Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Peek at the Creative Space of Laurie McKay

Laurie McKay is the author of The Last Dragon Charmer #1: Villain Keeper. Her debut middle grade novel was published in February and was selected for the Winter Indie Next List. Here is the description from Good Reads:


All his life, Prince Caden has dreamed of being sent on a quest to slay a dragon. But before he has the chance, he is ripped from his home in the Winterlands of Razzon and finds  himself in Asheville, North Carolina—a land with no magic and no dragons. But a prince must always complete his quest. And the longer Caden is in Asheville, the more he realizes  there is magic in this strange land after all. More important, there may just be dragons here, too. But what if Caden’s destiny isn’t to slay a dragon, like he’s always believed?


To learn more about Laurie and her writing visit her website, follow her on Twitter, or like The Last Dragon Charmer on Facebook.




Describe your workspace.

I work at coffee and sandwich shops a lot. Getting out of the house helps me focus. When at home, I write with my laptop on a make-shift pillow desk and on the couch. Sometimes, I write at my non-pillow real desk. At home, I have two old and dear dogs underfoot – Simon (age 15 years) and Sally (age 13 years). Simon, especially, likes to nose my computer while I’m trying to type.

Simon

Describe a typical workday.

I turn on the computer and check emails. Then I check random internet things. I look at twitter and think about tweeting. Sometimes, I actually tweet something. At this point, usually I realize I’m not getting any work done! I close my browser, open up my word document, and start typing.

Sally


List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

  • My laptop. It’s where I do all my work. I am deeply attached to it.
  • A hardcover of VILLAIN KEEPER. After all, it’s the fruit of my labor!
  • A list of books I’ve read recently. Every time I read a book, I feel like I’ve gained something from it. There’s a sense of accomplishment. I like looking at the titles of all the great stories I’ve gotten to read. 

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

Hmm. I don’t think I really do. Although, before I start writing, I reread whatever I wrote the day before. Sometimes I reread it several times. Then as I write, I reread passages and sentences over and over and over and over.

What do you listen to while you work?

I need ambient noise. I think that’s why I work best while out at coffee shops and the like. Neither music nor silence works for me.




What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

I have coffee – hot and I have a Diet Pepsi with ice. If there is no Diet Pepsi, I go with Diet Coke. I found a Diet Coke “Mel” and deemed it lucky as that was my grandpa’s name. I’m trying to switch over to water but haven’t been able to shake the diet soda habit yet!



What keeps you focused while you’re working?

While it takes me a while to get going. Once I get to the ‘go’ part, though, and am actively working, my focus is fairly intent. For me, it’s more about getting started. Once I do that, staying focused isn’t as much of a problem. 

Look! I'm outlining in this one!



Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?

I almost always use my laptop. So much, in fact, that I’m losing keys. The escape key, well, it escaped from the keyboard. There’s just a little button there now. Occasionally, when I’m outlining I’ll write longhand, but that’s rare. I do print up hardcopies of outlines and drafts and mark them up though.




How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

I usually start off with a concept or character. Then I type. Typically, I write a few thousand words then realize I need to rethink the entire thing. At that point, I get a better idea of the story I want to write and start an outline. Outlining is a skill I’m still developing, but I feel like it’s something that could really improve the way I work.  And I’m getting better at it.


If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

I’d share it with my sister who conveniently is also my critique partner. We go out and write together all the time already. We’re not actively writing in the pic below, but we look happy.




What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

An author presenting at the the NC Writer’s Network conference advised the group to write whether inspired or not. The presenter – and I wish I remembered her name – said she’d found her ‘uninspired’ writing was usually just as good as her ‘inspired’ writing. The important thing is to get words on paper. I’ve also found that to be true. It’s really great advice. There are so many things that can bring you down or distract you.  It’s good to just keep working.





Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Peek at the Creative Space of Cindy L. Rodriguez

Cindy L. Rodriguez is the author of the young adult novel, When Reason Breaks:


"13 Reasons Why meets the poetry of Emily Dickinson in this gripping debut novel perfect for fans of Sara Zarr or Jennifer Brown.

A Goth girl with an attitude problem, Elizabeth Davis must learn to control her anger before it destroys her. Emily Delgado appears to be a smart, sweet girl, with a normal life, but as depression clutches at her, she struggles to feel normal. Both girls are in Ms. Diaz's English class, where they connect to the words of Emily Dickinson. Both are hovering on the edge of an emotional precipice. One of them will attempt suicide. And with Dickinson's poetry as their guide, both girls must conquer their personal demons to ever be happy.

In an emotionally taut novel with a richly diverse cast of characters, readers will relish in the poetry of Emily Dickinson and be completely swept up in the turmoil of two girls grappling with demons beyond their control."

Cindy Rodriguez teaches middle school reading and college-level composition. Before becoming a teacher, she worked as a reporter for The Hartford Courant and as a researcher for The Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team, an investigative group. She is also a contributor to LatinosInKidLit.com. To learn more about her, visit her website, friend her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.





Describe your workspace.

I have two work spaces: one for more business-like tasks and another for creative writing. When I sit at my office desk in my office chair, I think "work," not "create," so I'm focused on completing tasks, like updating my website and checking and responding to emails. The set-up reminds me of my actual out-of-the-home work spaces, past and present, so when I'm in my office, I'm more business-minded. I never actually write there.



I do almost all of my novel writing on my bed. I have pounded out some scenes in other places, like coffee shops and the waiting areas of my daughter's activities, but my bed is my go-to writing spot. It's where I am comfortable physically and mentally. I spread out any papers or notes to the left. I sit on the right side of the bed with my laptop and my dog. A small dresser to my right provides me with light and a place to put food and coffee. The wall on my left is often adorned with plot-related sticky notes and other pictures for inspiration.




Describe a typical workday.

I work full time as a middle school reading specialist, so that fills my day from when I wake up at 6 a.m. to when I leave around 3 p.m. During my lunch break and prep period, I am sometimes able to research or write. On Tuesday nights, I teach at a local community college, and on Thursdays, I meet a friend at Starbucks to write for a couple of hours before picking up my daughter from school. After I pick her up, we eat, do homework, etc. At night, I may have some time to read or write. Daily writing doesn't usually happen during a typical work week. I've tried. I take advantage of snow days, school vacation days, and my parents who are willing to host my daughter for a sleepover so that I can write all weekend when needed.  

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.


I have an angel ornament that has the Emily Dickinson phrase "Dwell in possibility" on it. The ornament was a gift from my aunt at a moment when I needed encouragement.




A critique group member picked up two buttons for me at a writing conference. One says: "Ask me about my novel," and the other says, "Writers write. Everyone else makes excuses." These keep me motivated.




I also have a ceramic leaf filled with stones and crystals I have picked up in various places. These are meaningful because they are positive reminders of places I've been.




Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.


I don't have any rituals, but I do find when I'm stuck or need a break, I take a long, hot shower, do some yoga stretches, or burn some sage, close my eyes, and purposely clear my mind.

What do you listen to while you work?


I can't listen to music while I write. No tunes or T.V. I need quiet. I will listen to certain songs in the car on my way to work if they remind me of a particular character or scene, but I don't have a particular song or artist that I listen to specifically while writing.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?


Coffee or tea, and fruit, popcorn, or rice cakes. I'm trying to be healthy these days. What I really want is chocolate!

What keeps you focused while you’re working?


The clock. As I mentioned above, my daily life doesn't allow for daily writing, so when I have the time, I take full advantage of it. If I know I have a three-hour block, I am focused. If I get distracted, the clock reminds me to get refocused so that I get some words in before heading off to my next obligation.

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?


I take initial notes when researching and plotting longhand, but I write drafts on a computer.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?


I brainstorm and outline longhand in a notebook. I write out what will happen and then break it down by chapters, but I am not a meticulous outliner. My notes do not detail the character's every move, but instead what must happen in the chapter--the main things he or she must do and certain dialogue phrases I don't want to forget. I have also used a visual story board--posting sticky notes on my wall--when I need to do major revisions that require moving scenes around. I do not have color-coded charts, graphs, or spreadsheets or anything like that. That's too methodical for me. My brain doesn't work that way.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?


I could share my space with my friend, Melody, whom I meet at Starbucks on Thursdays. We have a routine: get coffee/tea, chat briefly to catch up, and then we're quiet and working. So, I know we'd get work done and enjoy each other's company during breaks. I don't think, though, that Melody would want to do this in my bedroom! 

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?


Write what you want. We often worry too much about everything--the market, what's trendy, what's not, what's expected with the next book. Should the next story be the same genre or not? Can I switch from YA to MG? And the questions and concerns can go on and on. There are a thousand ways to spark anxiety and stress during the writing and publishing process. The best advice I've heard from my agent and other writers is to write what you want to write. Period. Don't over think it.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Peek at the Creative Space of Pat Zietlow Miller

Pat Zietlow Miller is the author of the award-winning (and adorable!) picture book Sophie's Squash, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf. Sophie's Squash is story that celebrates the special love between a child and her favorite toy--only in this case it's a butternut squash. On a trip to the farmers' market with her parents, Sophie chooses a squash, but instead of letting her mom cook it, she names it Bernice. Sophie's Squash has earned many accolades and honors, including four starred reviews, the Golden Kite Award, the Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book Award, and the Ezra Jack Keats Honor Book Award.

And fortunately for the children's book world, Pat has more books coming out in the world--SEVEN to be exact (at last count). Coming in April is Wherever You Go, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. In Wherever You Go, join an adventurous rabbit and his animal friends as they journey over steep mountain peaks, through bustling cityscapes, and down long, winding roads to discover the magical worlds that await them just outside their doors. This book celebrates the possibilities that lie beyond the next bend in the road – the same road that will always lead you home again. Kirkus Reviews gave Wherever You Go a starred review with the praise: "Miller's verse, infused with musical momentum, communicates the emotional arch of a journey with beautiful brevity."

To learn more about Pat Zietlow Miller, visit her website.





Describe your workspace.

I write in one of two spots. At my kitchen table surrounded by the detritus of life in a family of four – books, papers, pens, calendars, mail, dishes – or at a desk upstairs that looks much more writerly. I’m probably in the kitchen more often just because that’s the way things seem to work out.

Describe a typical workday.

Most days, I’m at my regular job in corporate communications at an insurance company editing copy and writing about auto, home, and life insurance. (Hint: Having umbrella coverage is a good idea.)

When I get home, I start dinner, talk to my husband and kids, and help with homework where I can. English and language arts are fine. Calculus and physics are not. Then, when the kids are studying and my husband is watching basketball, I flip open my laptop and get going. Of course if the kids have evening activities, I’m probably driving them there instead of writing.

So when I do write, I tend to be pretty focused. I don’t have a lot of time to mess around.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

These are all from my upstairs formal writing space.


  • A dictionary and bookmark I got from my high school English teacher Gladys Veidemanis after I was voted “Most Likely to Be Published” by my classmates. It took more than 20 years after I graduated, but it did happen.





  • A nameplate that belonged to my aunt, Faye Clow, who was director of the Bettendorf Public Library for many years. She was a huge proponent of books and literacy, and I always loved her and admired that. My upcoming book, Sophie's Seeds (Schwartz & Wade, 2016), is dedicated to Faye.




  • The F&G [publishing term that means folded and gathered--they are fancy colored proofs] of whatever my next book is. Right now, I have Wherever You Go, which is coming from Little, Brown on April 21 and Sharing the Bread, which is coming from Schwartz & Wade on Aug. 25. Getting the F&Gs always makes the book finally seem real.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

Open lap top. Sit down. Start typing.

Ignore any tears, arguments, or requests for help finding lost items until the young person involved either goes away or asks my husband. While some writers follow very organized processes when writing, I’m a little more haphazard. I wrote a post about this for Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Month.

What do you listen to while you work?

Everything listed in my answer to the previous question. I really prefer not to have music playing while I write. It impedes my ability to focus on the story. (When you read my answer to the next-to-last question, you’ll see that this can be a problem.)

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

I normally don’t eat or drink while I’m writing. I tend to eat and drink when I get up and walk around because I’m temporarily stuck. Then, dark chocolate is always good. But I have standards. It’s got to be top-of-the-line stuff.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

Getting the story done and making it the best it can possibly be. Finding the perfect combination of words is really important to me. And I love critique partners and editors who really challenge me if they think I haven’t quite done it.

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?

Nearly always on a computer. Very rarely, I’ll write longhand if I’m on a plane or a bus and a pad of paper is all I’ve got to work with. But I do jot down notes longhand, usually phrases that I think sound intriguing.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

It sounds terribly boring, but I’m afraid I just sit down, open my laptop and start writing. Sometimes, I stare at my manuscript for a while before starting. While I certainly have been inspired, I don’t really believe in waiting for inspiration, because I could be waiting a long time. I find that the mere act of beginning to write usually kick-starts my inspiration.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

My husband. He’s a sportswriter and works out of our house. On days that I’m not at my day job, we often work in adjoining rooms. He’s fun to have around, although he sometimes plays really, really bad music while he works – like “My Girl Bill.” If we ever worked next to each other long term, this could become problematic.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received? 


It’s what I learned in a high school journalism class taught by Ron Harrell. The end of your story has to have some element of the beginning in it to provide satisfying closure. He said it was like wrapping a ribbon around a present and tying a big bow. I wrote a blog post about this concept on Picture Book Builders.