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.