Author interview with Tara Dairman and book #giveaway!

The Great Hibernation cover
A very hap­py book birth­day to Tara Dair­man and her lat­est mid­dle-grade nov­el, The Great Hiber­na­tion! This sto­ry has mys­tery, pol­i­tics, com­ing of age, sci­ence, and a healthy dose of girl pow­er, and it’s avail­able NOW from Wendy Lamb Books/Penguin Ran­dom House. I loved it, and I high­ly rec­om­mend it!
As a spe­cial treat, Tara agreed to do an inter­view for us today. So, with­out fur­ther ado, let’s hear from Tara!
LAT: What kind of read­er do you think this book will appeal to?
TD: A wide vari­ety, I hope! Fans of my All Four Stars series should enjoy the humor and the food­ie ele­ments that those books share with The Great Hiber­na­tion. But I think that Hiber­na­tion will also draw in read­ers who like mys­tery, zany/madcap adven­ture, and a bit of polit­i­cal con­tent, too. Plus, I just have to say, my mom real­ly likes it. She pret­ty much told me it’s her favorite of all my books. 🙂
LAT: It’s so hard to pick a favorite, but I also real­ly loved this one. How did you first become inter­est­ed in writ­ing The Great Hiber­na­tion? What were your incen­tives for stick­ing with it?
TD: I first got the idea in 2013… from a dream! In the dream, two kids were out in freez­ing open water in a tiny boat, try­ing to flag down a big­ger boat to help them because some­thing had gone ter­ri­bly wrong back on shore in their town. When I woke up, I knew I had to find out who those kids were and what had gone wrong. (And that dream inspired one of my favorite scenes in the whole book.)
LAT: I remem­ber that scene! There are some great details and obser­va­tions in that one, as well as oth­ers. It seems like a ton of research must have gone into this book to get those details right. Can you tell us about that? How was that dif­fer­ent from pre­vi­ous books? Do you think you’ll get to reuse any of that research in future stories?
TD: Work­ing on The Great Hiber­na­tion did give me an oppor­tu­ni­ty to research a lot of fun top­ics, from sheep farm­ing to Thai cui­sine to liv­er func­tion. I was lucky to have some expert beta and sen­si­tiv­i­ty read­ers look at the man­u­script and answer my ques­tions at var­i­ous points to that I could make those details as authen­tic as pos­si­ble. As for the small town of St. Polo­nius-on-the-Fjord (where the book is set), it’s loose­ly inspired by the north­ern coast of Ice­land. I had the plea­sure of trav­el­ing through that area a few years ago, so when I was draft­ing, I did have a sharp pic­ture in my head of what the town and its envi­rons would look like.
TD: I kind of doubt I’ll ever get to reuse any of my research, but if I write anoth­er book in which a sheep needs to go down a stair­case… well, I know now that he can. (With a lit­tle help!)
LAT: Were there any sur­pris­es or stum­bling blocks along the way to the fin­ished draft? How did you end up deal­ing with that?
TD: I strug­gled to get the open­ing chap­ter right for this book. There’s a lot of infor­ma­tion and back­sto­ry to con­vey, plus a lot of char­ac­ters to intro­duce, and of course I didn’t want things to feel info-dumpy. I start­ed over from scratch sev­er­al times—and then, after I sold the book for pub­li­ca­tion, I threw the whole first chap­ter out and rewrote it all over again. Luck­i­ly, my beta read­ers, edi­tors, and I all real­ly loved the final ver­sion, so I got there in the end!
LAT: Oh, I can cer­tain­ly relate to that! Per­sis­tence is the key, right? To that point, though, how do you decide when a book is “done” and ready to send to your agent?
TD: When I lit­er­al­ly can­not fath­om look­ing at it for a sin­gle sec­ond more. 🙂 (That is usu­al­ly after I’ve done at least two major revi­sions on my own based on cri­tique part­ner feed­back, though. My agent nev­er sees my ear­li­est drafts!)
Tara Dairman author photo
LAT: I think every book teach­es us some­thing new, about the world, about our­selves, or about the craft of writ­ing. What have you learned as a result of writ­ing this par­tic­u­lar book?
TD: I’ve learned that, just because a book doesn’t pitch well, that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be a good book. My agent and I orig­i­nal­ly tried to sell this book on pro­pos­al, and the feed­back we got from edi­tors was that they liked the sam­ple chap­ters but thought that the pro­posed plot sound­ed… well, a lit­tle crazy. It turned out I just had to write the whole book for them to see that I could pull the crazy plot off.
LAT: Wow! It sounds like you took quite a leap of faith with this one. (And I’m so glad you did!) Was that your tough­est moment on the path to pub­li­ca­tion or were there oth­ers, and how did you make it over that hurdle?
TD: I’d still say that fin­ish­ing the first draft of my first book (All Four Stars) was the hard­est thing I’ve ever done, because I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d dreamed of being a nov­el­ist since child­hood, but until I actu­al­ly fin­ished writ­ing a book, I didn’t know whether I could do it or not! And that one lit­tle book took me years upon years. Writ­ing “the end,” though—definitely one of the best moments of my life.
LAT: What tricks have you learned for bal­anc­ing your writ­ing time with the demands of keep­ing up with the indus­try, pro­mot­ing exist­ing work, tak­ing care of your home and fam­i­ly, per­son­al recre­ation and self-care, etc.?
TD: Oy vey. I’m still learn­ing! I have bad days and bet­ter days. What I have learned over the last few years is that “bal­ance” is going to look dif­fer­ent depend­ing on the month, the week, the day. There are going to be stretch­es when I’m writ­ing almost every day and real­ly in that cre­ative zone. And there are going to be stretch­es when a book release is loom­ing, or a new baby is get­ting born, and I don’t do any cre­ative work at all for weeks or months. And that’s okay! I’m not a great mul­ti­tasker any­way, so I’d rather real­ly focus on what­ev­er is call­ing to me most in the moment—which is a priv­i­lege that I know not every author can afford.
TD: In short, I guess I’d say that bal­ance has become a long game for me, rather than some­thing I’m able to accom­plish on a dai­ly basis.
LAT: Excel­lent advice. I sus­pect that know­ing it’s a long game is the #1 secret to find­ing that ever-elu­sive “bal­ance.” So, what are you work­ing on right now?
TD: I do have a mid­dle-grade WIP that I’m hop­ing to get back to once The Great Hiber­na­tion is prop­er­ly launched into the world. But I’m also hav­ing a baby in Novem­ber, so once he or she arrives, my focus will like­ly be off writ­ing for at least a few months.
LAT: Con­grat­u­la­tions! I’m def­i­nite­ly look­ing for­ward to hear­ing more about that adven­ture (and see­ing pictures)!! 
LAT: Before I let you go, what do you wish I would’ve asked you that I didn’t, and why?
TD: I wish you’d asked me “What are some of your oth­er favorite recent mid­dle-grade books?” There are SO many good ones out this year! My answer would be:

  • Con­tem­po­rary: Sat­ur­days with Hitch­cock by Ellen Wittlinger
  • Non­fic­tion: Poi­son by Sarah Albee; Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive! by Lau­rie Ann Thomp­son and Ammi-Joan Paquette
  • Mys­tery: The World’s Great­est Detec­tive by Car­o­line Carlson
  • Humor: This is Just a Test by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Made­lyn Rosenberg
  • His­tor­i­cal: Bob­by Lee Clare­mont and the Crim­i­nal Ele­ment by Jean­nie Mob­ley; The Last Grand Adven­ture by Rebec­ca Behrens (com­ing 3/18)
  • Fan­ta­sy: The Changelings and In a Dark Land by Christi­na Soontornvat

TD: I could go on and on, but I’ll stop myself there!
LAT: Thanks for the shout-out for Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive!Tara. (I swear, I did NOT put her up to that!) And thank you so much for vis­it­ing today and answer­ing all of my ques­tions. I’ll be rec­om­mend­ing The Great Hiber­na­tion far and wide, and I wish you much con­tin­u­ing suc­cess in ALL of your endeavors! 
Find out more about The Great Hiber­na­tion by Tara Dair­man hereAnd leave a com­ment below for a chance to win your own copy!

UPDATE: The give­away win­ner is Jen­naO! Con­grat­u­la­tions, JennaO!!

Interview with author Janet Lee Carey

Despite some recent posts about fic­tion pic­ture book New Shoes and its author, Susan Lynn Mey­ers, I typ­i­cal­ly try to stick to posts about non­fic­tion books and authors on this blog. I’m break­ing that self-imposed rule yet again, how­ev­er, because I’m thrilled to host my friend and agent-sis­ter, the amaz­ing author Janet Lee Carey, on her blog tour for her upcom­ing fan­ta­sy nov­el, In the Time of Drag­on Moon!

About the Book:
Beware the dark moon time when love and mur­der intertwine
            All Uma wants is to become a heal­er like her father and be accept­ed by her tribe. But when the mad queen abducts her and takes her north, Uma’s told she must use her heal­ing skills to cure the infer­tile queen by Drag­on Moon, or be burned at the stake. Uma soon learns the queen isn’t the only dan­ger she’s up against. A hid­den killer out for roy­al blood slays the roy­al heir. The mur­der is made to look like an acci­dent, but Uma, and the king’s nephew Jack­run, sense the dark­er truth. Togeth­er, they must use their com­bined pow­ers to out­wit a secret plot to over­throw the Pen­drag­on throne. But are they strong enough to over­come a mur­der­er aid­ed by prophe­cy and cloaked in magic?

From the first time I heard about this book, I’ve been intrigued, and Janet has kind­ly agreed to answer a few of my ques­tions. Wel­come, Janet!

Portrait Janet Lee Carey
pho­to cred­it Hei­di Pettit

LT: Where did you first get the idea for this par­tic­u­lar book, and how did it end up grow­ing and chang­ing as you brought it to life?

JLC: The pas­sion to tell the sto­ry of an indige­nous heal­er formed when I flew to Hawaii for a “Maui Immer­sion” with indige­nous heal­ers Lei’ohu and May­deen. I was pro­found­ly changed by these women’s heal­ing prac­tices as I learned of ancient tra­di­tions and the pow­er of the earth’s heal­ing. I knew I want­ed to cre­ate a sto­ry around a female heal­er, thus Uma was born.

JLC: Jackrun’s sto­ry took shape at the same time. I knew they would meet and become embroiled in dan­ger­ous cas­tle intrigue involv­ing prophe­cy, mag­ic, and mur­der. The nov­el went through many trans­for­ma­tions. I wrote the first draft in both Jackrun’s and Uma’s view­point. Lat­er, tak­ing advice from my edi­tor Kathy Daw­son, I changed it to a sin­gle view­point to reveal more of Uma’s per­son­al jour­ney and increase plot tension.

LT: Oh, I love hear­ing the ori­gins of the female heal­er sto­ry! And it’s so inter­est­ing to hear about the view­point change. 

LT: On a relat­ed note, here’s a ques­tion from my old­est child (whom you know hap­pens to be one of your biggest fans!): “Why dragons?”

Dragon banner by Jessica cropped final
(Art­work by Jes­si­ca L’Esperance)

JLC: Oh, I love this ques­tion. I didn’t start out wish­ing to write about drag­ons, only to write fan­ta­sy nov­els like the ones I’d grown to love only with my own spin. The first drag­on, Lord Faul, emerged from a win­ter of read­ing too many fairy­tales with per­fect princess­es and evil drag­ons. I want­ed to mix things up a bit, so I cre­at­ed a princess with a dragon’s claw, in Wilde Island book one, Dragon’s Keep, and a pow­er­ful frac­tious drag­on with his own par­tic­u­lar his­to­ry or rather, ‘hissssto­ry’. From there the drag­on char­ac­ters con­tin­ued to enter the books with their own majes­tic, intel­li­gent, wild, impe­ri­ous, stub­born, delight­ful, per­son­al­i­ties. Vazan flew into In the Time of Drag­on Moon with her own pithy opin­ions on the Eng­lish Queen who holds Uma’s tribe cap­tive on the south­ern­most tip of Wilde Island;

“This queen will leave the king’s sol­diers in Devil’s Boot. We’ll lose all our free­dom to these Eng­lish vermin!”

LT: Ha! I love that the drag­ons are enter­ing of their own accord. But speak­ing of Eng­lish queens… It seems like a bunch of research went into this book. Can you tell us about that? Was it dif­fer­ent from pre­vi­ous books? Were there any sur­pris­es or stum­bling blocks? Do you think you’ll reuse any of that research in future stories?

JLC: All the research I’d done on medieval life for the first two books helped this book enor­mous­ly. That said, In The Time of Drag­on Moon offered a brand new set of chal­lenges. This time trib­al med­i­cine had to play a vital role. I cre­at­ed the Adan’s med­i­c­i­nal approach from many sources start­ing with books about medieval med­i­cine, and expand­ing to books and arti­cles on trib­al med­i­cine, prefer­ably writ­ten by indige­nous heal­ers them­selves. I was also priv­i­leged to lis­ten to first­hand accounts of tra­di­tion­al heal­ing prac­tices. All these influ­ences quick­ened my imag­i­na­tion and helped me cre­ate the Adan’s close rela­tion­ship with plants, and his heal­ing phi­los­o­phy. The research also com­pelled me to help save the rain­forests, where plants vital to heal­ing are even now being destroyed. Help out here.

JLC: Final­ly, you asked if there were many sur­pris­es and stum­bling blocks. Yes! The good news is every stum­bling block is a cre­ative oppor­tu­ni­ty. Much as I hate stum­bling blocks, I’ve grown to love the sur­pris­ing results.

LT: Janet, you’re one of the most cre­ative peo­ple I’ve ever met, and that’s say­ing some­thing giv­en how many authors and artists I know! Can you give us a tiny peek into how your cre­ative process works?

JLC: Wow. Thanks for that, Lau­rie. We’ve talked a lot about cre­ative process in my nov­el writ­ing cours­es and the rule is always ‘Do what works for you,’ so know­ing my process may not be the same as yours or any­one else’s, I’ll share a bit about what’s worked for me over the years. I start each day as tab­u­la rasa as pos­si­ble, begin­ning with yoga, med­i­ta­tion, and prayer then mov­ing into short spir­i­tu­al read­ings from a few books, and jour­nal­ing — morn­ing pages right out of Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way. All of this read­ies me for cre­ative flow.

JLC: When the kids were school age I broke the morn­ing up, doing the yoga and med­i­ta­tion before get­ting them off to school, and the rest of the things after. Medi­a­tion clears my mind and read­ies me for jour­nal­ing which is “active lis­ten­ing” on paper. The jour­nal pages usu­al­ly drift toward what’s hap­pen­ing in the book so I move to the office and begin writ­ing. The process sounds time con­sum­ing but it works for me. Also, aside from my love­ly cri­tique group the Divin­ers, I belong to an artist’s group with fel­low authors, painters, musi­cians and sculp­tors called Artemis.

Artemis photo
Left to right, author Janet Lee Carey, visu­al artist Hei­di Pet­tit, artist/sculptor Jill Sahlstrom, author Kather­ine Grace Bond, not pic­tured; sculp­tor Lisa Sheets, author Dawn Knight, author/musician Mar­garet Kellermann.

JLC: When Artemis gets togeth­er, we take turns shar­ing about our cre­ative process. I learn as much from the visu­al artists and sculp­tors as I do from fel­low authors. These ses­sions siz­zle with cre­ativ­i­ty. Pho­to below of our year­ly Riv­er Rock Cer­e­mo­ny. We throw stones in the riv­er with our wish­es, plans and dreams. Hours of ker­plunk­ing fun!
Artemis river photo
LT: Ah, wish­es, plans, and dreams… the per­fect segue to my next ques­tion: When­ev­er I’m not writ­ing, I feel like I should be; but when­ev­er I am writ­ing, I feel­ing like I’m neglect­ing oth­er impor­tant things in my life. What tricks have you learned for bal­anc­ing your writ­ing with the demands of keep­ing up with the indus­try, pro­mot­ing exist­ing work, tak­ing care of your home and fam­i­ly, per­son­al recre­ation and self-care, etc.?

JLC: I once made the mis­take of con­fid­ing this very thing to a soc­cer mom and she looked at me like I was off my rock­er! Here’s the thing. I think writ­ers feel com­pelled deep down to write. When we neglect it for a while, we get the nig­gling feel­ing that some­thing is wrong. When we neglect it for too long, we feel depressed or angry. Once we give in to the urge and actu­al­ly sit down and write, we feel a great deal bet­ter. But then as we write, the laun­dry piles up and the dust bun­nies gath­er foment­ing war under the beds, and our chil­dren want a real­ly decent din­ner and we feel guilty for hav­ing tak­en so much time away to write, so we go back to our dai­ly duties (the ones oth­er peo­ple under­stand). Then we begin to neglect our writ­ing and start get­ting that nig­gling feel­ing that something’s wrong all over again. There is No solu­tion Lau­rie T. and I’m not even going to go into tak­ing nec­es­sary time to stay in shape or keep up with the indus­try and launch your books once they’ve been writ­ten. The only thing you can do is to be kind to your­self and your fam­i­ly and to accept that things will rarely feel in bal­ance. Bot­tom line your chil­dren will sur­vive and you will get some writ­ing done before you die.

LT: “Bot­tom line your chil­dren will sur­vive and you will get some writ­ing done before you die.” Words to live by. Thank you, Janet! 
LT: One more ques­tion for you: I think every book teach­es us some­thing new, about the world, about our­selves, or about the craft of writ­ing. What have you learned as a result of writ­ing this book?

JLC: So well said, Lau­rie! Craft wise I chal­lenged myself to leap and loop. To leap into new scenes and briefly loop back and catch the read­er up to any­thing impor­tant that hap­pened between scenes that affect­ed the char­ac­ter emo­tion­al­ly. I’m still try­ing to per­fect this fab­u­lous tech­nique. As to what I learned from the book, I think Uma’s per­son­al strength as she’s try­ing to heal Queen Adela’s mad­ness taught me some­thing vital about love, accep­tance and the kind of deep heal­ing that women often do which is over­looked or tak­en for grant­ed. As Uma’s med­i­cines fail, she sim­ply bathes the queen, combs her hair, and sings to her. Uma sim­ply stays by the woman’s side, for as Uma says, “Joy and sor­row are songs women have long known.”

LT: Breath­tak­ing­ly beau­ti­ful, Janet.  Thank you so much for answer­ing all of my questions! 
Are you hooked yet? Here’s some more infor­ma­tion about Janet and the book…

Book trail­er:


  • In the Time of Drag­on Moon is a sto­ry of courage and romance that read­ers will not soon for­get.” ~VOYA
  • “The author’s world-build­ing is detailed and fas­ci­nat­ing … This is a must-pur­chase for libraries own­ing the ear­li­er install­ments and a great choice for where teen fan­ta­sy is pop­u­lar.—School Library Journal


About the Author:
Janet Lee Carey grew up in the bay area under tow­er­ing red­woods that whis­pered secrets in the wind. When she was a child she dreamed of becom­ing a mer­maid (this nev­er happened).She also dreamed of becom­ing a pub­lished writer (this did hap­pen after many years of rejec­tion). She is now an award-win­ning author of nine nov­els for chil­dren and teens. Her Wilde Island Chron­i­cles are ALA Best Books for Young Adults. She won the 2005 Mark Twain Award and was final­ist for the Wash­ing­ton State Book Award. Janet links each new book with a char­i­ta­ble orga­ni­za­tion empow­er­ing youth to read and reach out. She tours the U.S. and abroad pre­sent­ing at schools, book fes­ti­vals and con­fer­ences for writ­ers, teach­ers, and librar­i­ans. Janet and her fam­i­ly live near Seat­tle by a lake where ris­ing morn­ing mist forms into the shape of drag­ons. She writes dai­ly with her impe­ri­ous cat, Uke, seat­ed on her lap. Uke is jeal­ous of the key­board. If Janet tru­ly under­stood her place in the world, she would reserve her fin­gers for the sole pur­pose of scratch­ing behind Uke’s ear, but humans are very hard to train. Vis­it her web­site here.

Thanks again to Janet Lee Carey for appearing!

Interview with author Susan Lynn Meyer

I recent­ly post­ed a review of a fic­tion pic­ture book called NEW SHOES. I love the book so much, and today I’m thrilled to wel­come the author, Susan Lynn Mey­er, to the blog! Susan was kind enough to answer a few of my ques­tions. I hope you’ll enjoy get­ting to know her a lit­tle bet­ter. I know I did!

Susan Lynn Meyer

LT: Wel­come, Susan! I’m so excit­ed to learn more of the sto­ry behind the sto­ry of NEW SHOES.
SLM: Hi Lau­rie! Thanks so much for your inter­est in NEW SHOES.
LT: How did you first become inter­est­ed in writ­ing about the Jim Crow time peri­od, and what in par­tic­u­lar led to think­ing about fram­ing it in the con­text of try­ing on shoes?
SLM: I was read­ing about seg­re­ga­tion from the 1940s onward both just because I was inter­est­ed and as research for a nov­el I just fin­ished writ­ing. (It is called SKATING WITH THE STATUE OF LIBERTY and it’s about Gus­tave, a twelve-year-old French Jew­ish refugee who comes to New York in 1942 because his fam­i­ly is flee­ing the Nazis.) I was star­tled to come across a piece of infor­ma­tion I hadn’t known about—that in many stores, African-Amer­i­cans were not per­mit­ted to try on clothes, hats, or shoes. I thought a lot about what that must have felt like, espe­cial­ly for a child encoun­ter­ing it for the first time. As I mulled that over, it began to shape itself into a story.
LT: I love that, how one book project sparks and informs anoth­er, and in a dif­fer­ent genre and on fair­ly dif­fer­ent sub­ject, too. How much research did you do for this book? Can you tell us about that process? Dur­ing your research, did any­thing sur­prise you, catch you off guard, or make you change your planned course for the book?
SLM: I’m lucky because I have access to a ter­rif­ic aca­d­e­m­ic library since I’m also an Eng­lish pro­fes­sor at Welles­ley Col­lege. I went to the stacks, checked out a lot of books about Jim Crow, and start­ed read­ing! Among the most intrigu­ing things I came across were accounts of the ways, large and small, that African-Amer­i­cans coped with Jim Crow, the psy­cho­log­i­cal and prac­ti­cal strate­gies they used. Par­ents would make sure to bring along water so that their kids didn’t have to face seg­re­gat­ed drink­ing foun­tains. Peo­ple would refuse to patron­ize restau­rants where pro­pri­etors refused to seat them and would only sell them food by hand­ing it out the back door. I loved the sto­ry of one black teenag­er who had a job at a gro­cery store and who was infu­ri­at­ed by the stu­pid­i­ty of the fact that brown eggs and white eggs had dif­fer­ent prices—and that white eggs were cheap­er because they were “bet­ter.” So he’d secret­ly switch the eggs around, mix­ing them up in the car­tons! (I put that inci­dent in the nov­el I just fin­ished, but I end­ed up tak­ing it out. I love it so much that I may use it again someday!)
SLM: The hard­est thing about writ­ing NEW SHOES (it went through 23 drafts over sev­er­al years) was fig­ur­ing out what Ella Mae and Char­lotte could do to resist the unfair sit­u­a­tion they found them­selves in. The solu­tion they come up with isn’t per­fect, in the sense that the shoes are still sec­ond-hand, but peo­ple can buy them with dig­ni­ty. Sales at Mr. Johnson’s shoe store, where Ella Mae hasn’t been allowed to try on shoes, are like­ly to suf­fer as a result, which is a nice addi­tion­al benefit.
LT: In EMMANUEL’S DREAM, I wrote about a dis­abled man from Ghana, despite being none of those things myself. I know peo­ple have ques­tioned if I should’ve been the one to write that sto­ry, despite the fact that I did exten­sive research and had the man­u­script vet­ted many times along the way, includ­ing by Emmanuel him­self. IT was a sto­ry I felt I had to tell, in part because no one else had, but also because I could so iden­ti­fy with the emo­tions involved, even if not the spe­cif­ic expe­ri­ences. Clear­ly you also believe that it is okay to write out­side of our own cul­ture, as long as we do so with care and respect. What do you say to peo­ple who ques­tion your author­i­ty to write this book?
SLM: All I can real­ly say is that I write the sto­ries that come to me. When I found out about this aspect of Jim Crow, it real­ly hit home for me, and I mused a lot about what that would have felt like, espe­cial­ly for a child encoun­ter­ing it for the first time. Imag­in­ing and won­der­ing led me to this sto­ry. I’m not demo­graph­i­cal­ly sim­i­lar to any of the pro­tag­o­nists in the books I’ve had pub­lished so far, actually—I’m not a black Amer­i­can girl liv­ing in the 1950s and I’m not a French Jew­ish boy liv­ing in the 1940s either (as in my nov­el BLACK RADISHES or the sequel to it that I just com­plet­ed, SKATING WITH THE STATUE OF LIBERTY). Writ­ing fic­tion is about imag­in­ing your way into a char­ac­ter who is not you—and try­ing to do it so effec­tive­ly that your read­er is drawn in as well. Writ­ing for chil­dren espe­cial­ly involves this kind of leap—because all the writ­ers are adults try­ing to imag­ine their ways into the minds of chil­dren. Writ­ing across gen­der or time or nation­al­i­ty also requires this kind of leap.
SLM: But in order to be per­sua­sive to the read­er, that imag­i­na­tive leap has to be an informed one, and it was also impor­tant for me to get the reac­tion of black friends to NEW SHOES when it was in draft. One ear­ly read­er told me some­thing that real­ly res­onat­ed with me. I had ini­tial­ly had Ella Mae’s moth­er direct­ly express anger after the shoe store inci­dent. But this friend said that her old­er rel­a­tives would not have talked that way about racism to their chil­dren, that to pro­tect the child, they would have encour­aged the child to think pos­i­tive­ly. When I thought about my own old­er rel­a­tives and also about the way I am as a par­ent, that felt so intu­itive­ly right to me. So I changed Ella Mae’s mother’s answer. Now she tells Ella Mae that she should think about how nice her feet will look for school. And that feels so much more like what a par­ent in those cir­cum­stances would do. I’m real­ly grate­ful for that reader’s ear­ly response.
LT: Oh, I love that answer! So, how exact­ly were you able to “imag­ine your way into a char­ac­ter who is not you” in this case? How did you put your­self in some­one else’s shoes (no pun intend­ed), and tell a sto­ry that—on the sur­face, at least—you have no direct expe­ri­ence with? What was the per­son­al con­nec­tion for you?
SLM: In some ways, my own expe­ri­ences inevitably find their way into any­thing that I write. I was one of six chil­dren, mon­ey was lim­it­ed, and we wore a lot of hand-me-downs. I now enjoy telling stu­dents at the schools I vis­it about an absolute­ly humil­i­at­ing expe­ri­ence I once had with hand-me-down boy’s long under­wear. (Don’t ask!) My par­ents also had me and my broth­ers and sis­ters pol­ish our school shoes every week­end and we washed the shoelaces when we did it. I’ve nev­er asked to find out if any­body else did that! I wasn’t great as a kid about doing chores—who is?—but I actu­al­ly didn’t mind pol­ish­ing my shoes and I found wash­ing the dirt out of the shoelaces, the way Ella Mae does, very sat­is­fy­ing. On a deep­er lev­el, there’s the issue of injus­tice of all kinds, which I was very attuned to as a child. I often said furi­ous­ly, “It isn’t fair!”—and I hope kids will have an intense reac­tion of this kind to the sit­u­a­tion in NEW SHOES.
LT: Well, I’ve nev­er pol­ished shoes or washed shoelaces, but I’m sure almost every kid—including me—has roared, “It isn’t fair!” It’s kind of sad that we become more desen­si­tized to injus­tice as we get older.
LT: I think every book teach­es us some­thing new, about the world, about our­selves, or about the craft of writ­ing. What have you learned as a result of writ­ing this book? What sur­prised you the most dur­ing the process?
SLM: I loved hear­ing from Eric Velasquez about his method of illus­tra­tion, and it real­ly made me real­ize how much a pic­ture book is a tru­ly col­lab­o­ra­tive process. Eric has mod­els pose, takes pho­tographs, and then paints from those pho­tographs. He chose two girls who were friends to pose for Ella Mae and Char­lotte, because he want­ed their close­ness to show in their body lan­guage. It is won­der­ful to me to look at his paint­ings and to think about all the peo­ple besides me—Eric Velasquez, the mod­els, as well as all the peo­ple work­ing at Hol­i­day House—who came togeth­er to cre­ate this book. I also espe­cial­ly love the end papers Eric designed for the book, which are trac­ings of one of his girl model’s feet. They encap­su­late what the sto­ry is about so won­der­ful­ly in a sim­ple and pow­er­ful visu­al image.
LT: Yes, I loved the end papers, too! And the illus­tra­tions are so beau­ti­ful­ly real­is­tic. Kudos to Eric! 
LT: I always said that I would know I’d made it when I received one let­ter from one child say­ing that some­thing I wrote made a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence in his or her life. How do you define suc­cess? Do you feel like you’ve achieved it? If not, what’s left on your to-do list?
SLM: I think I’m always going to want to write anoth­er book and get it pub­lished, so I don’t know if I’ll ever real­ly feel as if I’m at the point of suc­cess! But the oth­er day, I checked out a book from the pub­lic library, and it been read so many times that the pages were soft they were about to tear. What I want more than huge sales is to have my books find a home in libraries and stay there for many years wait­ing for a child to come along and pick them up. I think when I come upon a copy of one of my books in a library and the pages are as worn and soft as the pages of that book—that’s when I will have achieved success.
LT: That’s a won­der­ful image and a per­fect def­i­n­i­tion of success.
LT: Thanks so much for tak­ing the time to answer my ques­tions, Susan! It’s been love­ly to learn more about your process.
SLM: Thank you so much for hav­ing me on your blog!

Interview with author Deborah Hopkinson

Today I’m thrilled to wel­come back author Deb­o­rah Hop­kin­son. I inter­viewed Deb­o­rah here pre­vi­ous­ly in a more gen­er­al sense, but this time I’d like to talk specifics about her lat­est book, KNIT YOUR BIT, com­ing from Put­nam Juve­nile on Feb­ru­ary 21, 2013.

KNIT YOUR BIT is a fic­tion­al­ized account of the real “Knit-In” event at Cen­tral Park in 1918. Despite being fic­tion, it was heav­i­ly researched to get the his­tor­i­cal details right, and read­ers can learn a lot about the time, World War I, and the peo­ple who lived then.

Please help me wel­come back Deborah!


LT: Hi, Deb­o­rah. It’s great to have you back. I love KNIT YOUR BIT and how it melds a fic­tion­al sto­ry with a non­fic­tion event. How did you first become inter­est­ed in writ­ing about this top­ic? Where did the seed of the sto­ry come from?
DH: The seed of this sto­ry actu­al­ly dates back some years, to my first pro­fes­sion­al job.  After grad­u­ate school I stum­bled into a career in fundrais­ing, which I have pur­sued ever since, in addi­tion to being a writer.  My first posi­tion was Staff Writer for the Amer­i­can Red Cross in Honolulu.
DH: As part of a his­to­ry cel­e­bra­tion, I wrote some arti­cles for the organization’s newslet­ter and stum­bled upon one of fire­men knit­ting in World War I.  I loved that image.  As a writer inter­est­ed in his­to­ry, I col­lect books on a wide vari­ety of top­ics.  At some point, think­ing about the upcom­ing anniver­sary of WWI, I remem­bered that pho­to and began read­ing about the his­to­ry of knit­ting.  Even­tu­al­ly, in Anne L. Macdonald’s NO IDLE HANDS, THE SOCIAL HISTORY OF AMERICAN KNITTING, I found a ref­er­ence to the 1918 Cen­tral Park Knit­ting Bee, and that’s where the sto­ry began.
LT: What kind of read­er do you think this book will appeal to?
DH: I think that my edi­tor, Shau­na Rossano, and the illus­tra­tor, Steven Gua­nac­cia, have done won­ders to make this sto­ry appeal­ing to young read­ers. I hope peo­ple who love crafts and knit­ting will be inter­est­ed.  I know that I often sign copies of my pic­ture book, SWEET CLARA AND THE FREEDOM QUILT, which are being giv­en as gifts to adults.  I hope folks will give KNIT YOUR BIT to friends (women and men, as well as boys and girls) who knit.
LT: What was your research process like for this book?
DH: Like many of my pic­ture books, KNIT YOUR BIT is his­tor­i­cal fic­tion inspired by real peo­ple or events, and includes an author’s note about knit­ting for sol­diers dur­ing World War I.
DH: The New York Times pub­lished an arti­cle on the knit­ting bee back in 1918, and some of the details of the prizes award­ed are pulled direct­ly from that piece.  I also researched and got per­mis­sion for the his­toric pho­tos on the end­pa­pers, which include one of sheep graz­ing dur­ing World War I on the White House lawn.  Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I wasn’t able to track down per­mis­sions for the Maki­ki fire sta­tion pho­to­graph, but I have added to my Pin­ter­est Board for KNIT YOUR BIT:

Knit Your Bit cover
KNIT YOUR BIT by Deb­o­rah Hopkinson

LT: What was your favorite part of the book to research and/or write?   What was the hard­est part of the research and/or writ­ing for you? How did you deal with that?
DH: I actu­al­ly love doing research of any kind.  The hard­est part is not hav­ing enough time, or not being able to trav­el to do research on-site.  For KNIT YOUR BIT, the fact that I couldn’t actu­al­ly find any first-per­son accounts of chil­dren who par­tic­i­pat­ed in the knit­ting bee meant that I felt the sto­ry, although based on real events, need­ed to be his­tor­i­cal fic­tion to be appeal­ing to read­ers. I always tell kids that when authors put words in character’s mouths the sto­ry becomes fiction.
LT: How have your research and writ­ing process­es evolved over the course of your career?
DH: I think my process­es have improved over the years.  I’m writ­ing a non­fic­tion book now on World War II, and I’m being care­ful to cite each source metic­u­lous­ly as I go along.
DH: This is some­thing I learned the hard way, espe­cial­ly with longer non­fic­tion.  The vet­ting and research process for my 2012 book, TITANIC, VOICES FROM THE DISASTER (a YALSA Non­fic­tion Award final­ist) was incred­i­bly detailed and time-con­sum­ing, because of the wealth of infor­ma­tion and the sheer com­plex­i­ty of the sto­ry.  So even though it might be tedious, I have learned to take my time and care­ful­ly track infor­ma­tion and sources. It def­i­nite­ly saves time later!
LT: I think every book teach­es us some­thing new, about the world, about our­selves, or about the craft of writ­ing. What have you learned as a result of writ­ing this book?
DH: I tend to write for old­er read­ers, espe­cial­ly since both my kids are now in their twen­ties.  I like to do author vis­its and talk with first and sec­ond graders and imag­ine how the book will sound if I’m shar­ing it with them.  That was espe­cial­ly help­ful in par­ing down this sto­ry to be as kid-friend­ly as possible.
LT: Besides pro­mot­ing your new book, what are you work­ing on now?
DH: Right now, I’m fin­ish­ing the proof­read­ing for my fall mid­dle grade nov­el, THE GREAT TROUBLE, A MYSTERY OF LONDON, THE BLUE DEATH, AND A BOY CALLED EEL.  I’m very excit­ed about it because 2013 is the bicen­ten­ni­al of the birth of Dr. John Snow, whose work in the 1854 cholera epi­dem­ic changed med­ical his­to­ry.  With the recent out­breaks of cholera in Haiti, this top­ic is espe­cial­ly rel­e­vant today.
LT: Is there any­thing else you’d like to tell us about?
DH: I have sev­er­al knit­ter friends who helped with this book, includ­ing Robin Smith, who knits hats for pre­ma­ture babies with her sec­ond graders.
DH: I, on the oth­er hand, am an extreme­ly poor knit­ter and I’m not very good at hats – or socks.   I knit scarves for relax­ation only, and only dare give my hand­i­work to peo­ple who don’t knit at all. I am lucky enough to live near Port­land, Ore­gon, where there are many won­der­ful yarn stores and enthu­si­as­tic knitters.
DH: I’m also delight­ed that the tra­di­tion of knit­ting for sol­diers con­tin­ues today. I hope that KNIT YOUR BIT inspires read­ers to learn a new skill or share one with others.
LT: Thanks so much for shar­ing with us, Deb­o­rah. And best of luck with KNIT YOUR BIT!

Interview with author Audrey Vernick

I’m still pinch­ing myself about sign­ing with Ammi-Joan Paque­tte at Erin Mur­phy Lit­er­ary Agency. I’ve always known Joan and Erin are amaz­ing, but I was­n’t expect­ing the close-knit, ultra-sup­port­ive group of EMLA clients who total­ly sweet­en the pot. I set about try­ing to read all of their books and was thrilled to dis­cov­er fel­low non­fic­tion (and fic­tion!) author Audrey Ver­nick. I knew I want­ed to get to know her bet­ter as well as  pick her brain a lit­tle, so I’m excit­ed to be the 3rd stop on her sum­mer 2011 blog tour!

Audrey Ver­nick

Lau­rie: Wel­come, Audrey! Thanks for stop­ping by. Your first book, IS YOUR BUFFALO READY FOR KINDERGARTEN, was a light-heart­ed, hilar­i­ous­ly fun­ny book for the preschool set. Your sec­ond, SHE LOVED BASEBALL: THE EFFA MANLEY STORY, was a seri­ous, pas­sion­ate pic­ture book biog­ra­phy. Now, here we are cel­e­brat­ing your return to young fic­tion with the release of TEACH YOUR BUFFALO TO PLAY DRUMS. (Con­grat­u­la­tions!)

Lau­rie: One of the things that jumps out at me about all of your books is what a strong and unique voice they have, yet they’re total­ly dif­fer­ent! As authors, we’re told, and often strug­gle, to find our own one true voice… but you’ve found two! How did you devel­op them? How do you switch back and forth between your BUFFALO voice and your non­fic­tion voice? 

Audrey: I strug­gled with this ques­tion, because before I was pub­lished, I found it mad­den­ing the way peo­ple, espe­cial­ly edi­tors, talked about voice. “It’s hard to define, but I know it when I see it.” THAT IS NOT HELPFUL! I want to give an infor­ma­tive answer, but the truth is that voice is the one part of the writ­ing process that’s just there for me. I’m not at all con­scious of devel­op­ing voice or switch­ing between voic­es. I write and it’s there.
Audrey: But as I think more about it, my brain keeps me pulling me back to the tru­ly dread­ful pic­ture books I used to write, which had no voice at all. Before writ­ing for kids, I wrote lit­er­ary short fic­tion for adults (which makes writ­ing for kids seem like a lucra­tive busi­ness deci­sion). My voice was always in the short sto­ries, but it did take me some time to get it into my chil­dren’s writ­ing. A lot of time, actu­al­ly. Some­thing clicked into place with the buf­fa­lo books, and the best expla­na­tion I can give is that I learned to get out of my own way. I used to waste a lot of my nar­ra­tive space explain­ing the world I cre­at­ed and why char­ac­ters act­ed as they did. Now I state it and move on. And that, some­how, cleared out the room my voice had been wait­ing for.

Audrey: Late­ly I’ve been think­ing a lot about voice in non­fic­tion. I real­ly admire some voice-heavy non­fic­tion books, and I’m play­ing around with that, at least in my head, for the non­fic­tion project I’ve been work­ing on for years. The exam­ples that come to mind are both base­ball books–Kadir Nel­son’s WE ARE THE SHIP, about as per­fect as a book could be (though maybe more for adult read­ers of chil­dren’s books than for chil­dren), and the won­der­ful YOU NEVER HEARD OF SANDY KOUFAX? by Jon­ah Win­ter (illus­trat­ed by Andre Car­ril­ho). Those books deliv­er on three fronts, where I was only expect­ing two–information about a sub­ject in which I was inter­est­ed, gor­geous art, and the bonus: a real­ly inter­est­ing voice to tell the story.
Lau­rie: You also have a nov­el com­ing out this fall. How did you find that voice, and how is it like or unlike the two we’ve already seen? 

Audrey: The voice in WATER BALLOON is truest to… me. To who I am. Not nec­es­sar­i­ly who I was at thir­teen, the age of the book’s narrator/protagonist, but who I am now, dis­tilled back to a younger age. 
Audrey: I start­ed this book sev­en years ago and the voice was the exact same in the first sen­tence of the first draft as it was when I com­plet­ed the final revi­sion. But man alive, did I need to work on plot. If my char­ac­ters had their way, they would lounge and emote for 300 pages. 
Lau­rie: Anoth­er mul­ti-tal­ent­ed author of both fic­tion and non­fic­tion (and fel­low EMLA client) Chris Bar­ton wrote in a guest post on Ras­co from RIF, “I slide back and forth between fic­tion and non­fic­tion with­out real­ly think­ing much about it, my expe­ri­ences with one build­ing on the oth­er. I sus­pect the youngest read­ers approach the two gen­res pret­ty much the same way—when you’ve explored only a smidge of the world, all books are about explor­ing more of it. It’s as we get old­er, as both read­ers and writ­ers, that our tastes divide.
Lau­rie: I guess, for some of us, our tastes nev­er did divide. (Per­haps because we nev­er grew up?) Do you have a pref­er­ence? Which cre­ative process do you enjoy more: fic­tion or nonfiction?
Audrey: I think writ­ing fun­ny comes more nat­u­ral­ly and is more fun. Writ­ing non­fic­tion is hard­er. But some­times there’s a greater sat­is­fac­tion in suc­cess­ful­ly com­plet­ing a dif­fi­cult task. And I feel some­thing that’s found at the cross­roads of pride and delight at shar­ing some­one else’s sto­ry with a wide audience. 
Audrey: I would­n’t say I’m drawn to non­fic­tion as a whole, though. Some indi­vid­ual sto­ries just call me. And while it’s obvi­ous that some of them are baseball–in the case of my first book, BARK & TIM, it was a paint­ing. I have likened see­ing Tim Brown’s paint­ing to the human-inter­est sto­ry I once read about a woman who saw a news sto­ry about an orphan in anoth­er coun­try and had this imme­di­ate, strong knowl­edge: That’s my son. It was that strong when I saw “Feed­ing Bark.” That’s MY paint­ing. My art. My sto­ry. For the play­ful, fic­tion books, I’m sim­ply drawn in by the strong pull/desire to write some­thing funny.
Lau­rie: Chris also wrote, “based on my own expe­ri­ences slip­ping back and forth between gen­res, I believe they might even find inspi­ra­tion for their next fic­tion project.
Lau­rie: Do you also find that one informs the oth­er? Do you need to do both to stay bal­anced? Where do you pull such dif­fer­ent ideas from? Do you think they come from the same place somehow? 
Audrey: Both kinds of stories—fiction and nonfiction—call to me. I don’t go seek­ing sto­ry ideas. I find myself won­der­ing about some­thing or some­one (non­fic­tion) and want­i­ng to explore to find out more. Usu­al­ly in the case of fic­tion pic­ture books, I say some­thing, though some­times I just think it, and it echoes until I start look­ing at it for sto­ry poten­tial. The clos­est I’ve come to one inform­ing the oth­er was when read­ing a par­tic­u­lar kind of non­fic­tion pic­ture book—the spate of inter-species friend­ship books—led to writ­ing a fic­tion spoof of the genre, the upcom­ing BOGART & VINNIE.
Lau­rie: Do you tend to work on fic­tion projects and non­fic­tion projects at the same time? Or do you keep them com­plete­ly separate? 
Audrey: I work on them simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. I don’t have any trou­ble switch­ing gears, for the most part.
Lau­rie: How is your process dif­fer­ent for some­thing like TEACH YOUR BUFFALO TO PLAY DRUMS and SHE LOVED BASEBALL? 
Audrey: I just need an idea to start writ­ing fic­tion pic­ture books. A title, a premise, a character–those have all been my start­ing points for dif­fer­ent fic­tion pic­ture books. For non­fic­tion, I need a lot of infor­ma­tion. I need inter­views, back­ground infor­ma­tion, etc. And I need time for the sto­ry to boil down enough that I can envi­sion an open­ing scene, where an open­ing scene almost always nat­u­ral­ly emerges for me when writ­ing fic­tion pic­ture books.
Audrey: When I get stuck writ­ing non­fic­tion, it’s usu­al­ly a good hint that I need to do more research. When I’m stuck writ­ing fic­tion, it’s kind of my own prob­lem to fix. After wait­ing a few days to see if an answer comes to me, I’ll some­times try to sit down and write five pos­si­ble ways out. This usu­al­ly works. One thing I’ve done when stuck writ­ing both fic­tion and non­fic­tion, with suc­cess, is talk it through with smart people. 
Audrey: The edit­ing process is sim­i­lar in that both are almost always about strip­ping away to find the essen­tial sto­ry. With non­fic­tion, it’s wrench­ing, because you’re cut­ting away parts of a life. I still mourn for a scene in SHE LOVED BASEBALL. I find it more sat­is­fy­ing with fic­tion, because for me, my humor usu­al­ly comes through best when it’s in a stark, brief form. But that’s not how I write it–that hap­pens in revision. 

Lau­rie: What are you work­ing on now? 

Audrey: I am revis­ing a recent­ly acquired pic­ture book enti­tled BOGART & VINNIE, A COMPLETELY MADE-UP STORY OF TRUE FRIENDSHIP. I find myself in the new-to-me sit­u­a­tion of turn­ing a char­ac­ter from a pot­bel­lied pig into a rhinoceros. 
Audrey: I’m also plan­ning to start a new upper mid­dle-grade nov­el this sum­mer, which scares me more than any oth­er kind of writ­ing. Nov­els are so con­sum­ing and, for me, real­ly hard! I know a lot about my main char­ac­ter and her sit­u­a­tion, about where she starts and where she’ll end up, but get­ting her to move and do things has proven to be a challenge. 
Audrey: Mixed in there are a cou­ple of oth­er pic­ture book projects–mostly fic­tion, with one nonfiction–that I return to every now and then. And one new one that’s just start­ing to scratch its way to the surface. 
Lau­rie: What do you most want peo­ple to know about you as an author and as a person? 
Audrey: That is a big question.
Audrey: I’m a big read­er. The moments I love best as a read­er are the ones that make me laugh, or the ones I HAVE to read aloud or paste into an email for some­one else whom I know will get it exact­ly as I do, or stum­bling upon phras­ing that pleas­es me to my core. Most recent­ly, it was this sen­tence in Ann Patch­et­t’s STATE OF WONDER, when a char­ac­ter receives bad news: “There was inside of her a very mod­est phys­i­cal col­lapse, not a faint but a sort of fold­ing, as if she were an exten­sion ruler and her ankles and knees and hips were all being brought togeth­er at clos­er angles.” It’s not an espe­cial­ly impor­tant moment in the book, but those words evoked some­thing in me. I reread them sev­er­al times, with great sat­is­fac­tion and pleasure. 
Audrey: As a writer, I don’t think there’s any way to con­scious­ly strive for such moments in our own writ­ing. But I think that’s why I write–in the hope that I might pro­vide that kind of moment for a reader. 
Audrey: As a per­son, boy that’s hard. When my sis­ters and I describe peo­ple, we always find our­selves falling upon the same rubric of fun­ny, smart, and nice. They claim they haven’t, but I believe they have, more than once, sub­tly sug­gest­ed that I might want to work a bit on the nice part. I am a strange com­bi­na­tion of mis­an­thrope and some­one exceed­ing­ly fond of and loy­al to the core of peo­ple I adore.
Lau­rie: Thanks so much, Audrey! I can’t wait to see TEACH YOUR BUFFALO TO PLAY DRUMS and all of your oth­er upcom­ing projects.
Read on about Audrey, the buf­fa­lo, and more on the rest of her sum­mer 2011 blog tour:

Halloween Word Challenge 2009!

Kim­ber­ly Bak­er, super­friend and mem­ber of the dynam­ic trio, has chal­lenged me to a war of words. She knows I need a swift kick in the *** to get a first draft down (espe­cial­ly of a fic­tion novel–gasp!), but she may not know just how com­pet­i­tive I can be. Even if I lose, though, I win, since it’s just the incen­tive I need to make some good progress before our amaz­ing fall Week­end on the Water retreat in November.
As part of the deal, we’re offer­ing our­selves up for pub­lic humil­i­a­tion… um, I mean, account­abil­i­ty. If you want to cheer us on (or scoff at me for my pathet­ic attempts), you can fol­low our progress here.