Middle Grade Authors

Interview with Author Kathleen Duey

Kathleen Duey has published over 90 books for children of all ages and for YA and adult readers. She has won many awards, including a National Book Award silver medal for Skin Hunger, the first book of her Resurrection of Magic trilogy. The Unicorn’s Secret, a series of books for young readers has won state reader awards and celebrates 12 years in print this year. Her fan mail is increasingly international and she is grateful for….everything.
Since this blog is about offering inspiration to writers, my first question for you is, do you have a favorite quote? If so, why is it your favorite?
“We write by the light of every book we have ever read.” ~Richard Peck 

Richard is a famous and brilliant writer and a lovely person who talked writing with me as though I were an equal when I was just a beginner. He still does, bless his heart.
In your career as a writer, who’s had the biggest influence on you?  What did they do to inspire you?
This is an impossible question for me to answer because I was a student of writing in fourth grade and I am still a student of writing. I’ve had the great privilege of meeting a few of the authors I grew up reading—and have since met many more authors whose work astounds me. So I have no “biggest” influence, but amazing writing always inspires me….by intimidating me, pushing me, daring me, proving to me that the people and places inside books can be as real as any other part of my life. Hundreds of authors have inspired me—by being inspired!!

If you could send your younger self one tweet, what would you say?

Start writing novels now!!  But don’t burn your poems. They aren’t that bad.  
If at all possible, could you pick one book that has deeply affected you? If so, what was it that moved you about it?
There are many books that have affected me but this was the first one: Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. She wrote it in 1877 when she was ill and dying. It became a best-seller, then a classic and still remains in print. Set in England, it’s a sad story of a horse’s life that includes all the cruelties of the times. Her story changed the way people looked at animals and inspired the first movement to end animal cruelty.  I read it in third grade. It was the first book that ever made me cry, the first book that made me realize stories could change hearts. 
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 often go outside carrying a shovel, a limb saw, and a digital recorder. I have an acre of land, a messy garden, overgrown trees and weeds. In the middle of physical work, almost always, the characters talk to me. I record the conversation. If I am stranded in a city at a conference, I walk, find a place to pace. Getting out of my head and into my body almost always works.

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

I collect words from old dictionaries and today I face an incredibly intricate scene in my book. So I hope to be a
flexuous writer.  **\FLEK-shoo-uhs\, adjective:  Full of bends or curves; sinuous.** 
Thank you, Kathleen! I love how you record your conversations with your characters, what a great idea! After this interview I’m off to purchase a digital recorder–genius! 
If you would like to find out more about Kathleen, please do visit her website and check out her fantastic blog

Interview with Eric Elfman

Eric Elfman is the award-winning author of twelve books, including three offbeat almanacs published by Random House, one of which, Almanac of the Gross, Disgusting & Totally Repulsive, was named an “ALA Recommended Book for Reluctant Readers” and is now in its sixth printing. Eric also wrote three YA X-Filesnovels for HarperCollins and two collections of scary short stories (Three Minutes Thrillers and More Three Minute Thrillers) for Lowell House. Eric is now co-writing Tesla’s Attic with Neal Shusterman, a series of three middle grade novels that will be published by Hyperion starting in 2013.

Also a writing coach, Eric has worked with more than a hundred writers, many of whom have since had their books published (including four so far in 2012). For the past seven years, Eric has been on the faculty of the Big Sur Children’s Writers Workshop, sponsored by the Henry Miller Library and directed by Andrea Brown.
Many of Eric’s books have been optioned by Hollywood. His Three Minute Thrillersseries was optioned by Merv Griffin Enterprises, and The Almanac of the Gross has been developed as a magazine-style TV show for kids. Also a screenwriter, Eric wrote a movie for Intersound Pictures, and with Neal, co-wrote an adaptation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It for Walden Media. Eric and Neal sold CLASS ACT, an original pitch based on a true story, to Revolution Studios. After they wrote the screenplay, the project was set up at Dreamworks with Halle Berry attached to star.
Since this blog is about offering inspiration to writers, my first question for you is, do you have a favorite quote? If so, why is it your favorite?
“Dream the scene.” It’s a line of dialogue from Pat Hobby: Teamed With Genius, a TV movie based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It starred Christopher Lloyd as a hack screenwriter teamed with a hot young British playwright played by a very young Colin Firth. “Dream the scene” is how the young playwright describes his writing process to the older screenwriter. Lloyd’s no-nonsense has-been has no idea what Firth is talking about, because it’s too poetic, too deep. But it always speaks to me: when I’m having difficulty writing a scene, I “dream” it, taking myself out of it and imagining the moment as fully as I can, watching the sequence of events between my characters and their environment. Only then can I write it down, describing the actions and exploring the feelings of my characters.
What piece of advice do you find yourself offering most to writers?
Aside from “avoid the passive voice,” it’s this: make sure your protagonist is driving your story. Time and again I read manuscripts from my coaching clients where the protagonist is, essentially, a passenger in the story. Perhaps this comes from the writers not fully committing to the stories they’re telling. Or maybe it’s because most writers are by nature observers, so it’s easy to fall into the trap of building a story around an observer. It won’t work.
The essence of story is this: your protagonist urgently wants something, and someone or something stands in their way. That’s it. That’s story. Drama equals conflict. If your protagonist simply floats through the manuscript, describing events around them and being handed the things they need — then you have a travelogue, not a story. Your protagonist has to earn the reward at the end of the road.
I’ve heard many rave about your world building skills. Could you take us in your mind for a moment and show us how you build a world?
This is hard to answer because every situation, every world, is unique. My writing partner and I were hired as World Builders (the actual job title!) for a Dreamworks film and a Disney project. And of course every screenplay, every novel, even those set in the “real” world, require world building.
It helps to have a good imagination, that’s for sure. If you’re creating fantastic other worlds, they better be fantastic! But it ultimately depends on how you layer in your details. As the writer, as the creator of the world of the story, you need to know that world in intimate detail — but you also have to decide which are the relevant details, the ones that best reveal the world to the reader. Because the realworld building occurs in the reader’s mind. (Oh, and remember your own rules for the world you create. Nothing shatters the reader’s delicate suspension of disbelief more quickly than violating the way you’ve told us your world works!)
In your career who’s had the biggest influence on you? What did they do to inspire you?
I have been fortunate to have had many wonderful teachers, friends and business relationships over the years. But I would have to choose my friend and writing partner, Neal Shusterman. He helped me get my first book contracts; we wrote a spec screenplay together, UNDERWHERE, which led to pitch meetings with every studio in Hollywood and three film deals; and now we’re writing our book series Tesla’s Attic together. Every time I sit down to write with Neal, it’s like taking a Master Class in creative writing. I am able to discuss story problems, characters, conflict with a master who understands these things almost instinctively. If the pace is sagging, we solve it by adding more tension; if the story goal becomes too easy, we add more obstacles. I try to take back everything I learn to my own writing.
If you could send your younger self one tweet, what would you say?
Be good in the room. Writing biz not just words on page, u also have to sell yourself.
If at all possible, could you pick one book that has deeply affected you? If so, what was it that moved you about it?
Wow. This is such a tough question! When I was in junior high, I was such a voracious reader it became a running joke that I would bring a different book to school each day. Usually mysteries. In all the books I read when I was younger, there are so many meaningful ones, from The Count of Monte Cristo to The Princess Bride to Winter’s Tale. (Ha! I slipped in a few extra!) But if I had to pick only one…it would be The Hobbit, simply because it was the first book that I quite literallydidn’t want to end — there was a sadness permeating my being as I reached the closing chapters, from knowing that I was going to have to say goodbye to people who had become friends of mine, a feeling that I still feel to this day when I think about it.
When you’re having moments when nothing seems to fit, how do you find what you are looking for and make a story come to life?
When my “dream the scene” technique above doesn’t work, or I’m having a difficult time working out a knotty story problem, I go for a run. It sounds almost too simple, but the physical and mental reaction as blood starts bringing much-needed fuel to my oxygen-starved brain — it’s about the closest thing I’ve found to actual magic. After a two mile run, I’m able to see my way through thickets of story problems that once seemed insoluble.
If you could pick a word to describe yourself, what would it be?
Another toughie! How can you ask a wordsmith for a single word (optimistic)? I waded through dozens (observant, persistent, patient), and I don’t know if this one is perfect (insouciant, supportive), but it will have to do: Happy.
Thank you, Eric! You’re definitely a skilled wordsmith and I completely agree with the one word you picked! Your happiness in life and writing spreads into many, thank you for that! 

For more information about Eric’s coaching, visit his site: www.ericElfmanCoaching.com

For Eric’s book: www.elfmanworld.com
He tweets (when he has something to say) at @Eric_Elfman

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 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.