurus!

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“Touch magic, pass it on.”

Henry: “See how she leans her cheek upon her hand. O, that I were a glove upon that hand. That I might touch that cheek!” ― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

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

No.

Henry: No hard rock music blasting in the background? No dinosaur models on a nearby shelf?

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

To bring world peace and the perfect story to the world.

Henry: Nothing like aiming high! And that is the most altruistic superpower anyone has mentioned on this blog.

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

Emily Dickinson, James Thurber, and Isak Dinesen. Because they would make great conversation, tell amazing stories about their lives, and might possibly drop wisdom into my ear.

Henry: That’s a lovely trio. For the younger readers of this blog, Wikipedia helpfully elaborates:

“Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (1830 –1886) was an American poet. While Dickinson was a prolific private poet, fewer than a dozen of her nearly eighteen hundred poems were published during her lifetime. Dickinson’s poems are unique for the era in which she wrote; they contain short lines, typically lack titles, and often use slant rhyme as well as unconventional capitalization and punctuation. Many of her poems deal with themes of death and immortality.”

“James Grover Thurber (1894 –1961) was an American cartoonist, author, journalist, and celebrated wit. Thurber was best known for his cartoons and short stories, published mainly in The New Yorker magazine and collected in his numerous books. One of the most popular humorists of his time, Thurber celebrated the comic frustrations and eccentricities of ordinary people.”

“Karen von Blixen-Finecke (1885 – 1962), née Karen Christenze Dinesen, was a Danish author also known by her pen name Isak Dinesen. Blixen is best known for ‘Out of Africa’, her account of living in Kenya, and one of her stories, ‘Babette’s Feast’, both of which have been adapted into highly acclaimed, Academy Award-winning motion pictures.”

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

Read, go for a walk, watch a movie, go to live music or live theater, wander a museum or castle, or play with a grandchild.

Henry: The only castles nearby in which I can wander are in my imagination.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

She wrote many good books and one great one

Henry: I think it’s safe to say you’ve created a powerful legacy already.

Where can readers find your work?

Wherever books are sold or can be ordered, and in any school or public library. Also there are some on kindle and other ebook readers.

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

Click to Tweet: Interview with legendary children’s book author Jane Yolen http://wp.me/p31Xf4-Av via @Nimpentoad