Monday, January 17, 2011

The Goonies Have Spoken

I mentioned recently that I ended 2010 by finishing the rewrites of my work-in-progress; this month I’ve been busy with the last (hopefully) round of revisions before I think the novel will be submission worthy. I’ve been having an internal debate with myself about taking a short break from Creative Spaces--I have so much fun with the interviews and don’t want to disappoint those of you who look forward to them each week, but it would free up a little more time and focus for my WIP. The funny thing is, just when I decided to stick with Creative Spaces as planned, what do I stumble across on my gym TV? The Goonies! If you’ve read the brief description of my novel in my bio, you know that The Goonies is one of the inspiration points. To randomly come across that movie at the same time I was debating how to order my priorities--I took it as a sign.

And so the Goonies have spoken! I’ll be taking a brief hiatus from Creative Spaces interviews for the rest of January. I hope you all will rejoin me here for Creative Spaces on February 7!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go blast Cyndi Lauper's “Good Enough” and get back to my revisions.

And remember, Goonies Never Say Die! 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

There's a New Blog in Town

In case you haven't yet been introduced, I wanted to direct your attention to a great new kid lit blog called EMU's Debuts. They are eight authors represented by the Erin Murphy Literary Agency who each have a book debuting in 2011, 2012, or 2013. Their blog is "an exploration of the winding path that lies between the book deal and the debut". There are dozens of online resources that offer advice on or chronicle the journey to the book deal, but not as much comes to mind as far as resources that chronicle and advise on what comes after the book deal. And that's what the Emu's Debuts plan to do. One thing I especially like is their format. On Mondays one author posts on a topic of their choice about their publishing journey, and on Wednesday a second author posts their take on the topic. This gives the blog the feel of an ongoing conversation that you can either eavesdrop or chime in on, and the sense of community among these agentmates is evident and fun to follow.

Here's a link to the first of two posts where every author shares their story about receiving "The Call". I'm partial to my friend Jeannie Mobley's story because I lived part of her journey with her. I've long had a soft spot for her upcoming novel Magic Carp and when I got the news that it sold to Margaret K. McElderry Books I don't think I could have been happier than if it happened for myself. Each author has a great story about getting "The Call" and it's fascinating to read how varied the experiences were. Show EMU's Debuts some love and check them out!

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Peek at the Creative Space of Marsha Diane Arnold

Joining us this week for Creative Spaces is author Marsha Diane Arnold. Marsha is the award-winning author of several picture books and early readers including Heart of a Tiger, The Pumpkin Runner, The Bravest of Us All, Prancing Dancing Lily, Roar of a Snore, Hugs on the Wind, and Quick, Quack, Quick.

Her first picture book, Heart of a Tiger (illustrated by Jamichael Henterly and published by Dial Books for Young Readers in 1995), won the Ridgway Award for Best First Book along with several other awards and honors. About Heart of a Tiger, The Horn Book wrote, "Arnold's original story has the feel of an oft-told tale, and Henterly's luxuriant watercolors reward a lingering look."

Her most recent picture books are Hugs on the Wind, co-written with Vernise Elaine Pelzel and illustrated by Elsa Warnick, Roar of a Snore, illustrated by Pierre Pratt, and Prancing Dancing Lily, illustrated by John Manders

Roar of a Snore received a starred review from the School Library Journal and was selected for Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. It tells the story of Jack who is awoken by a mighty snore and wakes his family members one by one in his attempt to stop the snoring.  

Hugs on the Wind is a sweet story about Little Cottontail who misses his long-distance grandfather and enlists nature to help him communicate by sending a smile with the clouds, a joke whispered to the river. Publisher's Weekly wrote, ". . . . the lilting, soft language and gossamer settings (particularly when night falls on the meadow) work a soothing magic. The book may be sentimental, but it also feels genuine." This story is unfortunately out of print but copies can still be found online and as a recordable e-book at (And, of course, check your local library!)

But my favorite of the recent three is Prancing Dancing Lily,  the story of a cow who has the itch to dance and leaves her farm to discover what her dance calling will be. On Marsha's website she shares "The Story Behind the Story" about each of her titles, and there I was surprised to learn that the dance style Lily settles on at the end of the book wasn't the same in the originally submitted version. (Visit Marsha Diane Arnold's website to learn how the original version of Prancing Dancing Lily ended.)

One of the interior spreads of Prancing Dancing Lily illustrated by John Manders.

In August 2008, Marsha was one of a small group of artists invited to be part of the Sequoia Parks Foundation’s “Artists in the Back Country” program. Perhaps inspired in part by this program, Marsha is developing a new blog titled "Earth Voices" in which she will share photos and stories of her adventures in the wild, advocating for wild places and wild animals. And I'm sure she has many adventures to share--in the past four years alone she's traveled to Africa, China, the Galapagos Islands, Germany, Italy, Austria, and Alaska, not to mention the extensive traveling she does for author presentations. (If you are interested in having Marsha speak at your school, library, or bookstore click here.)

There are many more interesting tidbits to learn about Marsha Diane Arnold and you can find them out by visiting "The Story Magician" (the blog she keeps primarily for students and teachers), and her website.

Describe your workspace.

My writing space is a small, colorful room that used to be my daughter’s bedroom.  When she left for college, I moved in.  Before she traveled east to New York University, I wrote at the dining room table or in the corner of our family room.

I love my writing room. As I enter, I look out at this beautiful view of my garden. This is the winter garden:

In spring it looks like this:

Sometimes I look up to see wild turkeys meandering by

or deer chomping my garden plants.

Yes, I live in the country, where sounds and views nourish mind and spirit. 
In my room are two windows, two bookshelf areas, plus lots of file drawers.

There are also two small closets.  One includes a second file cabinet and printer; the other includes puppets, projector, drum, and other items used for author visits. On the walls are pictures of my family and artwork from my books, which illustrators have generously shared.

My writing room is my main workspace, but the truth is I pick up my laptop during the day and move to other spaces.  Different views and spaces “jog” my mind.

Sometimes, I end up on the sofa in my living room, if I want to be really comfortable and toasty warm.  It’s right next to the wood pellet stove.

Sometimes, I leave my laptop and take a walk down our country road.

A walk can bring writing inspiration or an answer to a question about a project.

Describe a typical workday.

Typical?  If you mean normal or routine, there’s usually no such thing for me.

However, when I’m being very, very good (writing-wise), I get up at 6:30 a.m. to this fabulous view,

meditate for 30 minutes, go for a walk or a run, return to my writing room and write for 4 hours.

When I am being very, very bad (writing-wise), I may not sit down at my desk at all.  I may go birding or to a museum in San Francisco with a friend.  Sometimes my garden kidnaps me for an hour or two.

Or, if I’m being really bad, I’ll spend too much time answering email or on Facebook.
List three of your favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

When I visit schools, I tell kids that I truly don’t have favorites.  There are so many things to love and enjoy.  How can anyone choose?  It’s the same with my workspace.  I can’t choose a favorite.  I can’t even choose three!  But here are four things in my room that I love:

1. The fabulous artwork from my books that grace the walls.  My illustrators are so generous with their art.  In my writing room there’s art from Prancing Dancing Lily and Hugs on the Wind.

A poster of Metro Cat is on one wall and a collage I made from Heart of a Tiger and my column “Homegrown Treasures” is on another.  I did the collage for a benefit where authors were asked to create “art” for the event.

Not all the book art is in my writing room.  Art from The Bravest of Us All and Roar of a Snore grace my kitchen. The Pumpkin Runner is in the hallway. All this art reminds me of the talented editors and illustrators I’ve had the good fortune to work with.  It humbles me.

2. Pictures of my family.  They remind me I’m loved, even when my work is rejected.

3. Gifts from students and schools, reflective of my books.  These were given to celebrate Prancing Dancing Lily.  They remind me my stories are loved.

4. Wise and wonderful words posted on my desk.  They are inspirational. One of the posts is a note from my daughter.  I’m known in my family for long To-Do lists.  Twenty years ago, I had a particularly long list with twenty-five To-Dos in one day!  My then ten-year-old daughter sneaked into my room and added yet one more To-Do at the end:  "Be happy.”  I’ve kept her reminder all these years.  It keeps me in balance.

Oh!  How could I forget?  I must add one more.  My Oxford English Dictionary.

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

I prepare a cup of hot tea or herbs.  I sit in my chair.  I turn on my computer.  I light a candle.  I call to my muse.  I stare at the screen or the last words I wrote.  I sit.  I sit some more.  If I’m lucky, wondrous words come.  If wondrous words don’t come, I scribble nonsense until they do.

What do you listen to while you work?

The whir of hummingbird wings outside my open window, sparrows’ songs, hawks’ calls, the flow of my garden fountain outside my window. That’s usually as much noise as I like when working.

Sometimes I select a piece of music that reminds me of a character, to give me inspiration to write a particular scene or story.  For example, when I’m working on Mugwart and Abigail, which is about an eight-year-old aspiring paleontologist, I may listen to the sound track from Jurassic Park.

But usually I’m constantly thinking about my story and constantly reading aloud what I’ve written.  Quiet works nicely for that.  Silence is golden.  Shhhhh.

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

I’ve been eating and drinking these amazing Chinese herbal foods for nearly twenty years.  Sunrider’s the name.  They are concentrated herbs that you mix with water, similar to hot tea. Yum.  That’s what I sip while I’m working.  Nourishing to body and mind.

And if I really need to get serious with my work I’ll enjoy popcorn, some of my homemade fudge, and Dr. Pepper.

Yes, I’m a dichotomy.  Chinese herbs to fudge and Dr. Pepper.  The world is a banquet, isn’t it?

What keeps you focused while you are working?

I am SO easily distracted.  I’m interested in almost everything, so if I go to the internet to do a bit of research, it’s a dangerous proposition.  Did you know Emperor Hsuan Tsung of the Tang Dynasty had dancing horses that danced on three-tiered benches?  And isn’t it amazing that a new species of elephant shrew was discovered in Tanzania?  Oh, sorry!  What was I saying? are two things that help keep me focused:

    *The work. If I’m in love with the story, I’m focused.

    *Someone who loves my work.  If someone is waiting for my project and is excited about it, I stay focused.  Give me someone who truly believes in me and I’ll walk straight as an arrow down the writing path for them.  Good agents and editors are truly a godsend.

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

I write on a MacBook Pro.  I also have an iMac if I want a really big monitor.  I’m definitely an Apple person.  My husband gave me an iPad for Christmas (he’s such a sweetie), so I suspect I’ll be using it too.

When I’m seriously editing and revising, I print my work out.  I make notes and rewrite in longhand.  Sometimes when I get stuck, I’ll write for a while in longhand.  I think we use our brains differently when we physically write instead of simply hitting keys.  On the rare occasions I write in my journal, I write longhand.  Surprising thoughts arise more easily when I’m writing longhand.

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

The muse leads me.  I must admit this is not the most efficient way to write.  My muse is a rascal and as easily distracted as I am.  Sometimes she meanders along the creek or takes me through the swamp.  But eventually, we get there!

When I’m in my most efficient writing mode, I turn off my email and don’t open the internet.  I open only Word and away I write.  When I started writing, I would ignore everything except my writing and I’d write for four or five hours at a time.  This month I plan to return to that routine and rewrite a chapter book manuscript.  My plan is four hours a day, minimum.  I will outline the chapters and scenes for the chapter book.  As my heroine is a budding paleontologist, I’m reading lots of dinosaur books.

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

I used to share my writing space with my boxer, Ali. Ali had a big heart, he made me laugh, and he was beside me during one of the biggest challenges of my life--breast cancer.  He’s gone now and I miss him.  I really want another dog, but I travel so much, it wouldn’t be fair.  I need to wait a few more years.  Then if Jennifer interviews me again, you’ll see a doggie or two sharing my space.

It would be hard to share my workspace with a person.  I’m a solitary soul and I enjoy my time alone in my writing room.  But I do love to gather with my four different writing support groups.  One group meets in person twice a month: Deborah Underwood, Rachel Rodriguez, Elizabeth Shreeve, Deborah Davis, Liz Scarpelli, and Kieren Dutcher are all in this group. Another, with 4 members, meets online once a month--Nancy Raines Day, Andi Buckless, and Kami Kinard.  I also share manuscripts with Dashka Slater once a month or so, online.  And my dear friend Teri Sloat and I get together in person as often as possible to read each other’s work and bounce ideas off each other.  I’d share my room with any of these wonderful writing supporters.

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

That sounds a lot like a “favorite” question.  I told you I can’t choose just one.Here are 3:

1. I was on staff at the Oregon Coast Writer’s Workshop listening to another author present. (I fear I’ve forgotten which one.) He said, “Characters only talk to their friends.”  That has stuck with me a long time.  He meant they wouldn’t want to tell you their secrets or stories if you haven’t written for weeks.  We should talk to our characters daily.

2. This wasn’t written as writing advice, but I think it’s a good way to write, as well as live our lives.  It’s a quote from Deshimarti that I have taped to my desk.  “You must concentrate upon and consecrate yourself wholly to each day, as though a fire were raging in your hair.”

3. And here’s my writing advice to each of you:  Forget all the writing advice.  Open your heart, listen, and write!

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Monday, January 3, 2011

A Peek at the Creative Space of Sherri L. Smith

Joining us this week for Creative Spaces is author Sherri L. Smith. Sherri is the author of Lucy the Giant, Sparrow, and Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet. Her latest novel, Flygirl, was met with much acclaim earning a starred review from Booklist and being named to numerous "Best Of" lists including the 2010 ALA Best Books for Young People.

Flygirl is a historical fiction YA novel set in the Jim Crow era of segregation during the onset of WWII. The description from the publisher reads, "Ida Mae Jones dreams of flight. Her daddy was a pilot and being black didn’t stop him from fulfilling his dreams. But her daddy’s gone now, and being a woman, and being black, are two strikes against her. When America enters the war with Germany and Japan, the Army creates the WASP, the Women Airforce Service Pilots—and Ida suddenly sees a way to fly as well as do something significant to help her brother stationed in the Pacific. But even the WASP won’t accept her as a black woman, forcing Ida Mae to make a difficult choice of 'passing,' of pretending to be white to be accepted into the program. Hiding one’s racial heritage, denying one’s family, denying one’s self is a heavy burden. And while Ida Mae chases her dream, she must also decide who it is she really wants to be."

I have to add my praise to the chorus--I read Flygirl recently and I couldn't read fast enough for how much I wanted to find out what happened next. Smith makes this time period come alive and the story is chock-full of realistic, compelling characters. The tension of "will Ida Mae succeed in the WASP program?", "how are her relationships back home going to be affected?", and "will she be discovered as a black woman?" is absolutely riveting. Smith handles the complicated emotions and themes masterfully. What's more, this is the type of novel that I close upon finishing (or put to sleep, in this case, as I read it on my Kindle) and rush to my laptop because her writing has inspired me to write. Flygirl is a book I highly recommend.

To learn more about Sherri L. Smith and her books, visit her website and her blog "The Middle Hundred".

Describe your workspace.

My workspace varies from day to day.  For about a year, I had my own office—a two-room space with a desk and an armchair, a microwave for making tea and lunch.  

My old office.
It was lovely, but almost too quiet.  Now I roam around from libraries to coffeehouses, and then of course my own living room.  The sofa is as good as a corner office some days.

The cafe where I write.

Describe a typical workday.

My day is as varied as my workspaces lately.  I get up in the morning and force myself over to my exercise boot camp.  Then, after a shower and a little reading over breakfast, I do what I call “office hours.”  This means responding to emails and posting on my blog occasionally.  Because I’m on the west coast, I try to answer emails before noon so there is a chance that people will hear from me before the end of the day.  After all of this, I head out for lunch and do some long-hand writing at the table, usually somewhere in the sunshine.  Then it’s on to the library or whatever perch I choose for the afternoon.  I clock two or three more hours of writing, then I head home, hitting the grocery store or other errands on the way.  Dinner with the husband, TV or a book, more emailing and web surfing, maybe some writing or research, and bed somewhere between 12 am and 2 am (I’m terrible, I know).  Rinse, repeat.  Except for weekends.  Nothing gets done on weekends.  I take dance classes and act like I haven’t a deadline or a care in the world.  Until Monday, that is.

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

My laptop.  I love it.  I’m a  fast thinker with terrible handwriting.  The idea that I can type just as a fast as I think (for the most part) is amazing to me.  I don’t know if I’d ever finish a book without Old Bessie here.  (I haven’t actually named my computer, but maybe I should.  It’s a Toshiba, so maybe Sheba works.)  

My armchair is a second.  It’s vital to have a reading and napping nook.  How else could you dream up a good story?  

My cozy reading corner.

I also have a little collection of Beastlies that I adore.  These are handmade plasticene creatures from a local artist and I love them because they are SOOOO CUTE!  They make me smile every single time I look at them.  

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

I shop online.  Mostly window shopping.  It goes in cycles.  I open the document I’m working on, stare at it, open a browser, and surf.  Shoes, purses, travel packages, you name it.  Then I go back and forth between searching for the perfect blazer (do you know where I can find a forest green blazer with elbow patches?) and writing my novel.  It doesn’t look like a good process, but it’s mine and I love it.

What do you listen to while you work?

Currently I am listening to a mix of music from a friend of mine, about 18 songs I’m trying to choose a piece from to choreograph a bellydance.  It’s all over the place, from Beats Antique to the Gorillaz, and some more classical pieces too.  Usually I don’t listen to music, as it can affect my mood and hence my work.  But now that I’m in public spaces, I choose music over the snoring, cell-phone-using, wailing-child noises that somehow manage to invade a library.  I thought libraries were supposed to be quiet!

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

A good cup of tea, a cold juice drink. (I like to alternate hot and cold.  Very decadent.) And anything from chocolate covered raisins to crackers will keep me happy.  Chocolate helps, though.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

Nothing.  I’m terrible at staying focused.  That said, if the story is really humming and I’m excited about the scene I’m on, I’ll stick with it no matter what.  The sky could fall and I’ll keep on writing.

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

Both longhand and on my laptop.  I find that the different methods work well for different sorts of stories.  I find writing longhand works best if I’m working without an outline, because it gives me more time to ponder what I’m about to write.  It just has a different vibe to it.  Most of my work, however, is on the laptop.

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

I work off of an outline for novels, but not so much with shorter formats.  On long-form though, an outline is crucial for me.  I tend to start with an idea, title or image—something that sparks my imagination.  I’ll hammer it out into an outline, writing out full scenes or vignettes as they occur to me, for later use.  Once I have an outline, I start writing.  The muse leads me on both the outline and the draft.  To me, an outline is a roadmap in case I get lost, but it’s not the only way to get to “the end.”  Every step of the way I’m open to crazy ideas and innovation.  I try to take those new thoughts and work them into the outline, though, so I know where I am if things go . . . off.  Which can and will do.

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

Ah, to share with someone of my choosing, instead of the snoring guy in the library, or the screaming kids across the hall?  I would share my space with my friend Jason.  He has the ability to be both quiet and loud.  He’s also a funny, talented artist with an English degree so he’s a good sounding board.  If she could stand it, I’d add my other friend Karen.  She’s the most balanced person I know, so it would be good for me and Jason, terrible for her.  And if none of them were available?  I’d share my workspace with a small Russian cat circus.  They’d sleep a lot, and then get up and perform.  I could take breaks when they walk the tightrope and set out food for them.  It would be very symbiotic.  That would be cool. 

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

The best piece of writing advice I’ve ever heard is:  If you want to write short stories, write short stories.  If you want to write novels, write novels.  The idea being there are no training wheels for a different format.  You just have to do it.  That’s probably the second best piece of advice I’ve ever heard.  Writers don’t talk about being writers, they write.  Therein lies the proof!