Thursday, January 31, 2013

15 Days of Giveaways: Ken Min

This interview originally ran in April of 2011. Hot, Hot Roti for Dad-Ji was named an APALA Honor Book for 2012. To win a copy of Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-Ji leave a comment on this post.

Congratulations Andrea! you are the winner of HOT, HOT ROTI! Please email me with your mailing address and I will send the book out to you.

Joining us today for Creative Spaces is illustrator Ken Min (pictured at left in his last officially sanctioned photo). Ken's debut picture book, Hot Hot Roti for Dada-Ji (written by F. Zia) was recently published by Lee and Low Books. From the publisher, 
"Aneel’s grandparents have come to stay, all the way from India. Aneel loves the sweet smell of his grandmother’s incense, and his grandfather, Dada-ji, tells the world’s best stories.

When he was a boy, adventurous, energetic Dada-ji had the power of a tiger. Hunh-ji! Yes, sir! He could shake mangoes off trees and wrangle wild cobras. And what gave him his power? Fluffy-puffy hot, hot roti, with a bit of tongue-burning mango pickle. Does Dada-ji still have the power? Aneel wants to find out—but first he has to figure out how to whip up a batch of hot, hot roti.

Overflowing with family, food, and a tall stack of fun, Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji is sure to warm the heart and tickle the tummy. Hunh-ji! Yes, sir!"

Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-Ji earned a starred review from Kirkus who wrote, "Min echoes the narrative’s exuberance with bright, blocky acrylic scenes of an Indian family in Western surroundings. . . . A natural for reading aloud, laced with great tastes, infectious sound effects and happy feelings."

You can learn more about Ken by visiting his website and blog at

And now let's step into Ken's studio! 

(The Ken Min disclaimer: "Some aspects of this photo-documentary may have been reconfigured or cropped so as not to portray the inhabitant as a possible candidate for the show Hoarders.")

A friend gave me a large light box that can be propped at different angles. As I draw and refine my sketches, the box has become an invaluable tool. But, since it's so big, I also tend to just do all my drawings on it because there is nowhere I can set it aside.

Describe your workspace.

I work primarily out of my bedroom in an apartment, which I share. So, "cozy" would be a good word to describe it. But I like the fact that I don't have to commute to work like I used to back when. Don't have to brave that LA traffic.

Because space is rather limited in my room, the box also doubles as the place I paint. I drop my painting board on it but to keep the board from sliding off, I use a couple of erasers to hold it in place. It's an odd arrangement, but it works for me.

Describe a typical workday.

I'm generally up by 7am. From there I like to read the newspaper. Yes, "paper". I like the feel of printer's ink on my fingers. I'm rather old-fashioned that way. Need to keep up with my sports teams, the entertainment page, and comics. (Oh, Cul de Sac, you kill me.) I'll stretch and exercise after that. (If I don't work out then, it's a lost cause, as the day gets long.) Afterwards, I'll have breakfast while surfing the net for a bit; catching up with emails, favorite blogs, Facebook, etc. I try and get the art part going by 10am. If I'm painting, I can really focus in and keep at it till around 6pm. (Minus lunch around noon) After dinner, if there is something I didn't complete for the day, I'll come back to it then. The next day--lather, rinse, repeat.

The tools of the trade. My painting pan, brushes, water cup, color pencils, pens (if I need them), sharpener and my favorite cup that reads, "My 2 favorite teams are USC and whoever is playing UCLA".

What media do you use and which is your favorite?

I like working in traditional medias. Acrylics and color pencils being my favorite and my primary tool right now. I've dabbled in watercolors and some gouache but I keep coming back to acrylics.

Lately, I've been doing color work on a graphic novel for a friend, which is going to be published by Chronicle Books. Here, I've had an opportunity to "paint" using Photoshop, which has been an interesting experience. Just getting a feel for what I can do on it (and of course, loving to delete mistakes without ruining the whole piece). It's been fun and I can see why a lot of people gravitate towards it, but I still like getting my hands dirty and having an actual, original "hardcopy" at the end of the day.

The computer station (when I need it)
1. The laptop and monitor
2. One will rarely ever find a picture of me. If there is a camera about, I go the other way. Recently a friend made a birthday card of me as a sort of paper doll with different moustaches to affix to it. This is the "Capt. Hook".
3. Post-its. Lots of post-its. I write lots of notes to myself and being a visual person, I need to 'see' my notes around me. None of this having to reach for some electronic organizer to look up memos. I would just forget to read my organizer.
4. My trusty wacom tablet. Going strong for 10 years now.
5. A lampshade I need to paint for a charity event. If anyone has any suggestions on subject matter, I'm open to it.
6. A check! Now I can pay the rent. Woohoo.
7. Mom
8. My scanner. Which also doubles as a nightstand for my nightly reading material.
9. Invariably, I have a lot of reference material around me. Here is a stack of comics for color ideas on the graphic novel I'm coloring.
List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

Hmm, this is kind of a hard question for me. I don't know if I really have 3 favorite things per se. My biggest pleasure comes from my collection of books. They are a great source of inspiration and reference for me. If I'm having a hard time coming up with a composition, I'll look at some books to spark an idea. Or if I'm having a hard time thinking of a color combination, I like to flip through a book. It's also nice to be able to scan the shelves and then light up on a title that I might not have looked at in awhile, but remembering that there might be something in it that will inspire me.

What I could do is name 3 of my favorite books. One would be George Shrinks by William Joyce. It is because of this title that I really started looking at what was happening in children's literature today and it made me think that I would like to work here. The next would be my treasury of Ezra Jack Keats’s stories because I came across this book and it really gave me ideas on how I would like to approach my art--the clean lines and textures playing within the color fields. The last would be any copy of a "Calvin & Hobbes" book for its humor, sentimentality, interesting compositions, and characters.

Book addiction?!? What book addiction?
A close up on my children's book collection. This area probably constitutes 80% of what I have.
Another angle on them. If anyone recognizes a favorite title, sound off.
This set of books represents the ones I keep near my table. When I'm writing, I like to read a book to get my head in the right mind space. Some just have pretty pictures of a mood I like to achieve.

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

When faced with a particularly daunting piece or just something I haven't totally figured out but know the first few steps, I like to say a little prayer to myself. It calms my nerves and collects my thoughts.

One of the artists that inspired my style is Charley Harper and I found these game pieces with his images on them. It's like that match game where the tiles are upside down and you have to guess and match the same two images. Anyways, I like having them nearby to look at for color ideas.

What do you listen to while you work?

I don't imagine you get this answer very often, but I like to listen to sports talk radio during the day. I'm a big sports guy and like to keep up with how my home teams are doing and what the scuttlebutt is going around. (Does this kill any "art cred" I might [or might not] have had? :) ) Tho, on weekends when I'm working, I will play music from iTunes. My favorites lately have been Pete Yorn, Rilo Kiley, Jenny Lewis, Shawn Colvin, Liz Phair, and because she sparked a good painting groove some time back--Belinda Carlisle. (Yeah, I'm that old.)

A lot of files of story ideas, postcards I've collected of friends & art I like and yes, that is a VCR. (I'm really that old.)

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

I'm not a huge snack person while I'm working, but I will say I prefer salty snacks compared to sweets. So chips, pretzels, etc. are good. And water . . . why do I feel as if I just described myself like an inmate?

Little known fact, it actually does get cold in LA. Enough so that I will break out the space heater to keep my toes warm. (And yes, those are more books. Really, I don't have a problem . . .)

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

Once I get going on a painting, I can find myself in a zone. It's a great place to be in. There's no sense of "time" and the rhythm is smooth especially if the art is going well.

One of my favorite children's book illustrators is William Joyce. This is a print from the dinner scene in A Day with Wilbur Robinson. I'm also a big comic book guy and this is an ink drawing done by Darwyn Cooke.

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

I guess, finding an interesting composition. It's got to tell the story--simply--first, but if it can have an interesting angle or perspective to it or a creative solution, so much the better. In fact, I would say, the composition needs to be the most thought out and the tightest aspect of your piece. If not, than it's a lost cause before it's even begun and the end result will generally reflect that. I probably spend the most amount of time with the sketch (or rather, numerous sketches) finding it and refining it cause that, to me, is the whole battle. Once you have a really good line drawing in hand, the rest is easy as pie.

Some fun knick-knacks from around the room. And no, these items are not microscopic in size if compared to that paper clip. That paper clip is 13" long.

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

When I started out learning about the children's book market, I met some people who were also new to the field. We formed a critique group where we would share our projects and story ideas. I've known them a long time now and we all have an easy (and rather silly) rapport and I think it would be a pleasure to share more time with them. (Tho, I don't know if we would get any work done. :)

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

This thought probably was directed more towards the children’s book field as a whole, but would also apply to a career in illustration. While attending one of the SCBWI Summer Conferences, I sat in on one of Steve Malk’s workshops and he said a lot of great things but the two that I remember best are, “Be patient, don’t get discouraged” and “Enjoy the ride. Your passion will carry you through. Good things will happen.”

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

15 Days of Giveaways: Wendy Mass

This interview originally ran in October of 2010. Since then Wendy Mass has published 13 Gifts, the latest book in the Willow Falls series, and Beauty and the Beast, the latest book in the Twice Upon a Time series. Look for her next book, Pi in the Sky, in bookstores June of this year. To win a copy of the advanced reader copy of The Candymakers leave a comment on this post. 

Congratulations Adriana! You've won the copy of THE CANDYMAKERS! Please email me with your mailing address and I'll send the book out to you.

Joining us this week to share her creative space is author Wendy Mass! Wendy Mass is the author of ten novels including A Mango-Shaped Space, Leap Day, the Twice Upon a Time fairy tale series, Every Soul a Star, 11 Birthdays, Heaven Looks a Lot Like the Mall, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, and Finally. Her books have been translated into 12 languages and nominated for 41 state book awards, and A Mango-Shaped Space was awarded the Schneider Family Book Award by the American Library Association.

Her latest book (out in book stores this week!) is The Candymakers, a puzzle mystery about four 12-year-olds who enter a candymaking contest. Kirkus reviews writes: "Set in a candy factory as tantalizingly fragrant as Willy Wonka’s, this half-mystery, half–jigsaw-puzzle novel is a mild-mannered cousin to The Westing Game and When You Reach Me. . . . Sweets fans will love the gooey sensory details. Earnest and sweet, with enough salty twists not to taste saccharine." The Candymakers has its own website where you can learn more about the book, watch a video of Wendy talking about writing and researching the book, and find out more about the "I Want Candy!" sweepstakes.

A movie is being made of her novel Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, scheduled to come out in 2011. Wendy wrote about visiting the set on her blog which you can read about here. You will find an abundance of fun and useful information on her website. For writers, she has a great essay on her outlining method (which she refers to below) posted here. And now let's take a peek inside Wendy Mass's creative space:

Describe your workspace.
Ah, a room of one’s own. My house is overrun with toddlers so about six months ago I started renting an office about ten minutes away from my house. It’s located right on the boardwalk that surrounds a lake. I love having a place I can go to that’s just for writing. I’ve decorated it with things that remind me why I love what I do, even on the days where the ideas and the words just aren’t coming. Sometimes the door to my office is blocked by an outdoor table from the restaurant next door who set them up each morning and each morning forget about me. It’s always fun asking people to move while they’re eating. Once some nice women felt sorry for me and offered me wine. Here is the view from my window:

Describe a typical workday.
Drop off the twins at Pre-K, do the typical suburban mom stuff—CVS, supermarket, post office, then get to my office and settle in. If I’m in the research stage of a book I might go to the library first, otherwise I’m pretty much in front of the laptop until school gets out. Having written half the books before I had kids, it’s hard to adjust to writing on such a tight schedule. Knowing I have a shorter time each day does make me focus more, so there’s that. Still, if anyone has any secrets on juggling the two successfully, send ‘em my way.  

I call this part of the office Contemplation Corner. More accurately, it's where i go when the words start to swim on the screen and I curl up on the black and white chair and take a 10-minute power nap. Or 20.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.
I found this mirror with the colorful ceramic tiles down in Key West, Florida. I was there about ten years ago for a writing workshop to work on what would a few years later become my first novel A Mango-Shaped Space. I met Judy Blume there, and gave her a copy of a nonfiction book I had written called Great Authors of Children’s Literature, which included a chapter on her. I got up the nerve (I don’t know from where!) to slip a short story into the front with my email address on top. She emailed that night and invited me to her house for lunch. Whenever I look at the mirror, it reminds me of her warmth and generosity, and how grateful I am to have someone I admire so greatly as a friend.   

This sign that spells W-R-I-T-E in symbols rather than letters, was from lovely Cedar Falls, Iowa where I spent a week doing school visits last year. It’s over my desk and whenever I’m tempted to start surfing websites about who celebrities are dating/breaking up with/getting a restraining order against, I look at the sign and remember why I’m sitting here. 

Most of the other stuff was made for me by kids. The sign with my name spelled out of candy bar wrappers makes me hungry every time I look at it (as does the constant wafting of food smells from next door). I love the Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life boxes, because no two are ever the same. This one is filled with the kids’ own thoughts on what the meaning of life is. I wish I had them before I wrote the book because they are really smart. 

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? 
Nope. I wish I had a ritual of remembering my computer chord, since I forget it every other day and have to drive all the way home.

 Everyone should have a larger-than-life-sized stick-on of Johnny Depp on their wall.
What do you listen to while you work?
I never listen to music when I’m in the early note-taking or outlining stage. Sometimes I’ll put it on when I’m further along into the book, and then it’s something fast and upbeat (currently Lady Gaga is in heavy rotation on my iTunes) in an attempt to get my fingers moving faster along the keyboard. 

Don't Piss off the Fairies. 'Nuff said.
What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?
Water and candy. Then more candy.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

The looming deadline of whatever I’m working on and the wish to not let my editor down by being late. 
Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?
I take notes and write the outline in a spiral notebook (each novel gets its own notebook). Then I write the actual book on the computer. I think putting pen to paper for the initial steps is a more direct route from your brain.  
How do you develop your story ideas? 
Once I find the topic that I want to write about, I go to the library and find every book or magazine on the subject. I start in the children’s room with the simplest books. Learning about how a solar eclipse works is much easier in a book for 5-year-olds than one for grownups. Then once I understand the basics, I’ll dive deeper into the subject, with the goal of approaching the topic in a way I haven’t seen before. I could have basically put my local librarian’s children through college with all my fines.  
Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?
I always outline. Sometimes if I have enough time, I’ll outline the entire book first. Mostly now I do a rough outline of the story, then outline each chapter before I write it. If I had a choice, I’d rather outline the entire book first. If I let the muse lead me, she would lead me to wander the streets aimlessly, bemoaning my career choice. The books would wind up way too long and would stray off the topic too much. Some people complain that outlining a novel takes the fun out of writing it, but I gotta say, staring at a blank screen without knowing what’s coming next is a lot worse. Especially on a deadline.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?
Someone quiet. An artist might be a nice companion. No clacking of the keyboard keys and I’m in awe of the creative process of people who can paint or draw so it would be fun and inspiring to see that process close up. If it didn’t have to be someone human, my cat Fang was a great officemate (may he rest in peace in cat heaven with all the tuna fish he desires). He used to sit on top of my computer and purr all day. Guess that wouldn’t work with a laptop. I miss him.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?
I heard the wonderful Paula Danziger speak once at my local library and she told the story of how she and her good friend Avi would set a goal for the amount of words or pages they would write in a certain time period, and if they didn’t meet their goals, they had to donate a small sum to the other person’s political party. Now THAT’S motivation for you! I need to do something like that. Another thing that has stuck with me is early on in my career, I asked my agent (the wonderful Ginger Knowlton) if she thought I should write any specific kind of book, like any trends that might be coming up, or any topics editors mentioned they were looking for. She said I shouldn’t think about that, that I should only write the books that were inside me, that I was passionate about. At the time I remember being a little frustrated by that, thinking it would be a lot easier if someone just told me what to write, but over the years her advice has proven to be right on target

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

15 Days of Giveaways: Linda Ravin Lodding

This interview originally ran in October of 2011. Linda has two more picture books forthcoming: Hold That Thought, Milton! and The Perfect Yellow Rose. Leave a comment to be entered to win a copy of The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister. 

Congratulations Portia! You've won the copy of THE BUSY LIFE OF ERNESTINE BUCKMEISTER! Please email me with your mailing address and I'll send the book out to you.

Creative Spaces is back, and today we're going international!

Linda Ravin Lodding is celebrating her U.S. debut as a picture book author with this month's publication of The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister, illustrated by Suzanne Beaky (Flashlight Press). Soon to follow will be her UK picture book debut with Hold That Thought, Milton!, illustrated by Ross Collins (Gullane Children's Books) and Oskar's Perfect Present, illustrated by Alison Jay (Gullane Children's Books).

Originally from New York, Linda Ravin Lodding has lived in Europe for the past fifteen years and currently lives in The Netherlands. The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister is already earning praise and rave reviews. From Darrell Hammond, best-selling author and CEO of KaBOOM!, "This book is a joyful and funny reminder to kids and parents alike about the importance and power of play."

To give you a taste of The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister, here is the book trailer:

Linda has two upcoming book events in the U.S. if you are interested in meeting her and learning more about Ernestine. She'll be in New Jersey on Oct. 29 at The Town Bookstore from 2 to 4, and at Books of Wonder in New York City on Nov. 5 from 12 to 2.

To learn more about Linda, visit her website or follow her on Twitter at @lindalodding.

Describe your workspace.

I’m a fairly nomadic writer, but for the past three years I’ve lived in a tiny one-windmill town called “Wassenaar” in The Netherlands, outside of The Hague.

My village, Wassenaar -- notice the policeman on bike!

Our 1930s house is a typical, 4-floor Dutch townhouse and my "office" is on the second floor. My desk faces glass doors that open up to a balcony overlooking a small brick-walled garden.  I put my desk in front of the window so I can see the birds gathering in the trees, watch the neighbor's cat jump from roof-top to roof-top and gaze at the ever-changing Dutch sky.

The front of our house.

Family room which is the central hub-bub of our family life.

The back garden.

Sometimes, when I need a change of scenery, I’ll bike over to Bagel Alley or the local public library.

Our neighborhood hangout, Bagel Alley (notice that Oreo Cake. Heavenly sinful!)

In the summer, my writing workspace is in our summer house in a small fishing village on the west coast in Sweden. The room where I write was a later addition to the house and was previously used as a café for the summering guests that served coffee and "kanelbullar" (cinnamon buns) and fresh strawberries.

Describe a typical workday.

I don’t have very typical days, but most mornings involve getting my daughter off to school (which doesn't require a lot of effort). Once she’s off, I usually grab a cup of coffee and head up to my desk while still in my bathrobe and my hair looking like a wigged-out madwoman (which is why I'm not submitting a photo of this. But, if you do notice the position of my desk, you'll see that everyone else in the neighborhood is able to see me in my full wigged-out state).

After some quick emailing (who am I kidding? This is NEVER quick), I get on my "Oma Fiets" (Grandma Bike) for errands or to the gym.  I then scurry home to check and respond to more emails. Once I become thoroughly disgusted with myself for not having good focused work habits, I start to “work”.

My Dutch "Oma Fiets" -- in Holland, the rustier and beat-up the bike, the better!

At the moment I'm spending time promoting my debut, The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister, preparing for school visits, putting final touches on my second picture book, Hold That Thought, Milton!, and working on polishing other texts.

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

1) Photos of my far-flung family and places that I've visited are some of the most meaningful things in my space.

2)  My handmade Ernestine doll that my friend Paulette Kingsbury-Quimby recently sent me. She made Ernestine with a gorgeous belted purple coat (which I wish came in my size!), sneakers, and a beautiful daisy crown just like the one Ernestine wears in the book.

3a) Wire head scratcher. It looks like a medieval torture device but it’s great at stimulating my brain creativity. But sometimes my husband goes running off with it.

3b) And when I'm writing at Bagel Alley, my favorite thing is the Oreo cake which drives me to distraction!

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

I don’t have any rituals but if I'm feeling creatively sluggish, one thing that is certain to get me in the writing groove is to read a big stack of picture books. Even though I don't read Dutch, I love going to our local Wassenaar library to pour through their section of Dutch children's picture books.  I become absorbed with the illustrations which usually tell their own story. (And the library is located right next to Bagel Alley. How convenient!)

Dutch children's books which offer me inspiration (even though I don't read Dutch :) ).

What do you listen to while you work?

Seagulls, kids as they bike by the house, and the clip-clop of horses heading for an outride to the beach. For a New Yorker, these are very exotic sounds!

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

A crunchy apple with crunchy peanut butter. Green ice tea or coffee.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

It's a constant struggle--so many things call to me--emails to read, Facebook statuses to update, Etsy things to buy, food to be eaten. But usually, two things work for me:  1)  A deadline! and 2) Being in the "zone" with a piece of work. There's nothing more wonderful than to be sucked into a story and realize that hours have gone by (and I haven't answered, purchased, or eaten any of those things that usually scream my name.)

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

Always on my Mac. It's by far the quickest way for me to get my thoughts down "on paper" and, periodically, check on word count. I also love to highlight things in different colors and change fonts so in the end my draft can look like a crazy quilt (but when I send the draft to my editor it's back to basic black text and Times New Roman).

Conversely, I like to edit in longhand. Printing out the draft and sitting with a pencil for edits helps me slow down and tap into another, quieter, part of my brain.

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

I have a file full of story ideas, possible book titles, character names, opening sentences–all of which I like to think are sitting and marinating in their own juices until they’re ready to be cooked. The difficult thing, for me, is turning those ideas into fully-developed stories with a beginning, middle, and satisfying end.

I don't have any elixir other than just to start writing. At some point I usually hit the wall and have to put the story down. That's when I live with the story off the page--mulling over plot points or word choice while I'm on the treadmill or chopping veggies. I'll also bounce ideas around with my wonderful writing buddies.

Once the story is in reasonable shape, I find that making a dummy book from the text to be quite helpful. The dummy helps me see how the page turns work as part of the story and I can assess whether or not I have enough material for unique visuals on each page--key for picture books writers.

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

My 13-year-old daughter, Maja. Fortunately, I usually am sharing my work space with her. She's either doing homework at the big Parson's table behind my desk or practicing the piano (to the right of my desk.) She's such lovely company and great critique partner. (I think I'm going to have to move into her college dorm room!)

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

My picture book texts became exponentially stronger when I began to think visually. As Verla Kay says, every sentence, every phrase, needs to bring up a visual picture. Read all the great picture books and study the form--look at what the text “says”, and what the visuals "say". Picture books, ultimately, are a dance between words and illustrations and it’s key to understanding how the two work together. It’s like learning to waltz alone.

Monday, January 28, 2013

15 Days of Giveaways: Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery

This interview originally ran in November of 2011. Since then, Kirby Larson has also published The Friendship Doll, a novel about four girls and the Japanese Friendship Doll who changes their lives. To win a copy of Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina leave a comment on this post.

Congratulations Amy C.! You've won the copy of Two Bobbies!


Kirby Larson
Mary Nethery
I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! My husband and I spent our holiday with my side of the family in California and are full of gratitude for the time spent with family and friends, lots of great food, and returning home to our pets who were spoiled and incredibly well taken care of by my in-laws.

The feelings of gratitude continue today as we have a special treat with a joint Creative Spaces interview with authors Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery. Together they have collaborated on two award-winning nonfiction picture books, Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival (illustrated by Jean Cassels) and Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine, and a Miracle (a collaboration that also included Major Brian Dennis).

Two Bobbies is a wonderful, tear-jerker of a story about a dog and a blind cat (both with bobbed tails, hence the names) who helped each other survive Hurricane Katrina. Their story was featured on Anderson Cooper 360º, which is where Kirby and Mary first learned about the Bobbies and got the idea to turn their story into a picture book. In addition to being a heartwarming story of friendship and survival, Two Bobbies also celebrates the hard work of animal rescue organizations and the many volunteers who traveled to New Orleans to help in the aftermath of Katrina. If there is an animal-lover you are buying gifts for this holiday season, I highly recommend this book. (And Mary and Kirby are donating a portion of their proceeds from this book to Best Friends Animal Society.)

In addition to their collaborations, Kirby and Mary also work on solo projects. Kirby Larson is the author of the 2007 Newbery Honor book, Hattie Big Sky, a young adult historical novel inspired by her great-grandmother, Hattie Inez Brooks Wright, who homesteaded by herself in eastern Montana as a young woman. Kirby's latest book, The Fences Between Us, is leading off the relaunch of Scholastic's Dear America series. The Fences Between Us is about 13-year-old Piper who lives in Seattle in 1941 during the bombing of Pearl Harbor where her brother has recently been stationed. Her father is the pastor for a Japanese Baptist church and when Piper's Japanese neighbors and her father's congregants are sent to an incarceration camp, her father follows, bringing Piper with him. Also make sure to keep an eye out May 2011 for Kirby Larson's next novel, The Friendship Doll.

Mary Nethery is a best-selling author of several picture books. In addition to her collaborations with Kirby, she is the author of Mary Veronica's Egg, illustrated by Paul Yalowitz, and Hannah and Jack, illustrated by Mary Morgan. Mary Nethery's newest picture book is The Famous Nini: A Mostly True Story of How a Plain White Cat Became a Star, illustrated by John Manders. Set in Venice in the 1890's, a plain white cat, left to fend for scraps, makes his way into the heart of a cafe owner who has nothing to spare. From the School Library Journal, "Before there was Dewey Readmore Books, there was Nini, also a humble stray, practicing random acts of kindness in 19th-century Venice . . . At the heart of Nini's appeal and talent is the fact that he is simply a charming stray. Nethery has a lot of fun with Nini's story, creating characters openhearted enough to be touched by a purr or a nudge against the shins; she provides an analysis of the fact versus her fiction in the author's note."

To find out more about these authors and their books, visit Kirby Larson's website and blog, and Mary Nethery's website.

Kirby Larson's writing space

Mary Nethery's writing space

Describe your workspace.

When our son went off to college, I took over his bedroom (I had been relegated to a corner of the guest room/sewing room previously). The walls are a soft gold which glow warmly on our gray Seattle days. Two windows bring in light and a spectacular view of two enormous Katsura trees, whose delicate heart-shaped green leaves blaze red and gold in the fall (and also smell like cotton candy!). My office has two bookcases and needs at least two more, a desk, a file cabinet, a rolling file cabinet for work in progress and a dog bed for Winston the Wonder Dog.

Winston the Wonder Dog
Mary:  My office is in a loft area, with two windows to my right. Two rows of white shelving flow along the long wall I face each morning as I sit at my computer. My baby muse, Dash, has a basket on the bottom shelf for musing in. Against the wall to my left stand two Tuscan cabinets filled with books. The ceiling is painted white. Three walls are a chameleon-like magnolia that sometimes looks the softest hue of pink, and the fourth wall behind the cabinets is painted a deep berry called Crushed Velvet, as directed by my Feng Shui Master!

Describe a typical workday.

Kirby:  Ha! No such thing exists. When I’m home, however, I am generally in my office by 8:30 or 9, coffee to my right, work in progress on the screen. I shouldn’t, but I answer emails first thing. When I’m in the thick of things, I do turn off my email and find I get ever so much more accomplished. Most days I’m in my office until it’s time for dinner—though Winston is adamant that, rain or shine, we take a walk around 3 p.m. each afternoon.

Mary: The typical day I fantasize about begins with a lovely breakfast on a terrace in the morning sun, followed by a massage, after which I sit in my office and write twenty pages with ease and no interruptions and then enjoy a nutritious yet tasty lunch prepared by anyone but me! However, back to reality. I have a Pilates class at 8:30 a.m. After that I write or return emails, do promotional tasks, etc. until noon. I return to my office around 2 and write until 4 or 5. Then I return again in the evening for another couple of hours of work. It works best for me to break up my day and not sit for long hours at a time.

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

Kirby: I look across the room at one of my bookcases to a shelf holding a photo of my Write Sisters, women I’ve known for ages who have been key encouragers in my writing career (one of them is Mary). The windowsill to the right of my desk is home to an acorn from Walden’s Pond, a wishing rock from our beach house, and stones I have picked up from various beaches I’ve visited. These mementos remind me of travels and adventures that have enriched my life. On my desk sits a shabby copy of The Synonym Finder, ed. by J. I. Rodale, which I use daily.

Mary: I adore my baby muse, Dash. He sits in his basket as I write. He came to us from what he likes to call an orphanage in Atlanta, Georgia. He really is a godsend—slipping me a great detail when I need it the most, and now that he’s getting Dr. Dictionary every morning via email, he even suggests word replacements! Pictures of people I love, like Kirby, adorn the top shelf above my computer. My other favorite thing is my ever faithful iMac which allows me to work with the least amount of frustration possible.

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

Kirby: It’s not my ritual, but Winston’s: he generally sleeps on my lap while I work so is always trying to get me upstairs to my office as soon as breakfast is over in the morning.

Mary: I wish I had a ritual, but I don’t. I think rituals can be happy things that bring you comfort and safety and assure you that yes, you can get through this really difficult chapter where you’ve got your main character, alone in her bedroom without her cell phone, with a possible intruder, and nothing but a baseball bat for protection, and how am I ever going to be able to write it so it scares the pants off my readers, and . . . Yes, I believe I need to put together a ritual ASAP.

What do you listen to while you work?

Kirby: Nothing, aside from Winston’s snores. I prefer quiet while I work.

Mary: I like silence and the sound of the water tinkling over the rocks in the fountain downstairs. The only time I like music is if I’m writing a particular scene and need the playlist that I think would accompany it—for inspiration. But I’m too easily moved by music—music can be hazardous to my psyche!

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

Kirby: Coffee or a homemade latte are fairly essential and, most afternoons, a cup of tea (I like Harney & Son’s African Autumn or Paris) and a Trader Joe’s Fig Bar, which gets shared with a certain four-legged muse.

Mary: I have a Jura Capresso that grinds the French Roast beans and makes one cup of coffee at a time with a lovely crema. And almost everyday, my husband bakes sunflower seeds for me—they’re excellent for increasing seratonin.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

Kirby: My love for what I’m doing! And the fact that I really do see it as a job.

Mary: I’ve learned to be really disciplined. You can’t create unless you produce something, and what could possibly be more heady than creating a universe? And I know I’m meant to write—I feel like the real “me” when I’m writing.

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

Kirby: Always on the computer (old habit from my journalism degree), though I print off drafts and hand revise on them.

Mary: I always write on the computer. But sometimes I need to trick my brain into moving out of the box by writing long hand. I revise both on the computer and via printed drafts.

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

Kirby: It depends on the story. With the nonfiction picture books, because Mary is so great at seeing the story arc and plot points, we tend to write in scenes. With my own work—which has come to be fairly exclusively historical fiction—historical events are the dots that I try to connect with characters and action. I am not an outliner, but I do spend a lot of time writing about the story. I have just this summer used a program called Scrivener to write a historical novel and I liked the rhythm and discipline of it so I'm using it again for the current WIP.

Mary: I spend a lot of time just cogitating and writing down ideas that may seem disparate but begin to work together in some odd way. When I think I’ve got a handle on the story, I begin to shape it by writing a brief sketch of each scene with major plot points, on a big piece of butcher paper—at some point, everything that’s on the butcher paper is transferred to a document. I don’t like outlining. It bores me. But fashioning the shape of a story to the point where I can no longer hold back from beginning to write it, keeps me intrigued and works for me.

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

Kirby: Couldn’t do it anymore. Not even with Mary! I’m too spoiled.

Mary: I think I’d enjoy sharing a workspace! But it would have to be with someone really fun-loving with an offbeat sense of humor—like my husband or my son or maybe even Stephen Colbert! I take myself way too seriously and that can impede my writing. I’d like to be interrupted with goofy ideas and just plain old happiness and laughter. But they’d have to settle down on command!

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

Kirby: Don’t listen to advice! ;-) I think if a writer reads voraciously and learns the basics of her genre, she should avoid using other people’s road maps and create her own.

Mary: Hmmm, follow your muse, write about what makes your passions burn, and create your own path.