Claudia Osmond ~ Reader, Writer, and Ruminator

Posts Tagged ‘#torkidlit interview’

Toronto Tuesdays: Interview with Bev Katz Rosenbaum

In torkidlit, Toronto Tuesdays on July 20, 2010 at 9:00 am

I am so pleased to introduce Bev Katz Rosenbaum to you. Those of you who already know Bev will know that she is a very resourceful woman who knows her stuff – her stuff being the publishing biz. Bev is one of those people who knows what it’s like to sit on both sides of a contract; she is an author and an editor. (I just have to say here that I don’t know how she does it. To me, writing and editing [on a professional level] are two creatures that come from completely different worlds. I honestly don’t know how they manage to be roomies in the same brain.)

I have huge respect for Bev, both as a publishing professional and as a friend. She’s simply an amazing person.

Meet Bev Katz Rosenbaum.

Please introduce yourself to us.

Hey, I’m Bev Katz Rosenbaum, author of the young adult novels I WAS A TEENAGE POPSICLE and BEYOND COOL, as well as a couple of semi-scandalous romance novels.  I’m a former in-house Harlequin editor, and these days I do a lot of freelance editing and critiquing for publishers, packagers and individuals in addition to writing.  (I edit across all genres, but mostly do middle grade and young adult lit.)  I’ve also written for the tween ‘toon Stoked, which is produced by the same company that optioned I WAS A TEENAGE POPSICLE and BEYOND COOL for television and film.  (The option’s just been renewed and a writer hired, so cross your fingers!)  Oh, and I teach a children’s writing course for students of the Children’s Entertainment post-graduate program at Centennial College.  I live in Toronto (where I was born and raised) with my husband and two teenaged children.

Were you an avid reader as a child? As a teenager? What were your favorite books?

I was a crazy avid reader as a child.  Read everything.  Snuck reads of my parents’ books when I’d exhausted my own supply and that of our nearest library.  When I was interviewed for the parliamentary page program as a teenager (I went to Carleton University in Ottawa for a year), I remember one of the questions was ‘What do you like to read?’ and I couldn’t answer because I read so much, I couldn’t zero in on any particular genre or author!    (But I will say now that the Anne of Green Gables series was a big fave of the childhood me.)

Were you an editor or writer first? How did you end up being both?

I was an editor before I was a writer.  I was hired as an editorial assistant at Harlequin straight out of university, and worked my way up to the position of Editor.  I’d always loved writing, but it never occurred to me to try and be a professional author.  It just didn’t seem like something real people did.  But working as an editorial assistant and then an editor, I saw how many rewrites authors had to do to make books publishable–authors weren’t gods, after all!  I wrote my first novel while still working full-time as an editor.

What is your writing process?

I find I have to do some plotting, or I get stuck.  But I don’t like to over-plan, or I get sick of the book before I start.  I usually jot down two or three things I want to accomplish per chapter and go from there.  Oh, I do have to have a clear idea of what my characters look and sound like before I start writing, too.  I usually ‘cast’ my characters before I start, with people I know or actors/actresses. 

Of course as writers we must all edit and revise our work, but it amazes me when a writer is also an editor by profession. How do you reconcile your writer and editor selves? Do they get along?

It’s tough to keep my writer and editor selves from fighting it out sometimes!  I have to really force myself to write that crappy first draft without stopping.  Revisions are a bitch, too.  I’m a mad slasher.  My books are always hideously low in word count because I cut *tons*.  I’m doing revisions now for a publisher interested in my next YA series, and not only am I doing the requested revisions, I’m cutting other stuff like crazy.  Hope they don’t mind…

Tell us about your pop culture essays. How/why did you start writing those?

I got into doing the pop culture essays when some writers I knew mentioned they were contributing to a Smart Pop Books anthology on Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum mystery series (One for the Money, Two for the Dough, etc.).  I was (still am) a huge fan of the series, so I pitched an essay idea to the anthology editor.  She commissioned the essay, and invited me to write for other anthologies.  Smart Pop puts out a lot of books, but I limit my essay writing to anthos on book series or TV shows I love.  I have an essay in A Taste of True Blood, which is about the TV show (not the book series) True Blood, of which I’m a big fan.  That book came out at the end of June.  And I have an essay in an upcoming anthology on the TV show Glee, called Filled With Glee.  If anyone reading this is heading to Comic-Con, Smart Pop will have a booth, and they’ll be giving away copies of the True Blood book! 

The premise for your YA books, I WAS A TEENAGE POPSICLE and BEYOND COOL, is so original. Can you tell us a bit about them?

I started wanting to write YA when I fell in love with the books my kids were reading.  I was trying to think of a really original concept to increase my chances of selling.  Around that time, the whole Ted Williams brouhaha was happening (he’d died and specified in his will that he wanted to be cryonically preserved).  I have to credit my husband the sports writer for telling me about it.  I immediately thought, Eureka–that’s it! 

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Summary of I WAS A TEENAGE POPSICLE: Floe Ryan was frozen—well, ‘vitrified’—when she was sixteen. She’s just been thawed, and guess what, it’s ten years in the future and she’s still a teenager. And her parents are still, shall we say, chilling out. Floe’s little sister is now her older sister (and guardian!), and payback’s a beyotch. On top of that, Floe has to get used to a new school, new technology, and a zillion other new things that happened while she was napping in the freezer. Luckily, she has Taz Taber–the hottie sk8er boy who used to make her melt before she was frozen—to reintegrate with. But now they’re trying to close the Venice Beach Cryonics Center—with Floe’s parents still in it! Now that’s cold. It’s up to Floe to save the clinic and her parents—so she can finally have a chance at a somewhat normal life…

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From BEYOND COOL: Floe Ryan was frozen (well, vitrified) for ten years because of a rare disease. Now she’s been thawed back to her normal self, but absolutely everything else has changed. Just when she starts warming up to this new scene, everything falls apart…. Her boyfriend is giving her the cold shoulder, and there are all these cliques she can’t fit into–high school can be a chilly place. Worse yet, Dr. Dixon at the Cryonics Center tells her that those who were frozen are more susceptible to illnesses and the one doctor who can cure this immune system weakness has gone AWOL. Now it’s up to Floe and her brainy friend Sophie to find him. But they’re not the only ones looking for him–and this time, Floe could be iced for good…

Knowing both sides of the biz, what advice would you give an aspiring writer?

I would tell aspiring writers to keep their expectations realistic.  You’re not going to be able to quit working after a sale.  This business is crazy up and down–just because you’re published doesn’t mean you’ll sell again real soon.  Also, write for the love of it, and try to resist comparing your own career to that of somebody else.

What advice would you give an aspiring editor?

To aspiring editors, I would say do a post-graduate publishing program.  You pretty much have to have that credential these days to get your foot in the door of a publishing house.  Also, expect to have to do some freelance proofreading before landing any kind of entry-level, in-house job.

Can you share a favorite quote with us?

‘A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.’  -Richard Bach

Thanks so much for doing this interview, Bev. My fingers, toes, and eyes are all crossed for the t.v. option to work out for you! How exciting!

If you’d like to find out more about Bev, her writing, and her editorial work, please visit her website.

Toronto Tuesdays: Interview with Frieda Wishinsky

In torkidlit, Toronto Tuesdays on July 13, 2010 at 9:00 am

I am happy this week to be interviewing torkidlit author,  Frieda Wishinsky. While gathering info for this interview, I discovered that Frieda and I have a few things in common: we are both only children of European immigrants, we both didn’t do well in math, and neither one of us had planned on becoming a writer. Frieda grew up in New York City where she “attended Jewish school, played in the parks, and frequented the neighborhood candy store.” However I, on the other hand, did none of those things.

Meet Frieda Wishinsky.

Please introduce yourself to us.

I write picture books, chapter books, non-fiction and novels. I’ve been writing for over twenty years and have over forty books published all over the world. Some of my books have won awards, which is great but even better than that is coming up with a new idea for a story and meeting wonderful writing friends and readers.

What are your interests (besides writing)

I like to garden, travel, read, chat with friends over tea or coffee and eat chocolate.

Were you an avid reader as a child? If yes, what kinds of books did you enjoy reading?

I was a non-stop reader. I even read in the bathtub and still do. I liked fantasy, time-travel and historical fiction. Now I’m big on memoirs.

What was the inspiration for you to write your very first book? Did that book get published?

My kids inspired my firsts published book. It’s called OONGA BOONGA and is about a baby who won’t stop crying till her brother finds the magic nonsense words to cheer her up. It’s still in print. Published over twenty years ago.

Why do you write YA?

Those years are so scary, wonderful and life-changing. It’s a time when you start to get a sense of who you are.

Tell us about BLOB.

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Blob is about a girl who gains weight one summer right before starting high school and is teased about it. It’s also about friendship and feeling comfortable with who you are. I think it’s funny too.

BLOB is loosely based on a set of your own experiences. Is there anything in particular that you’d like readers to come away with after reading the book?

I hope they’ll see how important a good sense of humor is to get you through the day and that no one can define you except you.

Is there a book that you’ve read that either helped you through a tough time in your life and/or helped shape your worldview?

There were many books that helped me get through tough times, although I can’t think of a particular title right now.  I think we all read to help figure life out.

Do you think there is a need for greater issue-focused realistic fiction for teens?

I feel that the best way to make an “issue” meaningful is to tell a good story. It always starts with the story and also with engaging characters.

Are there any current/upcoming projects you can tell us about?

I have three new books to be published this fall. Two are fun picture books. One is an ABC/story book combo called WHERE ARE YOU BEAR (Owlkids) and the other is about what’s in the queen’s purse called THE QUEEN’S SECRET, (Scholastic). Book #15 in my Canadian Flyer series is also being published and it’s called MAKE IT FAIR. It deals with the women’s rights movement in Canada.

Projects I’m working on are another Canadian Flyer about the north and a book about explorers that has lots of information and humor. Those explorers were a little nuts!

Can you share a favorite quote with us?

“Anyone who has never made a mistake, has never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview, Frieda!

To contact Frieda or to find out more about her and her books, she invites you to visit her website.

Update: I was just informed that Frieda’s book, BLOB, has just been nominated for an ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers! Congratulations, Frieda!

Toronto Tuesdays: Interview with Mahtab Narsimhan

In torkidlit, Toronto Tuesdays on July 6, 2010 at 9:00 am

It’s my pleasure to interview torkidlit author, Mahtab Narsimhan. Mahtab’s first published novel, THE THIRD EYE, won the 2009 Silver Birch award; her second book in that series (The Tara Trilogy) was released earlier this year; and she’s got two books scheduled for release in 2011!

Okay, I just want to say one thing right now before I go on: I am surrounded by prolific genius in this Torkidlit Writer’s Group, I tell ya! These people know how to write! And they’re awesome, down-to-earth human beings to boot. Such an amazing and talented group!

Anyway, back to the prolifically awesome, down-to-earth human known as Mahtab. Mahtab is a lovely person and I am truly happy to have her join me for this Toronto Tuesdays segment.

Meet Mahtab Narsimhan.

Please introduce yourself to us.

I’ve often asked this question when interviewing people in my previous job as Operations Head of an IT Consulting firm; give me one word to describe yourself.

I would have to use two words; persistent and adaptable. These two qualities have been key to my success in life and have helped me get to where I am today. Earlier this year Penguin Canada released a book called “Piece by Piece. Stories about fitting into Canada.” I had contributed my own experiences of fitting into Canada which were quite hard yet a great learning experience. Fitting in is very important for a sense of belonging but in a broader sense this is also about finding out about who you are and making the best of it.

Can you tell us a bit about your cultural background?

I was born in Mumbai, India. It was then called Bombay and will always be called that in my mind. I belong to a small community known as the Parsees and Zoroastrianism is my religion.

What are some of your favourite childhood memories?

I have an elder sister, Mazarine and a younger brother, Vicky. We had a lot of freedom when we were growing up and some of my happiest memories are of playing catch or hide and seek in the grounds of a Fire Temple (the Parsee’s place of worship) which was minutes away from home. We lived very close to Marine Drive and that swathe of sidewalk holds some of my fondest memories. I still remember the spicy tangy taste of corn-on-the-cob on my lips as I munched on one of Bombay’s favourite snacks while sheltering from the monsoon downpour. I vividly recall walking along the parapet of the sidewalk all the way from the Gateway of India to Nariman point. These memories are so special and poignant that many have appeared in The Tiffin, my YA novel which will be released by Dancing Cat books in fall 2011.

What aspects of your upbringing do you hold most dear?

My parents always believed that a good education was the key to success in life. They sent all of us to private schools and encouraged reading in a very big way. Every summer we would be allowed to buy tons of books to tide us over till we went back to school. My staples when growing up used to be Enid Blyton, C.S. Lewis, Roald Dahl, and Astrid Lindgren among others. I also loved reading comics and the Amar Chitra Katha series illustrated Indian culture, mythology and folklore very well. I am so very thankful to my mom for instilling a love of reading in me at a very early age.

Were there any specific events or people that were instrumental in forming you as a writer?

I’ve always been a avid reader but I did not start writing till early 2004. In 2003 my dad was diagnosed with cancer and within two months of that, he passed away. It was a sudden and devastating event. As always, I turned to books to cope with this difficult time. I’d always loved fantasy and adventure as it was a form of escape from the harsh realities of life. Around the same time I also starting writing about incidents from my past so I wouldn’t forget the life we all shared as a family before we went our separate ways. These scribblings gave me the idea of writing a book to encompass everything I love; fantasy, adventure, Indian mythology and a really good story.  That is how The Third Eye was born.

When and how did you make your first book sale?

The road to publication of The Third Eye had quite a few pot holes. It took me about a year and a half to write it. I then tried to get an agent and was lucky enough to land one. Unluckily she was not at all right for me or my manuscript and rejections poured in. She gave up on me after about eight months of trying to place the book and we parted ways. I was quite devastated at the time and ready to give up. But I had invested so much time, effort and sweat into this book that I was compelled to see it through. Also this was written as a tribute to my dad. I told myself that only when every publisher in the world said no, I’d put this manuscript aside.

I joined a critique group run by Marsha Skrypuch called Kidcrit. Fellow writers who are now close friends such as Helaine Becker, Helene Boudreau, Deborah Kerbel and Marina Cohen, among others, helped me streamline the manuscript. At an OLA conference in Jan 2007 my life changed forever. Marsha introduced me to Barry Jowett, the editorial director at Dundurn. He requested to see my manuscript. I sent it to him expecting yet another rejection. Two years of rejection had primed me too well to hope for anything else. To my shock and utter amazement, he said yes. Dundurn wanted to publish my book. It was a week of walking on air, a few months of agony as the contract was finalized and signed and then the joy of holding my first book in my hands knowing that this was born out of countless hours of writing and rewriting and not giving up.

And now you’re such a busy lady! You’ve got two books out already and another two scheduled for release next year. First, tell us about your current series, The Tara Trilogy.

The Tara Trilogy is a fantasy adventure based in India, featuring a flawed yet endearing protagonist, Tara. In each of the three books in the series, she is on a quest and has to face many hurdles, internal and external, before she can succeed. These quests test her courage, her morals and above all belief in herself. India’s diverse culture and aspects of Hindu mythology are seamlessly woven into the plot to enrich the narrative, and expose many young readers to an exciting and unfamiliar (or familiar) world. Today’s middle-grade fiction abounds in protagonists from Europe or America with very few representative of the Asian Subcontinent. This trilogy, I hope, will fill that gap.

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In the first book in the series; THE THIRD EYE, Tara has to save her village from an evil healer, Zarku, and find her mother and grandfather who had disappeared without any explanation. Tara has to endure a lot of hardships and on a deeper level, this story deals with the issue of belief in oneself. Tara is deathly afraid of the unknown and of coping with drastic changes in her life. With change comes uncertainty and fear. What if I can’t do it? What if I fail? Readers the world over will identify with Tara as she struggles to cope with the challenges that life throws at her, and to keep going despite initial failure.

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In the second book, THE SILVER ANKLET, Tara’s brother, Suraj, and two other children are snatched by hyenas from a local fair. Tara and her friends decide to save the children on their own. But Tara soon discovers that her nemesis, Zarku, is back and intent on revenge. Tara is faced with a tough moral choice; to put all her friends in danger or to face it alone so that the others can survive. 

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In the third book, THE DEADLY CONCH, Tara has to face her last foe; her evil step-sister, Layla, who is guided by her mother, Kali, from the Underworld. Layla cunningly manipulates events so that the villagers of Morni, and even Tara’s own family, turn against her. Tara calls out to Lord Yama for help using the conch he had given her. He allows her to visit the Underworld, which leads to a harrowing journey and an exciting dénouement.

In this last book, the narrative arc of the trilogy loops back to the original theme of belief in oneself.  Tara has lost the support and trust of everyone she holds dear and yet she finds the strength to make the right choices. This story deals with courage, moral choices, self-sacrifice and the destructive power of herd mentality and blind belief; all very real issues and challenges that young people face today.

The first goal of The Tara Trilogy is to entertain and enthrall readers so that these books, which took years to write, will be devoured within days. However, I do hope that discerning readers will instinctively grasp the character-building themes that are subtle yet ever present in these fast-paced novels and strive to emulate them.

A quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson beautifully and succinctly captures the essence of this trilogy; “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

How much of your cultural upbringing influences your writing?

The cultural aspect, e.g. the food, clothing, locale etc was easy to write about since I lived in Mumbai for most of my life. Indian Mythology can be quite complex and confusing and that took a fair bit of research. I’m still finding out interesting facts about the various Gods and Goddesses especially their Avatars. Only the very interesting bits make it into my books and are woven through the plot to make the narrative richer.

THE THIRD EYE won the 2009 Silver Birch Award. Tell us about that experience.

FANTASTIC! It was a truly memorable moment filing onto the stage with my fellow nominees, cheered on by thousands of screaming fans. It was so evident that these kids loved books, that they wanted to be here and were not shy about expressing their joy as their favourites appeared.

It was a heart-stopping moment when the runner ups were announced. Since my name wasn’t mentioned, my heart sank a little. I was hoping THE THIRD EYE would be (at the very least) a second or third choice of the readers. Words fail me when I try to describe that ecstatic moment when they announced that THE THIRD EYE had won! I wanted to cry, faint and dance, all at the same time! I have no idea what I said in the acceptance speech except thank you…many times over.

That feeling of euphoria, the sense of unreality lasted all through summer. Even now, over a year later, when I am blue, I pull that memory out, examine it, remember it and unfailingly…it lifts my spirits. I’ve hung the Award (a girl sitting under a tree and reading) on the wall behind the desk where I sit to write. Whenever I’m having a tough time with a particular manuscript or just want to give up, all I have to do is look up and I’m back on track! 

Can you tell us anything about your new book THE TIFFIN?

This story is very dear to my heart because it contains so many of my own childhood memories. In writing it, it was as if through the main character, Kunal, I was roaming the streets of Bombay once again. It springs from a sentence I read a long time ago in a book called “Illusions” by Richard Bach. The quote goes;

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.”

And here is the synopsis;

A tiffin-box containing an important message goes astray, irrevocably changing the life of a young woman, her lover and their son, Kunal. Years later, abandoned and alone, 14 year old Kunal leads a wretched existence, believing he is an orphan. An almost fatal incident leads him to discover he has a mother after all and he is compelled to search for her in a city of millions. Kunal finally tracks her down only to realize that he had already found his real family; one based on respect and friendship, rather than blood.
 
THE TIFFIN is a YA novel set in the vibrant city of Mumbai with its ubiquitous dabbawallas; men who deliver home-cooked food to the millions of white-collar workers throughout the city. This hundred and fifty year-old service is unique to Mumbai and is an integral part of the plot. The illiterate tiffin-carriers use a primitive alpha-numeric code for deliveries, and yet achieve ninety-nine percent accuracy. This story is a result of that one error in a hundred. This book will be released in September 2011 by Dancing Cat Books, an imprint of Cormorant Books.

What advice would you give your pre-pubbed self?

Have faith in yourself. This is something I always forget when I start a new novel. As I write it, I think it’s utter rubbish. I despair that I’ll never be able to write a “good” story again and that I’m useless. Then the first draft is completed. I put it away and come back to it a month or so later with fresh eyes. That is when I realize that there is potential and some great stuff in there along with a lot of terrible stuff that needs to be rewritten or thrown out altogether. As I rewrite, the story gets sleeker, stronger and more polished. When I finally see it in book form, I wonder how I could ever have doubted myself? I have only to wait till I start the next novel to answer my own question J

Can you share a favourite quote?

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars” by Les Brown.

Thank you so much for sharing a bit of your cultural and writing self with us, Mahtab! And congratulations again on your two forthcoming titles!

For more information on Mahtab and her books, you can visit her website, become her friend on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, and read her blog.

Toronto Tuesdays: Interview with Patricia Storms

In torkidlit, Toronto Tuesdays on June 29, 2010 at 9:00 am

I am chuffed about today’s interview! (I’ve always wanted to use that word! Chuffed!) I’m interviewing a torkidlit author and illustrator who not only has a most excellent name, but is also a most excellent artist. Even just the fun little doodles she puts up on her facebook page make you go, “Wow. This girl’s talented!”

When I asked her to do this interview her response was, “You do know that I don’t write MG/YA, right? Picture books are my thing.”

Well, that’s exactly why I asked her! Picture book authors are my writing heros. Anyone who can tell a story in less than 1,000 words (and have it pass the submissions test!) must have vocabularic superpowers.

Meet Patricia Storms. (Now, if that name doesn’t generate a sense of awe, right off the bat, I don’t know what will!)

Please introduce yourself to us.

I’m a full-time illustrator and cartoonist, and struggling writer whenever I can squeeze in the time.

Tell us what an average day looks like for you. 

I don’t really think I ever have an ‘average’ day. All my days are amazing! Ok, what I really mean is that I don’t have a specific routine (ie, always write or always check emails in the morning). Well, actually, there is one thing I always do every morning before I start work – drink COFFEE!!  But really, some days I might have a lot of drawing that I have to do, or a lot of colouring in Photoshop, or I may meet with clients, or I may need to do research on a new project, or attend to (ugh) administrative work – it all depends upon my workload and my deadlines. Or some days I just might say “the hell with it all!” and go play in the garden! (Sadly, those kinds of days don’t happen often enough).

Was there a specific person or event that inspired you to develop your artistic self?

Interesting question. Hmmm. I think there are pivotal moments in one’s life that have a great effect on one’s young psyche – it certainly was that way for me, anyway. I have always loved drawing and writing, but due to a great lack of confidence in my teens and early 20s, I did not initially follow this dream. As a result, I was deeply unhappy in my 20s – wanting to create, not feeling I was good enough, feeling like I was just ‘filling time’ working in libraries, feeling lost, really. During this time a cartoonist from Hamilton named Steven Toth helped me on my path to becoming a cartoonist and illustrator, through his kindness, his support and his pushing and prodding. I will be forever grateful to that wonderful man.

But you know – it’s not just the positive experiences that can inspire a person. This is something that I don’t encounter very often when I read about other writers or artists, perhaps because it’s not a very attractive motivation, but I have to say that negative experiences have been very inspiring for me, too. From the age of about 17 to 22, I was head over heels in love with a guy who was for lack of a better word, a total jerk. He belittled everything about me, including my writing and drawing (he could draw & write, too). After that relationship finally ended, I felt like less than zero for a long time. But as my confidence slowly grew, and I began to get more positive feedback (and freelance jobs!)  I would sometimes think back to that time with that jerk and be astounded that I believed all the things he told me about myself. So even now, 25 yrs later, when I am feeling down on myself, or not fully motivated to work on a project, all I have to do is play that movie in my head – him mocking me and putting me down, and suddenly I’ve got a fire in my belly that can’t be stopped. It’s basically that “I’ll show you, you (insert foul word here)”. I’m not saying I’m always motivated this way, but I think I should be honest and say that these feelings inside me do exist. I wonder if other artists have these feelings. I hope I’m not the only one!

But I want to end this rather long answer (sorry!) by saying that the one person more than any other who inspires me the most is my amazing husband Guy. Without his continued love, encouragement, support and free therapy, I would be a very different person. I know that I am very, very lucky.

When you first started out, how did you come about finding your own artistic “voice”? Did you try to emulate anyone in the beginning? If yes, who?

That took a long time for me, and honestly, I feel as if only in the last few years have I really started tapping into my artistic ‘voice’, whatever that really is. When you’re an artist or a writer, a lot of the stuff that comes out of you is so personal, and for me, there was a lot of personal mess that I had to deal with before I could feel truly confident enough to think that I even had a voice, and that it was worth sharing with others.

When I first started selling cartoon gags, I confess that I was often trying to emulate one of my first cartoonist heroes – Lynn Johnston. A lot of my early stuff looks like her work.

Which artist inspires you most now?

Oh, I couldn’t just pick one artist. So many different artists inspire me – ones from the past as well as many contemporaries. I love the works of Alexander Calder, Jackson Pollock, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Joseph Cornell and Robert Rauschenberg. But then I also get excited about the works of author/illustrators Mo Willems, or Oliver Jeffers, or the very talented Carin Berger. My interests are all over the place.

You’ve illustrated many books for various publishers. Tell us about your very own picture book, THE PIRATE AND THE PENGUIN. 

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The Pirate and the Penguin is a fun, silly story loosely based Mark Twain’s classic tale ‘The Prince and the Pauper’. Penguin and Pirate are both unhappy with their lots in life, and through happenstance they meet up, and figure out a way to find the lives that best suit the both of them. Although it is silly, and filled with lots of good cartoon humour, there is a message about the importance of following your bliss, and choosing the life that is right for you. And it’s got pirates and penguins! What’s not to love?

Is there any way you can sum up the process of writing and illustrating your own book? Do you think in words or pictures? Or both? Do you think you have an advantage over someone who’s just writing the text, or someone who’s only illustrating? Or is it more difficult to do both? (Time consuming yes, but is it easier to write AND illustrate, or easier just to illustrate? Or just write, for that matter. I know, this is a complex question :))

Yes, that IS a complex question! I’ve been asked a lot lately whether or not I think in words or pictures, and I think I really do a bit of both. But when it comes to thinking of stories for picture books, for me, the thing that usually comes first is the idea. So is an idea a word or a picture? For me, in the beginning, it’s just sort of a blurry blob in my head. And then it simmers for a while, and starts to take shape. Sometimes the image for the story will come first, sometimes the words. But once the words come, I prefer to spend my energy on the words, because for me, that’s the hardest part of creating a picture book. Writing a picture book is hard, hard work. So I try to not allow myself the luxury of playing around too much with drawing the characters, because for me, it’s really just an act of procrastination, since I know how difficult the writing is going to be. So no, in many ways I don’t have an advantage over someone who just writes, because no matter what, I still have to write the damn story, just like them. But yes, in some ways it works well, because of the fact that I do also draw, so hopefully the more I do this, the more I will be able to do better editing, since I will realize that a certain percentage of the story can be told in the images.

Which medium do you favor?

I’m one of those funny ones who likes to toggle between hand-drawing and digital. I pencil all my work the old-fashioned way on paper, then ink it all with a brush and India ink, and then I scan it and colour it in Photoshop. But if I was forced to make a choice, I would choose inking – I love the feeling of moving the brush onto paper, and playing with the thickness of lines. I’m a very tactile person – I need to physically feel the project as I’m working on it.

What do you love most about being an artist?

Oh gosh – so many things. I love that I don’t have to commute. I love that I don’t have to work in an office and deal with ridiculous politics and petty gossip and jerk bosses with massive egos. I love that I can wear my jammies all day, play whatever music I want, and belch loudly and no one will fire me. Don’t I sound like a really attractive person? I love that I get to create one of the most precious objects on this planet – books! – and that I get to make them for little wonderful people who hopefully will be inspired enough to become readers for the rest of their lives. I love that I get paid to make people laugh and smile. But most of all, I love that of all the jobs I’ve had in my life, this is the one job where I get to truly be ME, the me that I remember when I was a little kid, drawing cartoons on the kitchen table and laughing and feeling that life couldn’t get any better than this.

Can you share a favorite quote with us?

The two most beautiful words in the English language are ‘cheque enclosed.’

   – Dorothy Parker

Ha! Love it! Thanks so much for your transparency, Patricia. Your honesty is refreshing. While reading your answers I found myself nodding, more than once. And lol-ing at times as well. I’m guessing others will, too.

If you’d like more information on Patricia and her work, you can visit her at her website or drop by her blog.

Toronto Tuesdays: Interview with Nelsa Roberto

In torkidlit, Toronto Tuesdays on June 22, 2010 at 9:00 am

It’s totally my pleasure to present to you Nelsa Roberto. Nelsa is the author of the newly released YA novel, ILLEGALLY BLONDE.

Nelsa is the kind of person who has the ability to make you feel right at home, even when you’re sitting in a pub full of strangers in the middle of downtown Toronto. And you know, over the course of the last couple of weeks while preparing for this interview (and for one she’s doing with me soon), I think I’ve kind of figured out why she’s got this gift: because home, family, and a sense of community are very important to her and what she holds dear just spills out wherever she is.

Meet Nelsa Roberto.

Please introduce yourself to us.

Hi, my name is Nelsa Roberto and I’m thrilled to be asked by Claudia to be interviewed on her fabulous blog! Thank you, Claudia! So, here’s the scoop on me:

I was born to Portuguese immigrant parents in a remote logging community in northern Ontario, Canada. My earliest memories involve staring out a window into a sea of white, chest high snow waving to my mom as she made her way to the one store/post office/community gathering place. That and sitting on the roof of our house with my best friend while my mother tried to talk us down (we just wanted to be bigger than other people for once!). Those are the two most vivid memories from my short stint in our Great White North.

Despite being born in the cold and snow (my mother went into labour during a blizzard three days before Christmas) I never learned to skate. Which is probably why I love watching skating now (didn’t you adore Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue in the Olympics? Sigh). We moved to a small, rural farming community in southern Ontario when I was five. I spent the next 15 years picking, sorting and packing a variety of vegetables and, while it didn’t turn me off enjoying tomatoes and peppers in my dinners, I do not now nor will I ever have a vegetable patch in my back yard. But all those years toiling away on a hot humid patch of farmland did make me appreciate the joys of air conditioning and city living. I finally found my spiritual and adult home in the largest city in Canada – Toronto – where I’m currently quite happy if I manage to remember to water a pot of geraniums on my front porch.

I earned my degree in English Literature and Communication Studies from the University of Windsor. Surprisingly, studying literature doesn’t guarantee you a job in a Fortune 500 company. It does, however, prepare you for a career in the civil service – my day job. Go figure. But, more importantly, it provided me with a love and passion for the written word that has lasted all my life.

I write contemporary young adult novels with a sassy, irreverent humour as well as paranormal/urban fantasy for teens. I’m married, the mother of three amazing children (all of whom have inherited my unfortunate genetic tendency to avoid household chores) I am also the exhausted owner of a very cute, very hyper Golden Retriever named Hudson.

Was reading a big part of your childhood?

Reading? Was it a big part of my childhood??? Is Johnny Depp hot??

Um… YES!!

Oh, my goodness, YES!

So reading was to Nelsa as hot is to Johnny Depp. Who encouraged you to read? What were your favorite books?

Now, my parents were too busy trying to eke out a living to worry about encouraging me to read. Fed and clothed yes. Having enough books to keep me entertained? Um, not so high on the necessity radar for them. But, luckily, I had an older brother (almost seven years older) who loved reading – still does. I credit him with being my inspiration. I wanted my brother to think I was cool so if I read he’d be impressed with me. He devoured comic books and anything from the library he could bring home from school. When we moved to our old farmhouse the previous owners left tons of books behind. I read the classics like Dickens, Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath is still one of my favourite books) and all of the thriller/horror Stephen King my brother brought home. Then I discovered the Bronte’s and Jane Austen. Oh my. My parents never objected to my reading – just that I never stopped reading!

Do you think you were born to write or is writing something you discovered along your life’s journey? Either way, when did you decide to do it in earnest?

I’ve thought about this question many times since I first picked up a pen to begin writing over seven years ago and, yes, I do think that my love and passion for reading led me to start writing. It wasn’t planned, however. I never, once, when I was a child, teen or young woman ever thought it would be possible for me to actually write a book. I always invented stories (before I could write I would draw pictures that actually had stories in my mind behind them). But it was as I was approaching a certain SIGNIFICANT birthday (and it’s totally irrelevant to know which one, thank you very much) when I realized I was doing everything in my life for someone else. Working for someone else, raising my children, being a wife – a lot of that was in service to others. No matter how willing and thankful I was to do that I needed to have something that I owned, that I created. Something that I could point to and say “I alone did that”. I began by writing a story for my daughters. It turned into a novel. A very bad novel (historical middle grade set in medieval England is so not my voice!) but I’d never before been so passionate and interested and COMMITTED to finishing something. And when that was done I knew, KNEW, I needed to keep writing.

What is your writing process?

I had the great opportunity to be part of a group of bloggers that talked about this very thing. Here’s a link to my blog post about it (and where you can link to the other writers as well). 

Basically, I think I’m a hybrid type of writer. I do a rough one page blurb kind of outline, know my beginning, know my end but have a fuzzy middle. I’ve stopped in the middle of my books many times only to pick it up a few months later after I’ve mentally or physically written down what needs to happen during that murky middle. You’d think, knowing that, I’d plan that middle out right from the beginning before I set pen to paper. But if I write too much about my characters or plot right at the outset it’s like I’ve already written the novel and I don’t have the fun of discovering the story.

The main thing to remember is your process is yours and no one else’s will work for you. Try out a few different ways and see what fits. Probably the weirdest thing people think about my process is that I write the first draft by hand then transcribe it (either chapter by chapter or huge chunk by huge chunk) into the computer. The reason I do this is I don’t self edit if I’m writing in long-hand. It looks crappy so I can let it be crappy. But once it’s up on that screen, I revise, revise, revise (I LOVE revision).

What do you find is the most challenging thing about being a writer?

Oh, this is a hard question. Um, answering questions about what’s hard about being a writer?? No? Okay, well, I think it’s once you’ve been lucky enough to be published and that whole mindset of ‘You Must Market and Sell and Promote and – insert whatever social networking/media/marketing thing is the latest thing to do – here.  Before you’re published you’re just caught up in the language of writing. Learning the structure of a novel, getting a handle on pacing, on characterization, on dialogue. These things, because I love writing, I loved to learn about. But I was never a big marketing guru. Having to understand the intricacies of blogging, twittering, attending conferences, connecting with teachers, librarians, booksellers, writing press releases, organizing book launches, signings … it is all so very overwhelming. It’s not to say it doesn’t have its own rewards. I’ve met some amazing people through my tiny, baby steps in marketing. But boy, I’d rather just be writing any day.

The most rewarding thing about being a writer?

My favourite quote about writing is “The best part of writing is having written.” Don’t know who said it but, boy, it’s dead on right for me. Seeing that finished 250 -300 pages of manuscript, knowing you’ve started with a kernel of an idea – a ‘hook’- and created a few dozen characters, a setting, a ‘world’ that did not exist before … that is complete and utter nirvana. And it is the rush of that feeling that keeps me slogging through the morass of messed up plot lines and recalcitrant characters and hooks that seem to fizzle out by page 50.

Tell us about ILLEGALLY BLONDE.

 
 
 

Click to buy

Here’s the two paragraphs that were in my query letter, some of which eventually made it to the back cover blurb. This is why writer’s need to spend a good amount of time crafting that letter. You never know if those words will be the ones that end up on the back cover of your book!

Sometimes discovering your roots is about a lot more than watching your real hair colour grow in …

When seventeen-year-old Lucy do Amaral comes home with newly bleached blonde hair she expects a major lecture and another grounding from her strict Portuguese parents. What she doesn’t expect is the shocking news that her parents are illegal aliens who’ve just been told they’re being deported in less than a week. Lucy’s furious at her parents and has no intention of leaving her boyfriend and missing prom and grad to go live in some backwater village with no cable, no movie theatre and no life in some country she knows nothing about.

But, as Lucy discovers, intentions and reality are sometimes worlds apart – or, in Lucy’s case, at least an ocean away. Lucy’s desperation to return to her ‘real’ home ensnares her in a web of illegal activity that threatens more than her journey home. But it’s when she unexpectedly falls for a guy whose connection to his home is centuries old that she finally realizes you can never run away from your roots – not even if you bleach them.

Can you tell us about your journey to publication for ILLEGALLY BLONDE?

By the time I’d written ILLEGALLY BLONDE, I’d been writing for about five years. I’d started off writing MG books then wrote a YA, decided nobody was buying YA (at the time) realized most of my books (even the MG!) had a thread of romance running through them, decided I loved reading romance so why not write it too? I joined the Toronto Romance Writers and began seriously learning the craft of writing. Took many courses, wrote a few contemporary romance books, came very close to having agent interest with partial and full requests but it was never quite ‘there’ yet. When I read the stories about the immigration crackdown on illegal Portuguese workers here in Toronto in 2006 and given my Portuguese background, the idea and the opportunity hit at the same time. I started writing ILLEGALLY BLONDE in May 2006 and finished it that fall. I began querying agents in December 2006 and was lucky to get immediate interest. I signed with The Carolyn Swayze Literary Agency in February 2007.

ILLEGALLY BLONDE made the rounds of the many publishers in 2007-08, came close through acquisition meetings at a couple of houses but they said no. I was seriously close to chucking it all in by December 2008 when my agent suggested we try some of the independent publishers here in Canada. BLONDE was submitted to Great Plains Teen Fiction in January 2009 and three weeks later we had an offer. I still can’t quite believe it.

Which character from ILLEGALLY BLONDE is most like you? In what ways?

Well, many of my friends who know me well say they hear my voice in Lucy’s character. And, yes, her snarkiness and wry sense of humour is definitely mine. But her actions? Wow, she’s a little braver (or crazier?) than I ever was at 17. The decisions she makes are not ones I would have ever made. I was more of the ‘good girl’ who listened to my parents type of kid. Lucy craves her independence so much she’s willing to do many things that lead her into a whole heap of trouble.

Thank you for the interview, Nelsa. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we go?

Thank you so much for interviewing me, Claudia. One of the things I wanted to mention was the fabulous opportunity that writing has given me in terms of meeting amazing fellow writers like yourself and the Torkidlit group. I’ve been blessed in so many ways to have discovered my passion and one of the bonuses has been in expanding my circle of friends through such a supportive writing community. I feel very, very lucky and want to encourage anyone who is hesitating about joining a writing group to stop worrying and just jump in. The people you meet will amaze you!

Well, I’m glad I asked! And you’re absolutely right; Torkidlit definitely is a pleasant bonus; one that’s packed full of amazing people.

You can click on the ILLEGALLY BLONDE book cover to buy the book online, or if you are in the Toronto area you can help support the local bookseller who helped Nelsa with her book launch. (A great idea, Nelsa!)

Another Story Bookshop, 315 Roncesvalles Ave., Toronto, Ontario. 

For more information about Nelsa and her writing you can contact her by email at nelsaroberto(at)hotmail(dot)com, through her blog, and, of course, on twitter!

Toronto Tuesdays: Interview with Adrienne Kress

In torkidlit, Toronto Tuesdays on June 15, 2010 at 9:00 am

This week’s Toronto Tuesdays interviewee is the lovely and talented torkidlit author Adrienne Kress. Adrienne is both an actor and an author who, as she puts it, is “attempting to achieve sensational wonderfulness at both.”

Having read both of her books, ALEX AND THE IRONIC GENTLEMAN and TIMOTHY AND THE DRAGON’S GATE I do believe she’s well on her way.

Meet Adrienne Kress.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

 Well that’s a big question.  Actually not so much a question as an order.  And now I’m feeling rather intimidated.

 Me.  Well I’m Adrienne Kress.  I’m the author of two children’s adventure novels, Alex and the Ironic Gentleman (nominated for a Red Cedar Award 2010) and Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate (nominated Manitoba Young Readers Choice Award, 2011).  I am also an actor who would be happy to perform Shakespeare all day every day. 

I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada.  I went to arts school from the age of 11 and graduated from the University of Toronto with an Honours BA in theatre.  I then moved to London, UK for three years, where I studied at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.  I am also a playwright and a director, which is quite a convenient combination, and thus directed my own play “A Weekend in the Country” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the Toronto Summerworks Festival.

I am a member of the Tempest Theatre Group and a founding member of the geektastic website HardcoreNerdity.com

What and/or who has been your biggest influence as a writer?  

I’d have to say I have two.  My father for teaching me everything I know about writing and for constantly encouraging me.  And Douglas Adams (who, incidentally, my dad read to me as a kid).  Douglas Adams was the first author I was introduced to who broke so many writing rules and was hilarious and poignant in a truly unique odd and wonderful way.  I absolutely adore his digressions. 

How much has your theatre experience played a role in your writing?

My experience as an actor definitely informs character and dialogue development.  I think both of those come quite naturally to me now.  My experience as a director informs how I stage scenes in my novels (I tend to block out the action of a scene the way I would block out action on stage – i.e. one character moves to the couch, another one crosses downstage left etc).  The latter also informs how I go about putting a novel together.  In theatre you are only as good as the team you have around you, and I figure why not apply that to writing as well?  I have so many friends who are experts in so many different fields.  So if I need help with writing a combat scene I give one of my fight director friends a call.  If I need help on a costume or set design, I call one of my designer friends.  I really am so lucky to have such amazing people to help me.

Do you find there is a distinct line between your actor psyche and your writer psyche, or are they interrelated?  

I don’t really find a distinct line between the two psyches.  Either way you are creating.  It’s possible that there’s a misconception that because an actor is playing a role written for them, that there isn’t the same level of creativity involved as creating the words being said.  But an actor’s job is to flesh out the role given to her, to bring words on paper to life, and there’s a lot of work involved in creating a three dimensional character, work that the audience might not know about but will sense even if it isn’t obvious.  I like to create, I like to play make believe.  Whether that is pretending to be someone as an actor, to put together someone else’s world on a stage as a director, or to create a world from scratch, it’s all storytelling.  And it’s all pretty awesome.

Tell us about Alex and Timothy.

Alex and the Ironic Gentleman is about a ten and a half year old girl named Alex who has to rescue her grade six teacher from  pirates. Timothy and the Dragon’s Gate is about an eleven year old boy named Timothy who has to help a Chinese dragon trapped in human form return to China and scale the Dragon’s Gate so it can turn back into a dragon.

Both are pirate adventures (Timothy involves Chinese pirates), but are also about the smaller adventures had along the way, and most importantly the wacky characters Alex and Timothy meet (some of whom include a ninja, an Extremely Ginormous Octopus, Giggles the cat, a fish herder, the Daughters of the Founding Fathers’ Preservation Society, and the Make Cold 6000).  The books are funny and absurd, I suppose one could call them the definition of a “romp” 🙂

Note: Timothy is technically a sequel as half way through the book he meets up with Alex the day after her adventure finishes and she joins him on his.  But you can read Timothy as a standalone as well.   

Why did you choose to write children’s books?

I’m not sure I really decided to write children’s books per se.  It’s more like I write what I love to read.  And I happen to just really adore children’s literature. I’m a huge Harry Potterphile, for example, and did a paper comparing Alice in Wonderland to Peter Pan as my OAC English thesis back in the day.

I do love kids, and I love that when you write for them they will tell you exactly what they think of your work.  I think it’s also quite overwhelming when you realize that the books people read as kids tend to be the books that will stay with them forever, that can have a serious impact on their lives.  But truly that has all been a most happy bi-product. 

Really I just think there’s something magical about children’s books that make them my favourite genre to read.   There’s a wonderful absurd humour and beautiful simplicity in such books that can at the same time be remarkably profound. 

I have blogged much more in depth about my reasons for writing what I do and about the misconceptions other people have about Children’s Literature over at agent Nathan Bransford’s blog here.

Are there any current or upcoming projects that you can tell us about?

No.  Lol.  Well I do have a couple projects, a couple YA novels and an adult one, that I’ve been working on and that are on submission, but I am a little superstitious sharing details about unsold work.  I’m sorry!  But yes, I’m definitely keeping myself busy.

How about sharing a favourite quote?

I have two.  I suppose my more literary one is courtesy of the lovely Jane Austen:  “Run mad as often as you choose, but do not faint.”

And my less than literary one, but I think a philosophy most needed for any writer, is from the movie Galaxy Quest: “Never give up!  Never surrender!”  (And if you need a more children’s appropriate version of the same, from Finding Nemo: “Just Keep Swimming!”)

Thanks so much for the interview, Adrienne!

Alex and Timothy are both definitely worth a read. They are very clever and funny stories. I have already recommended them on several occasions, and you may consider this yet another occasion: buy them!

And as you wait for the books to arrive in the mail, why don’t you visit Adrienne’s website, read her blog,  follow her on Twitter, join her facebook fan page, and check out her geektastic HardcoreNerdity.com website too!  Oh the magic of social media!

Cheers!

Toronto Tuesdays: Interview with Megan Crewe

In torkidlit, Toronto Tuesdays on June 8, 2010 at 9:00 am

I met Megan at our first torkidlit tweetup in October 2009. She was one of the very first people I’d contacted via twitter who thought meeting up on a monthly basis sounded like a good idea. And I’m glad she did: She invited two other people to come along, too! Three Toronto MG/YA writers in one shot! The group was growing even before we had our first meeting, thanks to Megan.

Megan’s full of great ideas, tips, and advice – definitely the kind of person you want to have be part of a writers’ group! Everytime I’ve spoken to Megan I’ve come away having learned something new.

Meet YA author, Megan Crewe.

Please introduce yourself to us.

Hey!  I’m Megan Crewe, Toronto YA author at large.  I love reading and writing all sorts of speculative fiction: fantasy, paranormal, science fiction, you name it.  When I’m not writing, I work as a behavioural therapist with children with autism.  You can also find me hanging out with my husband and three cats, planning our next overseas trip (Japan next year!), or practicing Fut Gar kung fu.

Tell us a bit about your writing history.

I’ve been writing pretty much all of my life.  My mom used to have a file of my childhood stories—the earliest of which were My Little Pony fanfics she had to write out with me dictating, as I didn’t yet know how to literally write.  Telling stories is just something I’ve always loved and felt an urge to do.

I started aiming for publication in my mid-teens, sending short stories out to a variety of magazines.  Since then I’ve had a few short stories published in magazines and anthologies—you can read some of them online on my website.  But about four years ago, when I signed with my first agent, I decided to focus on my real love, which is novels.  (Most of my short stories were really novels I’d forced into little boxes anyway.)

How and when did you make your first sale?

My first short fiction sale happened when I was 16.  I’d gotten a subscription to a Canadian magazine written by authors in their teens and early twenties called In 2 Print, which is sadly no longer around, and had sent a few poems and stories to them.  When I got the letter telling me they wanted to publish the latest story I’d sent, I’d opened it expecting a rejection, so it was both a total surprise and a complete thrill.

Selling my first book was a long process, even with an agent.  We had a few close calls, and I did a couple of revisions for editors, and at the end of a year on submission GIVE UP THE GHOST found its home at Henry Holt.  And of course that was the biggest thrill ever!

Tell us about GIVE UP THE GHOST.

Click to buy

GIVE UP THE GHOST is about a teenage outcast who can talk to ghosts, and uses the secrets she learns from them to confront the popular kids at her school with all their wrong-doings.  But then one of those popular kids discovers her secret and, to her surprise, comes to her for help. 

What inspired the story? Why did you write it?

A lot of elements came together to produce the story.  I’d read a lot of books where the main character hated his/her paranormal ability and wanted to be normal, and I thought it’d be fun to write about someone who embraced her special talent.  I’ve always found the idea of ghosts, bits of past personalities hanging on, incredibly fascinating.  And as I started to imagine this girl who considered ghosts her real friends, it seemed obvious that they’d be able to tell her all sorts of things no one was supposed to know.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process, ie: How do you get from having an idea to finishing a first draft? And, are you a plotter or a seat-of-your-pantser?

I am definitely a plotter.  I’ve learned never to try writing a novel unless I have some sort of outline.  I often deviate from my outline and seat-of-the-pants it here and there as I go, but the outline is my trial run of the idea.  If I can’t stay enthusiastic while planning the book out, I know the idea’s not gripping enough to hold my attention and interest for the amount of time it takes to write and revise the actual book.  It also lets me find gaping holes in the story ahead of time so I can figure out how to fill them in before I’m in the middle of things.

The other important part of my process is that I’m a rewriter.  I don’t just revise my rough drafts, I retype the entire book from beginning to end, inserting changes as I go.  It may seem like a lot of work, but I find it allows me to integrate edits more seamlessly, and to more easily make overarching changes to aspects like character voice.

What do you think is the most important skill/quality a writer should have?

I think the most important quality you need to become a writer is curiosity.  An interest in understanding what makes people tick, and in questioning “what if”s of different situations.  But I think the most important quality you need to become a published writer is perseverance.  There are very few overnight successes in this business, and even authors who look like one probably have years of work behind them that you just aren’t aware of.  You have to be willing to keep trying and accepting rejection and moving on.

Do you have any other artistic talents? What are they?

I’m a decent website designer (my website is completely my creation), but that’s about it.  Mostly I appreciate other arts like film and music without having any actual talent of my own!

Do you have any current and/or upcoming projects you can tell us about?

I wish I could!  I always have new projects in the works, but I don’t like to share until I have official news.

***

Ooooo… Megan’s got book secrets! Well, I hope it isn’t too long before we hear some news! But in the meantime, pick up a copy of GHOST and check out her website, where you can watch the GIVE UP THE GHOST book trailer and follow her blog. You can also follow Megan on Twitter.

Thanks for joining us for an interview, Megan!

Toronto Tuesdays: Interview with Rob Weston

In torkidlit, Toronto Tuesdays on June 1, 2010 at 9:00 am

Ever since I heard about torkidlit author Rob Weston‘s book, ZORGAMAZOO, I’ve (a) wanted to get my hands on a copy, and (b) wanted to get inside Rob’s brain. You see, ZORGAMAZOO isn’t just any kidlit book. It’s very unique. Very, very unique. I won’t spoil the fun here, I’ll let him tell you why.

Shortly after I’d figured that I wanted – no, needed – to get my hands on a copy of the book, Rob won the Silver Birch Fiction Award, which, to me, is one of the highest honors ever considering the winners are chosen by school kids.  But of course because of this it meant that finding an available copy wasn’t going to be an easy task. So I had to order online. And I’m still waiting for my copy since they weren’t in stock online, either!

So as I wait, let me introduce you to Rob Weston, torkidlit author of the Silver Birch Fiction Award winning, ZORGAMAZOO.

***

Greetings! My name is Robert Paul Weston, but that’s only what my mother and the covers of my books call me. I usually go by “Rob”. I was born in Dover, England, where my father was once the Turkish-speaking immigration officer at the Dover to Calais hoverport (a seaport specializing in hovercrafts, back when such things were a little more common). I emigrated to Canada when I was four years old and grew up in Georgetown, Ontario. Since then I’ve lived in Vancouver, England, Japan and traveled all over the world doing all sorts of unusual jobs. At the moment, I live in Toronto.

What have you published so far?

I’ve published a handful of short stories in small-press literary magazines that no one has heard of. On the up side, I’m proud to say a couple of them were nominated for the Journey Prize in Canada and the Fountain Award for Speculative Literature in the U.S.

Other than that, I published by first novel, Zorgamazoo, in October of 2008.

Tell us about Zorgamazoo.

 

Click to buy

 Well, it’s a story about a young girl named Katrina Katrell. She’s quite adventurous and very observant, so she’s always spotting strange (and very real) creatures that no one else notices. Her guardian thinks she’s insane, of course, and threatens her with a lobotomy—which is why Katrina runs away and ends up getting embroiled in all the adventure she can handle! Oh, and perhaps because I really am insane, I decided to write the whole thing as a poem. The entire book rhymes. Indeed, I must be mad.

It’s challenging enough to write a book, let alone one in rhyme. Were there any specific challenges involved (besides the obvious trying to get everything to rhyme!) in writing Zorgamazoo?

Other than getting everything in rhyme? Not sure I could have made it any harder without writing it all with my left hand on the skin of a shaved leopard. Or something. But now that you mention it, yes, there was also the prosody constraint, getting words to fit the rhythm (I tried to put four evenly dispersed accented syllables in each line); not to mention the basic frustration of how slow it was, sometimes taking hours to write a single sentence, which I might end up ditching anyway. Ack. Don’t remind me.

But it all paid off! Tell us what it was like for you to win the Silver Birch Fiction Award.

Overwhelming, but in a lovely, lovely way. I’d certainly been warned about how big it was going to be, but actually seeing—and hearing—all those screaming readers! I was pretty choked up.

Why did you write Zorgamazoo? What inspired the story?

When I was a kid, it seemed like there were times you could open a regular newspaper and read headlines like “Strange lights spotted in the skies over Helsinki” or “New photos of the Yeti revealed”. Perhaps it’s just me, but it seems like that sort of reportage (at least beyond the pages of absurd tabloids) has all but dried up. Now, this isn’t to say I believe in the Loch Ness monster or anything, but observing this trend, I began to wonder if perhaps something had happened to all the sasquatches and dragons, to all the creatures of myth. Perhaps they were kidnapped! But by who? And why?!  I suppose Zorgamazoo is one possible answer.

Not being a poet myself, I think poetry is a particularly inspired form of writing. Would you agree? Are you in a different “zone”/frame of mind when writing poetry than when writing prose?

Indeed. In the case of Zorgamazoo, writing in rhyming couplets, I sense my mind is more in the realm of math than literature, as if each pair of lines is a little equation you have pour over until you find a solution.

What inspires you in general?

Books. While I’m reading, I often wonder what would happen if the characters or ideas presented had spun off in a totally different direction. Those sorts of musings often end up becoming the ideas for futures books.

Many artists say they have a “Muse”. Do you believe in this concept?

Certainly I believe in the concept—that such a thing as sudden, inexplicable, lightening-strike inspiration exists. Happens all the time. But I don’t believe you ought to wait for it. If you do, you’re sunk.

Do you have any current and/or upcoming projects you can tell us about?

My next book is called Dust City, which comes out in October, 2011. In many ways, it’s the antithesis of Zorgamazoo. It’s aimed at an older (teen?) audience; it’s written prose rather than poetry; and it’s quite gritty and violent. It’s a kind of dystopic fantasy inspired by the darker aspects of medieval European folk tales, particularly those collected by the Grimm Brothers, and it’s narrated by the son of the wolf who murdered Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother.

Thanks, Rob! Now I’m really looking forward to DUST CITY as well. 

See, now you know why I wanted to get into Rob’s brain. Indeed, he must be a mad genius. 🙂

Update: My copy of ZORGAMAZOO arrived in Monday’s mail! Yay! I’ve now been fully transported back to my Dr. Seuss childhood days. Bliss…

Toronto Tuesdays: Interview with Anna Humphrey

In torkidlit, Toronto Tuesdays on May 25, 2010 at 9:00 am

I met Anna a couple of months ago at one of our torkidlit tweetups. Anna is a lovely person who has kept her talents and accomplishments under wraps. I love it when I find out awesome stuff about people from OTHER people. Especially when said person is in the same room. That’s the way it was with Anna. It wasn’t until someone else mentioned that Anna has two forthcoming kidlit novels (and a forthcoming baby, too!) that I realised this quiet individual who was sitting across the table from me has some serious goods!

Meet Anna Humphrey. 

Please introduce yourself to us.

Hi there. I’m Anna. I’m an expectant author—by which I mean that my first two books are coming out later this year—and an expectant mother—by which I mean I’m having a baby in July. Currently, though, I’m a stay-at-home mom to an energetic three-year-old girl, wife to a really great husband and a freelance writer/editor who works for a variety of youth- and family-serving organizations on projects like brochures, annual reports and website copy.     

Tell us what a typical day looks like for you. Er, if that even exists. 

Not really. Each day of the week my schedule is a patch-work of blocks of time made up of either preschool-time, babysitter-time or naptime (the naptime’s not for me, unfortunately) which is when I get my writing done… as well as trips to the library, ballet lessons and playdates (all, again, unfortunately not for me).

Whatever a particular day ends up looking like, though, I usually get at least two hours of relatively uninterrupted writing or editing time, which is either devoted to freelance work or fiction, depending on what’s more pressing.   

It’s so exciting that you’re having two books released this year! Tell us about them.  

My first book is ‘upper middle grade’ fiction. It’s called Margot Button Makes a Bet. (Or, at least, I think it is. We’re still finalizing the title). It’s about a girl named Margot Button who doesn’t fit in for about ten different reasons. As seventh grade begins, however, she meets a charismatic (and slightly scary) new girl named Em who is determined to take down the popularity queen, which she and Margot do, with some near-disastrous consequences. It’s being published by Disney/Hyperion Books for Children and will be out in the fall.

 My second book is technically a teen romance, but I think of it as more of a romantic comedy. It’s called Rhymes with Cupid and is about a girl named Elyse who, after a terrible heartbreak last Valentine’s day, has sworn off dating as well as celebrating the February 14th  holiday. Both things are a bit of a problem, though, since a) she works at a gift & stationery store, surrounded by tacky, sparkly cards and annoying singing Cupid dolls and b) she ends up meeting this guy named Patrick who works in the same mall and is her new neighbour and her driving instructor and is really cute and incredibly charming… which, you know, might be okay except for the whole ‘sworn off dating’ thing and the fact that he seems to be into her best friend. That’s being published by HarperTeen and will be out December 8th.

Are you currently working on anything new? 

I have a few projects on the go.

Can you tell us about them?

One is a more serious book with the working title How do you Say ‘I Love You’ in Pig Latin? It’s about a girl’s first love and its effect on her closest friendship. It’s kind of about manic depression, too, though, and finding the courage to do the right thing for the person you love, even if it could mean losing them. I’m also in the very early stages of another teen romance with the working title Lemons & Lies. It’s about a quiet, cautious girl who works in a giant lemon (inspired by my first summer job!). As a bit of an experiment, she comes up with a tough chick persona, and that same day meets a skater boy who develops a crush on the girl he thinks she is. And I’ve been working on a possible sequel to my first book.

How and when did you start writing?

I was really lucky to spend my teenage years at Canterbury Arts High School in Ottawa. It’s one of only two high schools in Canada I know of that has a creative writing specialty program. Every year, they let in about 20 kids, and the year I turned 15, I was one of them. If I know anything about writing, I learned it there. And because of the hours and hours of writing time I put in during those years—and the guidance of some great teachers and peers—I started publishing poetry and prose pieces in literary journals when I was about 17.

Was there anything that, or anyone who, particularly inspired you to write?

Back when I was in my early twenties, I met an award-winning poet named Adam Getty. When I asked him how he fit his writing in with his full time job and the rest of his responsibilities, he told me he wrote one poem a week! My first thought was, like, “Really??! Only one? That’s so lazy.” And then it hit me. I wanted to be a writer, too, and at that time in my life, I was writing no poems and no pages per week. So who, exactly, was lazy?

Since then, I’ve aimed to write something every day. At really busy times, that’s been one page… at less busy times it’s 4 or 5 or 6. But the point is, if you write something almost every day (even if it’s only a sentence or two), eventually you’ll have a book to show for it. And if you write nothing every day… well…  All I wish now is that I’d started sooner!

Is there anyone who stands out as a mentor and/or strong supporter of your writing?

Lots of people, actually. My teachers at Canterbury (see above). My grandma. My dad. My mom. My friends. Also, the extremely talented Helen Humphreys (bestselling author of Leaving Earth, The Lost Garden, Afterimage and other books) used to exchange letters with me when I was a teenager. She took an interest in my writing after she rejected something I sent in to a literary magazine she was editing… partly because our last names are so similar. J That meant a lot. Just her taking the time. I hope I can do that for another young writer one day.

Looking back on your journey thus far, what advice would you give your pre-published self?

I think I’d tell myself that finding a publisher to work with is really great… but it’s not everything. I keep thinking the next step will make me feel like an “official author.” Whether it’s finishing a manuscript, finding an agent, signing a contract, meeting my editors, seeing my cover art… but, so far, anyway, none of it really has. The only part that makes me feel legit is sitting down and writing, and I had the power to do that all along, with or without a publisher.

Do you have other interests besides writing?

Ummm… no? Okay… maybe. I used to take hip hop dance classes. That was fun while it lasted. Sometimes, I like to sew, even though my husband would beg to differ (re-threading the machine makes me swear like a sailor). I read a lot but, honestly, besides that, I am hobbyless. One day, when I don’t have little-little children, I plan to have other interests again.

Can you share a favorite quote with us?

“Work is love made visible.” – Kahlil Gibran

At this stage of my life (like any newish parent) I don’t have oodles of time for myself, but I don’t mind because those words sum up how I feel about my “work”… by which I mean everything… my fiction… my freelance jobs… being a mom…. even (occasionally) the housework. Most days, I love it all, and it’s my sincere hope that the finished product—whether it’s a young adult novel, a youth organization’s annual report, or a batch of cookies I bake with my daughter—makes that evident. I feel really lucky to be where I am, doing what I’m doing.

Thank you for sharing a bit of yourself with us, Anna. And all the best on your three forthcoming arrivals! What a year!

Don’t you think Anna’s books sound great? I do! Make sure to look for them this fall and winter. In the meantime, you can keep up with Anna at www.annahumphrey.com

Toronto Tuesdays: Interview with Marina Cohen

In torkidlit, Toronto Tuesdays on May 18, 2010 at 9:00 am

This week I’m happy to be interviewing Marina Cohen, torkidlit author of several middle-grade and young-adult books.

I met Marina back in October, 2009 at our very first torkidlit tweetup. I’d arrived a bit late that night and so I got the seat of honor (a chair squeezed between the end of the table and a wooden pillar) Marina was sitting at the same end I was and was already deep in conversation with the other tweeps, who had arrived on time. You know, it’s one thing to arrive somewhere late, that’s bad enough. But to arrive late when you don’t know one single person you’re meeting and they’ve already been chatting it up for the half-hour it took you to find the place and park your car, that’s even worse. But right from the second I met Marina, I knew my tardiness wasn’t going to set me back one bit. She talked it up with me like we were old friends! That’s Marina. The kind of person who you feel like you’ve known your whole life, after just being introduced to her.

Meet Marina Cohen.

So, who is Marina Cohen?

Wow. Difficult question to start off with. The short answer is I’m a mother, a wife, a teacher and a dreamer. I’d love to add author to that list, but honestly, even three years after holding my first published novel in my hands it still feels so surreal.

How many books have you written?  

I have two middle-grade fantasy novels (Shadow of the Moon, Vanwell, 2007, Trick of the Light, Vanwell, 2007), a Y/A novel (Ghost Ride, Dundurn, 2009) and nine non-fiction books for children published to date. I also have another Y/A, Mind Gap, scheduled to be released in February 2011.

Tell us a bit about GHOST RIDE.

Click to buy

Ghost Ride is a Y/A thriller aimed especially (but not exclusively!) at reluctant male readers ages 12+. It’s about a 14-year-old named Sam who moves out of the city to an old mansion on the fringe of a small town. Desperate to make new friends, he makes the wrong ones and ends up getting involved in crazy stunts. One of these stunts goes really wrong and Sam is convinced to flee the scene. As he struggles with his conscience, a haunting question remains: Who else knows the truth? It’s definitely a ghost story and I’ve woven bits and pieces of the old Legend of Sleepy Hollow throughout the text. The story is actually set in Sleepy Hollow—a real location just north of Stouffville.

Give us a teaser for your new novel, MIND GAP.

Click to pre-order

Mind Gap is another Y/A thriller aimed at the same audience. In this novel, 14 year-old Jake’s life is spinning out of control. He is heading down a dangerous path—getting involved in gambling and gangs. What he doesn’t realize is that the decisions he is making are not only affecting him, but those close to him. One night, Jake gets a text inviting him to a flash party on a midnight subway train. As his feet leave the platform, he has no idea he has just boarded his worst nightmare—and he can’t get off!  (cue creepy music!)

So, you’ve had 13 – 13!! – books published. What made you actually sit down to write that very first book?

It was a New Year’s resolution! I had been attempting to write on and off my entire life, but nothing seemed to work out. I got what I thought was a great idea for a children’s fantasy novel, but I didn’t write it (lacked the confidence in myself) for about 10 years. Then I turned that magical age of 35 and on New Year’s Day I decided to sit down and actually write the story that had been swimming in my head for so long. I completed the manuscript 6 months later. Of course it was rejected far and wide and only after months of re-writing, editing and chopping and years of submission was it finally accepted for publication.

Had you always wanted to be a writer?

Yes. I really did. I wrote a lot when I was a kid. I wrote poetry and songs when I was a teen. I attempted to write an adult novel at the ripe old age of 21 and when that ended in disaster I turned to short stories and then finally found a home in kidlit.

Are there any writers/artists/musicians you’ve been inspired by?

Oh my gosh—so many. I read a lot of classics in university (Steinbeck, Hemmingway, Woolf) and wished I had such talent. Of course, being the horror and fantasy-lover that I am, I desperately wanted to write like Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen King, Anne Rice and of course J.K. Rowling. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been inspired by lyrics—there are entire novels in the songs of Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen! I think, though, if I had to pick one person in children’s literature who has been my biggest inspiration, it would have to be Marsha Skrypuch. She’s not only an extremely talented and accomplished writer, Marsha took the time to mentor me. I seriously doubt I’d have ever been published had I not met Marsha.

How do you manage to balance writing and the demands of everyday life?

Ha! Not too well mostly. I try to keep a handle on my family, my job, my house and my writing, but things get crazy. Usually it’s the house that suffers—I mean family and job are no-brainers, but when forced to choose between writing and cleaning, well, all I can say is don’t drop by unannounced!

 Your life is so full and busy – WHY do you write?

I think I write for the same reason most writers do—because we can’t NOT write! I guess I also enjoy escaping into my own little worlds. And honestly, I write to entertain myself.

What’s been the most challenging thing about being a writer?

I think the most challenging thing for me has been to remain confident. Prior to getting my first contract, I gave up so many times. Rejection after rejection can be so terribly devastating to one’s self-esteem as a writer. I’d often think that I just wasn’t good enough, that my writing just wasn’t good enough. I’d throw in the towel, only to pick it up and try again another day. And even after the validation of a publishing contract it’s still difficult—there are reviews and of course the next round of submissions. It’s a constant rollercoaster ride. What helps me is to stop every now and then and remember why I do this: Because I love it!

What’s been the most rewarding thing about being a writer?

Hearing from kids who love my books! Knowing that my stories are out there and being enjoyed by children and teens is the thrill of a lifetime!

Thanks so much, Marina! I think it’s high time to be squeezed together at the end of the torkidlit table again. 😉 

Keep your eyes peeled for when MIND GAP hits shelves. If it’s anything like GHOST RIDE, you won’t want to miss it!