Monday, July 26, 2010

A Peek at the Creative Space of Sydney Salter

This week we're taking a peek at the creative space of author Sydney Salter. She writes middle grade and young adult fiction and is the author of Jungle Crossing, My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters, and Swoon at Your Own Risk.

My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters seventeen-year-old Jory Michaels is convinced that all will be right in her world if she has a nose job. From the publisher: "that means three sun-and-fun filled months of spending time with her best friends, obsessing over her crush, trying to find something she is passionate about, and. . . saving for a nose job. Jory is determined to lose the big, honking, bumpy monstrosity she calls the Super Schnozz--the one thing standing between her and happiness." Booklist said, "The contemporary dialogue is rapid and funny, and teens will enjoy Jory's comic self-deprecation and the way she gets the signals wrong, both while driving and on dates."

Sydney's most recent novel is Swoon at Your Own Risk another summer romance, this time featuring Polly Martin whose grandmother is the famous syndicated advice columnist Miss Swoon. From the publisher, "after a junior year full of dating disasters, Polly has sworn off boys. Now she's just trying to survive her summer job at Wild Waves western-themed water park (under the supervision of ex #3 Sawyer Holmes) and focus on herself for once. So Polly is happy when she finds out Grandma is moving in for the summer--think of all the great advice she'll get." But Grandma turns out to be a little wilder than Polly expected, and Polly finds herself wrapped up in boy drama once again. Booklist wrote, "What appears to be a frothy summer confection delves into some heftier emotions as the underlying issues motivating Polly's actions, as well as those of her mom and grandma, are uncovered."

Sydney Salter lives in Utah with her husband, two daughters, two cats, two Bernese Mountain dogs and her daughter's tortoises. To learn more about her and her books, you can visit her website and her blog. And now, let's get a taste of how she works. . .

Describe your workspace.

I write on a cluttered table in my living room. I like the high ceilings, big windows, bookshelves—and my dog enjoys lounging on the couch watching me. I feel too confined in a room, so I’ve let my husband take over the home office.

Describe a typical workday.

September – June: I drive the morning carpool, come home, boil water for tea, do a quick writing exercise, and dive into my current WIP. Every hour or so I’ll check email and favorite blogs. I stop for lunch (and watch Hot Topics on The View) and then either finish up a chapter or work on other things like interviews, email, or catch up on my reading stack. 

Summer: It’s all craziness. I write while my daughters swim at the local pool, or we all go to the bookstore and I bribe them with café treats, and they leave me alone for an hour or two. On weekends I sneak out early to write in a coffee shop.

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

I love my green-eyed sock monster. He reminds me to focus on my own writing, and not worry about what everyone else is doing.

On a nearby shelf, I keep my beloved turtle collection. I’ve been collecting turtles and tortoise figurines for years. Recently I found this quote from Martha Beck that describes exactly how I feel: “Turtles have everything a writer needs: tough shells to deal with criticism; soft, sensitive insides; the need to stick their necks out if they want to move forward; and the slow-and-steady patience to keep slogging away day after day.” If I have a rough day, I invite some turtles to sit on my desk. That keeps me going.

That brings me to my third thing: A tiny frame filled with quotes. Another favorite from Anthony Trollope: “A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.”

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

Not really. I’ve learned to write whenever I find time, wherever I find time—and rituals would give me all kinds of excuses not to write.

What do you listen to while you work?

This summer I’m listening to a playlist called “Syd’s Pop Songs” that my husband created. Phoenix, Edward Sharp and The Magnetic Zeros, Josh Ritter, Andrew Bird, Stellastarr, Starlight Mints. I admit to taking a dance break every time “If I Ever Feel Better” by Phoenix comes on.

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

I drink coffee or black tea in the morning, and slowly decaffeinate to mint tea in the afternoon. If I hit a word count goal, I’ll treat myself to some dark chocolate from my special stash.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

Oh, I think I’m just stubborn. I make myself sit in my chair and work. If I find myself peeking around online, I’ll turn off my email and browser. I’m a pretty disciplined writer.

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

I used to write everything longhand, but now my laptop feels intimate that way. I still do my daily writing exercises longhand though. I love fast pens!

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

On a yellow pad, I brainstorm plot ideas, key scenes, and character profiles. Next I write a detailed synopsis, playing a bit with my main character’s voice. If the story requires research, I take notes in a spiral notebook. Right before writing, I go through magazines and cut out pictures that resemble my characters, things that represent themes in the story, photos of scenery. And then I’m off . . .

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

Recently, I joined a few friends for a retreat. I loved sitting next to a fast writer, clicking away at her keyboard—it motivated me to keep plugging away. So I guess I’d go for a prolific writer—Meg Cabot, Joyce Carol Oats. . . Do I have to share my chocolate too?

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

Read. When I do critiques at conferences, I can always tell how much a writer reads. Read, read, read. It makes a huge difference in your writing.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Peek at the Creative Space of Maggie Stiefvater

This week we're stepping into the creative space of author Maggie Stiefvater (pronounced Steve Otter). Maggie is the NYT bestselling author of Shiver, the wildly popular first novel of the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy. Linger, the sequel, was published this month from Scholastic. (Officially this week, although it was spotted in many stores earlier in the month.) The final installment in the trilogy, Forever, will be published in July 2011.

Maggie is also the author of the Books of Faerie series which includes the titles Lament and Ballad, published by Flux. Lament was her debut novel and was given a starred review from Booklist who wrote: "This beautiful and out-of-the ordinary debut novel, with its authentic depiction of Celtic Faerie lore and dangerous forbidden love in a contemporary American setting, will appeal to readers of Nancy Werlin's Impossible and Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series."
 I love how Maggie describes herself on her website: "All of my life decisions have been based around my inability to be gainfully employed. Talking to yourself, staring into space, and coming to work in your pajamas are frowned upon when you're a waitress, calligraphy instructor, or technical editor (all of which I've tried), but are highly prized traits in novelists, musicians, and artists (I've made my living as one of these since I was 22).

I now live an eccentric life in the middle of nowhere, Virginia, with my charmingly straight-laced husband, two small kids, two neurotic dogs, one criminally insane cat, and a 1973 Camaro named Loki.

I'm an avid reader, an award-winning colored pencil artist, and play several musical instruments, including the Celtic harp, the piano, and the bagpipes. I also make great cocktail party conversation."

Along with appreciating her humor, I was especially intrigued by the "award-winning colored pencil artist." I knew about the other details from following her blog, Tweets, and being a general fan of Maggie and her work, and I knew she was a highly artistic and creative person and skilled at an impressive number of things. But award-winning colored pencil artist? Intriguing! I did a little internet digging and quickly discovered this site where. . . WOW! Maggie fans, did you know she could draw like that? (Over there, to the left, that's one of her portraits available on Portraits with Character. I suspect it might be the criminally insane cat she mentions.) Too bad I didn't know about this earlier. I would have loved to have commissioned her for a portrait of my pets but I imagine she's a wee bit busy these days. 

In addition to everything else, Maggie also regularly contributes original short fiction along with her writing friends and fellow authors Tessa Gratton and Brenna Yovanoff at the blog "Merry Sisters of Fate".

So now let's visit Maggie in her writing space. (Can't you just imagine her feverishly typing revisions of Forever here?)

 A photo of my studio from the foyer, which makes it look like a rabbit hole. And also makes the shelves look way smaller than they really are. I suppose it sort of is a cave of books.

Describe your workspace.

I work in a dedicated studio/office (I guess the latter is more true, but I still think of it as a studio from my portrait artist days) that’s about . . . 15’ x 15’. It’s located quite close to my kitchen and my bed. Also it has high-speed internet. Also it has two big windows that make it very bright in the afternoon in particular. The trifecta of Maggie requirements. The studio’s also rather like an aging tree. You can count the rings in a tree’s trunk to see how old it is. You can count the bookshelves in my office to see how many months I’ve been there. I’ve just had to get another one, despite donating several dozen books to the library. And I’ve just gotten a new desk because the old one wasn’t quite big enough to hold the giant piles of clutter.

My panoramic pasted together studio shot.

Describe a typical workday.

I don’t think I have a typical workday. Is that bad? It really depends on the project and that’s one of the things that I love about this job. I guess the only usual thing is that I will start the day by answering emails for about an hour, maybe poking my head into some writing forums I belong to, generally being sluggish. Then I get down to work, which might be actual writing, or may be answering interviews, working on book trailers, blogging, etc.

My dogs, Peanut and Ginger (mother and daughter), in their ever present dog bed in the office. Wherever the bed is moved, that is where they sleep. In this case I had just finished the lettering on my file cabinet and they were bored with watching me.

My filing system. Very official looking, right?

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

Well, I used to have a plant named Boris that has been to many art shows with me when he wasn’t holding down my desk, but in this house, he needed more sunlight, so now he’s in the living room. I miss him but I have an unnamed plant in his place. This new plant is not very talkative. I secretly suspect that New Plant prefers nonfiction.

My railway spike piper, who plays the pipes when I'm not.

I also have a little weird bagpiping guy made out of a railroad spike on my desk. He’s meaningful because I’m a piper myself (played competitively in college) (yes, you may make fun now) and because I got him in a time when I thought I wouldn’t be able to play pipes any more.

And I have a variety of paper birds and cranes that I folded while writing Linger. It was combination research and therapy.

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

Music is pretty much the only one. I suppose I also like to have a cup of tea (English breakfast with milk and sugar, thank you, if you’re offering), but I can work without it. It would be very difficult for me to get down to work without seeing what was lurking in my inbox first, so maybe we can count checking my email first thing as a ritual.

My guitar which is in the corner of the shelves behind the desk. Yes, that is Sharpie on it. I'm not a good person to leave with permanent markers about.  

What do you listen to while you work?

Whatever my current project demands. I have dedicated playlists that go with each novel, so if I’m writing one of the Shiver books, I’ll have emo indie rock on. For the faerie books, it’ll often be something Celtic. Left to my own devices, I’m always playing alternative rock of some variety.

The paper mache dog-faced dinosaur that my daughter made in kindergarten. I think it adds color, don't you?

 The model Camaro on my desk, four years older than my real '73 Camaro in the driveway.

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

Tea and cookie dough. Chocolate chip. Again, thanks, if you’re offering.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?
Music. If I don’t have it playing, I simply cannot focus. Dirty secret? I’m not very good at sitting still.

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

On the computer. The deeply romantic part of me would like to write long hand, but the truth is that I can write upwards of 90 words per minute on a computer and . . . . um, not 90 words per minute when doing it longhand. My brain just gets frustrated trying to match to the speed of me writing it out by hand. Plus, I doodle when I have a pen. That’s not helpful.

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

After I get an idea, I usually spend a lot of time pacing and a lot of time laying on my floor listening to music. Mostly, I need to have a rough end point before I can start working. Oh, and mood. Music helps with that too. I really need, more than plot, a feeling that I want the book to have. Themes that I know I want to tackle. I firmly believe that you write just like you do everything else in your life. I’m not very organized in the rest of my life, so my writing process is pretty spontaneous too.

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

Either of my two fantastic critique partners, Tessa Gratton or Brenna Yovanoff. I practically share it with them anyway, as we chat every day on IM. We also write short stories on a group blog.

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

From my first editor, Andrew Karre: make every sentence do double duty. Words shouldn’t be just describing a place, or forwarding the plot, or deepening character. They should be doing two things at once.

And from Tessa, my crit partner: shut up and write. Paraphrased. But it works.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bingo Bonanza!

  This is "Bingo" celebrating all the winners! (Bingo is actually named Buddy, and I got his photo here.)

Wow, between yesterday and this morning we've had 9 winners post a Bingo! I've double-checked all the cards and everyone does have a valid Bingo. Congratulations to the first 15 Bingo winners:

Susan  B.
Nancy L.
Michelle L.
Julianna P.

And congratulations to the first Bingo runner up: Analine

This means that there are currently winners for each of the 15 prizes. You can continue to post a Bingo to be considered a runner-up, in the event a recent prize winner decides not to receive a book. I've sent emails to all the winners regarding prize selection, so if you are listed above but haven't received anything from me, please nudge me!

I want to thank all of you for participating in Book Cover Bingo. I have had so much fun hosting this game and that's all thanks to you guys for playing along and the enthusiasm and fun vibes you sent my way. I wish I had more prizes to give away, but I hope you enjoyed playing regardless of whether or not you won.
I'd definitely like to host Book Cover Bingo again and would appreciate any feedback you might have--things you liked, ideas for improving the game in the future, or any comments really. (You can comment here on the blog or send me an email.) One suggestion I've already received was to make a downloadable Bingo template for teachers, librarians, or others to use if they'd like. I thought that was a great idea and I'll be adding a link for that soon. (As soon as I figure out the technical wizardry involved in doing that.)

Thank you once again for playing Book Cover Bingo, everyone!

Bingo Book # 35

Our next Bingo book is Celeste's Harlem Renaissance by Eleanora E. Tate, which is also one of the available prizes. Celeste’s Harlem Renaissance is set in 1921 during the Harlem Renaissance and features 13-year-old violin playing Celeste who dreams of becoming a doctor. When her father is diagnosed with tuberculosis, she is sent to live with her Aunt Valentina, an actress Celeste thinks of as fancy and living a lavish lifestyle. But when she arrives in Harlem, she discovers Aunt Valentina’s situation is anything but what she’d anticipated. Celeste’s Harlem Renaissance was an International Reading Association Teacher’s Choice award winner. Publishers Weekly  wrote “In Celeste, Tate has created a fully realized heroine, whose world expands profoundly as she's exposed to both the cultural pinnacles and racial prejudices of her era.” Eleanora E. Tate shared her creative space with us on May 31. 

Reader Cynae Punch left a comment on Eleanora E. Tate's interview with a wonderful story about how Ms. Tate made a very personal connection with Cynae as a child. If you click on the interview, I highly recommend you scroll down to read her comment and story.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bingo Book # 34

Bingo Book #34 is Ten on the Sled by Kim Norman and illustrated Liza Woodruff. Liza Woodruff shared her creative space with us on June 14. (And similar to Rosanne Parry who was interviewed this week, she's another chicken owner!)

Ten on the Sled will be published this October from Sterling Publishers. From the publisher's website, here is the plot summary:

In the land of the midnight sun, all the animals are having fun speeding down the hill on Caribou's sled. But as they go faster and faster, Seal, Hare, Walrus, and the others all fall off. . . until just Caribou's left, only and lonely. Now, a reindeer likes flying--but never alone, so . . . one through ten, all leap on again!

An ideal picture book for reading--and singing along with--over and over. 

I love that cover illustration. It sounds like it will be a good winter tale!

Bingo Book # 33

Bingo Book #33 is The ABCs of Writing for Children: 114 Children's Authors and Illustrators Talk About the Art, Business, the Craft & the Life of Writing for Children's Literature, edited by Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff. This book is a great resource to pick up and flip through when you are in need of inspiration. It is filled with quotes and anecdotes on topics ranging from writer's block, rejection, voice, suspense, poetry, marketing, fan mail, censorship--just about any topic you could think of is covered here. Mixed in with the sections of quotes are interviews with some of our industry's biggest names like Sid Fleischman, Richard Peck, Chris Crutcher, Jane Yolen, and (one of my childhood favorites) Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

Here's just a handful of what you can find:

"The worst advice starts with 'You must. . . ' For example, 'You must write everyday. You must start with a complete outline. You must know your characters intimately before putting pen to paper.' If I had to do each of these, I would never have written a word of fiction."

--Marisa Montes (in the Worst Advice Received section)

"I make a three ring binder for my research. I read through it over and over again so it becomes a part of me. I probably use ten percent or less of what I find, but it's the other ninety persent that makes me secure in place and time."

--Karen Cushman (in the Research section)

"I use photographs. Any artists who say they don't are lying! It's a way of capturing the essence of someone. Something as simple as how your skin wrinkles over your knuckles. It helps to have the model. Generally, my stories are reality-based. But sometimes I make up a person. Then that person has to look the same in every illustration." 

--Patricia Polacco (in the For Art's Sake section)

Bingo Book # 32

Before we get to our next Bingo Book, I want to answer a few frequently asked questions I've received.

First, we've had 7 Bingo winners so far! Congratulations to Susan, Mike, Maryanne, Victoria, Dawn, Camille, and Bridget! The remaining prizes available to win are: Heart of a Shepherd (hardback and paperback), ARC of Linger, signed Ballad, signed Fact of Life #31, signed Celeste's Harlem Renaissance, signed Faithful, and Bobby vs. the Girls.

Second, there's been some confusion over what was Bingo Book #11. Bingo Book #11 is The Nutcracker Doll by Mary Newell DePalma. This book was announced with my interview with Bobbi Miller and so both of her book covers ran with her interview, but neither of those books have been drawn for Bingo yet. (So One Fine Trade and Davy Crockett Got Hitched should not be crossed off your Bingo card.) I apologize for any confusion. Perhaps from here on out I'll post the Bingo titles separately from the Maggie Stiefvater and Dan Santat interviews that are coming up--would that help avoid any future confusion?

And now, on to Bingo Book #32!

This book received excellent reviews including a starred review from Booklist. Publisher's Weekly wrote: "Sweet and visually striking, this is a good choice both for children who celebrate these holidays and for others seeking a bridge to their culture."


Monday, July 12, 2010

Bingo Book # 31

Bingo Book #31 is A Perfect Gift by Mary Newell DePalma. Mary shared her creative space with us on March 22. The Perfect Gift is her latest book, published by Arthur A. Levine Books earlier this year. It's the story of Little Lorikeet who finds a beautiful strawberry she plans to take to her grandmother. But on her way "hip, hop, plop!" she drops the strawberry into the river where it sinks way down deep. A chipmunk, goose, and frog stop by to help her retrieve the strawberry, more trouble ensues, and they all end up working together to create a surprising and satisfying resolution to Little Lorikeet's problems.

A fun fact I recently learned about Mary Newell DePalma, via Betsy Bird, is that she once was a professional knitter!  Betsy Bird (aka Fuse #8, School Library Journal blogger, NY public librarian extraordinaire) recommended this new blog titled Show and Tell Me, which featured Mary Newell DePalma's knitted work. Show and Tell Me is now one of my new favorite places to check in. If you like my Creative Spaces interviews, getting a peek at where writers and illustrators work, I think you'll also enjoy this blog. Children's book creators show and tell from the categories of "where I work", "favorite place", "made it", "found it", and "quote I love"--brief posts that give you a glimpse into the lives of a variety of writers and illustrators. Here is the sweater they featured from Mary Newell DePalma:

Bingo Book # 30

Bingo Book #30 is Faithful by Janet Fox. Janet shared her creative space with us on June 28. She also generously contributed a signed copy of Faithful to our Bingo game prize pool, so this is one of the books available to win. Faithful is her debut novel and was published in May of this year. Here is a summary of the plot, from the Class of 2K10 website:

Faithful, the story of 16-year-old Maggie Bennet, is a tale of romance and mystery set in 1904 in spectacular Yellowstone National Park.

In 1904 Margaret Bennet has it all – money, position, and an elegant family home in Newport, Rhode Island. But just as she is to enter society, her mother ruins everything, first with public displays, and finally by disappearing. Maggie’s confusion and loss are compounded when her father drags her to Yellowstone National Park, where he informs her that they will remain. At first Maggie’s only desire is to return to Newport. But the mystical beauty of the Yellowstone landscape, and the presence of young Tom Rowland, a boy unlike the others she has known, conspire to change Maggie from a spoiled girl willing to be constrained by society to a free-thinking and brave young woman living in a romantic landscape at the threshold of a new century.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Peek at the Creative Space of Rosanne Parry and Bingo Book # 29

Today we’re stepping inside the workspace of author Rosanne Parry--or rather, I should say stepping outside to the workspace of Rosanne Parry.

Rosanne Parry’s first novel, Heart of a Shepherd, was published in 2009 and is being released in paperback this week. Heart of a Shepherd has earned itself a long list of awards and rave reviews including the Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year 2009, Horn Book Fanfare Best Books of 2009, and the Indy Next pick for spring of 2009. It has also been optioned for a movie. Most recently, Heart of a Shepherd was chosen by the Oregon Council of Teachers of English to be the 2010 Oregon Spirit Book Award.

The book's description from the publisher reads: When Brother's dad is shipped off to Iraq, along with the rest of his reserve unit, Brother must help his grandparents keep the ranch going. He’s determined to maintain it just as his father left it, in the hope that doing so will ensure his father’s safe return. The hardships Brother faces will not only change the ranch, but also reveal his true calling.

On her website, Rosanne shares a great account of how she got the idea for Heart of a Shepherd. It took 7 years and 5 months from the time she got the initial seed of an idea to it becoming a fully realized novel that was accepted for publication by her editor. That's an encouraging anecdote for those of us toiling away on our own first novels, and a reminder that patience and perseverance can pay off.

She has also written a picture book titled Daddy’s Home which was published by Candy Cane Press. I loved what she had to say on her website about what inspired her to write this picture book: “I wrote this rollicking celebration of Daddy and the end of the day because I never want to forget the joy of seeing my children run to their dad every day when he came home from work. I wrote it because I love that the routine a child demands is often a routine the parent needs.”

Rosanne Parry’s second novel is titled Second Fiddle and will be published in spring of 2011. Rosanne shared with me the recent, exciting news that Second Fiddle was picked up by Listening Library, which means it will also be available in audio book format.

And now, let's climb up into her workspace.

Describe your writing workspace.

Since it’s summer, I’ll tell you about my summer office. I write in a tree house in my backyard. It’s a small platform about 8 or 9 feet off the ground in a big douglas fir tree. The trees all around me are a walnut, a few cedar, a small grove of wild cherry, and a mountain ash that has bright red rowan berries in the late summer which attract swarms of birds.

There is nothing in my office but a small folding table, a rolling chair, and a squirrel-proof box with a few odds and ends of office supplies. I prop up a white board if I need it. But otherwise, its just me, my laptop, notebook and pencils, and a water bottle.

Here is the set-up inside my tree house. See! No walls. I love it so light and breezy up there, but it means I can't work here in the winter.
Describe a typical workday.

In the summer, I usually ride my bike every morning for at least an hour before it gets hot. It gives me time to get my thoughts in order. When I get home I organize my kids for whatever is occurring in their day. I usually get a few household chores out of the way--a load of laundry on the line, a little attention for the chickens and the garden.

I try to work in the tree for 3 or 4 hours before lunch. After lunch I often take my kids to the community pool and work for an hour or so while they swim. If I have errands to run, that comes after lunch too. Luckily there’s a grocery store, a library, and a video store in easy biking distance from home.

I try to get back in my tree house for another two to four hours in the afternoon. Sometimes my kids have dance or music in the afternoon and then I tote my work along.

In the evenings we have family supper and games and music, so I try to wait until my children are asleep to get back to work. Depending on whether or not I have a deadline, I might work 2 to 5 more hours at night. Because there is no electricity in my tree I have to work in doors after dark. sigh . . .

My winter writing spot is often this window seat upstairs. 

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

I think what I love about my tree house is that there is nothing up there. No things at all, just me and the work and plenty of sunshine and fresh air plus an occasional visit from my chickens.

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

I try to avoid rituals which can be as distracting as things. Although to be fair, climbing the tree and sweeping out the cobwebs and setting up the computer is its own little ritual.

What do you listen to while you work?

I love many kinds of music but I usually listen to classical when I’m writing. Anything with lyrics in a language I speak is too distracting.

My most recent book, Second Fiddle, is set in Berlin and Paris and is all about music so I listened to the Brandenburg Concertos by Bach and other German baroque pieces while I was writing the scenes set in Berlin. When the story moved on to Paris I listened to lots of flamenco guitar and violin music. A favorite recording of mine was "Andalucia" by Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and Sergio and Odair Assad.

I listened to American composers when I wrote Heart of a Shepherd.

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

No food is a huge advantage to working in my tree house. It’s completely open, so any food I would bring up would be devoured by birds and squirrels. They wander through my workspace all day long.  I always bring up water and sometimes when it’s really hot my youngest climbs up with popsicles to share.

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

I write in a composition book in pencil, not because I'm a luddite or anything. I just like to write outside and it's easier to write by hand. No worries about rain or the state of my battery or dropping my computer if I happen to be writing in my favorite tree. Composition books are cheap and I buy 144 pencils at the beginning of the school year which lasts me and my kids about 9 months. After school when I'm driving my kids from place to place I bring my comp book and computer and type up what I've written that day perched in various waiting rooms about town or sometimes in the coffee shop nearby.

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

I need a fairly specific idea for a main character and a setting and a general idea of an outcome before I begin. I'm not much of an outliner early in the process. I do work out a very detailed outline after I have a working draft.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

The need to put four kids through college is marvelously motivating. Actually my problem is more un-focusing at the end of my workday than staying on task. If I have a character I love, the hours just vanish and find myself looking up to realize it’s almost dark and I haven’t fed my family in hours.

Shadow the chicken loves the swing set.

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

I’m pretty happy with who I share my workspace with now. Birds and squirrels wander through all day long. My kids climb up as they need. Sometimes neighbor kids tag along. I keep my cell phone with me in case my parents need me. But I’m content with the level of hubbub in my writing life. In fact, I chose to be a writer so that I could be home with my children and parents when they need me.

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

These are not about writing specifically but I think of them often while I’m working. One is from Einstein: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” The other is from Churchill: “Success is going from failure to failure without loosing your enthusiasm."

As for writing advice, I had a high school English teacher who said that because of the way English is structured, most errors in grammar and usage involve the verb. So highlight every verb in your writing and any error will be more obvious. I do it all the time and it’s amazing how often I miss a shift in tense or an imprecise or repetitive word. It’s tedious and slow to put into practice especially with something as long as a novel, but I’m never sorry that I’ve invested the time to do it.


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And for all the Bingo players, Bingo Book #29 is Rebound by Bob Krech!


Bingo Book # 28

Bingo Book #28 is Shadow Falls by Amy Kathleen Ryan. Shadow Falls was Amy's debut YA novel. Here's the description from her website:

n her Grandfather's bright Wyoming valley surrounded by the mighty Tetons, 15-year-old Annie McGraw wanders a forest of shadows. She and her older brother, Cody, always spent the summers here—Cody scaling the cliff walls with Grandpa, Annie tracking Yellowstone moose with her camera. But after the phone call, the valley, like the rest of Annie's world, feels drained of color.

Annie wishes the summer could pass like a night of dreamless sleep—until a grizzly bear finds her on the riverbank. The bear spares her life, but it has a message for her. Suddenly Annie isn't sure how she feels about anything. Like signs in a dark forest, strangers emerge along her path—a handsome guy with a dangerous smile, a little boy wise beyond his years, the man in the Teepee Tree. Even Grandpa, always so solid and distant, seems to hold secrets behind his icy blue eyes. Struggling under the weight of her grief, Annie begins to follow the signs, and to hear the grizzly's message.

Amy Kathleen Ryan recently started a new blog called YA Tribe where she's been posting some pretty funny videos. My favorite is this one about authors and how they react to Amazon reviews of their books:

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Bingo Book # 27

Bingo Book #27 is Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile by Won-Ldy Paye & Margaret H. Lippert, illustrated by Julie Paschkis. From the publisher:

Mrs. Chicken has to think fast to outwit hungry Crocodile, who wants to eat her for dinner.

One morning Mrs. Chicken took her bath in a puddle.
“Cluck, cluck,” she said proudly. “What a pretty chicken I am!”

Mrs. Chicken can’t see her wings in the puddle, so she walks down to the river where she can admire all of herself. She doesn’t know that Crocodile is there, waiting for dinner—and a tasty chicken would do nicely! To save herself, Mrs. Chicken tells Crocodile that they are sisters. But how can a speckled chicken and a green-skinned crocodile be related? Mrs. Chicken had better prove that they are, and fast, becasue Crocodile is getting hungrier. . . 

The authors and illustrator of Head, Body, Legs join together to create another lively retelling of a popular African folktale.

Bingo Book # 26

Another congratulations to our third Bingo winner, Maryanne! Maryanne picked Lament as her prize book. Yay, Maryanne!

Bingo Book #26 is OH NO! Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Dan Santat. This was one of our Bingo prizes to be won (now wrapped and ready to be shipped to Bingo winner Mike--congrats again, Mike!).

For any of you that were eying this book as a prize, I highly, HIGHLY recommend you check it out. It's the story of a girl whose blue-ribbon-winning science project of advanced robotics gets loose and wreaks havoc on the city. Our hero has to mastermind a way to stop her robot creation and save the day, but more havoc is wreaked along the way. There are so many funny details about this book (one of my favorites being the dogs that have been mind-controlled by the robot and are now dressed up in cardboard box robot costumes). But it's really the illustrations and entire creative vision that push this book to a whole different level. The illustrations are presented like you're watching a Japanese science fiction movie, with grainy film quality, black bands along the top and bottom of the page like a widescreen image, and even details of film flaws like vertical white lines and flecks of dust included in the picture. (I read somewhere that Dan Santat wanted to include Japanese subtitles for the text to complete the homage to classic monster flicks, but the idea was nixed because it was deemed a little too out there. Personally, I think that would have been a cool added detail.)

Beyond the inventive way of presenting this story through illustrations and all the humorous bits of the story itself, I marveled at the production of this picture book. Every nook and cranny is creatively thought out and lends itself to the story. With many picture books, you remove the paper cover and the hardback case of the book has the same image printed on it. The end pages--the papers glued to the inside of the hardback cover--are perhaps a solid color, perhaps a pattern related to the theme of the book, and sometimes they have additional illustrations that add something extra to the book or a repeat of an illustration that's in the story. OH NO! takes all these elements to a completely different level by making each one a unique and clever contributor to the overall story. The paper cover itself is an entire illustration scene that wraps around the front and back of the book. But then, if you take the cover off and flip it over, there's an additional illustration on the backside, this time a vertical movie poster image. The actual hardback case is designed to look like the main character's science notebook cover, labeled "Computation Notebook", complete with stains from spilled beverages and signs of wear and tear. The endpages are the blueprints to the plans for the robot creation (as well as a monster frog creation that is also a part of the story).

Seriously, with the execution of the illustrations and the fantastically creative way they enhance the story, I would not be at all surprised if there is Caldecott talk for this book. In fact, I'll be disappointed if there isn't.

This book trailer created by Dan Santat gives an excellent feel for the picture book:

Friday, July 9, 2010

Bingo Book # 25

Congratulations to Mike, our second BINGO winner! Mike chose OH NO! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World) as his prize. Susan, our first winner, chose the signed copy of Linger. Still 13 fantastic books left to be won. . .

Bingo Book #25 is Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek by Deborah Hopkinson! This historical fiction picture book received starred reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal when it was published in 2008 for Lincoln's 200th anniversary of his birth. Of the book, School Library Journal wrote: "Hopkinson has created a lively, participatory tale that will surely stand out among the many titles published to honor the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth. With a conspiratorial wink at the audience, an omniscient narrator invites readers to watch seven-year-old Abe and his real-life friend Austin Gollaher succumb to the "dare you" lure of a roaring creek and a perilous crossing on a fallen log (an author's note details the genesis of the story). Imagine where we as a nation might be if unsung-hero Austin hadn't been there to rescue impetuous Abraham from his tumble into those tumultuous waters. In dialogic asides and exclamations, the author addresses the illustrator and brings him (or, rather, his pencil-wielding hand) onstage to collaborate and correct, and also speaks to readers, inviting involvement and evoking response."

To learn more about Deborah and how and where she drafts the more than 40 titles she's published, visit her Creative Spaces interview and her website.

Bingo Book # 24

Bingo Book #24 is Soap Soap Soap / Jabón, Jabón, Jabón by Elizabeth Dulemba. In this picture book, which is available in both a bilingual and English edition, Hugo is sent to the store to buy some soap. He gets sidetracked along the way with a few adventures, continuously reminding himself he needs to buy soap, soap, soap, jabón, jabón, jabón.

Elizabeth has a very nicely done book trailer for this story on her website, along with many other activities and games to complement this book as well.

Bingo Book # 23

Bingo Book #23 is Love Puppies and Corner Kicks by Bob Krech. This is a light and funny middle grade novel about 13-year-old Andrea whose family has uprooted her from her American life, where she has great friends and is the leading scorer on her soccer team, to live in Scotland for a year. Scotland presents all sorts of challenges for her: her stuttering habit comes back, her family has to live with her school principal, she tries to impress the tough girls on the soccer team, and then there's the crush she develops. (The "love puppy" part of the title.) Lots of laugh out loud moments with this book. Bob Krech taught in Aberdeen, Scotland, which inspired much of the writing here. He shared his creative space with us on June 7.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Bingo Book # 22

We have our first BINGO, people! A Bingo was posted with the last book cover, I double-checked the card, and yes-indeedy, Susan is a winner! Congratulations, Susan, you are our reigning Queen of Bingo (crown and scepter not included). There are still 14 prizes to be won, so let's keep going and see who will be the next to win. Remember to post BINGO! to my blog if you win. You can email me also, but winner status will be linked to the time you posted on my blog, not when you email me. In the event of multiple winners with one book title, first choice of the prizes will go to whoever posts here on the blog earliest.

Bingo Book #22 is Building on Nature: The Life of Antoni Gaudi by Rachel Rodriguez and illustrated by Julie Paschkis. Building on Nature was recently awarded with the International Reading Association 2010 Children's & Young Adults' Book Award. (Yay, Rachel and Julie!) This picture book is a poetic biography about the life of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. This was one imaginative guy--take a look at some of his work (all photo captions link to original photo sources):