Here you will find some postings (old and new) of interviews I conducted with other authors. Enjoy!
Interview with Lynne Rae Perkins, 2016
One of my favorite reads of the year (maybe of all time) is Frank and Lucky Get Schooled by Newbery Medalist, Lynne Rae Perkins. (Greenwillow, 2016) Now, it is making many best of the year lists. And it richly deserves all the hoopla.
To get to specifics, this is a picture book for older picture book readers, grades 2 through 4. In it, Frank and his roguish rescue dog, Lucky, learn about various sciences, math, reading, history, art, geography, map-making, and foreign languages. Even the Fibonacci spiral (golden spiral) makes an appearance! Frank and Lucky do this learning through their everyday, loving interactions. It’s a schooling that is both natural and hilarious, as we get to know Lucky’s thoughts on things, like trying to learn the language of ducks. It’s full of laugh out loud humor, as well as real heart.
Frank and Lucky Get Schooled is such a wonderful book! After reading it, there’s a sense that the book offered up a promise and delivered upon it 100%+. When I hold it, I feel like I’m holding a little gem in my hands.
It is a book that should be in every elementary classroom, and in every home that ever loved a dog. Get it on your wish lists now! (Below you’ll find a number of sites with reviews.)
Of course, I needed to talk with my friend Lynne Rae about writing the book. Below is a synopsis of that conversation. Enjoy!
S.C.: First, the age-old question for writers who are also illustrators—which inspiration came first? Pictures in your head? Or a phrase? Or a general idea about a boy and a dog learning together?
LR.P.: For quite a while I’d had an idea about writing a book for preschoolers who might have an older sibling who was in school. I wanted the book to include various studies that an older brother or sister might be learning about. But that project went by the wayside. However, we actually had a dog named Lucky. And as he got older he was barely ambulatory, often taking a break and just sitting when we went out. But I remembered how much of a rogue he’d been when he was young. He once ran after our car for 7 miles before getting inside! And then one day when my son Frank was home the title came to me: Frank and Lucky Get Schooled.
S.C.: Where did you go from there? Did you start writing, or doodling?
LR.P.: I did have a list of subject areas with that first idea of the preschool book that didn’t happen. But usually what I did was to take a subject and just sit with it for a time. I let the ideas go in and out. When you put a problem in front of you, you also work on it in the background while doing other things. And you see things through that filter.
S.C.: I noticed that music is the only major field untouched. A reason for that?
LR.P.: I saw this book as a kind of companion book to SNOW MUSIC. (Greenwillow, 2003) And as this one is pretty complicated already, music was left out.
S.C.: I love how the small vignettes and thought bubbles show the back story, and what will happen in the future (Lucky’s plans.) I’m wondering about working with Sylvie Le Floc’h, your art director, and Virginia Duncan, your editor, at Greenwillow. There’s quite a lot of art here.
LR.P.: I’m really bad at making dummies [mock-ups of the pages]. A lot happens while I’m in the process of working. I never seemed to have a definitive dummy. So if my editor said they were having trouble getting everything on the page, we worked together to solve the problem. It was very collaborative. One good thing, though, was that I’d sent Virginia a complete manuscript ahead of time, so we knew where we were going.
S.C.: By the way, I love the first line of Frank and Lucky Get Schooled: “On a day Frank could not win for losing, he got Lucky.” Sometimes a line will come to me, and it will be the impetus for the whole story. Sometimes that line changes, sometimes it doesn’t. Was this always your opener?
LR.P.: Years ago, when we got our dog Lucky from the animal shelter the kids were riding in the back seat. One, or both of them, said something like, “He’s lucky we got him, and we’re lucky.” So we named him Lucky. And I knew for this story I wanted “. . . something, something, he got lucky.” My mom always used to say, “can’t win for losing.” I’m not sure if that’s a common saying everywhere, but it worked for that line.
S.C.: I also love the heart and the humor here. Heart is something, I think a writer either has, or doesn’t have—it’s the way we approach life and everything we do. But humor . . . that’s a bit different. Writers can learn to be humorous. (Perhaps people can learn to have “heart,” too. But that’s for another discussion.) Did you have some funny situations in mind before you wrote? Or did they come to you while “in process.”
LR.P: I’ll tell you a funny story about Lucky. Even though he was a Lab, for the first five years of his life he was afraid of the water. We live on Lake Michigan and we’d take him to the lake almost every day. But he only put his paw in. He couldn’t seem to understand why water wouldn’t hold him up. And then one day while we were living in a cottage on the water, some ducks were floating by and Lucky dove in to swim out to them. I was afraid. He’d never swam a day in his life! But he was out there for hours. He was fine. He had this thing for ducks that had to do with being a real dog.
S.C.: I adore the ducks in this book, so funny! Now, thinking about heart, your novels also swell with that. It seems to me that part of the process of getting that love of life into one’s writing is through careful observation—not always of major happenings, but of many of the smaller things. And the smaller things add up . . . So tell me a little about how you observe the world. Knowing you, I think you’re an introvert. But I also think you have your eyes wide open. I know this is a vague question. But I’m trying to get at how an artist might see the world differently than a writer. Or differently than someone who doesn’t work in a creative field.
LR.P.: I always carry a piece of paper with me. I need to write down things before I forget them. And I write in my journal every day. It may just be what I’m doing, or something else minor. But I keep paper with me.
But also, part of this process is how I begin each day. I start by reading poems. I do not look at my phone until the afternoon. Checking the phone doesn’t get me off to the right creative start. Instead, I have several anthologies I like to read from. Right now it’s Garrison Keeler’s GOOD POEMS, RISKING EVERYTHING: 110 Poems of Love and Revelation by Roger Housden and Naomi Shihab Nye’s WHAT HAVE YOU LOST? Which is an amazing book!
S.C.: Thank you, Lynne Rae. It’s been wonderful to talk about this great new book of yours, FRANK AND LUCKY GET SCHOOLED.
LR.P: You’re welcome.
NOTE: Lynne Rae’s website is at: https://lynnerae.com
REVIEWS: Kirkus Reviews
Interview & Giveaway with Katie Davis, 2012
My friend and fellow writer, Katie Davis (She of the many funny books for kids.) has a new book out for those of us who write for kids: HOW TO PROMOTE YOUR CHILDREN’S BOOK.
With this guide and her trademark sense of humor Katie, who is both an author and an illustrator, coaches even the shyest and most promotion-reluctant writer with unique (and common) ways to sell more copies. Katie’s nine children’s books have sold over 250,000 copies so she obviously has learned a thing — or maybe 82 — in the process, and she shares it with us in her newest ebook.
Katie has graciously agreed to giving away a free copy of the PDF version of her book and to entertain a number of questions from me. Her thoughtful and energetic answers should make all of us who are media shy wake-up and take another think about promotion. Wait . . . maybe I could do that. And that . . . and maybe even that . . .
I learned so much from Katie’s book! QR codes, teachertube, book birthdays . . . WOW! Who knew? Enjoy this interview with Katie, and then get to work promoting. (p.s.: Scroll down and you’ll find the details for winning her book.)
1.) Katie, I’ve been astonished by your energy, and how much you get accomplished. How and when do you draw, or write?
I love to watch the horrified look people get when I tell them about my friend who makes his partner take his ethernet cable to work. He can’t get online and get distracted! I couldn’t do that but I could’ve used it last year while I was promoting my new picture book, Little Chicken’s Big Day. But this year I’ve been delineating my time more. It goes something like this:
- Morning coffee and social media type stuff
- get some exercise
- turn everything off and write
- art and other things I need to do that doesn’t involved my writing brain
2.) I thought I knew a great deal about the PR opportunities available to me as a writer, and then along comes your book . . . and I’m blown away by possibilities. For the frantic writer with limited time to promote, what top three promotional outlets would you say were really vital for any author to utilize?
The most important thing is that you do it. If I say Twitter is the most important but you hate Twitter, then my advice is worthless! So I’d say find what works for you and be consistent, be transparent, be generous, and be true to who you are. That is how you will connect with people and develop relationships, and to me, that is the basis of successful promotion.
3.) QR codes. Wow! I hadn’t considered them at all. But what a wonderful way to lead people to information about a book, a video, teacher materials, etc. What’s been your favorite way to use them?
There are so many creative ways to use them, but it would have to come down to practicality. The most useable, therefore my favorite so far is to include a code on your card that leads to a book trailer. It’s fun and will say something about your book that your card alone cannot.
4.) Have you seen any traditional promotional outlets that have been overused? I do know that book store signings—even for well-known authors–are not always successful unless they are tied into something else, like educator night, etc. But I almost feel like we need to keep doing them to help booksellers. Any thoughts?
Though I am always up for supporting booksellers, I kind of want to turn this around and tell you what has been under used! And my answer to that? Video. (Actually, booksellers can utilize this, too. They can post book trailers on the book’s page on their site, and also have a dedicated video page.)
- Video is great for SEO (search engine optimization)
- YouTube is the #2 search engine (Owned by Google, so do the math!)
- You can make quick and helpful clips while entertaining your audience as well as getting the word out about you
- You can practice till you feel comfortable
- The camera work isn’t as important as the audio quality so get a good mic
- Make. Them. Short. * (See note below.)
- Make. Them. Short.
- Did I mention you should not make them long? Here is an example of one of my video FAQs:
And here is a funny one of me announcing the winner of my sweepstakes last year.
5.) And now the really important question (I always ask at least one silly question!): Suppose you were abducted by aliens. And before they whisked you off to their planet, you were allowed to bring one thing with you—but it has to fit into your pocket. What would it be?
At first I thought, I’ll bring a map so I’ll be able to get back home! Then I thought, I’ll bring a translation device so I can talk to them! Then I thought, No! I know! I’ll bring books to read because it’s probably a really long flight.And then I realized all I need is my iPhone, and since it’s attached to my hand, I won’t even need to put it in my pocket!
(*Usually I try to keep my videos at tops, two minutes. If I’m making a tutorial, however, it can be much longer. Also, for this tour I created a video for Chris Cheng’s Creative Spaces segment that was bit longer than my usual.)
Keep up with Katie’s blog tour! Here are the sites where she has been (if you want to hear a different take on her book), and where she will be appearing in the next few weeks. Enjoy them all!
Blog Tour schedule:
Feb 1 – E is for Book
Feb 2 – Banana Peel Thursday
Feb 3 – Creative Spaces
Feb 6 – DearEditor.com
Feb 7 – Writing With a Broken Tusk
Feb 8 – Shutta Crum
Feb 9 – McBookWords
Feb 10 – Kerem Erkan
Feb 16 –Elizabeth O. Dulemba
Feb 17 – Fiction Notes
March 1 – 12×12 in 2012
March 2 – Christine Fonseca, Author
Now! What you’ve been waiting for . . . how to get your name into the drawing for a free downloadable pdf copy!
To be eligible to win a free PDF copy of HOW TO PROMOTE YOUR CHILDREN’S BOOKS by the incredible Katie Davis you just need to comment on this blog post by the end of the month – – midnight, Feb. 29, 2012. (If you have time, tell us a little about any technique that you’ve used to create some successful buzz for your book.) Then I’ll draw a name from those entered, and Katie will send you the code to download the book free.
(Your name will only be entered once during the month.) But wait!!
There’s more (as they say ) . . . if you go up to the top right hand side of this page and put in your email address to subscribe to updates of this blog your name will be entered two more times into the drawing. YUP! That’s a total of three chances during the month to win this wonderful resource.
Comment by clicking here, or on the comment tag below.
Eric Rohmann, Oct. 2011
When I recently read Caldecott winner Eric Rohmann’s new book, BONE DOG (Roaring Brook Press, 2011), I was blown away by it! It is the perfect pairing of two stories: a boy’s loss of his beloved pet, and a Halloween adventure. (Not a combination that I would have thought of!) I contacted Eric and asked if he would mind answering a couple of questions for me to post on my blog. Here are his answers. Enjoy!! (And do visit Eric’s site at: http://www.ericrohmann.com/pages/books/bk_bone-dog.html .)
1. I am fascinated by how you managed to meld the death of a pet with a Halloween adventure story. Which came first—your idea about the pet, or for a skeletal Halloween adventure?
Most of my stories begin with a picture. Bone Dog was born of a rough ink drawing of skeletons dancing in the night. There is something inherently goofy about skeletons and I’ve always delighted in drawing them. From that first image I began to write a romp about a kid on Halloween night. And this is where the creative process begins to get murky– I made more drawings which prompted changes in the story and that initiated more images… you get the idea. When I first considered Ella’s death I paused, but in the end realized that to tell the story as something more than a romp– to make the book about how kids react to the loss of something they care about– I needed to stay with the idea of her passing. No one was more surprised than me by what the book eventually became.
2. I love your artwork—as do many people. Is there a tug of war within you between visual art and writing? Which comes first when you think of a story? Which comes more naturally to you?
I think that answer one also answered question 2 (always a picture first).
I’m 54 years old and have been drawing since I was two. It’s hard to make a drawing, but it’s always always familiar territory. I may not know what the drawing will look like in the end, but I know how to begin. Then it’s a matter of drawing and erasing until you arrive at something you like.
3. After you won the Caldecott medal in 2003 for MY FRIEND RABBIT, did your life change much?
As you can imagine, suddenly people who had never looked at my books gave them a glance. More kids became aware of the book and started looking at other books I’d made. I spent most of the following year speaking about the book and about my process and even started two other books. I realize that the award gave me a burst of energy. Looking back now, there is no doubt it was career changing. I’ve always liked what I do for a living so I would have made the books no matter what, but the award allowed me to make the books I wanted to make (with the encouragement and enthusiasm of my editor, of course).
4. (Now the really important question!) Suppose you wake up early in the morning and discover your refrigerator open. Inside is a neatly placed pair of tiny shoes. What do you do?
Get a ladder. Climb into the refrigerator. Retrieve my shoes and ask myself once again why I bought such a huge fridge. (HAH! I love how Eric turned this silly question of mine around. An artist’s perspective!)
(I’m also reposting this link to a lovely interview with Eric by author Kathie Appelt. See below.)
Alex Flinn, June 2009
Alexandra Flinn, AKA Alex Flinn, has a lot going on in her writing life. Her newest book, A KISS IN TIME, is getting great reviews, and her book BEASTLY is being made into a movie starring Vanessa Hudgens, Alex Pettyfer and Mary Kate Olsen. How cool is that?
I recently read A KISS IN TIME and found that its fascinating premise nestled within the comforting framework of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale made for a read that kept me intrigued. The premise is: what would happen if Sleeping Beauty was kissed by her true love 300 years later, and that true love turned out to be a teenager from modern-day Florida? How would their two worlds collide? How would it end? After all, according to the fairy tale they’re supposed to marry and live happily ever after. But Jack’s still in high school and not about to be married yet. Now what?
How old were you when you first started seriously writing?
Depends what you mean by “seriously.” I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was five. I wrote plays for the kids in the neighborhood to perform when I was 9 or 10. I started writing a diary and trying to write my novel at 12. I wrote most of a manuscript for a novel (then lost it) at 19. I started writing with a real eye toward publication, researching the market, etc., at 29. My first book was accepted when I was 32.
What age child do you have in your head?
How do you make up names for your characters?
I love names! It’s one of my favorite parts of writing.
Sometimes, the characters just tell me their names, which is what happened with Jack in A Kiss in Time. Other times, I think about it more. Like with Talia the Sleeping Beauty of A Kiss in Time, I found that Talia was one of the names given to Sleeping Beauty in old stories. She has a whole slew of middle names, which I got from a list of royal names and also, from other names for Sleeping Beauty (Aurora and Rose).
I often consider the meaning of the name. For example, Kyle (the Beast in Beastly) is named Kyle because it means “handsome,” and after he becomes a beast, he changes it to Adrian which means dark. The girl in the story is Linda, which means “pretty.” Kendra, the name of the witch in that story, means magical.
I consider impressions that names give me, and if I know anyone with that name. Charlie Good in my book, Breaking Point, was named Charlie because I knew someone who looked just like him in middle school, and his name was Charlie, and I knew a boy named Alex Good in high school. He used to say his name was spelled, “No E, just plain good,” which I thought was funny. I have a book called Baby Name Personality Survey, which tells me what impressions the name gives other people.
I had a really hard time naming my own kids, so it’s fun to get to name more people.
What’s the earliest childhood memory you can think back to? Does it appear in any of your writing?
I can remember REALLY far back, and I remember a lot. I remember standing in my crib, biting the sides, waiting for my mother to come in. But my first vivid memory was from when I was three years old. I remember my mother coming in and telling me we were going to meet the little boy and girl who had moved in next-door. I was wearing a white dress with red polka dots. We went over to their house and sat on their back step. The boy’s name was Peter, and the girl’s name was Wendy (No, I did not make this up after watching Peter Pan), and they were two and five respectively. I never used it in my writing, but I’ve used other stuff.
Do you wake up in the night with fantastic ideas for books?
Not in the night. I usually think up story ideas when I’m supposed to be doing something else. Like, once, I wrote a short story in my head while watching Piglet’s Big Movie with my kids.
Why write a take off on a fairy tale?
Initially, because part of the story wasn’t fleshed out enough for my liking. I wanted to know more about the Beast, or it bothered me that Sleeping Beauty just got plunked down in another century. Now, because kids don’t read fairy tales anymore. They watch the DVD, and if there is no DVD, if Disney hasn’t done it, it’s dead. You have no idea how many emails I get, asking who the bear in Beastly was supposed to be. He’s from Snow White and Rose Red, but none of them have heard of that story. I’m working on a novel now that is all fairy tales that haven’t been done by Disney. Some of them, even I hadn’t heard of until I started researching.
What is your favorite fairy tale?
Sleeping Beauty was my favorite as a child. Now, I sort of like adventure stories like The Brave Little Tailor, Lazy Jack, or The Golden Bird, where the hero has to surmount obstacles to gain the hand of the princess.
What do you have hidden in a dresser drawer? (We won’t tell, will we, everyone?)
Nothing. It’s not that I’m so organized (I’m not), or that I don’t have hiding places (I do). That’s just not one of them. And I’m not going to tell you my hiding places because my kids are old enough to go online.
What do your favorite jammies look like?
Grey short gown with an embroidered pink kitty-cat on it that says, “It’s all about me-ow.”
Who would you rather have a date with (given you weren’t married), Strider from THE LORD OF THE RINGS, Dr. Watson, Wolverine, or Simon Cowell? Why?
Simon. I was a music major in college, and I pretty much agree with everything he says (except when he ridicules the disabled, but I would try to cure him of that).
Have you ever been abducted by aliens? If so, what color were their jammies? And did they tell you the titles of any of their favorite books?
Well, if they abducted me, they must like my books, right? And they weren’t wearing jammies. In fact, they all looked exactly like Simon Cowell and were wearing black Tee-shirts and jeans.
Will you name a character in your next book after me?
Um, maybe. Do you want me to? How many other people have you asked to do this?
(Who knows, maybe we’ll have a spate of characters named Shutta soon.)
* Many of Alex Flinn’s books have made the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults lists, as well as Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. They have also received such teen-selected honors as the International Reading Association Young Adult Choices list (Breathing Underwater, Nothing to Lose, and Fade to Black). Flinn’s books seem to appeal to teens who might otherwise prefer not to read, which is the charge of the Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers list. Her books have also been nominated for numerous state awards. Breathing Underwater won the Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Award in 2004. Beastly is nominated for the 2009 Lone Star State (Texas) Award. (Wikipedia entry: Alex Flinn.)
(Alex Flinn author Portrait by J.A. Cabrera.)
Cynthia Leitich Smith, May 2009
I am happy to report that Cyn (who owns an award-winning author site and blogs at Cynsations) agreed to let me interview her to go along with the posting of her new book, ETERNAL, on my site under “Good Books to Share.”
I enjoyed reading ETERNAL. The pace is swift, and the set-up interesting from the get-go. Miranda, the teenage heroine, has a guardian angel. He messes up and she is turned into a vampire. Now her angel has to make amends. But is he committing the ultimate no-no for guardian angels? Is he falling in love with her? ETERNAL kept me turning the pages through a single sitting. For anyone who likes a good love story, as well as for fans of vampire tales.
I guess it depends on what you call “serious.” By fourth grade, I was writing poems in my bedroom more evenings than not. I even “bound” them in a homemade book with the help of my mom. By junior high, I was editor of the school paper-a position I had again in high school. By my sophomore year of college, I was spending my summers working in newsrooms. By my third year of law school, I was teaching legal writing. At 28, I quit my “day job” to write fiction for young people.
I honestly don’t know, but with regard to writing for young readers, my apprenticeship was about two-and-a-half years before my first sale.
With JINGLE DANCER (Morrow, 2000), most of the names are family names. The one exception is “Jenna,” which I simply thought sounded musical with jingle. Quincie P. Morris in TANTALIZE (Candlewick, 2007) is named after Quincey P. Morris in Abraham Stoker’s classic novel Dracula (1897). But beyond that, I often look for variety in terms of syllables, vowel and consonant sounds, first letters, etc. or meanings. The name “Miranda” from ETERNAL (Candlewick, 2009) means “miracle.”
Increasingly, I prefer sort of neutral music-no lyrics, which I generally tune out. It works like “white noise.”
I remember burning the silver plate off a gold spoon with a candle flame. I think everyone else was eating pie in the kitchen. And no, not so far.
It’s very crowded-I have a four, ten, fourteen, seventeen, and a nineteen-year-old.
Nothing too interesting, I’m afraid. My iPod and the key to my treadmill.
They feature tiny Texas flags.
Death Valley-scenery and peacefulness.
That the cats were growing more sophisticated by the hour.
No aliens, faeries perhaps.
Maybe, but I can’t promise he/she will be a good guy.
I just finished (I hope) text revisions on the graphic novel adaptation of TANTALIZE, which will be told from the point of view of Kieren, the werewolf hero. I’m also jazzed about the short stories I have coming out this year. “The Wrath of Dawn,” co-authored by Greg Leitich Smith will appear in GEEKTASTIC: Stories from the Nerd Herd edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci (Little, Brown, 2009) and “Cat Calls” will appear in SIDESHOW: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magic, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009).
Now to all of you . . . go forth, and read!