Interview with Author/Illustrator Hazel Mitchell

Hazel Mitchell recently finished working with Priscilla Burris in the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program and illustrated HOW TO TALK TO AN AUTISTIC KID by Daniel Stefanski.  Currently she is illustrating a series of chapter books for Kane and Miller by Anastasia Suen, and a search and seek book for Charlesbridge Publishing about New Jersey. She stems from Scarborough in Yorkshire England and now lives and works from her studio in Maine. She attended art college in York and Sunderland in the UK and worked as a graphic designer in the Royal Navy before running her print and design business in England.  Her art has even been presented to the British Royal Family. Now she is working on writing and illustrating her own books as well as illustrating for other authors.
Since this blog is about offering inspiration to writers and artists, my first question for you is, do you have a favorite quote? If so, why is it your favorite?
My favorite quote is by Oscar Wilde;

‘We are all lying in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’

I think it speaks of the equality of humanity, and the state we are in – but some of us are dreaming and that’s what makes life worthwhile. I hope I can help even just a few children dream.

If you could go back in time and give yourself a piece of advice, what would it be?
Believe in yourself and what you can achieve and stick with it. I have wanted to be an illustrator and writer from my earliest memories. I was always doodling and writing little stories and plays and comics for friends. And yet I always got sidelined by something else. I guess I didn’t have an ideal childhood; my parents divorced when I was five and we moved around a lot. Although I showed early talent I don’t feel my school was geared toward arts. I did have a great art teacher from the ages of 16 to 18 though, and his teaching kept me motivated for a long time. I don’t think I was ready for art college. I did 2 years of my degree course and dropped out. I wanted to do fine art and my work was very illustrative … here’s where I should have believed in myself and asked for help! I didn’t. But I am a great believer that life gives you what you need, when you need it. So my career path was a little crazy … I joined the Royal Navy and I found myself working in graphics studios with excellent civil servant artists and learned a heck of a lot. It was a kind of apprenticeship. When I left the Navy I ran my own business in print and design. It was great experience. I started working with computers in 1988. Now, as I am starting to really follow my ambitions as a children’s illustrator and writer, I find the experiences I had in my former work invaluable as well as having a wealth of life experience. It makes me what I am today! I also have professional consistency and persistence and that’s important when you are dealing with publishers. I never forget that they are investing money and time in me. Yes, I wish I could have been where I am now fifteen years ago – but life gives us what we need, when we need it. (IF you are looking at the stars of course!)
In your writing career, who’s had the biggest influence on you? What did they do to inspire you?
I can’t recall the picture books I read as a child. I started reading chapter books pretty early, and then moved on to adult works quickly. So as an illustrator I have had to go back and rediscover books that I didn’t read, or have forgotten. I also have no children of my own so I didn’t do the whole rediscovering children’s books thing. Robert Louis Stephenson, AA Milne (and the drawings of EH Shepherd), Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake, Raymond Briggs. These are the books I remember. Then I moved on to classics, loving the Brontes and Jane Austen, Dickens. Like most children in England of my era I was addicted to Enid Blyton. What I really loved was pony stories … ponies, ponies, ponies!
Right now I am being inspired all over again. And I am discovering a whole new set of writers .. because what American children grew up with is not what I was reading in England. So I have been discovering all the classic books here. I think what inspires me to keep doing what I am doing is what is happening right now in the children’s book world. It’s exciting to see and read about people like Dan Santat, Mo Willems, EB Lewis, Loren Long, Marla Frazee, Paul O Zelinsky and follow their careers, see how they are evolving. Just knowing that they are out there having the same struggles in their studios on a daily basis even at their level of success. Kind of like being in one big universal illustration club … that’s what keeps me going.
Are there ever times you feel your creative spark dying? If so, how do you light it back up?
I do run out of energy. But not out of ideas. Not yet!! My wall is covered in post it notes with ideas and projects. There isn’t enough time. I am not good at leaving my studio though, once I am working, and that is the way to burn out. You have to balance your day. I get my mojo back by chatting with other illustrators and writers. Right now being part of SCBWI and attending conferences and workshops really keeps my fire burning. If I am feeling really jaded it’s good not to work on anything for a little while. But sometimes that is not possible with deadlines. I think routine is important. Sitting down with a pile of books always gets me inspired. Going outside and remembering there is life beyond the drawing board. Having a snooze and a cup of Yorkshire Tea. Yeah, that perks me right up!!
Do you have a favorite illustration you could share with us that has a story behind it?

This is a picture that has been in my head for about 8 years. I started a story about a boy and a dog with hidden powers and doodled a rough sketch in a notepad. This story has been evolving a good while and has gone from a picture book to a middle grade, back to a PB. I found the sketch and worked it up. I really like this kind of sketchy style and colour palette. I don’t know if I will ever finish the story. But I kind of feel like this boy is me. Everything is spread out before him and he just has to follow the path. He’s not sure where the journey will end, but whatever is over the mountains is sure to be marvelous! That’s where I’m going too!

If you could pick a word to describe yourself, what would it be?
Enthusiastic. (Just one??? REALLY?)

Thank you so much Hazel.  You are an inspiration! I too look forward to watching your career.  And please do visit Hazel’s blog, website, pixel shavings, and flickr to learn more about this inspiring author/illustrator! 

Interview with Editor Emma D. Dryden

Emma D. Dryden has edited nearly five-hundred books for children and young readers. As a publisher, she oversaw a staff that ranged between six and eleven editors and the annual publication of over one-hundred hardcover and paperback titles. During her tenure with Atheneum and McElderry Books, the books she edited consistently garnered starred reviews, were named to year-end “best of” lists, received regional and national publicity and acclaim, and have hit the bestseller lists in USA Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, and other national publications. Emma is a native New Yorker and when she’s not editing, she’s also doing some writing of her own. 
Since this blog is about offering inspiration to writers and artists, my first question for you is, do you have a favorite quote? If so, why is it your favorite?
One of my favorite quotations is the last three lines from the poem “Lilacs in September” by Katha Pollitt: 
“What will unleash / itself in you / when your storm comes?”
As we go about our living our lives—forging and managing relationships, raising kids, holding down jobs, running errands, going on vacation, getting the car fixed, writing books, and everything else in between—we can so often become complacent and comfortable with all that we have or do. It’s all good. But then, suddenly, something unexpected happens that shakes us to our core—illness strikes, we move into a new home, we experience a death of a loved one, we fight with a friend, we get laid off from a job—and this sets off a storm inside of us, a storm for which we weren’t prepared. And it’s what gets unleashed during this storm that I find so compelling, because through the grief, fear, and rage can come some of the most potent and exciting creativity, artistic expression, and determination to move forward. Just as a ferocious forest fire results in extraordinary new growth of seedlings, so too can our own storms result in important new growth within ourselves, forcing us to try things we never thought we would.
You have edited so many books that have gone on to win prestigious awards and that constantly become New York Times Bestsellers, WOW! I applaud you for having such a phenomenal eye! If you could be one character out of all the books you’ve edited, who would it be and why?
That’s a great question and a hard one to answer. In pondering this question, I realize that I do put myself into the shoes of each of the characters in the books I edit in order to try to experience the world through their own senses. I think some of the characters in the teen novels I have edited have it too tough and I don’t know how much I’d like to really be them; I already lived through my own teenage years and am not up to living through those years ago! On the other hand, I think I’d love to be Hare in Karma Wilson’s BEAR SNORES ON picture books—Hare’s the sort of steadfast, true, sensible friend I’d like to be to people. Or Fred, the young girl in Kirkpatrick Hill’s YEAR OF MISS AGNES, whose eyes are opened to the world and to herself by a very special teacher—it would be marvelous to be so open again, to be so innocent to the world and be amazed and excited by everything someone teaches you that you never even knew existed in the world.
Recently, you started your own editorial business and it has already been getting a ton of great attention in the publishing world! What encouraged you to begin your own company and take that leap of faith?
Being laid off from Simon & Schuster after having been there for 19 years was an extraordinary experience. One thing it taught me is that there is no guarantee for anyone’s security in the current economic environment. There being few to no jobs available for someone with my skill sets, background, and salary requirements, I launched drydenbks not because I wanted to, but because I had to—to make a living doing what I do best, which is editing children’s books. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen when I started the company, but I counted on the fact that I have a remarkably strong support system within the children’s book industry and the fact that I have retained close professional and personal relationships forged during my many years at Simon & Schuster to provide whatever ballast I might need to keep drydenbks afloat—and it’s working so far. I am busier than I ever expected I’d be.
You have come across many writers and artists in your career. What piece of advice have you given most to writers and artists?
Honestly, probably the two pieces of advice I’ve shared more often than anything else with most of the authors with whom I’ve worked or with whom I’ve consulted are:
(1) Read, read, read! Reading all sorts of books that are being published for young readers is a way to hone a writer and illustrator’s own skills, it can help them determine what they like and don’t like about a book and think about how they might do something differently, and it will give them some understanding of the marketplace. 
(2) Show, don’t tell! The challenge for most authors is to engage a reader by enabling them to feel what a character is feeling and sensing without actually telling us what the character is feeling and sensing. Through actions and dialogue, a character’s emotions and senses can be expressed in ways that will resonate with readers, but it’s often very hard to do and takes practice.
In light of the current marketplace and in light of all that’s going on in the digital space that’s having an effect on the publishing industry, I would advise authors and illustrators to listen, learn, stay engaged, and stay flexible.
You’re known for editing a lot of poetry over the course of your career. So many people are afraid to work with poetry; what about poetry appeals to you and why?
I have always loved listening to and reading poetry—the cadence and music of poetry when it’s read aloud can be soothing, entertaining, provocative and thoroughly engaging. The story of a poem is something I find remarkable—every poem (including certain picture book texts as well as poems that comprise novels in verse) is in itself a highly condensed, tightly crafted story that relies solely on showing, rather than telling. Next to nothing is told, but such vast amounts can be shown through image, word choice, rhythm, metaphor, and indeed through the white spaces—the pauses and space between words, lines, thoughts. I love writing poetry—for me, it’s the most challenging kind of writing to do because it’s about paying attention to form as much as expressing a lot with so little—and I love editing poetry for the same reason.
When you are having moments when nothing seems to fit, how do you find what you are looking for and make a story come to life?
I ask myself questions about the characters in the story—what would they say? What would they feel? What would they do? I look to the characters’ motivations and emotions to drive the story forward, to set up and resolve the drama. One author with whom I’m working conducts interviews with his characters and writes down the questions and answers—I think this is a terrific way to bring a story to life. Sometimes I turn narrative into dialogue, to give more of a personal voice and immediacy to a story. Sometimes I try a different perspective in which to tell the story—first person to third person or third to first.

If you could pick a word to describe yourself, what would it be?
Thank you Emma for this interview! You’re a beautiful writer and I love your philosophy on life and writing.  Your knowledge is priceless for so many and I am so happy to have pulled more of it from you in this interview!

If you would like to find out more about Emma D. Dryden, you can visit her magnificent website, follow her on Twitter, or become a frequent visitor to her blog.

Interview with Senior Editor Timothy Travaglini

Timothy Travaglini is Senior Editor for G. P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group. Since 1994, he has worked in trade marketing for Scholastic, Inc.; been a bookseller for Books of Wonder, an all-children’s bookstore in New York City; and has edited for Henry Holt and Company, Walker & Company, and for Putnam since 2005. He is the editor of the New York Times #1 bestseller GOODNIGHT GOON, New York Times bestseller THE RUNAWAY MUMMY, and FURIOUS GEORGE GOES BANANAS by Michael Rex; The Youngest Templar trilogy by New York Times bestselling author Michael P. Spradlin; DREAMDARK: BLACKBRINGER and DREAMDARK: SILKSINGER by National Book Award finalist Laini Taylor; The Washington Post Best Children’s Book of the Year FLYGIRL by Sherri L. Smith; The Foundling’s Tale trilogy (formerly titled Monster Blood Tattoo) by D. M. Cornish; BENJAMIN FRANKLINSTEIN LIVES! by Matthew McElligott & Larry Tuxbury; many picture books by Patrick O’Brien such as YOU ARE THE FIRST KID ON MARS and CAPTAIN RAPTOR AND THE MOON MYSTERY; EARTH MOTHER by Ellen Jackson, illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon; ONE WITCH by Laura Leuck, illustrated by S. D. Schindler; many of the romantic comedies of Janette Rallison such as JUST ONE WISH, and ALL’S FAIR IN LOVE, WAR, AND HIGH SCHOOL; VIOLENCE 101 by Denis Wright; the reissue of Newbery-Honor winner ENCHANTRESS FROM THE STARS by Sylvia Louise Engdahl:

Since this blog is about offering inspiration to writers and artists, my first question for you is, do you have a favorite quote? If so, why is it your favorite?
I have many favorite quotes, I could never say there is one that surpasses all others. But an apropos one might be Maxim Gorky’s 

“You must write for children in the same way as you do for adults, only better.”

You have edited so many books that have gone on to win prestigious awards and that constantly become New York Times Bestsellers, WOW! I applaud you for having such a phenomenal editorial eye! If you could be one character out of all the books you’ve edited, who would it be and why?

Thank you—although no success has been as “constant” as I would like. I love the question—I’ve never thought about that. There are a few characters that anyone might say I am already. But if I could be one, it might be Backbeard, the hairiest pirate who ever lived. No, wait, I’ve changed my mind: It would either be the kid from You Are the First Kid on Mars or Stewart Hale from Shanghaied to the Moon; because going into outer space would be really, really cool.

If you could go back in time when you first started working as an editor, what piece of knowledge would you take back with you into the future?

I find that the knowledge I most value is the accumulation of knowledge I have gained over the years. And you simply can’t start out with that. But rather than duck the question…let’s see…one piece… OK, how about this: I might track down a certain aspiring writer in Scotland and become friends with her. I would never say that I should have ever published her books. All successes are the results of stars aligning in a certain way, and if you mess with the time-space continuum, it’ll bite you in the end. But it would be nice to be friends…

What did you want to be growing up? Now that you’re an editor did this come as a surprise?

That changed frequently, I can remember wanting to be a fireman, an astronaut, an architect, a psychiatrist. Becoming an editor was never a surprise. Books were my one consistent interest throughout life. Everything else was fleeting.

You have come across many writers and artists in your career. What piece of advice have you given most?

Marry money.

If you could be any super hero, who would it be and why?

Wolverine. Because he’s indestructible, and feral.

If you could pick one word to describe yourself, what would it be?

I don’t know that I can pick one word. Quixotic. Oh, look, I just did. But keep in mind what happens to Don Quixote in the end…

Thank you Timothy for such insight into your amazing world of editing and for sharing Maxim Gorky’s wonderful quote! You’re adored for all the tireless work you do and if I could pick one word to describe you, it would have to be, accomplished.

Interview with Author/Illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Jarrett J. Krosoczka used to be a goofy kid that liked to draw. Now, he is an award winning published author/illustrator with many books to his credit. Growing up in Worcester, MA Jarrett drew relentlessly and always had a cast of characters that he wrote stories for. In 9th grade, Jarrett won a contest with The Worcester Telegram & Gazette and for the first time – saw his work in print.
This sparked a fire within. He went on to graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design – after being initially rejected. It was in his senior year that he received his first illustration job for a national educational publisher. Then, six months after graduating RISD, Jarrett carried his portfolio into New York City and landed a contract for his first book. He immediately ran to a pay phone to share the good news with his grandparents. Good Night, Monkey Boy was published on June 12, 2001 and Jarrett has since been busy producing more books – including Baghead, Bubble Bath Pirates, Annie Was Warned, Max for President, Punk Farm, Giddy Up, Cowgirl and My Buddy, Slug. In 2003, Jarrett was chosen by Print as one of their 20 top new visual artists under 30. His work has also been short listed by Newsweek, USA Today, The Boston Globe and The New York Times, among others. Jarrett’s books Punk Farm and Lunch Lady are currently in development as feature films.
Jarrett you have accomplished so much in your career already, how amazing and inspiring! Since this blog is about offering inspiration to writers and artists, my first question for you is, do you have a favorite quote?
Aw, thank you! A camper at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, where I worked as a counselor for many summers, once said, 
“I wish I was the way I am.” 

We put that on the staff T-shirt that summer.

You have won many awards and recently, you were nominated for an Eisner award, congratulations! This is a HUGE accomplishment! Is there any advice or words of encouragement you’d like to offer others who are trying to follow in your footsteps?
The Eisner nomination took me completely by surprise! My best advice is to write about what interests you. One of the most influential professors that I had at RISD, Oren Sherman, always told us to avoid chasing trends. By the time we would ever create anything that would be ready to be put out into the world, the trend would be gone. He encouraged us to chase our own visions and by the nature of our success, we would set the trends.

All of your books are packed full of comedy and so are you! How do you keep your creative spark burning?
Thanks! My humor helped me get through childhood and make friends in high school. I keep my creative spark burning simply because it is what I love to do. Well, that and because it’s my job. Imagine if you walked into your dentist’s office and he said, “Eh. I’m really not in the mood to clean teeth today. I’ll be over here looking at Facebook . . .”
What did you want to be growing up? Now that you’re an author/illustrator did this come as a surprise?
I wanted to be what I am. I always told stories with words and pictures in some way. A friend of mine from college once told me that she would be more surprised if I didn’t end up being an author/illustrator of children’s books.
If you could be any super hero, who would it be?
I always admired Storm’s powers. I imagine she was the most popular X-Man around when they all went on vacation. Do you remember that TV Show from the 80’s, Out of this World, where the girl could put her fingers together and freeze time? I always wanted to be able to do that, too.
Has there ever been a teacher that had a big influence on you? If so, what did they do and how did they encourage you?
When I was in the 6th grade, the arts budgets for public schools in Worcester, MA were completely slashed. My grandfather, Joseph, sent me to classes at the Worcester Art Museum. I would take classes there through my senior year of high school, taking classes in drawing, cartooning, animation and illustration. Mark Lynch, who taught the comic book and animation classes, was horrified when I brought in a book that told you how to draw comics. He said, “Forget everything you’ve learned.” He told me that I already had a great style and that I should celebrate that and further explore my own “voice”. I can still see the expression on his face!

If you could pick one word to describe yourself, what would it be?
Thank you Jarrett for the awesome interview and for spreading your gift of laughter to many. You’re so encouraging and I am thrilled that I was so lucky to have interviewed you!
If you’d like to find out more about Jarrett J. Krosoczka please check out his fun-filled website here and don’t forget to visit his blog because it’s sure to bring you a ton of laughs!  Also check out another great blog that Jarrett is a part of called Random Acts of Reading.

Interview with Author Lisa Yee

Lisa Yee is the author of BOBBY VS. GIRLS (ACCIDENTALLY) which has been named a Top 100 Books to Read and Share by the NY Public Library. Also in 2009, her YA novel, ABSOLUTELY MAYBE, debuted. Both are published by Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic. Other books include the MILLICENT MIN trilogy and the American Girl novel, GOOD LUCK, IVY.
She has been a journalist, written for television, and penned lyrics for jingles. Her superb collection of Winnie-the-Poohs (second largest in America) now resides in the White River, Canada Pooh Museum. And she can spike her hair in less than 5 seconds.

Since this blog is about offering inspiration to writers and artists, my first question for you is, do you have a favorite quote? If so, why is it your favorite?
I don’t have an absolute favorite quote, but I do like a lot of what Anne Lamott has to say in her must-have book for writers, BIRD BY BIRD. For example, she says,
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts.”
I’m a great believer in terrible writing. I know mine is . . . at least when I begin. When you give yourself permission to be awful, the writing can flow – and you can always (and I do) revise it later.
In your writing career, who’s had the biggest influence on you? What did they do to inspire you to keep writing?
My editor Arthur Levine has had the most influence on my career. He pulled me out of the slush pile, and has always believed in me.
If you could be any hero, real or make believe, who would it be and why?
I’d love to be a hero to my children. Supermom!
Lisa you are so funny on many levels!! Who do you think inspired you to become the funny woman you are today?
I never knew I was funny until I won the Sid Fleischman Humor Award. I guess, I tend to look sideways at the world. That is, I look beyond the obvious, and that’s when humor reveals itself to me.
How would you define your road to success; straight, twisting, full of hills, a mountain, muddy, or lumpy?
Full of hills, peaks and valleys, but a great ride.
If you could pick one word to describe yourself, what would it be?
Thank you Lisa Yee for bringing joy and laughter to so many.  You’re an amazing fun-filled author/person and I’d definitely have to say that you ARE Supermom!

If you’d like to find out more about Lisa Yee please check out her phenomenal website here.  Also don’t forget to visit her blog that’s sure to bring you a ton of laughs and maybe some big money with her current 75-ish Annual Bodacious book contest.  The contest is awesome.  Check out my bodacious entry below and enter today.

Interview with Author Suzanne Morgan Williams

Suzanne Morgan Williams writes fantastic books for children. After ten published non-fiction titles her first novel, Bull Rider was released in 2009 from Margaret K. McElderry. Bull Rider recently won the Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City and was chosen in 2008 to represent Nevada in the Pavilion of the States at the National Book Festival in Washington DC.

China’s Daughters; Women in Chinese History is upcoming from Pacific View Press. Her other non-fiction titles are mainly multicultural for kids 10 to 14 and include many that she wrote in co-operation with native people. Suzanne’s also the Co-Regional Advisor for the Nevada SCBWI and constantly works hard helping other writers/illustrators to better their craft.

Since this blog is about offering inspiration to writers and artists, my first question for you is, do you have a favorite quote? If so, why is it your favorite? 
Well, I’m not much on quotes, but sometimes when I’m feeling particularly stressed, I quote myself a bible verse,
“Consider my servant Job.” 
If you know anything about what that man endured, well, it puts things in some perspective.
How much of your life experiences play a part in your writing or the characters you create? 
In my nonfiction books, life experience plays a part in the skills I have at research, interviewing, and truly listening. It also directs my interests. For Bull Rider and my current fiction projects, I piece together a lot of experience – mine and others’. I still interview and listen to get material, and I lend my own emotional experiences to my characters. So even though I’ve never ridden a bull, I have pushed around some cows and I know what their hides feel like. I’ve only skate boarded once, but I used to crash and burn roller skating on the sidewalk, and although my brother, thankfully wasn’t injured in the Iraq War, I do know what it’s like to watch a man you love lose some of his faculties to disease.
If you could go back in time when you first began writing, what piece of knowledge would you take back with you into the future? 
I guess I would have liked to have had a clearer picture of what I had to learn. I always thought my work was great – I’m an optimist – and I think sometimes that got in the way of my learning more techniques. But give me enough time and I figure it out.

When you are done working for the day and your brain feels like slush, how do you rejuvenate it and get writing? 
I don’t. I am a full time writer, so when the brain goes I move on to other things – arranging school visits, doing things for SCBWI, mowing the lawn. Lots of times I stop writing around 2PM and then I do other stuff, finish my day, and I get a great idea at 9 and I go write then too.

In your writing career, who’s had the biggest influence on you? What did they do to inspire you to keep writing? 
I don’t think there is one person. There were lots of little things people said. Sometimes they were comments from people in my critique group or from authors or editors reviewing my work in a critique session at a conference. There is a long list of people in the back of Bull Rider who supported me. The inspiration was always that someone else believed in me and the value of my writing, my work. I can run with that for a couple of months.

Could you tell us a bit about the Western Heritage Award you won recently for Bull Rider? 
That award is from the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City and it was for the best juvenile book written in 2009. Their criteria is that the book must be set in the West and represent the values and people of the West. Marguerite Henry, Louise Erdrich, and Russell Freedman have also won this award. I was pleased to be in such good company. They threw a great party in Oklahoma, too, with award winners from film, music, and literature. I’m also proud that Bull Rider is on the intermediate finalist list for the Nevada Young Readers’ Award and is on the Texas Tayshas (high school readers) and Lone Star (middle school readers) lists.

You have come across many writers and artists in your career. What piece of advice have you given most to writers and artists? 
It’s not too glitzy but this is it. 
“This isn’t a race. Your life is a conglomeration of family, work, creativity. Sometimes you have to do what you need to do right now and you’ll write or paint when you can. Your time will come – because you need to create. In the meantime, be patient with yourself.”

If you could pick one word to describe yourself, what would it be?

Thank you Suzy! You’re so full of life and inspire so many with your amazing talents, especially with all the effort you put forth for the SCBWI. Congratulations on your recent award for Bull Rider from the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma and I can’t wait to read your next book.

If you would like to find out more about Suzanne Morgan Williams please visit her website and follow her blog here.  She is also a Co-Regional advisor for the Nevada SCBWI and throws outstanding events for writers and illustrators!

Interview with Agent Mary Kole

Mary Kole came to children’s literature from a writer’s perspective and got involved at Andrea Brown Literary Agency to see what it was like “on the other side of the desk.” In her quest to learn all sides of publishing, she has also worked in the children’s editorial department at Chronicle Books and has recently earned her MFA in creative writing at the University of San Francisco. She also has a fabulous blog,
Since this blog is about offering inspiration to writers and artists, my first question for you is, do you have a favorite quote?
My favorite writing quote comes from legendary editor Ursula Nordstrom, who worked for Harper & Row (now HarperCollins) in the 50s and published what we think of as the classics, from RUNAWAY BUNNY to CHARLOTTE’S WEB to WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. She said:
“The writer of books about the real world has to dig deep and tell the truth.”
You just finished classes for your MFA in creative writing.  Was there a professor that left an impression on you in a big way? If so, what did they do that was so different from the others?
I’m an extremely practical person, and an MFA isn’t exactly a practical degree, unless you want to teach at the university level. Other than that, it is more of a self-enrichment experience and a study of craft. Sometimes, all this lovey-dovey craft talk and no focus on the business end of publishing—where I’d been employed ever since I started the program—drove me a bit batty.
My two favorite professors, middle-grade and adult author Lewis Buzbee and adult author Kate Brady, married craft discussions with a great no-BS attitude that I really appreciated. If there was something wrong with a piece of writing, they weren’t afraid to say it, they weren’t afraid to say why, and they weren’t afraid to evangelize revision. I think the best writing teachers are inspiring but not shy to tell students when something isn’t working. In my own writing and with my clients, I love growth and change and learning. And that often involves cutting and revision. The most successful writers love the play and exploration involved in hearing the truth, getting mad, getting excited and rolling their sleeves up to edit and refine (usually in that order).
How many manuscripts have you completed? Which one would you like to have published first and why?
Ha! I’m a very slow learner in my own writing life. In fact, I had an agent at one point and we had a manuscript go out on submission and not sell. When that happened, I started reading for an agency because I wanted to learn and see what other writers were doing and what agents were seeing. If I hadn’t been so eager to learn after my experience on submission, I never would’ve ended up at Andrea Brown!
So I use manuscripts as learning experiences. I have six full drawer manuscripts that will probably never see the light of day again, and a few partials that I started but never finished. Sometimes, a manuscript helps you figure out an element of craft and then it outlives its usefulness. It’s okay, great even, to put that work away because, in the grand scheme of things, it has served a purpose and is very valuable to your growth.
The one I’m working on right now, though, is the first one I’ve really felt differently about. This is one I’d like to see out there because I think I’ve finally got all the gears working right. If it doesn’t sell, though, I’ll do what I’ve always done and start the next one.
What did you want to be growing up? Now that you’re an agent/writer did this come as a surprise?
I’ve always worked with words and come from a very creative family. My mom’s talent is fine art painting. Unfortunately, that must’ve skipped a generation. My dad’s talent is film and acting. One of my college degrees was in theatre but that was more of an intellectual interest—I wasn’t a very good actor, either. But somehow all that creativity made me good with words and language. I published my first story (in the Humane Society newsletter, to mark the passing of a beloved pet) when I was 11 and have been writing steadily since. Not only do I love writing, though, but I really do love the concepts behind the craft of the novel, talking to writers, teaching, giving workshops, building relationships with editors, pitching projects I’m passionate about, the business side of publishing, and all of the other fun perks of being an agent, not just a writer.
How do you encourage your clients when they’re having moments of self-doubt?
There is so much rejection in this business. Even well-published authors face it all the time. I tell my writers to develop healthy self-esteem in regards to the pitfalls they’ll encounter in their careers. The act of writing is deeply personal but the business of publishing isn’t. At all. Success in this industry takes talent, sure, but it takes perseverance, grit, a sense of humor and a stream of ideas that doesn’t dry up. My clients have all that in spades—or they wouldn’t be my clients! Sometimes it just takes a reminder and a pep talk…and, yeah, sometimes it takes a drink. But tomorrow is another day and another chance for someone to fall in love with their writing as much as I have.
Are there ever times you feel your creative spark dying? If so, how do you light it back up?
The only thing that ever stops me, creatively, is a lack of time. I’m always busy growing my list and working on behalf of my clients, even now that my MFA is done. That’s just the way I like it but my work sometimes takes to the back burner.
Since I’m here to give advice, though, I will say this: don’t give yourself the luxury (or the crutch) of believing in writer’s block.  A lot of the time, a block happens when you don’t know what to do next or when you’re approaching an ambitious part in your writing. It’s usually easier to avoid it than to plow through, but don’t be intimidated. Challenge yourself. Take that risk and keep writing, even when you want to stop. If you’re stuck in a specific place, skip it and move on to the next thing you know for sure. Professional writers show up at the page every single day, even if it feels like pulling teeth and the results aren’t that great. Writer’s block is for people who have lots of time to have long, tortured conversations with their muses. I’m too busy for it. Work expands to the amount of time you have for it. If you have your whole life to write a novel, you’ll spend an awful lot of your time blocked or contemplating sunsets and baby ducks. And who’s got time for that?
Don’t rely on a creative spark or inspiration. Get in the habit of writing, in the habit of creating, and your brain will get itself in the habit of supplying the words and the new ideas, automatically. Creativity is very much an unconscious process that you can train. Life’s too short to wait around for some kind of spark. You sit down and you make it happen. And if today’s spark fizzles out, try again tomorrow. The worst thing you can do is wallow and lose time…that’s a self-defeating cycle.
If you could pick one word to describe yourself, what would it be?

Thank you for the great interview Mary and for creating!  I know many writers who’ve learned so much from you (including myself) and are very thankful for all the guidance you give.  You’re loved by many!

If you would like to find out more about Mary please visit her incredible blog or the amazing agency she works for, Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc.

Interview with Author Cynthia Leitich Smith

Cynthia Leitich Smith is the author of YA Gothic fantasies, including TANTALIZE (2007, 2008), ETERNAL (2009, 2010), and BLESSED (2011) from Candlewick and Listening Library, Walker (UK), Walker Australia and New Zealand. TANTALIZE is also available from Editions Intervista (France).  Her most recent short stories are “Cat Calls,” which appears in SIDESHOW: TEN ORIGINAL TALES OF FREAKS, ILLUSIONISTS AND OTHER MATTERS ODD AND MAGICAL, edited by Deborah Noyes (2009) from Candlewick and “The Wrath of Dawn,” co-authored by Greg Leitich Smith, which appear in GEEKTASTIC: STORIES FROM THE NERD HERD, edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (2009) from Little, Brown.

If you could pick one character that you’ve created that you feel you relate to the most, which one would it be and why?
I would likely relate most to Kieren Morales from TANTALIZE and the upcoming graphic novel TANTALIZE: KIEREN’S STORY. He’s a serious reader with aspirations of being a writer and he excels academically. He’s also family oriented, loyal, and takes commitment very much to heart.
During your writing career, what piece of advice have you given most to writers?
I tell people to celebrate every victory, no matter how small. The writing life comes with its share of rejection, angst, and uncertainty. So it’s best to fill your days with cheer, to surround yourself with good friends and create great memories. They’ll sustain you through the rest.
How would you define your road to success, straight, twisting, full of hills, a mountain, muddy, or lumpy?

An upward slope punctuated by the occasional soaring rock wall.

What encouraged you to begin your phenomenal blog, Cynsations? What has surprised you the most about it? 

My original thought was simply that, because of its diary-like structure, I could use the blog to augment the main website with time-sensitive news—special events, award announcements, etc.—that I would otherwise have to post and then later take down from the base site.

Over time, it has become something of a news, conversations, and inspiration resource for children’s-YA writers, illustrators, young readers, and the folks who connect books to them.

I’m most surprised by the size of the audience and that readers so often tell me that it’s such a reflection of my personality. The vast majority of the content is comprised by posts about and sometimes by other people.
Unless I have breaking news, like a book release or contract, information about me per se is pretty much limited to a “more personally” section of my weekly giveaway and link round-ups.
However, I guess my sensibility comes through in my choice of topics, folks to feature, and links to highlight.
You’re an avid reader! Could you recommend a few of your favorite new releases?
The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee (Candlewick)
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (HarperCollins)
Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson (Delacorte)
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger (Amulet)
What are you working on now?
I’ve just finished my final revision of BLESSED and reviewing Ming Doyle’s fabulous sketches for TANTALIZE: KIEREN’S STORY (Candlewick, Feb. 2011), a graphic novel.
So I’m shifting my attention back to a fourth prose novel set in my Gothic fantasy universe and the graphic novel adaptation of ETERNAL.

I’ve also been laying the promotional groundwork for an upcoming children’s book release, HOLLER LOUDLY, illustrated by Barry Gott, which will be available from Dutton this November.
What do you do when you’re not reading, writing, or blogging?

I’m on the faculty of the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, so at the moment, I’m working with five graduate students on their creative and critical writing.  I also do a great deal of public speaking. I’m just home from giving the keynote address at the New England SCBWI conference in Fitchburg, Massachusetts and preparing to leave next for the Florida SCBWI in Orlando at Disney World.
If you could pick one word to describe yourself, what would it be?
It was such a pleasure interviewing you Cynthia!  You have gone above and beyond to help writers reach their dreams with your fabulous blog and extraordinary teaching skills.  Thank you for being such a great example for so many to follow!  
If you would like to find out more about Cynthia you should check out her great website and blog.  She also has the best book trailers that are sure to make you want to pick up the books below.  They are irresistible reads! 

Interview with Author/Illustrator Bob Boyle

Bob Boyle is the Emmy Award winning creator of the Nick Jr. series, Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! and is author/illustrator of the children’s book, Hugo and the Really, Really, Really Long String. He also created the Disney series, Yin! Yang! Yo! and was a Producer and the Art Director of The Fairly OddParents.
Since this blog is about offering inspiration to writers and artists, my first question for you is, do you have a favorite quote?
I actually have a Word doc. on my desktop that I cut and paste quotes into whenever I find something inspirational. Because I’m a big sports fan, many of the quotes are from athletes and coaches, but I think they relate well to anyone pursuing a dream.
I don’t have a favorite but here are a couple I really like:
“People of mediocre ability sometimes achieve outstanding success because they don’t know when to quit.” – George Allen, Pro Football Coach

“In business or in football, it takes a lot of unspectacular preparation to produce spectacular results.” – Roger Staubach, Hall of Fame Football Player
Sports have played a big part in my life. I find the preparation, training, and determination of athletes to be incredibly inspiring.

You have won many awards and one of them being an Emmy, WOW!!! This is a HUGE accomplishment! Is there any advice or words of encouragement you’d like to offer others who are trying to follow in your footsteps?
Sticking to the sports theme, I think that the folks at Nike provide the most important bit of advice- “Just Do It!”
I have met so many talented people who talk about wanting to do something yet they never follow through. They think that they are not good enough or their idea isn’t right or they need to do more research. All of those things may be true but you’ll never get anywhere until you take the first step of actually doing something.
Make some mistakes. Get them out of the way, learn, and become better with the next thing you do.
And, once you start, make sure that you finish. When you hit a roadblock or tough spot (and we all do), DON’T GIVE UP! Don’t suddenly decide that you can’t do it and try to find some easier path. It’s very easy to create distractions that will lead you away from your goal. Stay focused.
All that advice is stuff that you’ve heard before. And that’s the thing; there are no secrets to success. There are no shortcuts. You need to wake up in the morning with a plan and- “Just Do It!”

If you could be one character you’ve created or worked on, whom would it be and why?
I’d probably have to go back to a character I created as a kid called Flame Head. Why Flame Head? Because he wore roller-skates and had a giant flame for a head. Come on, how cool would that be!

Bob, you’re hilarious on so many levels!  Who do you think inspired you to become the funny man you are today?
If I’m funny at all, it’s probably because I got my head stuck in between the rungs of a banister when I was a kid. It must have cut off the flow of oxygen to my brain just long enough to make me ‘funny’.
Seriously though, I just like to try to find the humor in most situations. It’s probably just a defense mechanism to soften the blow of all the hard things in life. I guess I’d rather be laughing than crying.
My Dad wasn’t really funny but he was always happy. He once told me, “I’ve never had a bad day in my life. It’s just that some days are better than others”. I think he was lying to himself but, hey, whatever works!

What did you want to be growing up? Did becoming an author/illustrator come as a surprise?
I’ve always loved comic strips and drawing but, more than anything, I really wanted more to be a pro athlete. I especially wanted to play football for the Dallas Cowboys. Unfortunately, by the time I got to high school, I had stopped growing. I realized that being 5’7 and 120 pounds was going to seriously hinder my chances in the NFL so I started focusing more intensely on cartooning. From that point on all of my dreams were based around telling stories with images. I wanted to become the next Walt Disney or Charles Schulz but I’m happy to say that I’m quite content just being Bob Boyle. Although it would be cool to be cryogenically frozen like Walt Disney!
How would you define your road to success, straight, twisting, full of hills, a mountain, muddy, or lumpy?
It has been, and will continue to be, all of those things. Pursuing your dreams can be difficult. The thing that I think has helped me the most is that I don’t give up very easily.
Since I never made it to the NFL, I have fulfilled my athletic needs by running marathons. I’ve found that running is a great metaphor for life. You only get out of it what you put into it. There will be times where you don’t feel like getting out of bed and running, but if you put in the time, you’ll get better. In order to succeed at anything it takes time, effort, and determination. And a good pair of shoes!

If you could be any super hero for one day, who would it be and why?
I think I’d be more of a transforming robot than a super hero (mostly because I’d look ridiculous in tights).
I would be known as- The Mighty Burrito-Bot. Fighting crime and spreading joy with my burrito based powers! Evildoers would be wrapped in a warm tortilla! Justice would be served with a dollop of sour cream and salsa!
“Guacamole blast, activate!”

Thank you Bob!  Your advice is very uplifting and spot on.  And it would be a dream to be Flame Head, especially because of the roller skates!  If you would like to find out more about Bob you can follow his fantastic blog or check out all of his amazing accomplishments in the links above.  And don’t forget to pick up his new book Hugo because it will be sure to bring bright smiles to a family near you!      

Interview with Debut Author Hilary Wagner

Hilary Wagner is the debut author of NIGHTSHADE CITY, a middle grade fantasy novel about a unique colony of rats, coming October 2010 by Holiday House Books. She is represented by fantastic agent, Marietta Zacker of Nancy Gallt.

Since this blog is about offering inspiration to writers and artists, my first question for you is, do you have a favorite quote? If so, why is it your favorite?

I don’t have a quote, but I’ve always tried to tell other writers,
“It only takes one yes. You could query 200 agents and after 199 rejections, the 200th agent could say yes—same goes for publishers.”
By the time the Nancy Gallt Agency offered me representation I had banked about 175 rejections. Had I not landed an agent at that time, I’d have most certainly passed the 200 mark and kept on querying from there! Like I said, it only takes one yes! It can and does happen!

If you could pick one character that you’ve created that you feel you relate to the most, which one would it be and why?
It would have to be one of Nightshade’s heroes, Juniper. He’s confident, protective, and strong and always has a mischievous twinkle in his eye. Overall the kind of person (well, rat in this case) I would want to be associated with. Someone I’d want in my family. I wish he were real so we could talk and he could give me his sage advice when I needed it!

Who has had the biggest influence on you in your writing career? What have they done to encourage you?
I started writing on my own—in secret. My husband didn’t even know I was writing until I was halfway through Nightshade City and finally spilled the beans and asked him to read it. He said his first thought was, what do I tell her if it stinks? Needless to say, he didn’t think that! Since then, Eric has been my rock. He’s read every manuscript I’ve ever written and gives me great insight, not to mention he talks me off the ledge when I get nervous or worried about anything that has to do with my pending release.

If you could be any super hero, who would it be?
First choice: I would love to be a female version of Thor! I love the history behind Thor. He’s a Greek God, pretty cool! I love the outfit and it would be awesome to carry around that menacing hammer! Second choice (but only for one day): SpongeBob SquarePants, though he doesn’t really qualify as a super hero! I would love to have a pet snail and have always wanted to try a Krabby Patty!

What did you want to be growing up? Now that you’re an author did this come as a surprise?
I hold a Bachelors in Painting. I’ve shown my work in major cities for years. I always thought that was my path. I wrote throughout my youth and once I picked it up again I couldn’t stop if you paid me! It means everything. I have a few unfinished paintings I started back when I began writing Nightshade City. I have a strange feeling they will remain happily unfinished.

If you could pick one word to describe yourself, what would it be?
What’s the best piece of advice you can give aspiring writers?
NEVER purposefully write for a trend. I think writers do themselves a serious disservice by doing so. By the time your manuscript is finished and ready to be submitted to an agent or editor that trend you wrote for will be out on its ear or on its way there, but say for example you love vampires and are compelled to write about them, then you should—just make those vampires so unique and extraordinary no one in their right mind could say no! Passion is everything and when you’re forcing yourself to write about something popular, hoping you’ll get noticed by an agent or editor, chances are the magic just won’t be there. I had a passion for rats. I wrote about them. I got published. I was told by several agents that my novel would be a hard sell to editors because of the genre, it took me thirteen months to land an agent (who rocks by the way) and she sold Nightshade City in less than eight weeks. I think that’s a pretty happy ending!

And a VERY happy ending indeed!  Thank you Hilary and we can not wait to read about these awesome rats, especially after watching your great trailer .  If you would like to find out more about Hilary Wagner you can visit her very poplar blog or her website here.