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Interview with picture book author Dian Curtis Regan

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

For what age audience do you write?

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

Tell us about your latest book.

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

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

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

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

Henry: “…and it was still hot.”

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

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

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

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

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

Henry: That is a great, mindful quote.

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

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

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

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

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

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

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

Do you have any favorite quotes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry: I assume dinner would include crunchings and munchings.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

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

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

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

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

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

Visit diancurtisregan.com!

Henry: Best. Answer. Ever.

Where can readers find your work?

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

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

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Dian.

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Interview with picture book author/illustrator Lisa Brown

Lisa Brown is a New York Times bestselling illustrator, author, and cartoonist. Her books for young’uns include HOW TO BE, BABY MIX ME A DRINK, THE LATKE WHO COULDN’T STOP SCREAMING by Lemony Snicket, EMILY’S BLUE PERIOD by Cathleen Daly, and MUMMY CAT by Marcus Ewert. She teaches picture book writing and illustration at the California College of the Arts. Her most recent book, THE AIRPORT BOOK, is about the airport. She lives in San Francisco.

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For what age audience do you write?

A better question might be “for what age audience DON’T you write?” I’ve created humor books and comics for adults, picture books for kiddos, one co-authored illustrated novel for teens (PICTURE THE DEAD, with Adele Griffin), and I am blissfully at work on a YA graphic novel.

Henry: FYI, the YA graphic novel is entitled THE LIVING DOLL, and tells the story of conjoined twins who remain connected even after one of them dies during the operation to separate them.

Tell us about your latest book.

It’s a picture book about the airport. Called, creatively, The Airport Book.

Henry: Hey, spoiler alert!

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

I hope to demystify and mystify an airline journey.

Henry: Always burning the candle at both ends, eh?

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Perhaps the most challenging thing is letting it out of my hands. I always think that there is more to be done.

Henry: I agree. I suspect sculptors feel the same way, although it’s worse for them. If they remove something, it’s much harder to put it back.

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

Don’t read Amazon reviews.

Henry: So true! Note: this is not a criticism of Amazon. Rather, it is advice about reviews in general. The good ones tell you what you already know, and the bad ones make you sad or frustrated. My writer friend Deborah Underwood got a bad review because the book arrived damaged! My bedtime picture book MABEL AND THE QUEEN OF DREAMS was dinged for not having enough action!

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

You can’t write well if you don’t read well. Read. Read everything. Read like a writer, with one eye always on craft.

Henry: A lion is the product of all the zebras it’s eaten. I read critically now, although I find it can take some of the joy out of reading others’ picture books.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
a medley of extemporanea,
And love is a thing that can never go wrong,
and I am Marie of Romania.” —Dorothy Parker

Henry: “Wanna be the ruler of the galaxy?
Wanna be the king of the universe?
Let’s meet and have a baby now!
Wanna be the empress of fashion?
Wanna be the president of Moscow?
Let’s meet and have a baby now!” – B-52’s

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

Define strange.

Henry: That is my life’s work, and we don’t have room here…

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

Invisibility. It would be useful while eavesdropping, an activity important to any writer. And relaxing for introverts like me.

Henry: Invisibility is a good choice. Like mind reading, though, it could lead to learning things you really don’t want to know…

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

I already have an author over for dinner almost every night, my husband, Daniel Handler (http://www.danielhandler.com). So maybe I’d choose some other kind of artist. I’d have loved to have dined with David Bowie, of blessed memory, Dorothy Parker, and Edward Gorey.

Henry: Hey, that’s cheating! For the few that don’t know, Daniel Handler is also known as Lemony Snicket. Wikipedia helpfully adds: “Dorothy Parker was an American poet, short story writer, critic, and satirist, best known for her wit, wisecracks and eye for 20th-century urban foibles.”

“From a conflicted and unhappy childhood, Parker rose to acclaim, both for her literary output in publications such as The New Yorker and as a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table. Following the breakup of the circle, Parker traveled to Hollywood to pursue screenwriting. Her successes there, including two Academy Award nominations, were curtailed when her involvement in left-wing politics led to a place on the Hollywood blacklist.”

“Edward Gorey was an American writer and artist noted for his illustrated books. His characteristic pen-and-ink drawings often depict vaguely unsettling narrative scenes in Victorian and Edwardian settings. He illustrated works as diverse as DRACULA by Bram Stoker, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS by H. G. Wells, and OLD POSSUM’S BOOK OF PRACTICAL CATS by T. S. Eliot.”

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

I always really, really wanted the Borrowers to exist.

Henry: A fine choice. Note: THE BORROWERS is a children’s fantasy novel by Mary Norton, featuring four-inch tall people who borrow things from their human hosts.

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

Read. Draw. Drink coffee.

Henry: Write. Read. Draw. Drink coffee. Repeat.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Please stay off the grass.

Where can readers find your work?

In bookstores and libraries, naturally. And online… I post my daily sketches on my Tumblr, here: http://americanchickens.tumblr.com. They can also take a peek at my Three Panel Book Reviews, which will be collected and expanded into a book by Algonquin Books, here: http://threepanelbookreview.tumblr.com

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Lisa.


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Interview with fantasy novelist Laura Bickle

Laura Bickle grew up in rural Ohio, reading entirely too many comic books out loud to her favorite Wonder Woman doll. After graduating with an MA in Sociology – Criminology from Ohio State University and an MLIS in Library Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, she patrolled the stacks at the public library and worked with data systems in criminal justice. She now dreams up stories about the monsters under the stairs, also writing contemporary fantasy novels under the name Alayna Williams.

I had the pleasure of meeting her at the 2015 San Diego Comic-Con, and we have been amusing each other on Facebook ever since.

BickleLaura

For what age audience do you write?

I write contemporary fantasy for adults and young adults, with a healthy dollop of horror. Because I can’t resist adding things that scare me.

Henry: dol·lop (ˈdäləp) noun (not to be confused with dalek) – a shapeless mass or blob of something, especially soft food. Or HORROR!! Healthy dollop: a larger shapeless mass or blob, when a normal-sized blob just won’t do.

Tell us about your latest book.

The tagline on the back cover – which I love! – is “Stephen King’s The Gunslinger meets Breaking Bad.”
Many Westerns begin with the story of a stranger coming to town, and this story is no exception. Geologist Petra Dee arrives in the tiny town of Temperance, Wyoming, to find clues about her father’s disappearance decades before. In the course of her investigation, Petra stumbles across a string of weirdly desiccated bodies that she can’t explain with science. She finds herself in a war among the local cattle baron, his undead minions, and a drug-dealing alchemist. It’s very weird west meets contemporary fantasy.

Henry: A geologist named Petra!? As in Petra-fied? Better call Saul!

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

I’ve been accumulating books on alchemy for many years, and I was thrilled to finally be able to put them to good use. The whole history of alchemy is fascinating to me: the intricate symbolism, the obsession with immortality, the idea that rocks could be changed to gold. The theme of this book deals with the first of seven processes in classical alchemy, the calcination process, in which all that is known is reduced to ash in the crucible of the alchemist’s lab.

Henry: As writers, we go through a similar process wherein all of our first draft is reduced to ash in the crucible of our word processing software and self-doubt.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

The most challenging part for me is always getting started. Staring at the blank page scares the daylights out of me. It’s a vast void that could become something awesome, or something really terrible.

Henry: Writers vary wildly on this score. For me, the most challenging aspect is knowing when to STOP revising. Was that a valid piece of feedback, or should I stick with my original vision? Vacillation, recrimination, excessive Twinkie consumption. You know the drill.

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

One of the most important things I’ve learned is that it requires the same disciplined work habits that other jobs do. There are deadlines, accountability, and needing to work well with people. I feel like my previous work really helped me to be able to take writing as a serious endeavor and treat it accordingly. It’s not so much magic as sweat.

Henry: I tell my sons that self-discipline IS magic. It powers the practice to make you proficient at school or sports. It enables you to master your less gracious inclinations. There’s a quote from Randy Pausch about self-discipline that I love: “The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”

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

I recently had the opportunity to attend San Diego Comic-Con as a panelist. Attending SDCC has always been on my bucket list, but the chance to go in a professional capacity was a dream come true. I loved all of it – the toy reveals, the cosplay, the comics.

Henry: I’ve moderated author panels at SDCC for the past few years. It is a blast.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Try NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – at least once. It’s a challenge each November to chuck your excuses and write 50,000 words in a month. It gets me out of my head and shuts up my inner editor, and forces me to get accustomed to working with a deadline. I use what I’ve learned in NaNoWriMo on every book I’ve written.

Henry: We picture book writers have our annual PiBoIdMo – a challenge to come up with 30 picture book concepts in one month. I’ve been pushing my own EatMoPiMo (eat more pie month) without much traction to date.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

My favorite is from THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI: “No matter where you go, there you are.” It seems to be the answer to just about everything.

Henry: Warning: fanboy rant. For those poor unfortunates who haven’t seen this cult sci-fi movie, it features an all-star cast of Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd, Jonathan Banks, Clancy Brown, and Jamie Lee Curtis (in a deleted scene). The movie is creative as hell. I love how the aliens use “monkey boys” as an ethnic slur for humans. And how the aliens all have the given name John. And that one is very particular about how his surname is pronounced. The movie has many great quotes – in fact I did a blog post on that subject.

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

This isn’t really very arcane, but when I begin a project, I start with an idea notebook. I scribble notes and ideas in it. Outlines. Thoughts for what should happen in the next scene. Pictures and meanderings. I have several pages in this notebook before I even dare open a word processing document.

If I get stuck, I pick up a Tarot card deck and draw some cards. The deck is my random idea generator, and is my surefire trick to get beyond writer’s block.

Henry: Sure, sure. Nothing strange about a Tarot deck at all. Nothing to see here folks. Move along.

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

Invisibility. I could be a fly on a wall, go wherever I liked…and collect some amazing story ideas!

Henry: I have two words for you: restraining order.

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

My all-time favorite book is Robin McKinley’s HERO AND THE CROWN. I read it when I was a pre-teen, and fell in love with fantasy ever after. It was the first book I’d read that had a female protagonist who slew her own dragons. I was hooked.

Lauren DeStefano is another favorite. The Chemical Garden Trilogy is a must-read. I love her characters and the dilemmas she places them in – just extraordinary work that really makes me feel.

I read Yangsze Choo’s THE GHOST BRIDE last year, and it was positively luminous. I’d love to have her over for dinner with Robin and Lauren to discuss modern fairy tales.

Henry: Note to self – add these to my to-be-read pile.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

I’ve lately been obsessed with serpents of all kinds: dragons, basilisks, Medusa and her sisters. I have a garden in which snakes like to gather, and I’m curious about them. The snakes I have in the garden are small DeKay’s snakes, and they’re quite shy. There’s something very mysterious and elusive about them, and I can see why they’re such wonderful fodder for literature.

Henry: Just a tip. If one encourages you to eat an apple, don’t. Just don’t.

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

When I’m not writing, I’m playing with my cats. We have five (six, if I can convince the feral cat in the backyard to quit waffling and come inside), so there are a lot of bellies that demand rubbing!

I also collect comic books, Tarot cards, and action figures. I have a garden in the backyard that is slowly taking over the lawn, and it’s currently Tomatopocalypse here. I’m also trying to get back into drawing. I haven’t done much of that since high school, so I feel pretty tentative about it.

Henry: Feral cats are known wafflers.

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

Hm. “Still exploring” would work.

Where can readers find your work?

The latest updates on my work are at my website, http://www.laurabickle.com. Thanks very much for interviewing me today!

Henry: It was my pleasure. This interview can also be read at 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 YA and picture book author Paula Yoo

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

YooPaula

For what age audience do you write?

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

Henry: Yoo must be a busy lady!

Tell us about your latest book.

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

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

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

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry: Writers are people whisperers.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

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

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

Do you have any favorite quotes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

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

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

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

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

Henry: 5. Answer silly blog interview questions.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

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

Where can readers find your work?

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

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

 


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Interview with Young Adult author Christa Desir

Christa Desir writes contemporary fiction for young adults. Her novels include FAULT LINE and BLEED LIKE ME and the forthcoming OTHER BROKEN THINGS. She lives with her husband, three children, and overly enthusiastic dog outside of Chicago. She has volunteered as a rape victim activist for more than ten years, including providing direct service as an advocate in hospital ERs. She also works as an editor at Samhain Publishing. Visit her at ChristaDesir.com.

DesirChrista

For what age audience do you write?

I’m a contemporary YA writer, mostly ages 15 & up.

Tell us about your latest book.

My most recent release is called BLEED LIKE ME and is a Sid & Nancy type of YA about a co-dependent and very destructive relationship between two teens.

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

My goal with that book was to take a look at the notion that “love makes everything better” and deconstruct it a little when it comes to personal relationships. I have read many stories in which a broken girl gets together with a broken guy and through their love for each other things get better. That was definitely not my experience as a teenager and I wanted to explore what it’s really like when you lose yourself in someone else.

Henry: Right, it can happen, but it doesn’t happen very often. We must strive to fix ourselves.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

I’ve always struggled with adding setting and physical description of characters. I was a theatre major and so much of my academic life was spent reading plays. So setting and what characters actually look like were not part of my training.

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

Probably the most powerful lesson I’ve learned is how deeply flawed I am. I will never be able to write the perfect book. No one will, really. You can revise for years and still the book you end up with will never be as good as the book you have in your mind. I think I’ve learned how to be more okay with my imperfections, more okay with everyone’s imperfections, and I’m constantly reminded that we’re all doing the best we can.

Henry: Ah, no good author interview is complete without a small dose of self-criticism. As if all the external rejection that comes with authoring isn’t enough, right? Accomplishment unlocked.

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

I’ve met amazing people as a writer. I got to sit next to Judy Blume for an SCBWI luncheon. I’ve become friends with people whose writing I deeply admire and it’s been such an incredible experience learning from them.

Henry: Coincidentally, Judy Blume mentioned that she was thrilled to sit next to you, so #Winning.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Find really good critique partners. Keep writing, keep revising, read as much as you can. Try to ignore internet drama. Don’t do anything to burn bridges because you never know when you’ll come across those people again. Be forgiving and gracious.

Henry: I completely agree. Good critique partners are vital. They are our eyes for where we are blind (when looking at our own writing).

Do you have any favorite quotes?

This changes all the time for me, but my current favorite quote comes from Sarah McCarry’s ABOUT A GIRL: “It had never occurred to me that trading one life for another might be a passage paid for in loss.”

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

I’m an early morning writer so I always have coffee, but the only real ritual I have is that if I’m stuck, I put on my Cassius Clay T-shirt.

Henry: For fighting writer’s block?

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

I would like to heal people. I have lost too many people in my life and I wish so much I had the power to heal.

Henry: Actually, as a writer, you DO have this superpower. Well played, sir.

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

Roxane Gay, Sarah McCarry, and J.K. Rowling. In my deepest heart, I think this threesome could make an excellent effort at solving all the problems in the world.

Henry: We all know of J.K. Rowling; for the others, there’s Google.

“Roxane Gay is the author of the short story collection Ayiti (2011), the novel An Untamed State (2014), the essay collection Bad Feminist (2014), and Hunger (2015). In addition to her regular contributions to Salon, her writing has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Tin House, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, West Branch, Virginia Quarterly Review, NOON, Bookforum, Time, The Los Angeles Times, The Nation and The New York Times Book Review.”

Sarah McCarry runs the blog, The Rejectionist. She is the author of All Our Pretty Songs, Dirty Wings, and About a Girl. She is the editor and publisher of the chapbook series Guillotine. She writes for Tor.com and Book Riot.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

I like the Sirens. I’m an extrovert and never want people to leave me. Sirens have a super power I can get behind.

Henry: Nice choice. Kami Garcia has some great sirens in BEAUTIFUL CREATURES.

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

I love to knit, I do roller derby, I love to read, I love to spend time with friends, I like walking my dog.

Henry: Knit and roller derby!? Two hobbies I would not think to conflate. Can you do them simultaneously? It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye…

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

“Lived a life of integrity.”

Where can readers find your work?

Easiest place for all the links is my website: http://www.christadesir.com

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


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Interview with children’s author Susanne Gervay

Picture book and young adult author Susanne Gervay is perhaps best known for her I AM JACK series. She is a SCBWI regional advisor, has appeared on Oprah, and lives in Australia.

GervaySusanne

For what age audience do you write?

I write to reach audiences of all ages.  It is about being authentic and about character and ideas. My writing is social realism ranging from picture books, children’s and young adult.

Tell us about your latest book.

Jack is inspired by my son. He’s an inventor, tells great jokes,plays soccer, annoys his sister, helps his Nanna, who wobbles and when she coughs too loudly her teeth can pop out. Nanna is the world’s best bargain hunter and her speciality is purple underpants for EVERYONE. Jack’s mix master family contain characters everyone seems to have met. Jack’s a great kid with lots of real feelings. He’s a good mate, good brother and his Mum (me) loves him heaps.

ALWAYS JACK is a standalone book that is also part of the I AM JACK series (Kane Miller) – for ages 9-12 years.

In I AM JACK, Jack battled bullies at his school and won. In SUPER JACK, Jack faced the trials of a newly blended family. Now, in ALWAYS JACK, our hero faces a challenge bigger than he’s ever faced before. Nanna is older and wobblier than ever. Jack is experiencing strange emotions whenever he sees his best friend Anna. Then there’s mum and Rob’s impending wedding, which seems to be taking over the world.

But everything pales into insignificance when mum delivers the news that she has breast cancer. Jack sums it up incredibly succinctly: ‘I look up at him. It’s hard to speak. ‘But it’s cancer Rob.’ I can’t live without mum. None of us can love without mum.’

But while mum’s illness makes Jack re-evaluate aspects of his life, it doesn’t dominate the narrative. It’s funny and real, yet still deal with big issues such as cancer. Death. Divorce, grandparents, sibling rivalry, friendships, refugees and the Vietnam War.

Part survival manual, part therapy, part autobiography, part fiction, ‘Always Jack’ is a part of life as kids and families navigates the challenges, with love and humour.

The 4th and final I AM JACK called BEING JACK will be published soon. It’s Jack turning 13 from the bullied kid to one who stand beside others.  It’s the cycle of bullying from name calling and cyber bullying to becoming a great kid who knows himself.

The adaptation of I AM JACK by Monkey Baa Theatre will be touring US theaters again in October-November 2015 brought to the US by Holden Arts– 

Henry: I look forward to a fifth book, perhaps titled PNEUMATIC JACK.

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

I hope ALWAYS JACK gives children and families a sense of the joy of life whatever the challenges, be it a sick parent, coming from a refugee or immigrant family, having aging grandparents. Endorsed by the Cancer Council, it offers pathways to understanding, being a friend to others as everyone is touched in some way by cancer.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

The search for strong images and words to convey the great passions I want to share with young readers and old. It is about going deep inside myself, and that is hard.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields
and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.      
(Gaelic blessing)

“War is not brave, but men can be brave in war and in peace.” From THE CAVE by Susanne Gervay.

Henry: Hey, you quoted yourself! “War does not make one great.” — Yoda

Are there any strange rituals that you observe when you write?

It’s not very strange but I can’t write when there is mess around me.

Henry: On the contrary – that puts you in a very small minority of authors.

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

Charlotte Bronte because her JANE EYRE inspired courage and the power of love and ethics.

John Boyne who wrote the moving BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS to ask him how he created the simple fable that revealed the inhumanity of Nazism and the innocence of children.

George Orwell who understood the abuse of power and whose books 1984 and ANIMAL FARM shone light on totalitarianism.

Henry: “All animals are created equal. But some are more equal than others.”

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Skellig by David Almond who is an angel who suffers with a spinal deformity, but has such wisdom.

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

I find touring all over the world speaking about my books, having new experiences that I translate into story, fascinating.

Henry: I had the pleasure of meeting Susanne at the Los Angeles SCBWI conference.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Susanne Gervay wrote books so children would never be alone and be a little safer.
Loved mother of Jamie and Tory.

Where can readers find your work?

In Australia, my books are published by HarperCollins and my picture books by Ford Street Publishing. In the USA, my I AM JACK books and BUTTERFLIES are published by Kane Miller Books.

They are available through Barnes and Noble online and many online bookstores, as well as bookshops.

My website has information – www.sgervay.com

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