Author Interview: Suzanne McLain Rosenwasser

suzanneToday I welcome author Suzanne McLain Rosenwasser to my blog. She is the author of the essay collections Manhasset Stories: A Baby Boomer Looks Back and Manhasset Stories: More Baby Boomer Memories. Suzanne’s most recent publication is the historical novel Don’t Ya Know, which takes place on the fictional Corycian Island, off the coast of Long Island, at the start of the 20th Century.

Elizabeth: Welcome, Suzanne. Tell us more about Don’t Ya Know.

suzanne dont yaSuzanne: Hello, Elizabeth. Thank you for inviting me to talk about my work, in particular, Don’t Ya Know, a labor of love for my Long Island roots. Until the 1890s, Long Island’s shoreline was dotted with malodorous, fish oil factories. Terms like “The Gold Coast” and “The Hamptons” were not part of the vernacular. Change came rapidly, however, once real estate developers saw the value of beachfront luxury. By the 1900s, the ferries of the Long Island Sound transported tourists instead of fertilizer to and from the barrier islands.

Corycian (Core’seen) Island represents a microcosm of Long Island’s physical and cultural transformation through the stories of her indigenous people, the locals who meet the challenges of change head-on, though often haphazardly. The worst among them sow silent seeds of hate; while the best cling to the ancient concept of living “all-a-wanna”- or all together – and sow seeds of spirit and hope.

Elizabeth: What drew you to this time and place?

Suzanne: I grew up on Long Island in the 50s and 60s, lived on Manhattan island in the 70s, and moved to a small barrier island off Long Island’s east end, Shelter Island, in the 1980s. The similarities of those, vastly different, island environments intrigued me, and continued to do so as I visited more islands along the eastern shoreline in later years. I also wrote for a 100-year-old local newspaper in the 80s, The Shelter Island Reporter. The feature stories I researched opened up a whole world for me. I was introduced to splintered Algonquin tribes, Dutch sugar merchants, Barbadian slaves, runaway New England Quakers, and legacy baymen. This unlikely group formed an agricultural society that led to a thriving economy driven by fertilizer factories and canning plants along hundreds of miles of shoreline. This was the world of Long Island until its beaches became a mecca for real estate developers and millionaires in the1890s. I wondered how the locals dealt with that enormous transformation, along with the turbulence of the times.

Elizabeth: How much historical fact is woven into your story?

Suzanne: The story takes place from 1900-1928 when great change occurred worldwide. Corycian Islanders endured the effects of women’s suffrage, spiritualism, WWI, the flu epidemic, and Prohibition. Fortunately, there are many books specific to Long Island on these topics, including guides for Algonquin words and stories of Barbadian slaves on Long Island, as well as photographs of the factories, the Victorian cottages, the baymen, the ferries and the hotels of the era. I visited many island cemeteries from Shelter Island, New York to St. Simon’s, Georgia. Sadly, one of those had been desecrated, and the impact of that senselessness worked its way onto Corycian Island.

Elizabeth: Tell me about your protagonist, Nuna Shellfoot.

Suzanne: Nuna is of Native American and Barbadian ancestry. Nuna expresses the theme of the novel in her rhythmic dialect: “Great spirit be a mother. She feed us, we feeds dem. Round and round. That’s de way. You helps dem, so you helps alla us; all-a-wanna or all together, don’t ya know.” Nuna’s words are few, but her wisdom is great.

Elizabeth: Tell us about your essay collections, Manhasset Stories.

suzanne manhassetSuzanne: Manhasset and so many towns like it on Long Island in the mid-20th century were new hamlets, largely made up of first and second generation Americans moving from the boroughs of New York. Growing up as Baby Boomers in this era allowed a “new” post-WWII perspective. The suburbs were a new concept. It was a new middle class. The families were young and new. The highways to Long Island were new. The shopping centers and area parks were new. We lived in the epicenter of changing times. We shared a golden era, and I chose to dwell on the times we enjoy remembering. The small book was intended as a gift-sized volume. It proved so popular, I followed it up with Volume II – More Baby Boomer Memories.

Elizabeth: What led you to write these essays?

Suzanne: The New York Times had published two essays I submitted about my hometown and beach life as a Long Island Baby Boomer. The great feedback I received led me to the idea of a gift book

Elizabeth: What are the biggest differences between writing nonfiction and fiction?

Suzanne: When I write non-fiction, mostly memoir, I know how it’s going to turn out ahead of time. In fiction, the story unfolds before me as it takes on life.

Elizabeth: What does your writing day look like?

Suzanne: Having newspaper deadlines in the 1980s for everything from zoning board meetings to historical features introduced discipline to my writing days. I had two small children, so I started writing at 4 a.m. before they woke up for school. I continued to do that for the next 35+ years, either writing myself or reviewing my students’ writing.

Elizabeth: What have you read recently that you feel passionate about?

Suzanne: I listened to the audio book of The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and found the story to be so well woven with history, character, and place – all further enhanced by the French accents of the reader while I listened. Also, I reread a favorite, The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, and was once again struck by the lessons we learn about the world in fiction. This is a brilliant book. While reading it I realized a character in Don’t Ya Know, Ezra Goldsmith, may well have derived his wisdom from the influence of “Doc” in Courtenay’s book.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us more about yourself?

Suzanne: I am a retired educator who loved teaching English literature, writing, and drama to high school students. Reaching a teen’s heart is challenging and rewarding. I found the written word to be a great vehicle for that target. Also, I am a life-long writer who began entering short story contests at the age of ten. I received nothing but rejections until the age of 35 when a major publisher offered me an astonishing contract. The book ended up in publishing hell (see Harry Chapin and Me). My job at the newspaper and a website called scribd.com, renewed my writing voice.

Elizabeth: We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Elizabeth: Coffee or tea?

Suzanne: Coffee – though I’m being told to cut back. Horrors!

Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?

Suzanne: Ocean. Ocean. Ocean.

Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?

Suzanne: Hiking

Elizabeth: Violin or piano?

Suzanne: Violin

Elizabeth: Mystery or fantasy?

Suzanne: Mystery

Elizabeth: Darcy or Heathcliff?

Suzanne: Darcy

Elizabeth: Love scene or death scene?

Suzanne: Death scene

To learn more about Suzanne and her writing, visit:

www.suzannerosenwasser.com

follow her on Twitter:@zanne1 @storiesdontyaknow

and friend her on Facebook: Suzanne McLain Rosenwasser, author

 

Author Interview: A.M. Bostwick

bostwick 2I am pleased to be able to interview Abigail Bostwick for the second time. Abigail’s first middle grade novel, The Great Cat Nap, was published by Cornerstone Press in 2013. It is the story of Ace, a reporter and a cat, who solves the mystery of a missing show cat. Abigail, who publishes as A. M. Bostwick, talked about writing that novel in our first interview. The Clawed Monet is the sequel to The Great Cat Nap and was released in February of this year.

Elizabeth: Welcome Abigail! Tell us what new adventure Ace, the mystery-solving cat, is up to now.

bostwick monetAbigail: Thank you so much for hosting me, Elizabeth! In The Clawed Monet, we find Ace on the trail of a new mystery following the scandalous opening of a new art exhibit at the historic Rhys Art Museum. When opening night is lights out after a peculiar power failure and a priceless Monet reproduction is clawed beyond repair, all paws point to the new curator’s prim and proper feline – Miss Kitty. Hired by Miss Kitty, Ace and his feline and canine friends are out to find the criminal and restore the reputation of Miss Kitty and her companion before they are fired. Tailing the shadow of a “ghost cat” through the historic district and a cemetery, Ace finds himself interrogating museum guests, local residents and even a so-called psychic cat to try and solve the crime. He’ll have to fend off a pack of Dobermans and contend with a gang of raccoons– all under deadline.

Elizabeth: Sounds like fun! Do you have plans for more books about Ace?

Abigail: In my mind, Ace is always having one adventure or another! While I certainly have ideas for a third novel, I don’t have anything concrete in the works right now.

Elizabeth: You’ve also published a young-adult novel called Break the Spell. Can you tell us about it?

bostwick breakAbigail: When Allison Evans walks out of high school the last day of her senior year, she has no idea that her carefully guarded life is about to unravel. Her classmate, Ethan Knight is on the run. Accused of dealing drugs and armed with nothing but a bad reputation and his motorcycle, he takes refuge for the weekend inside the old high school. Thinking no one will find him and no one does. At least not at first. Allison tracks him down, hoping to get a newspaper story out of him. Panicked and left with no other choice, Ethan takes her captive. It should be a nightmare, but together, both of their lives take an unexpected turn. It’s time for them both to stop running from their problems, and in each other, they find common ground and someone they can trust.

When I wrote this novel, I think I most wanted to explore the secrets we sometimes keep, and how they can become toxic without someone to talk to. I found it especially hard when I was a young adult to confide in other people, especially about the things that scared me, or the things I could not fix or control.

Allison’s particular struggle with coping to accept the possibility of a debilitating, life-changing neurological disease – multiple sclerosis – was rooted in my own experience. While I couldn’t hide my early diagnosis from those around me the way Allison did, I certainly found myself wanting to do everything I possibly could to make it more bearable. Even if readers don’t have MS, I think they’ll be able to relate to Allison’s driven motivation to change her circumstances.

Elizabeth: It’s wonderful that you’ve shared your experiences and written about MS in a way accessible for young people. Do you approach writing for middle-grade readers (ages 8-13) differently than writing for young adult readers (ages 13-18) ?

Abigail: I do. When I’m writing Ace, I’m mostly having fun with the antics of felines and canines while also trying to entertain young readers (though I was reminded this week I have readers of all ages for this cat!) When I’m writing for young adults, I’m a little more candid and raw. Kids, especially teenagers, can see right through a façade or something that isn’t real. A book should be, most of all, fun. Engaging. Something people can see themselves in. If kids can see ordinary teens in literature rising to the occasion and figuring issues in their lives out, I think it’s easier for them to envision themselves doing it as well. And that’s empowering for them.

With both, I do my best to keep readers engaged with suspense and humor.

Elizabeth: What advice would you like to give to my readers who are also writers?

Abigail:I think many of us write because we have something to say, or something we want to be heard. Don’t write for trends, or the market, or what you think will sell. Write because you love it, because it’s your passion, and part of you. Write for you. Make friends who are writers, they’ll understand you better than anyone. Also, feed the cat before you start writing or he’ll lay across your keyboard.

Elizabeth: What have you read recently that you feel passionate about?

Abigail: I recently read All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood, and I absolutely loved it. She writes with this beautiful clarity, and her characters are so well-drawn and heart-wrenching. In middle grade, I read Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo and I’m still smiling about the story. The poetry in it was lovely. I also have to say, two of my great writing friends had books release last week that are incredible – Running for Water and Sky by Sandra Kring and Devil and the Bluebird by Jennifer Mason-Black. These are don’t miss books, and make me want to go on a road trip.

Elizabeth: What do you do when you are not writing?

Abigail: I read – haha! I also enjoy spending time with my cat (who looks a lot like Ace), my husband, and my niece, who is turning 9 next week. I garden a little bit, love to paint and enjoy walking in the woods.

Elizabeth: Thanks so much for joining me today.

Abigail: Thank you for hosting me. Always a pleasure.

Elizabeth: If you’d like to learn more about Abigail Bostwick and her books, visit http://ambostwick.com

You can also follow her on Twitter: @bostwickAM.

She is on Goodreads under A.M. Bostwick and welcomes questions there from readers.

Anyone can email Abigail via her website.

Author Interview: Camille Di Maio

camilleToday I’m welcoming Camille Di Maio to my series of author interviews. Camille is the author of The Memory of Us, the story of a young and wealthy Protestant woman in pre-­‐war Liverpool who befriends an Irish Catholic seminarian. Torn between her family’s expectations and her growing love for someone she’s not supposed to be with, the story follows Julianne’s journey through war, tragedy, secrets, and redemption.

Elizabeth: Welcome, Camille. Can you tell us more about your novel?

camilles bookCamille: Thank you for having me. I have always wanted to write a novel, ever since I was twelve years old. The idea to write something about a forbidden love appealed to me. When I was a teenager, we participated in something called the Ulster Project. It brought teens from Belfast, Northern Ireland to Denver for a summer. At the time, tensions were still very high between the denominations over there. Catholics and Protestants did not mingle, date, do business together, etc. So, this became the basis for the idea of a forbidden love. Ratcheting it up with Kyle, a poor immigrant on the path to priesthood and Julianne, a wealthy Protestant socialite, put many obstacles in their path – money, religion, etc.

Elizabeth: What drew you to this topic?

Camille: The topic really came together for me one day as I was driving, and the Beatles song, “Eleanor Rigby” came through on my iPod. Although I’ve heard it many times, I think I had this “forbidden love” theme brewing, and the song hit me in a particular way. Who was the old priest in the song? Who was the lonely woman? Then I thought – what if they had a history together? All the pieces started to fall in to place.

Elizabeth: How much historical fact is woven in to your story?

Camille: Quite a lot. While the plot is entirely fictional, everything surrounding it is not. The cultural tensions. The details of nursing school at the time. The terrible bombings during the Blitz. I meticulously researched fashion, food, history, lingo and such to give it as authentic a feel as I could. Nearly every place mentioned is real.

Elizabeth: What is your writing process?

Camille: While writing The Memory of Us, I drank lots of Dr. Pepper (I’m a good Texan) and stayed up until about 3 or 4 every morning writing a first draft. We have four children and run a business, so this was the only quiet time I had. My husband was a champ. Now that I’ve learned so much more about the craft of writing, I am trying to be disciplined by writing about one thousands words per day. Either the early morning or late night works best for me – when everything else in the house is settled.

Elizabeth: What are you working on now?

Camille: My publisher just bought my second book, Before the Rain Falls, which will be out in the spring of 2017. I’m about halfway finished writing it. It is quite different from the first book. It is partially historical, being set in Texas during the 1940s. And, it is told from three points of view.

Elizabeth: What have you read recently that you feel passionate about?

Camille: I am an unabashed Kate Morton fan, and her most recent book, The Lake House, was full of her signature poetic words and captivating story. This one was her first attempt at a mystery, and I found elements to be quite like another of my favorite authors, Agatha Christie.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us more about yourself?

Camille: I love the phrase “suck the marrow out of life”. I really don’t waste a minute. My bucket list is a zillion miles long, and I’m always in pursuit of something adventurous. My biggest passion is travel. I’ve been to about three-­quarters of the states, four continents, and I’m always figuring out a way to plan another trip. But, most importantly, I have been married to my husband, Rob, for nineteen years, we home school our four children, and Rob and I have been real estate investors/counselors for sixteen years. And, my faith is a big component of my life.

We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-­get-­to-­know-­the-­author-­better, nearly pointless, sort-­of-­silly, rapid-­fire questions:

Elizabeth: Coffee or tea?

Camille: Coffee – but only if it has loads of sugar and flavoring so that it masks the actual taste of the coffee. I like the IDEA of coffee.

Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?

Camille: Ocean. I grew up in Denver at the foot of the Rockies, but I am SO at home near water.

Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?

Camille: Shopping. I don’t own one pair of shoes that would be appropriate for a real hike.

Elizabeth: Violin or piano?

Camille: Piano. I studied it for eight years, but I’m quite rusty now.

Elizabeth: Mystery or fantasy?

Camille: Mystery.

Elizabeth: Darcy or Heathcliff?

Camille: Both! But, even better, Mr. Rochester. (I’m a huge fan of British literature.)

Elizabeth: Love scene or death scene?

Camille: Death scene. I love a good cry.

To learn more about Camille and her books, visit the sites below:

Website: http://www.CamilleDiMaio.com
Twitter: @camilledimaio
Instagram: camilledimaio_author
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/camilledimaio.author
Book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LhGrvDii9g

Interview with Author Pat Schmatz

Today I’m welcoming Pat Schmatz to my series of author interviews. Pat is the author of a number of novels for young adults including Bluefish, Mousetraps, Mrs. Estronsky and the U.F.O., Circle the Truth, and the recently released Lizard Radio.

Q: Welcome, Pat! Can you tell us about your new novel, Lizard Radio?

A: Lizard Radio is a coming of age story that takes place in an alternate universe, about Kivali, a gender-queer teen who might also sometimes be a lizard. It started a few years back when I sketched a young lizard wearing headphones. The lizard was trying desperately to get a signal. I began following the character, and she led me to some very unusual places. Kirkus Reviews called it science fiction, which surprised me. Others have called it dystopian. I don’t think it’s much more dystopian than our own world. I think my favorite description of it came from The Horn Book, who called it “mildly magical.”

More than anything, I’d say that it’s the story of Kivali figuring out how to tune into her own sense of ethics and truth, and to find the gray areas and gaps in the borders of a world that constantly demands either-or decisions and commitments.

Q: Many of your novels are character-driven, with a teenage protagonist who is, or thinks s/he is, an outsider. How do you go about developing your characters?

A: Like the lizard, most of my characters come to me as an impression, a feeling. They present themselves, and then I begin asking questions. I do a lot of question-asking throughout the writing process, actually writing out the dialogue of question and answer. I’ve found that a good tool for drawing out the character’s authentic voice. I also do a lot of work with setting, because I think setting and character are inextricably intertwined. I use poetry a lot. I’m not a particularly good poet, but I find the characters will often say things to me in poetry that they might not say in prose.

Q: You mentioned at a recent conference that because your novels are focused on characters, your books have been criticized for being “light on plot.” However, a starred review from Kirkus says that Lizard Radio has an “intricate, suspenseful plot.” Did you do anything differently when writing your most recent novel?

A: I did! I made up my mind that this time, by God, I was going to figure out how to plot. Someone had recommended The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson on draft #3, or maybe it was #4, I read from that book every day and followed instructions. I drew charts and graphs. I wrote out note cards. I hung graphs on my office wall. I thought very consciously about the rise and fall of action and emotion. I found it difficult – sort of like incorporating math into writing – but I think it helped.

Q: What do you find the greatest challenge in writing books for teenagers?

A: I don’t find any different challenges in writing books for teenagers that I do any other kind of writing. The greatest challenge for every writing project is to get a draft written. Once I have a rough story on paper, honing it is a matter of patience and hard work. But to go from the blank page to a real story, with living breathing people? That’s the challenge.

Q: What are some of the things you’ve done to promote your books?

A: I’m not a great promoter. When I visit schools or libraries, I like to have a topic or a workshop to teach. I find readings and signings excruciating, and I’m not much of a performer, but I do enjoy teaching. I’m passionate about books and creative expression – whether that’s writing, music, art, dance, whatever – so it’s fun to bring kids into that world with me.

I usually start my school visits off with the (true-ish) story about my very first school visit, which involved an almost debilitating case of nerves and an unfortunate encounter with a poopsicle (dog-flavored). That story generally loosens up the crowd and settles me down. Most everyone likes a good dog poop story.

Q: Do you have a favorite book or author?

A: The book that changed everything for me was The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. I read it when I was 10 or 11, and it told some truths that resonated for me in a way nothing else ever had. I decided after reading it that I wanted to write for teens. I’m amazed, when I talk with students about it now, how much kids still engage with those characters.

We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Q: Pizza or salad?
A: Pizza

Q: Ocean or mountain?
A: Ocean

Q: Tree house or doll house?
A: Tree

Q: Violin or piano?
A: Piano

Q: Comic story or learn-something story?
A: Neither. I’ll pick feel-something story every time.

Q: Laura Ingalls Wilder or Hermione Granger?
A: Can I pick Ginny Weasley?

Great Choice!

To learn more about Pat and her books, visit her website http://www.patschmatz.com, like her on Facebook http://facebook.com/PatSchmatzBooks, or follow her on twitter http://twitter.com/schmatz5

Thanks, Pat!

Author Interview: Susan Manzke

susan manskeToday I’m welcoming Susan Manzke to my series of author interviews. Susan is the author of the recently released middle-grade novel Chicken Charlie’s Year. Susan has been writing a weekly column for Wisconsin State Farmer since 1980. Her two adult romances, Never Bring Her Roses and When the Spotlight Fades were published by Doubleday.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us about your new book, Chicken Charlie’s Year?

Susan: Here’s my blurb about the book:

susan manske book ChickenTen-year-old Charlie Petkus isn’t surprised to get scratchy wool underwear from Aunt Mutzi for Christmas 1932, but he is surprised that her gift package includes a diary. To his dismay, his Lithuanian-immigrant mother thinks a diary is the perfect present. “You man of family, Casimir,” she says. “You learn to write the English like good American.” Charlie wants more than anything to make Mama proud. But he’s not sure education is the way to manhood, especially since he doesn’t like school. With the Great Depression on, Charlie thinks it would be much manlier to quit the 4th grade and go to work like his friend Ray.

From Christmas 1932 to Christmas 1933, Charlie finds plenty of fun and adventure in his ethnic neighborhood. He discovers that sledding on a car hood results in embarrassment and a very snowy bottom. He finds that a “dead” pheasant that isn’t quite as dead as he thought can make a big mess in a Ford Model B. He learns that if you take a job harvesting onions before school, you get your feet filthy on just the day they make you take your shoes off to be weighed and measured—but you also earn a whole dime for your work. By night, Charlie writes in his diary to make Mama proud. But by day, he watches Ray, who now dresses like a man, smokes like a man, and earns a man’s wage. Charlie wonders why his mama and sisters should live on cabbage soup and the occasional package of broken cookies while “the man of the family” sits in school writing a poem called “Spring is Here.” The decision Charlie makes next will determine the course of his life and his understanding of what it really means to be a man.

This story is filled with fun adventures and family moments. At times when I was writing it felt like I was channeling my father’s family.

Elizabeth: How long did it take from story idea until the book was published?

Susan: I think I’ve been working on this story most of my life. My father told funny stories about his childhood to put my sister and me to sleep. I always loved those stories and creating this novel was my way of using some of them.

I can’t exactly remember when I started writing this actual book. It has been a long time. My critique group has read bits and pieces of it for years.

The hardest part is deciding when the book was polished and ready to publish. I wanted it to be the best I could do, to honor my father and I didn’t want to mess up.

Elizabeth: You’ve been writing for Wisconsin State Farmer for many years. Can you tell us what sort of columns you write for that publication?

Susan: My column is my life. I write about things that happen to me and my family. I began writing this weekly column in 1980. Back then I had a new baby, a three-year-old, and a five-year-old. Subjects then were about raising a young family. Today I have grandchildren. They often end up in my column these days.

I like to write about the funny side of life. Sometimes something will happen on our farm, Sunnybook Farm, and it won’t seem funny until a day or two later. A stuck tractor isn’t funny when you are covered with mud and working hard to get it out, but a few days later it makes its way into my column and it is funny.

susan manske book wordsElizabeth: You’ve written a middle-grade novel, personal essays, columns (which have been published in the Words in My Pocket collections), and adult romances. How do you approach these very different kinds of writing?

Susan: I have a weekly deadline for my column, which runs about 650+ words. I’m always thinking about column ideas, so usually when I sit down I can start writing and get something done in one afternoon.

When I work on a novel, I get a germ of an idea and mull it over before starting to write. It may take me years to write a novel. I don’t outline, but I usually know the beginning and the end. The fun part is figuring out how to get from Chapter One to the end. For me it’s the journey that keeps me interested.

Elizabeth: You write in many genres, do you read in many genres? Which are your favorite?

Susan: I love to read middle-grade novels. I like anything that keeps my attention. Often ‘adult’ novels are too convoluted for me. I hate putting a book down, but my time is limited. Just tell me a good story. I have a form of dyslexia, so I’m a slow reader, but that hasn’t stopped me. I discovered my love for reading when I read Lassie Come Home in the seventh grade. Up until then reading was just a chore. I don’t want a book to be a chore to read.

Elizabeth: Tell us about yourself.

Susan: I live with my husband of 41 years, Bob, on Sunnybook Farm. We have 4 adult children, 6 grandchildren, 1 step grandson, and 1 step great granddaughter. We have 3 house cats and one dog. We also have 9 chickens and a bunch of barn cats. I love getting together with family. We laugh a lot and I never get enough of my grandchildren.

I went back to college in my 50s and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in 2009. It wasn’t easy going back to school after all those years, but every time I finished a class, I felt a great sense of accomplishment.

Elizabeth: Do you have any advice for young readers and writers?

Susan: I like to encourage writers who have dyslexia to charge ahead and write. I’m proof it can be done. Join a critique group to help improve your writing. Critiques may hurt at first, but I know I learned a lot from mine and I still do.

We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Elizabeth: Pizza or salad?

Susan: Pizza!

Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?

Susan: Mountain

Elizabeth: Tree house or doll house?

Susan: Tree House, like the one in Swiss Family Robinson

Elizabeth: Violin or piano?

Susan: Piano

Elizabeth: Comic story or learn-something story?

Susan: Tough one….I like to learn something in a story by accident, not on purpose. It has to be part of the story, even a comic story.

Elizabeth: Laura Ingalls Wilder or Hermione Granger?

Susan: Another tough one….Hermione Granger

Thanks, Susan for joining me today.  For more about Susan Manzke, visit her website: http://www.susanmanzke.net

Chicken Charlie’s Year is available here on amazon.com

Susan’s columns are available in the Words in my Pocket collections

Author Interview: Jamie Swenson

jamie swensonToday I’m welcoming Jamie Swenson to my series of author interviews. Jamie is the picture book author of Big Rig, Boom Boom Boom, and If You Were a Dog.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us about If You Were a Dog?

Jamie: If You Were a Dog released yesterday – Sept.30th. jamie book dog

When I think about this book – it makes me smile. The book asks a series of questions for kids to consider about what sort of animal they would be if they were, say, a dog, a cat, a bird, a fish, a frog – even a dinosaur. The book opens with the dog question:

If you were a dog, would you be a speedy-quick,

Lickety-sloppidy,

Scavenge-the-garbage,

Frisbee catching,

Hotdog stealing,

Pillow hogging,

Best-friend-ever sort of dog?

Would you howl at the moon?

ARRRRRROOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Some dogs do.

Elizabeth: How long did it take from story idea until the book was published?

Jamie: Sometimes the initial idea for a book just flows from me in a matter of hours. That’s what happened with If You Were a Dog. I’d been talking with a little boy who was pretending to be a dog and I asked him, “What sort of dog are you? Are you going to bark in storytime today?” And that’s really all it took – I practically ran home that day and wrote the first few lines of the book about what type of dog a child might be. I’ve had dogs my whole life – so all the questions are based on the dogs I’ve known.

Of course, a book needs more than just one fun thought … and it took me a little while to focus on only animals – and even longer to get all the descriptive words right. Plus, I believe I spent months putting hyphens in and taking hyphens out again … in total, I think it took over a year to get the text into a form I was ready to submit to publishers.

When I finally did start submitting, I sent it to five open houses that I loved – into slush piles. I didn’t hear anything for months and then one morning I saw that I had an email message from Janine O’Malley at Farrar, Straus & Giroux. She wondered if the book was still available and if I would email her a copy so she could share it with her colleagues. That was in December of 2009. I think Janine made me an offer in January and the book was scheduled to release in 2012.

AND THEN … the most amazing thing happened. Caldecott-winning illustrator Chris Raschka signed onto the project. I was stunned when I found out. I knew and respected Chris’ work – it was an unbelievable thought that he would be bringing my text to life. Of course, he’s busy. The publication date ended up moving back to 2014 to accommodate his schedule. So, the first book I sold has ended up being the third to be released. In my mind, Chris’ work was well worth the extra two year wait!

Elizabeth: Chris Raschka! How exciting! Well worth the wait. I’ve noticed that your books are each by a different illustrator. Do you, as an author, have any input on who gets to illustrate your story?

jamie book bigrigJamie: As the author, I have had no say in who the illustrators for my books would be – beyond giving a general “yes” or “no” to the choices made by my editors. So far, I have only said, “AWESOME!” to all three of the illustrators: David Walker, Ned Young, and Chris Raschka.

With each project, at some point, I do see rough sketches or early drafts of the art and I am able to give feedback. There were a few instances in each manuscript when I did give feedback that affected the final book. In all cases, I was so happy with the overall style/tone/feel of the book – I really think each illustrator brought exactly what the text needed to the project. When I look at the art in my books – I simply can’t imagine any other style/look. I’ve heard of authors being disappointed in the art in their books – or feeling a loss of control, but I have never felt that way. I go into every book – even in the early writing stage—saying, “I’m leaving space right there for an illustrator to play and have fun creating.” I have never wanted to have too much control – and I try to stay away from exacting illustration directions/notes.

jamie book boomIn my mind, every person connected with the book process knows what he/she is doing and each person adds a richness to the book that wouldn’t exist if I were the one making all the choices. I love how books represent many creative spirits coming together for the best product – because they are created for the best people on the planet – kids.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us a little about your writing process?

Jamie: My writing process is dictated by the project I’m working on. If I need to research a topic – I will spend a few weeks reading or watching everything I can that is connected to the topic and taking notes or just letting it sink into my brain. Finally, I’ll spend two or three straight days writing the first draft (if it’s a picture book) and then I’ll spend days, weeks, months, or years revising the manuscript. Usually, it’s just a matter of a month or two of writing and revising. I often write for about two hours, take a break such as a walk with my dogs, and then come back to write/revise for a few more hours. Breaks are essential – and knowing that I need to find perfect words and not settle for just okay keeps me motivated. Picture books are like a puzzle where you keep taking out and replacing pieces until they all fit together perfectly.

Elizabeth: To write for children, do you think an author needs to have regular interaction with children?

Jamie: No, I do not think that writers have to have regular interaction with kids to write for kids – I think writers have to have once been a kid and be interested in topics of interest to kids. Of course, for me, it certainly helps that I do work with kids. My work is very much affected by my daily interactions with kids, and I would certainly miss that inspiration if I suddenly went to live in a cabin in a forest without any people around me (and believe me, I have considered this – hee hee).

For me, being a storyteller/associate librarian gives me a unique perspective on the types of books that I write. I write books that I would want to use in storytime with preschoolers. My books all have opportunities for the kids to become a part of the reading – be it with howling or clapping or making the “URRRRNNNT-URRRRNNNT!” of big rig’s horn. When I write, I visualize the way the book will work with the kids I will read it to one day.

But, I know many successful authors who do not interact with kids on a daily or even weekly basis. This does not mean they ignore what today’s kids are like or what interests them or what kids need from books – it just means, like any writer – they know their subject and their audience. Some writers write for the child they once were. That’s fantastic!

Of course, if you’re writing for children/teens, it helps to understand their developmental needs. For instance, most two year olds have not yet lost a tooth, been to the principal’s office, or learned to ride a two-wheeler. I wouldn’t pick those topics in writing for a preschooler – on the flip side, most fifth graders are no longer interested in how to tie their shoes, or put on pants, or button a shirt. They don’t worry so much about nap time either. A teen might be very interested in getting his/her driver’s license, but not that interested in stories about spelling bees or first slumber parties. Knowing what your audience is currently experiencing, or will soon experience, helps you write a story that they will enjoy.

My advice to those writing for kids who are not able to be around kids – read books currently published for the age group you want to write for and think about the big emotional issues you experienced at that age. The specifics may have changed since you were a kid (What do you mean you didn’t have a cell phone? How did you text people?), but the emotions haven’t changed. It still hurts to be left out. It’s still scary to be alone in your bed in the dark. And it’s still awesome to find out that a special someone LIKE likes you.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us a little more about yourself?

Jamie: I’ve been writing for kids for about fourteen years now. My early books were certainly inspired by a combination of raising children (my husband and I have two amazing daughters) and working as an associate librarian doing early literacy storytimes. I graduated from Hamline University’s MFAC program in 2009 – that experience remains a highlight of my writing life. Through Hamline and SCBWI, I have been fortunate to meet and be inspired by an array of incredible writers and illustrators.

For me, being a writer isn’t a career as much as it is simply who I am. Words and stories float around me and inspire me. Stories and words make me happy. I love being a part of a world that creates stories for children. Writing for kids and inspiring them become readers is my vocation, I can’t image doing anything else. People ask me all the time what the best part of being a writer is – and I always answer – the best thing about being a writer is the opportunity to meet interesting, passionate, fabulous people: readers, writers, illustrators, editors, agents, book-lovers of all sorts. I honestly believe book people are the best sort of people – and people who dedicate their lives to giving kids the world through books – well, I’m blessed to be a part of that.

Elizabeth: We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Q: Pizza or salad?

A: Both.

Q: Ocean or mountain?

A: Midwest forest. As northern as possible.

Q: Tree house or doll house?

A: Doll house in a tree house.

Q: Violin or piano?

A: Lalalalala – I’m a singer.

Q: Comic story or learn-something story?

A: Both – I hope to take something away from every story I read – but if there is no comic-relief in a book – I’m not likely to keep reading it for long. That is NOT to say that I wouldn’t read a dark topic or a serious topic – but even in those scary places – there is still joy in this world. So, I do appreciate a little bit of levity with every topic.

Q: Laura Ingalls Wilder or Hermione Granger?

A: Hmmm… both of these characters have spunk and do not take no for an answer. They also both make some big mistakes due to overconfidence… They are smart, brave, women of their time. One, of course is based on a real person – but the two characters are iconic. Too hard to answer –both Laura and Hermione would be preferred over a Bella Swan any day of the week.

For more information about Jamie Swenson visit her website: www.jamieswenson.com

Her books are available at: http://www.indiebound.org/ and other bookstores.

Author Interview: Kashmira Sheth

kashmiraToday I’m welcoming Kashmira Sheth to my series of author interviews. Kashmira is the author of many children’s books. Her picture books include the recent Tiger in My Soup, as well as My Dadima Wears a Sari and Monsoon Afternoon. For middle grade readers, Kashmira has written The No Dogs Allowed Rule, Boys Without Names, and Blue Jasmine. Kashmira also has two young adult novels: Keeping Corner and Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us about your new picture book, Tiger in My Soup?

Kashmira: Tiger in My Soup came out of my desire to capture the relationship between my brother and me. The narrator of the story, a young boy, is very much like my brother. Growing up, he always wanted me to read to him. Once I took that concept and started writing the story, the imagination of the little boy took over and tiger steamed out of his soup. It was a fun process.

Elizabeth: Can you tell me a little about the illustrations?kashmira tiger book

Kashmira: My publisher wanted to pair this story with an illustrator who could bring the story alive. I can’t imagine anyone better than Jeffery Ebbeler to illustrate this story. Here are his comments about illustrating Tiger in My Soup:

Jeffery Ebbeler:

The main focus of Tiger in my Soup is the interaction between the boy and his sister, and the tiger that only the boy can see. I wanted to keep backgrounds pretty minimal so the focus was on the interaction between the characters.

Most of the book takes place in one room (the kitchen/dining room) inside the house. It can be hard sometimes add variety to a book that only has one setting. Since this book had so much action, that wasn’t a problem.

The first few page of the story don’t specifically mention where the characters are, so I thought I would put them outside to establish a setting for where they live. Since I illustrate books for many different authors, I try to approach each new book with a fresh perspective. I want to imagine as much as I can about the specific world that these characters live in.  Anything that might add additional character or uniqueness, including where the story is set, the type of house they live in, the kind of clothes they wear.

I was working on my rough sketches for Tiger in My Soup while I was on vacation with a friend that I have known since grade school. His extended family owns a small one-acre island, far out in a lake in Canada. The islands in the lake are all bare granite rocks dotted with pine trees. Several years back I had helped build the new cabin on the island that sits high up on the rocks. I was sitting on the cabin’s porch looking down at the old, red-roofed cabin that my friend’s great-grandfather had built in the 30’s, and I thought– why not set the book here? The image of the boy chasing his sister up the stairs with his book was taken from that view from the cabin porch. (I posted pictures of the cabin on my web site http://jeffillustration.com/tiger.html) I did embellish the look of the house to give a more mid-century modern style.

I was also inspired by all the seagulls flying around the island. I wanted to add a background character that followed the boy around through the whole story. The seagull is the only character that can see the tiger chasing the boy around, and I liked the interactions between the two of them, especially the scene on the porch where the two of them are trying to read the book together.

Tiger in My Soup is one of the favorite books that I have illustrated. It’s such a clever and unique story and I’m really pleased with how it all came together.

Kashmira: Thank you, Jeffery, for providing such insightful detail about your illustrations.

kashmira dadima bookElizabeth: I also love the illustrations in My Dadima Wears a Sari and Monsoon Afternoon. Were they done by the same person?kashmira monsoon book

Kashmira: The illustrations for My Dadima Wears a Sari and Monsoon Afternoon were both done by Yoshiko Jaeggi. She used watercolor and captured the essence of saris as well as of monsoon perfectly.  She is also illustrating my next picture book which will be available in April 2015.

Elizabeth: What do you find the greatest challenge in writing picture books?

Kashmira: I think revising the text of a picture book is the greatest challenge. When I first put down the story there is a flow to it that I like. When I revise I may take out parts of it, change words or sentences and yet want to make sure the text has a lilt to it. Since pictures books are read aloud and read more than once, it’s important that they have a rhythm.

Elizabeth: You also write for middle-grade readers and young adults. What different ways do you approach each audience?

Kashmira: I write in the first person, so when I create a story I try to become that person and write from his/her point of view. The most important and challenging thing a children’s writer has to do is to dig down, reach back in time, and think about how it felt when she/he was nine, or eleven or sixteen. All my stories depict an Indian protagonist, so even though the situation, locale or culture is unfamiliar to the readers they must be able to connect with the protagonist at a deeper level. I try to communicate a story that has resonance with young readers by providing emotional honesty so they can read the book and say, “yes, I know how that feels.”

kashmira keeping bookElizabeth: As you’ve mentioned, many of your books take place in India. Keeping Corner is the story of a young woman in India during the time of Mohandas Gandhi’s movement for independence. Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet and Boys Without Names take place in modern-day India. Can you tell us about your own childhood in India?

Kashmira: My childhood was happy but disjointed. I lived in Bhavnagar (a city in the Western state of Gujarat) with my grandparents until I was eight, and then moved with my parents to Mumbai. When I was seventeen, I came to this country to attend college. Leaving places has preserved memories very distinctly in my mind. Imagining and dreaming about those places has kept me connected to them and helped me become a writer.

Another theme of my childhood was listening to my grandparents tell stories. Listening to and reading the great epics Mahabharata and Ramayana, as well getting an education in my own native language, Gujarati, have been among the biggest influences of my life.

Elizabeth: What do you want young American readers to learn about India?

Kashmira: I would like young readers to know that India has rich history and tradition that are passed on from one generation to other. Even though the culture is old, it isn’t stagnant; rather, it’s always changing. I just read an article in The Wall Street Journal about how the stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata are now being depicted with gods and angels who have an updated muscular and strong look. This is just one example of how India has always been able to reinvent itself. It does have its share of problems, including poverty and corruption, but it is also the largest democracy and is a dynamic, multicultural, multiethnic, and vibrant country.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us about some of your school visits?

kashmira boys bookKashmira: In March 2014 I went to Mattoon, Illinois, for their Read Across Mattoon book. Every year 50 students from Mattoon read the twenty books selected from the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Book Award. After much lively discussion, they select one book as the winner. Last year they chose Boys Without Names. They order 1,000 copies to use in their schools and to distribute in the community. They keep the book choice a top secret until their holiday assembly when the principal presents the winner and challenges the students and staff to read the book.  Starting in January the Student Reading Committee gives copies of the book to various service organizations.

kashmira frameWhat amazed me was the dedication and passion these young students had for the books and how much work went in to making the entire community aware of the book. Not only I was fortunate to visit the school and give several programs, including an evening one for the entire community, but I also had the opportunity to have lunch with the Student Reading Committee. There were so many things they had created to celebrate the book, including posters, artwork, maps, a mannequin wrapped in a sari, and a wooden frame with beads, just like the one Gopal (the protagonists from Boys Without Names) and the other boys had to make. They gave me the wooden frame as a gift. I have it on my desk and whenever I look at it inspires me. As an author, whenever I do a school visit I am amazed and humbled by young readers, their teachers, parents and community.

In early 2015 I will be traveling to Lacey, Washington for their program called “Lacey Loves to Read.” It is a one-city, one-author program, and I am excited about my visit.

Elizabeth: We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Q: Pizza or salad?

A: Salad most of the time. Pizza when I am super hungry

Q: Ocean or mountain?

A: Ocean

Q: Tree house or doll house?

A: Tree house

Q: Violin or piano?

A: Piano

Q: Comic story or learn-something story?

A: Learn-something story that has humor in it

Q: Laura Ingalls Wilder or Hermione Granger?

A: First, Laura Ingalls Wilder, because she came in my life first.

Elizabeth: Kashmira, it has been a pleasure learning about you and your books.

Kashmira: Thank you for inviting me to do the author interview and for asking thoughtful questions. I enjoyed answering them.

Elizabeth: For more information about Kashmira Sheth and her books, visit her website:

http://www.kashmirasheth.com and the bookstores hosting her works:

Indiebound:

http://www.indiebound.org/hybrid?filter0=kashmira+sheth&x=0&y=0

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=kashmira+sheth

Barnes and Noble

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/kashmira-sheth

Thanks!