Monday, February 28, 2011

A Peek at the Creative Space of Laura Resau

I love discovering writers and illustrators who have unconventional workspaces (Rosanne Parry, for example), and today is one of those treats. Critically acclaimed author Laura Resau is giving us a peek into her writing space, and it's not your typical spare room turned office space . . .

Laura Resau's latest novel, The Queen of Water, co-written with María Virginia Farinango, will be released on March 8 and has already received two starred reviews. Of the book, ALA Booklist said, "A moving, lyrical novel that will particularly resonate with teens caught between cultures." Kirkus Reviews praised it as a "riveting tale . . . by turns heartbreaking, infuriating and ultimately inspiring." The good news keeps coming for this book and it has also been named a Junior Library Guild selection.

Her previous novels--Star in the Forest, The Ruby Notebook, The Indigo Notebook, Red Glass, and What the Moon Saw--have garnered many starred reviews and awards, including the IRA YA Fiction Award, the Américas Award, and a spot on Oprah's Kids' Book List.

If you are in or can travel to the Fort Collins, CO, area, join Laura for fun and festivities at her book release event for The Queen of Water at Old Firehouse Books on Saturday, March 12, at 6pm. And if you are a fan of her Notebook series, you can look forward to The Jade Notebook being published later this spring.

To learn more about Laura Resau and her books, visit her blog and her website. And if you'd like to see even more details about her writing space, she gives a very thorough tour here.

Describe your workspace.

I write in my "sweet little fifties rig" – a vintage trailer that I impulsively bought on Craigslist three years ago.  At that time, I had to give up my writing room to make a bedroom for my new son, who we were in the process of adopting from Guatemala.  I panicked at the thought of having no "room of my own," which prompted me to think outside the box and get a trailer to use as my writing space.  I love it!  It's only about ten feet long, but there's enough room for my "desk"—a Formica fold-out table—and a bed-reading nook, and many of my favorite, inspirational knick-knacks.  The trailer sits happily in my driveway, taking me to far-off lands in my imagination . . .

Describe a typical workday.

My daily schedule depends on what stage my current books-in-progress are at—rough draft, revision, copyedits, promotion, or a mix of everything.  Ideally, I start my workday with reading and writing some poetry, and then moving into writing the story at hand.  I often take little breaks to make more tea, do a load of laundry, run the dishwasher, go for a walk, pick up some plastic toys strewn about the house, etc.  As I'm doing these tasks, I feel like my unconscious mind is still working with the story (at least that's what I tell myself!)
I try to use the mornings for my creative time, and afternoons for promotional stuff—emailing with teachers and librarians about author visits, writing website and blog content, emailing with  readers, responding to interviews, planning workshops and presentations, etc.  It's hard for me to be that disciplined, though . . . I usually end up going online here and there throughout the day.

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

Hmm . . . that's a hard one!  Everything in my writing space is special and inspirational to me in some way. I'll pick three!

1) I love the bells and wind chimes inside and outside my trailer . . . I can hear them ring when the wind blows or when I shift positions and the entire trailer moves a little, like a boat.

2) I also love the old children's books that my dad gave me—they're so musty and magical.

3) The pink fairy lights make me happy, too—they're festive and warm and make my space feel extra-cozy.

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

If it's spring or summer, I clip a few flowers from my garden and put them on my table.  Sometimes I light a beeswax candle for a little while.  I sometimes take a few minutes to meditate and feel gratitude to the source of creativity.  These small rituals remind me that writing is a sacred and mysterious act.

What do you listen to while you work?

I like listening to music, often mellow music in Spanish or French (at the moment, Carla Bruni).

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

Tea with lots of milk and honey.  I drink tea all day long!

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

I love when I get completely absorbed in the story I'm writing . . . that's the best.  But when it feels like more of a struggle to focus, I turn to tea, music, and the small rituals.

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

I brainstorm and sketch out ideas with a pen in a spiral notebook, sometimes curled up in the bed nook of my trailer.  I do most of the actual writing and revising on my laptop.

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

I jot down lots of notes in my notebook, then do some stream-of-consciousness writing--just letting it out without censoring or worrying about details.  Once I've written at least 20 pages or so (often more), I write a tentative outline.  The outline changes a lot throughout the process of writing the book.  I'm constantly re-doing the outline—it's a very loose guide for me, always changing.  I really let my unconscious self—the imagery, characters, and story—lead me.

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

Rumi, the 13th century mystic.  I keep a volume of his poetry on my desk and often read it.  (If you've read The Indigo Notebook or The Ruby Notebook, you can guess I'm a Rumi fan!)

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

I really love Elizabeth Gilbert's (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) take on creativity and writing. I'd love to quote all her advice, but here I'll just pick out a little piece of it. (I think Jack Gilbert is her father? I don't know!):

"As the great poet Jack Gilbert said once to young writer, when she asked him for advice about her own poems: 'Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say YES.'"

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Peek at the Creative Space of Don Calame

Joining us today is Don Calame, the author of the YA novels Swim the Fly and Beat the Band. Don Calame's writing has been praised as laugh-out-loud funny and "the sort of book that could tweak many boys to the fun of reading." (Quill & Quire)

Swim the Fly is the story of three 15-year-old boys determined to achieve their summertime goal of seeing an actual naked girl. Publisher's Weekly gave it a starred review saying, "The boys’ pursuits make for a hilarious, if raunchy, what-I-did-last-summer narrative, supported by a cast of memorable adults. . . . This one will spread like athlete’s foot in a locker room."

His most recent title, Beat the Band, was published in fall 2010 and is a sequel to Swim the Fly. From the publisher, "Cooper Redman has one thing on his mind: tagging as many bases as possible by the end of sophomore year. He’s already picked out a prime target: the divine Prudence Nash, whose sexy serpent tattoo haunts his dreams. But when Coop is paired with the infamous “Hot Dog” Helen for a semester-long Health project on safe sex, his hopes of making it to the Majors are suddenly DOA. It’s going to take something totally epic to resuscitate his reputation. Something like winning The Battle of the Bands with his best buds Matt and Sean. There’s just one problem: they suck."

Here is the book trailer for Swim the Fly, featuring Mr. Calame's adorable and talented dog Scooter:

If you'd like to learn more about Don Calame and his books, visit his website and his blog "Dirty Laundry".

Describe your workspace.

My office is one of the spare bedrooms in our home. Depending on the day you catch me, my workspace can be either neat and tidy or a mess of papers, Post-Its, and pens. Mostly the latter (I’ll admit that I neatened up a bit before taking the picture).

I work on an iMac (I switched over from a PC six years ago and have never looked back!) that’s centered on a large wooden repurposed dining room table. I like to have a large space to spread out on. To lay my notes and reference books out. Unfortunately, the more space I have the more I tend to spread out.

The bookshelves in my office.

Describe a typical workday.

I try to work every day for at least 4-5 hours when I am involved with a project.

A typical workday for me will consist of trying to get to my desk by 11:00 (though, I hate to admit it, many times it’s later) after breakfast, and dog walking, and a bit of exercise.

As I said, I tend to work four or five hours a day trying to eek out around three pages of prose. I have a real hard time concentrating for much longer than that.

I am a terrible procrastinator and for whatever reason (call it mild ADD or “the kitten and the string” syndrome) it’s mentally tiring for me to stay focused on one thing for long stretches of time. After a certain amount of hours at the computer I go bleary eyed and can’t think anymore.

The view out my office window.

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

My computer, my headphones, my cup of tea (and a fourth would be my signed photo of the Stanley Cup winning New York Islanders).

My favorite mug.

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

Make tea, sit down at my computer, check out the hockey news, realize I’ve just wasted a good chunk of my writing time checking out the hockey news, feel guilty, get to work.

More bookshelves.

What do you listen to while you work?

Because I write YA, most of the time I listen to music I remember listening to as a teenager (to get me in the mood to write as a teenager and remind me of that time in my life). I usually put together a playlist of one particular artist (The Police, Chicago, Toto, Genesis--I guess that pretty much dates me!) and then just loop it over and over again until it becomes just background noise.

Occasionally, though, if my brain is in a particularly distractible mood, I have to write in silence.

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

Used to be I’d drink a ton of coffee but now it’s mostly tea. Yerbe Mate or Green. I try not to eat while I write as I tend to have to finish everything in front of me before I get to work which can lead to a lot of calories and excess weight.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?


And deadlines.

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

I always write my manuscripts on a computer. It allows me the freedom to write whatever I want because I know I can always delete, delete, delete.

But I usually outline in longhand. Don’t ask me why. I hate outlining on the computer. It seems too sterile and contrived. I know, it doesn’t make sense, but not much of the creative process makes sense to me.

The strange thing is I can’t outline too much because I like to allow the story to be organic as I write it. Allowing for the unexpected. But I do need to know which direction I am heading.

I do post-outline on a corkboard program as I go, meaning I keep track of the scenes I’ve already written on virtual index cards that I can move around later.

How do you develop your ideas?

I like to start with a really interesting “What if?” situation. One that will cause my main character a lot of heartache and misery. Then I’ll try and brainstorm fun and embarrassing situations that might come as a result of the “What if?”

After that, it’s sort of like, let’s follow this road and see where it leads.

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 wife, who is also a writer, though I don’t think she would like to share it with me because I make a lot of noise when I write. Writing has become a real physical act for me. Wiggling my legs, sucking on candies, slurping my tea, drumming my fingers on the keyboard, listening to loud music in my headphones.

My wife likes dead silence when she writes.

So, on second thought, maybe I’d share it with my dog, Scooter. He doesn’t mind the noise and distractions.

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

My first edition Richard Russo books.

This is from Richard Russo (one of my all time favorite writers) talking about the writing process:

“You just kind of have faith. If that sounds kind of mystical, it’s because I really don’t know how it works, but I trust that it does. I try to write the way I read, in order to find out what happens.”

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Monday, February 14, 2011

A Peek at the Creative Space of Kieren Dutcher

Joining us today for Creative Spaces is illustrator Kieren Dutcher. Her book Chinese and English Nursery Rhymes: Share and Sing in Two Languages, written by Faye-Lynn Wu, was published with Tuttle Publishing in 2010. From the publisher:

"As Mother Goose has known for centuries, rhyme and rhythm are fun! And what could be a more enjoyable way for children and their parents to learn about different cultures and languages than through familiar rhymes and songs?

In Chinese and English Nursery Rhymes, an innovative collection of favorite rhymes are put in pairs—one from China and the next in English—to show how the things that kids love are the same, no matter where in the world they live. Whether your native language is English or Chinese, you can learn the rhymes along with your children. Just follow the words on the page, or play the CD and sing along!"

In honor of Valentine's Day, Kieren has shared beautiful Valentine artwork with us. Make sure to scroll to the end of the interview to see both!

To learn more about her and her work, visit her website and her blog, "The Tyger Voyage".

Describe your workspace.

I currently work in a bedroom of our house, right next to the living room.  When we first moved to this house, my studio was down in the basement, which looked onto my vegetable garden. It was lovely during the daytime, but it had no sink, and was rather gloomy at night. Last year my daughter and I swapped spaces (after my husband finished off the basement for our daughter--she now has a lovely suite down there with her own entrance). I love it, being close to what’s going on in the house (I have 2 teenagers and an 8 month old puppy at home), and everyone now uses this studio space for various projects. There’s a computer workspace, my drafting table, and a table in the middle of the room for cutting and putting work together, file cabinets, drawers for various art materials, and a closet full of art supplies, fabric, yarn, papers, etc. I love to sew, knit and make quilts. My husband is a designer, and both of our kids are ‘makers’ too, so this room gets a lot of use.

Describe a typical workday.

I teach art to kids (5th-8th graders) three days a week, so I have two days in my studio. Usually I get up around 7am, drink some strong tea, take my pup for a walk, shower, and then get down to work. I often start by checking email, updating new work to my website, blog, etc, before I get down to working on the latest picture book or painting project . . . but when I’m in the middle of a project, I dive right into that first.  I work until I get hungry, wander to the kitchen, maybe do some errands if I need a break in the middle of the day. Then I work some more until it’s time to start dinner, and often go back to it for a while after dinner.  

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

All the artwork and cards my kids have made me over the years. My daughter’s goal is always to make me cry with the lovely notes she writes me, and she usually is successful!

A sampler I cross-stitched when I was 14. I was enamored with early American life after visiting Williamsburg, Virginia, and it reminds me of my younger self.

My big red cabinet full of childrens’ books. My husband gave it to me for Christmas last year, it’s my favorite color, and full of books I love.

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

I am a big listmaker, so I often make lists of what I’m trying to accomplish each week. It keeps me focused. I LOVE to cross things off my list.

What do you listen to while you work?

Nothing if I am writing or sketching in the beginning stages of a picture book, as I often need to read aloud to myself. When I am painting, I mostly listen to NPR, or jazz on the radio. Sometimes, if it’s a long haul of painting, I listen to the BBC through my computer. I like the Women’s Hour and British dramas. 

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

Lots of English Breakfast and Earl Grey tea, although lately I’m really enjoying different types of spicy chai.  I often have a tiny bowl of chocolate chips next to my desk.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

That list I mentioned earlier, and the fact that my studio time is limited.

What media do you use and which is your favorite?

For the past few years it has mostly been gouache resist. Right now I am working on a picture book that also incorporates collage, which is really fun. I am starting to play in Photoshop, after scanning in an illustration that is partially finished, to see what I can do with it yet still maintain the integrity of the original painting. I am seeing more and more picture books done by combining painting or drawing and Photoshop, as it’s easier to make minor changes quickly without having to redo an entire illustration.

What aspect of illustrating do you find most challenging and why?

Getting published! It is getting harder and harder to get feedback from editors, and the business seems to be changing quite a bit right now.  I don’t have an agent yet, that is my goal for this year.

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

Well, no one, really, as I am picky about my stuff. But I’d LOVE to meet Anita Lobel. I just love her paintings soo much. One of my cherished picture books, “So Happy!”, was signed by her and Kevin Henkes at Books of Wonder in New York. (It’s a wonderful store, by the way, where all the picture books are alphabetized by illustrator’s name. There is a gallery of children’s book illustration in the back, and they sell cupcakes, too.)

What is the best piece of writing and/or illustrating advice you’ve heard

The worst writing you did today is better than the best writing that you didn’t do. --Esmee Raji Codell

Equally important, I think, is that you have to believe in yourself and follow your heart.

Happy Valentine's Day!

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Monday, February 7, 2011

A Peek at the Creative Space of Natasha Wing

Joining us today for Creative Spaces is author Natasha Wing. (On her birthday no less--happy birthday, Natasha!) Natasha is the author of 19 children's books and more on the way. She is best known for her "The Night Before" series which began with The Night Before Easter, published in 1999. Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year is the bestselling The Night Before Kindergarten. In May, a The Night Before Kindergarten Sticker Stories book will be published to commemorate the anniversary. Also being published in May is the newest title in the series, The Night Before Preschool.

In addition to "The Night Before" books, Natasha is the author of How to Raise a Dinosaur, a lift-the-flap book with tips on caring for a pet dinosaur; Jalapeno Bagels, a story inspired by the multi-cultural bakery Los Bagels in Arcata, CA; An Eye for Color, a biography of artist Josef Albers; as well as several other titles. To learn more about Natasha Wing and her books visit her website and her blog.

And now let's take a peek at where and how Natasha works . . .

Describe your workspace.

My office is on the second floor and is a converted spare bedroom. It's very square and compact, but everything's pretty much within reach. My workspace is a corner desk with one side against the window wall and another jutting out into the room, like a peninsula. I get the morning light, which I prefer for writing. Outside the window I see a field of straw-yellow grass with a pump jack methodically pumping oil, and a view of the Budweiser plant. I'm not much of a beer drinker, but I do like the smell of the wafting hops.

Describe a typical workday.

My days have been less structured since I moved to Fort Collins, Colorado (AKA Fort Fun) where it's very active and outdoorsy, and I'm finding things I'd rather be doing than sitting at my computer. But a more typical workday is to be at my computer by 8:30 a.m. to do some kind of publishing-related work such as writing, internet surfing/research, marketing, emailing with my editor and writer friends, and generally trying to "get things going" in the business either by creating new stories or marketing opportunities. This happens basically until noon. Afternoons and weekends I sporadically edit, read, check facebook and emails, and write when I'm inspired. So it's part discipline, part winging it.

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

My plastic dinosaurs because I found them for 19 cents at a thrift store and they make me smile. (My interest in dinosaurs has been rekindled since my book, How to Raise a Dinosaur, came out.)

A pen and ink drawing of the front of the New York Public Library that I bought from a street artist when I was in New York City for an SCBWI conference. I love the reminder of the power that that building holds--knowledge--and thinking that my books may be IN THERE.

The third thing is my computer. Not the physicalness of it, but that it provides access to the outside world where I can stay in touch with writers and friends, do research at my fingertips, and that it's like having a really smart brain that remembers everything and a really anal secretary all wrapped up in one.

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

I think the only ritual-like habit I have is to check my emails first to help me warm up for the morning writing time.

What do you listen to while you work?

The hum of my computer. I tend to be easily bothered or distracted by noise, so I don't have music or a TV show going on while I work. I want to be able to hear the editor in my head. 

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

If I'm frustrated with a story and feel the need to really sink my teeth into something - be it editing or solving a story problem - then I prefer snacks that crunch, like tortilla chips or Terra chips. A nice way to celebrate finishing work, say after school visits or on Fridays when the traditional work week wraps up, is with a glass of wine.

What keeps you focused while you are working?

The conditions under which I can really focus are when I'm working on a story that is moving and grooving for me, and when my husband is out of the house and my cat's not meowing at me. Deadlines also help. So does needing a paycheck.

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

Once in a while I'll scribble down the initial idea to capture it before it's gone. And I may write a few key notes about the idea. But since I have terrible handwriting and can't always decipher my notes, I mostly I write on the computer. 

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

I'm pretty organic versus structured. If something excites me, or if my brain immediately starts projecting images and playing out the story in my head, then I know it's a story idea I want to develop further. I am toying around with an idea for a novel right now, and this time I wrote some key information about the characters and some potential chapter points on big note cards, and I think that has helped organize my thoughts. I will occasionally do a dummy for a picture book if I can't quite get a handle on editing it.

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

Maybe Philip Pullman because he seems like he'd be a quiet man, and too focused to want to stop and talk with me. But that I'm sharing my space at all is only because someone is forcing me.

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

Everyone is on their own path to publication. The other is replace weak adverbs with strong verbs.