Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ellen Jensen Abbott interviews Amy K. Nichols

This month I had the pleasure of talking to Amy K. Nichols, author of Now That You’re Here, available on December 9 from Knopf Books for Young Readers—just 9 days away! Whoot! Whoot!  

Now That You’re Here is science fiction and will be followed by Amy’s next book, While You Were Gone (Knopf, 2015), which follows the same characters as Now That You’re Here, but in a parallel universe! So cool!

Here’s our conversation:

EJA: What draws you into science fiction? Why science fiction?
AKN: I didn’t actually set out to write science fiction, or ever imagine myself becoming a science fiction author. It kind of makes sense, though, as I’ve loved time travel and parallel universe stories since I was a kid. I like the possibilities science fiction presents. There’s a lot of room for imagination in science fiction. Science fiction stories also lend themselves easily to being held up as mirrors of our world. You can comment on our society by writing about other societies, (hopefully) without being preachy or too obvious. As far as genre goes, there’s a lot of freedom and flexibility in science fiction. Not to mention the nerd-out factor!

EJA: Which sci fi authors do you read? Which have had the most influence on you?
AKN: There’s such a huge world of sci fi out there, and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface in my reading. I tend to like the classics. Sturgeon. Bradbury. Bradbury had a big impact on me when I was growing up. As far as more recent authors go, MT Anderson’s Feed stands out, as does The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. 

EJA: What are you most looking forward to about having your first book out? How are you going to celebrate your book’s birthday?
AKN: Yesterday I received an email from a teenager saying she said she loved it and can’t wait to read the second book. Reading that email was unreal. I can’t even put it into words. I’m looking forward to more of that. (Fingers crossed there’s more to come!) I’ll be celebrating my book’s birthday with a launch party at Changing Hands Phoenix, a very cool indie bookstore in downtown Phoenix that has a bar in the middle of the store. It’s such a neat place. I’m really looking forward to celebrating the book launch there.

EJA: Were you a science geek in high school? How did you know?
AKN: I was so not a science geek in high school. In fact, I’d lost interest in science after junior high. I don’t know if it’s that my teachers in high school weren’t very inspiring, or if I’d somehow decided science wasn’t cool or maybe even that it wasn’t for girls, but I really lost interest. I was much more into books and music. Later in life, I became interested in science again. After two semesters of anatomy and physiology in college, complete with cadavers, I considered going into medicine, but really it wasn’t until around 2007, when there was a lot of talk about the Large Hadron Collider creating a black hole that would swallow the earth, that I started reading and investigating science again. Despite not being a science geek in high school, I remained a science fiction enthusiast. I was really into Star Trek Next Generation during those years.

EJA: What are you working on now?
AKN: I recently finished While You Were Gone, the second book in the Duplexity series. Now I’m jumping into revising one manuscript, and writing a couple more ideas, trying to get them ready to show my agent and pitch to my editor. Most of the ideas are science fiction, but there are some surprises in there, too. Stay tuned.

EJA: I noticed a picture from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on your Facebook page. What’s Narnia’s role in your writing?
AKN: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was one of the earliest portal-to-another-world stories I ever read. It had a huge impact on me as a kid. I loved the idea of opening a door and stepping into another world. I loved the characters, especially Lucy, with her sense of adventure and her sense of justice. I loved Aslan, of course, and was fascinated by the witch. I wanted to try Turkish Delight. Here’s a funny story. On our first trip to London, my husband and I noticed Turkish Delight was sold in the candy vending machines in the Tube stations. Whenever we tried to buy some, though, it was out. Knowing what we knew about Edmund and Turkish Delight in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, we figured it must be super popular and difficult to find. Finally we popped into a Tesco and bought some. We unwrapped it, excited to finally taste this amazing candy that would tempt Edmund to sell his soul… It was… weird. Kind of gooey. Chocolate-covered jelly? We were so confused. So disillusioned.

EJA: Any thoughts on Benedict Cumberbatch? Is there are part for Benedict Cumberbatch in Now That You’re Here, the movie?
I have so many thoughts on Benedict Cumberbatch. Unfortunately I don’t really see a role for him in Now That You’re Here, but there’s a character in another manuscript I’m working on that’s written with him in mind. Having a book turned into a movie with him playing a lead role would be a dream come true. 

I met him, by the way, in Los Angeles over the 2012 Emmys weekend. My friends and I met him and Martin as they left a party at a hotel. They both were so polite and gracious. Benedict said he liked my handbag (which has a huge Union Jack on it). Here’s a photo. I’m to Martin’s left. They’re both so popular now, I doubt this experience would happen again, but you never know. Maybe if I get that book made into a movie…

Displaying Image.jpgWell, Happy Book Birthday, Amy! It's been great chatting. Can't wait to get my hands on Now That You're Here!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Brian Katcher interviews Kimberly Sabatini

So every comic book villain has a backstory. What's yours? Did you always want to be a writer, or are you just a retired CIA assassin like most other YA authors?

My backstory is even worse—I was a people pleaser. *gasp* Yes, one of those. My code name was Kimmiepoppins. And I was “practically perfect in every way.” It was terrifying. At the drop of a hat I could morph into almost any shape or form that made other people comfortable. I’d put them at ease and then with my powers of perception, I’d study their quirky lives and personality traits. Then I’d use that info to make them happy. But I realized along the way that I was loaded with interesting facts and tidbits that might change the course of the world if I could bring them to the light of day. Only, the one thing I didn’t have was a voice. That’s when I decided to change from a life of people-pleasing crime to the much scarier life of a YA writer. And like any good writer, I’ve held on to the best parts of Kimmiepoppins (she has some mad skills that come in really useful) but I’ve also learned that I’m a whole bunch of things, especially now that I have a voice. And in case you’re wondering, my secret rapper name is K-pop. 

Your book, TOUCHING THE SURFACE, has this evocative blurb: "When Elliot finds herself dead for the third time..."


Tell us about this interesting-sounding book. 

When Elliot finds herself dead for the third time, she knows she must have messed up, big-time. She doesn’t remember how she landed in the afterlife again, but she knows this is her last chance to get things right.
Elliot just wants to move on, but first she will be forced to face her past and delve into the painful memories she’d rather keep buried. Memories of people she’s hurt, people she’s betrayed…and people she’s killed.
As she pieces together the secrets and mistakes of her past, Elliot must find a way to earn the forgiveness of the person she’s hurt most, and reveal the truth about herself to the two boys she loves…even if it means losing them both forever.
The unofficial blurb is that my father died almost ten years ago and I needed to write about all the things I was thinking and feeling. This was a safe place for me to explore the questions and the hurts I had. In fact, it was so safe, I didn’t realize that’s what I’d done until the book was finished. I always tell people that my Dad lives in the spaces between the words of TOUCHING THE SURFACE.
 According to your FAQ, you've traveled extensively. Do you find that seeing other parts of the world helps you as an author? 

Seeing other parts of the world helped me as a person and that can’t help but make you a better writer. The lens I used to view life was so narrow before I had the chance to experience other people and ways of life. It opened my eyes. Traveling also helped me because I’ve always taken quite a stand against change. I’ve never been super comfortable with the C word. To move to Germany shortly after getting married at the age of 23 took a huge amount of bravery on my part. For some people this wouldn’t rock their boats at all. For me it was an act of courage. I didn’t come home or see my family for a year. And back then, in the “good old days,” the internet wasn’t what it is today. No one Skyped. No one texted. We didn’t have a computer or cell phones. We wrote letters and could only afford to talk to our family on the phone for a half hour on Sundays. It was one of the best experiences of my life.

I find that I get easily distracted when writing. I mean, how am I supposed to make my deadline when the Wikipedia entry for 'Ernest Goes to Jail' is so poorly written? As a mother of three, how do you find the time and energy to sit down and write? 

It’s all about underwear avoidance. If I’m writing, I have a legitimate excuse to not wash the underwear of the four males in my home. My hubby tells everyone that we have the largest supply of underwear on the planet. *grin* The writing thing is also helpful when circumventing cooking, cleaning and all activities involving the PTA. That’s the very true and funny answer. But there’s also the very true but deeper answer. I find time to write because I know what it feels like to have no voice and I never want to be swallowed up completely by other people again. And I believe by allowing my kids to see me work and struggle and grow with something meaningful, they too will learn what it means to define yourself uniquely in this world. I’ll never forget what my husband said when TOUCHING THE SURFACE launched. “How cool is it that our kids watched you have a dream, saw you work so hard for it and then got to see it come true?” That’s what makes me sit down and write. 

So what are you working on now?

   I’m working on a YA novel that has been like a lump of clay kept in the freezer. I am in love with this book, but I’m constantly having to kneed it and squish it to make it pliable. It’s truly been a pain in the ass LOL! It feels as if I’ve written an encyclopedia Brittanica between all the drafts and false starts. But It’s coming and I believe it will be worth the wait.

Freebie: Anything else you'd like to tell us? Anything...disturbing?

I’ve got an epic ton of stuff that other people often find disturbing about me. Here’s a small sample... I only wear make-up twice a year for my annual dance recital. Can’t stand the stuff. When I moved into my current house last year, my mother-in-law almost wept when I told her I was making the adorable, built-in make-up table into a bonus desk. LOL! I also can’t wear heels without tipping over, dresses make me crazy and my uniform of choice is jeans, a long sleeve T-shirt and a polar tech vest with sneakers. I would die happy if I could wear that to weddings. Additionally I have chocolate issues and have been known to resort to swigging Hershey’s syrup out of the bottle in emergencies. I really like to run (you have to run if you like chocolate that much) and in the last two months I have been running about 75 miles each month, which is a huge improvement over my previous years of running. And the HUGE increase in milage is because I’ve realized that I love to run to audiobooks!!!! If I’m listening to a good story, I’ll keep running so I can hear more. And then I come home and guzzle chocolate syrup. Nobody’s perfect.

Visit Kim on the web! 

Friday, November 28, 2014

The One Where Margie Gelbwasser Interviews Nancy Ohlin

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Nancy.

Today, you'll read the scoop on her! Not only is Nancy the author of the awesome YA novels, Always, Forever, and Beauty, but she also co-authored a post apocalyptic YA trilogy, Fire-us, with Jennifer Armstrong (Harper Collins), collaborated on several celebrity novels, has written non-fiction for both kids and adults, and was even on the “Today” show once for a book she wrote called How to Make Your Man Look Good (Without Making Him Feel Bad). OH, and I learned she was even a deputy mayor! I know! WHAT?? Is there anything she can't do?

Keep reading to find out more about this lady of all trades!

1) In terms of career, do you have a vision that would mean you've “made it”?

My personal bar of “making it” has crept up, up, up over time and taken over my mental health like kudzu. In the beginning, it was: “If only I could get my weird little literary short story published somewhere, anywhere.” Then: “If only I could finish writing a whole entire novel.” Then: “If only I could get an agent.” Then: “If only I could get my novel published.” Then: “If only I could write full-time.” Then: “If only I could get higher advances.” Then: “If only I could get on the NYT bestseller list.”

These days, it wavers between “If only I could have total financial security as a writer plus a movie deal plus all five-star reviews …” and “If only I could write what I want and feel good about the stories I create even if no one besides me ever reads them.”

This last bit is my current Zen goal. Because even if I somehow manage to achieve total financial security plus a movie deal plus all five-star reviews, I’m likely to set a new bar for myself re “making it.” (“Okay, I’m a millionaire, now I need to be a billionaire.”)

I know this seems obvious and cliché, but … as neurotic and self-critical as I can be about this “making it” business, I am often reminded that I have a wonderful, rich, very privileged life. Aside from the fact that I have a roof over my head and don’t live in a war zone, which is a lot to be grateful for in this world, I’m a published writer. I love my work. I have an incredible husband. Our kids are happy and healthy. I have a lot of awesome friends. I get to travel to cool places.

An aspiring writer I know said to me the other day: “You’re living the dream.” I looked at her like she was insane. But then I thought about what she said. I am living the dream. Or at least a dream. It’s far from perfect, but it’s pretty okay. Four stars, at least.

2) I find retellings fascinating. How did you come to write Beauty?

Beauty didn’t start out as a retelling; it started with a nightmare. One night, I had this scary dream about an evil queen who controls her queendom with colors (sort of like what goes down in Lois Lowry’s The Giver). The dream haunted me for days, and then I thought about Snow White, and it all came together into a story about a teenaged princess who makes herself deliberately ugly in order to make her vain, narcissistic mother love her. It was a very personal book for me because of my own body issues and mom issues, and this thing I’ve noticed in myself and other girls and women, which is, you have to be pretty but not too pretty, or people will kill you with their envy.

3) When writing retellings, how much of a guide is the original story? Do you find yourself constricted by it?

With Beauty, the story of Snow White provided a lot of inspiration and fun springboards. For example, I turned the queen’s mirror into a character called The Beauty Consultant. The poisoned apple became a recreational drug.

With Always, Forever, I started out wanting to do a retelling of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, which is one of my favorite books (and movies) of all time. This evolved into the story of an insecure, odd-duck girl who stumbles into a dark mystery (and ghosts and a hot boyfriend) at a fancy boarding school. While drafting Always, Forever, there were moments when I realized I was being too literal (“Who should be the Mrs. Danvers character?” “How do I duplicate Manderley?”), so I had to step back and give myself some breathing room to make stuff up from scratch versus sticking to the original text.

In the past, I’ve started (and set aside) retellings that weren’t working out because I felt constricted. I realize now that that was probably all me, and that I’m actually allowed to write retellings that are wildly divergent from the original texts.

4) The voice in your books is so compelling, and I'm drawn into this fairy-tale yet modern world. How does the voice come to you?

With both Beauty and Always, Forever, the voices came very easily because they’re both very me. Ana (in Beauty) struggles with self-image and self-esteem; Tess (in Always, Forever) is the uncool girl who wants to sit at the cool kids’ table. So … me all over the place. The fairytale-yet-modern vibe of Beauty seemed right because the story combines traditional fairytale elements like queens and princesses with contemporary issues like peer pressure and eating disorders.

I’ve also done a lot of ghostwriting (of fiction) for various ages—early grade, middle grade, YA, and adult—and I find that process fascinating because I get to create (or recreate) voices that are totally not me. I enjoy stepping into someone else’s shoes, whether it’s a character in a pre-existing series or a real-life person.

I hope that someday, a voice that is the polar opposite of me will form out of the ether, and I will tell that story and have a great fun time doing it.

5) Do you feel there's a genre you might love reading but have a mental block when it comes to writing that genre? Why?

I’ve always wanted to write adult or YA historical fiction—I have a bunch of ideas re specific times, places, and events—but I’m scared to go there because, well, research. When I do research, I tend to go overboard because I want to get Every Last Detail Exactly Right. I worry that I won’t be able to be spontaneous and free and creative when I’m drowning in facts and dates.

6) What's next for you in this crazy writing world?

I’m currently revising my next YA novel for Simon and Schuster, Consent (which I’ve nicknamed “Love in the Time of Sexual Consent Laws”). It has an amazing cover, which shall be revealed soon. I’ve been working on Consent for so long, and so intensely, that I’m excited to imagine what might come next for me. I have no idea what it is, which is part of the thrill of it. (It’s new! It’s unknown!)

I’m also writing several early grade series pseudonymously, including a travel-mystery series called Greetings from Somewhere.

7) If you could only eat one food, every day for a year, what would it be?

I could live on sushi, blueberries, and dark chocolate. And good coffee. And good wine. Sorry, that’s five things.

8) Anything else that you'd like share?

Thank you for chatting with me! YAOTL rocks!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Delilah S. Dawson asks Jennifer R. Hubbard for dark writer secrets!

Delilah S. Dawson interviewed me for this month's YAOTL. You can read about Delilah in her interview back on the 4th of the month. This is the cover of one of Delilah's books:

Don't you love it? It's a story of dark secrets and danger.

And now it's my turn to reveal my own dark secrets! Such as they are.

Q: I see that you recently did some uncluttering and simplifying. We did this last February when we moved, selling or donating over half of our stuff. What was the impetus for your change, and what are three things you could never give up?

A: I have never really done this before—I’ve done a little small-scale weeding over the years, but never a thorough top-to-bottom clearing out. Therefore, I have accumulated a lifetime’s worth of stuff. And it feels oppressive. There is too much to clean, to keep track of, and not enough space. In my writing, I like plenty of white space. I would like some in my physical environment, too.

I’m trying to detach to the point that there’s nothing I couldn’t give up. After all, to be really philosophical, eventually we must let go of everything—it’s only a question of how and when. But here are three things I won’t be giving up any time soon: My vinyl copy of the Rolling Stones’ Hot Rocks album. My wedding pictures. The very first copy of my first published book.

Q: Your blog has an interesting link on the topic of MFAs and writers. What advice would you give a high school student who wanted to be a writer as they planned the next ten years of their life? What path did you take, and what would you have done differently?

 A: I decided to pursue another field in which I was very interested (environmental science), and to make that my day job. There are a few advantages to going this route: There’s likely to be more job security, both financially and emotionally. It opens up another part of human experience: your whole day is not just about writing and writers. It gives you a chance to make a difference through something else besides words. It may give you something to write about.

But there are also advantages to majoring in language or writing: You’re able to immerse yourself in what you love, and maybe even do it full time. You meet others who are doing the same thing.

There’s no one right answer. I think it depends on the answers to these questions: How much risk can you tolerate—financially and emotionally? How much do you need to live on? Do you have or need another source of income? Where will your emotional support come from? Is there anything else you’re good at, anything else you want to do, anything else you could do?

And the courses are not irreversible. You can start down one path and switch later on.

 Q: I *love* the cover of UNTIL IT HURTS TO STOP. Were you at all involved in its inception?

 A: I’m glad you like it! I do, too. The extent of my involvement was admiring it and telling my publisher how good it looked. :-)

 I haven’t really had a say in any of my covers, but it’s just as well. I’m not an artist, a designer, or a marketer. I don’t know what makes large numbers of people pick up a book. This is one area in which I’m happy to have a team of people who know more about design and marketing than I do.

Q: Reading the book's description on Amazon, I'm painfully reminded of my own 7th grade experience. Were you bullied at that age? What was the story seed that obsessed you enough to write this book?

A: Yes, I was bullied. I noticed that bullying tended to be strongest in the middle-school years, 5th to 8th grade. But it affects people’s mindsets for years afterward. Plenty of adults carry those psychological scars. The way we are treated affects how we think of ourselves, and how we interact with others.

And so, for this book, I chose to come at it from that angle: a high-school girl who was bullied, whose bully had moved away but has just returned to town. Now she has to face her past and how it affects the present.

Q: What's next on your writing plate?

A: I have some projects that are in the preliminary stages where I don’t discuss them in detail. I will say that the past year was very rough for me, writing-wise, but that this summer things finally started clicking again.

Q: What's your favorite writing event, con, or festival that you've attended?

A: I won’t say favorite, because there are so many good events it’s hard to choose. But some events I’ve really enjoyed have been the Pennsylvania Library Association conference—I love speaking to librarians, or teachers for that matter; book festivals like the Hudson (NY) Children’s Book Festival; and writers’ conferences like the New England SCBWI conference.

My local independent children’s bookstore, Children’s Book World in Haverford, PA, hosted launch parties for all three of my books. The launch event for my most recent one, the bullying book, was an authors’ panel called, “Outsiders Speak Up!” featuring Jon Gibbs, Ellen Jensen Abbott, Alison Ashley Formento, K. M. Walton, and me. I really enjoyed that--I find that I often prefer to do events with groups of writers. We had a great discussion with the audience.

Thank you, Delilah, for such interesting questions!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

In Which Cyn Balog Gives Courtney McKinney-Whitaker Some Advice and Reveals the Origins of Her Secret Identity

Cyn's excellent advice is right here at the top, but you'll have to read all the way to the end to discover the origins of her pseudonym. 
You've published quite a few books. What advice do you have for someone like me who is just starting out, with only one published novel to her name?

Probably the most important thing for a writer to understand is that writing is a business. Sure, it may start out quite innocently, you may call it your “fun little hobby” at first, and then as the pages peel away it transforms, and fairly quickly you may suddenly realize that your prose is more dear to you than your internal organs. But once you parade your talent in front of the wide world, whether that be agents, editors, reviewers, or readers, a fact will become clear: 

Your prose, and your internal organs, mean much less to them.

So my big advice is: The sooner you can detach yourself from your book after it is written, the better.  A book does not an author make. Thus you will not see that agent rejection as the end of your world. You will not see your editor declining to adjust your cover the way you want it as her hating your soul. You will not see that scathing review as a reflection of your talent.  Not everyone is going to be rainbows and puppies and smiley-faces about your book. This is the hardest lesson for a writer to learn: Everyone has different opinions, not everyone will like your book, and the sooner you just shut up about it, put your head down, and get to writing the next book, the better. Trust me on this. Any complaints/cries for help/throwing oneself on the floor and screaming for one’s mommy because they are ruining your “creative vision” will earn you major diva points. And that’s the second thing to learn about this business: It doesn’t have a lot of room for divas. 

I'm already finding this to be true. It's interesting the difference between how I felt about my book/internal organs when I finished writing it nearly two years ago and when it released about a month ago. My heart is with the book I'm working on now, so nothing about the first book feels so life-and-death.

I also am a huge fan of Agatha Christie! I read all her books in middle and early high school. However, while you prefer those featuring Hercule Poirot, I'm a Miss-Marple-4-Life kind of girl—which is weird because in real life interfering busybodies drive me nuts! What appeals to you about the Belgian detective? Have you learned anything from Christie that you apply to your own work?

Oh, gosh, I grew up reading her books because my father was a big fan, and then a long time ago started accumulating the David Suchet movies, which I’ve watched, no joke, about a thousand times. One of the first ones I read was THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD, and it is still a favorite of mine. Hercule Poirot is such a funny and interesting character; he has so many quirks and such method to his madness. 

I like writing a little bit of everything, but have never even attempted a mystery because I bow down in reverence to the great Dame.  The way she manages to write all these characters having all these secrets, keeping them straight and peppering in little clues for the reader without giving anything away . . . then hitting you with this reveal that was right under your nose the whole time and yet still takes you by surprise… I could never do it!  I have tried. Some of my books have twist endings, but I don’t think they’re nearly as clever.

The first one I read was THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE. I still have a taste for those English country house murders.

You write in different genres under different names. While my first novel is historical fiction, the one I'm working on right now is more of a historically based fairy tale. (And I wish I could think of a better way to describe it.) Do you find that anything about your actual writing process changes when you're working in different genres?

I think that when I write contemporary, I can usually bang it out pretty quickly—because the setting and dialogue and situations are so similar to ones I’ve actually experienced. But writing dystopian takes more brain cells, for me—trying to visualize a place or a way people talk or how I would act in a situation I couldn’t possibly be in. I just wrote my first historical and that killed me because I was constantly having to google how people dressed or acted or spoke during that time period, which interrupted the flow of my writing every two seconds—I don’t think I’d do that again!

My recently released novel is a historical, and I agree that sometimes the research necessary for those pesky details can be agonizing. I find that I have to do "big picture" research first, then spend some time drafting, then go into the draft and make a note about where I need a research question answered, then spend some time researching, THEN draft to incorporate those details. I guess that's why they call research a "process."

I loved learning about your supernatural fantasy novels because you depart from the big name monsters like werewolves and vampires and bring in creatures like fairies and the Sandman. I enjoy a good vampire or werewolf story as much as the next person, but sometimes other supernatural creatures don't get enough press. What inspired you to write about them?

I got the sandman idea when I was driving home from work one day, with my daughter in tow, listening to Aiken Drum on the CD player, about the man who lived in the moon. Well, I thought that he was a sandman, looking over everyone, and then I started thinking, “What if the man in the moon’s job was to come down and seduce young women to fall asleep?”  So after that, it all just came really quickly. But really, I’d been sick of all the werewolves and vampire stuff and wanted to do something different. I never really follow the current in my subject choice.  There is really nothing new under the sun and we’re all doing different takes on familiar subjects, but I pride myself on being wildly different with those choices. 

Well, I think they're pretty cool ideas, and I look forward to checking these novels out.

How did you choose the pen name "Nichola Reilly" for your post-apocalyptic work? Is there a story behind it?

When I moved from writing paranormal romance to dystopian, I thought I should have a different name.  So I chose my daughter’s middle name and my maiden name. I sign all my books “Nic Reilly,” and Nic is Cin backwards.

Nice. Thanks for chatting with me, Cyn!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

So it's two days until Thanksgiving and I'm SUPER thankful to have had the opportunity to interview the lovely, funny Sydney Salter, author of My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters and several other awesome YA novels!!

Check out what Sydney has to say about her teenage self.

1.  Describe your typical Friday or Saturday night as a teen.  Were you a wild child or a bookworm?

Watchful child? My friends and I would linger in the 7-11 parking lot waiting to hear about parties, often bonfires lit in the desert hills surrounding the city. Reno also had a few under 21 dance clubs, so sometimes we’d go dancing. Other times we’d go have a late-night brunch at one of the casino buffets. I preferred observing the wild child teens to behaving like one. On some weekends I volunteered for Safe Ride, a free, no-questions-asked, car service to prevent teens from drinking and driving. I did record all my weekend exploits in my diary though—and I credit all that teen drama with helping me develop my YA writing voice.

2.  Tell us about your very first job.  Awesome or awful?

Awful! The Cake and Flower Shoppe hired me to deliver cakes and pies to casinos—but I wrecked the delivery van and someone’s wedding cake within a span of a few hours during my first week on the job. Of course, I got fired. I later wrote about that experience in My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters. To make it more realistic, my character worked much longer than I managed to do! When the book came out, a Reno news station interviewed me and we visited my old boss. Even though I’d only worked for a couple of days—two decades earlier—she certainly remembered me!

3.  What would teenage you have liked about your books?  Is there anything she wouldn't like?

YA fiction didn’t really exist during my teenage years, so I’ve written books that my teenage self would have enjoyed—a bit of romance, friendship dilemmas, plus some life wisdom. I have borrowed several events from real life—that would have shocked my teenage self. And she’d kill me if she knew that older me would read passages from her diary to auditoriums filled with teenagers!
4.  What popular books today do you think you would have loved as a teen?

I would’ve devoured all contemporary fiction. No vampires or other-worldly characters for me, though. As an adult, I’m trying to stretch myself more as a reader, but I still prefer stories about real people in real life.

5.  What was your best teen birthday and what did you do?

We had a tradition of kidnapping the birthday girl for an early morning breakfast—and then we’d make her wear her pajamas to school all day. My birthday is three days before Christmas, during the holiday break, so I never knew exactly when I’d be kidnapped! On my 17th birthday, we rented a VCR and watched Risky Business. Rewind that Rock-and-Roll underwear scene again, please!

6.  Since I thought this was such a great question, I stole it!  If you could give teenage you some advice, what would it be?

Don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re learning important life lessons that will help you so much as an adult. Live like life is long.

It's time for the highlights reel!  For the five categories below, give us your favorite and least favorite -- the best and the worst! :-)

1.  Celebrity
Favorite: Tom Cruise!
Least Favorite: I didn’t understand the Simon Le Bon thing.

2.  Popular TV Show
I loved the Love Boat and Magnum PI. I didn’t watch sitcoms much. In an attempt to stop us from watching too much TV, my mom would move the set to weird places—like her bedroom closet. So we’d end up watching TV in weird places—like my mom’s closet!

3.  Song
I loved Walking on Sunshine by Katrina and The Waves (I knew I’d have a good day if I heard it on the way to school). I wasn’t much for the gloomy stuff, or as my husband would say, the good stuff—like The Smiths. I had terrible taste in music, but I like to think that it allows me to enjoy my fifteen-year-old daughter’s music now. I’m All About That Bass…  

4.  Fashion trend
I didn’t have the money to keep up with my more wealthy classmates, so I loved being on the dance team. We wore our uniforms—short swishy skirts and sweaters—a few days a week to support school teams. Of course, our uniform included leg warmers! The worst trend for me: big hair. I once permed my straight hair into such a frizzy mess that even my overly optimistic mother felt sorry for me. I made that trend even worse by adding colored mousse to my hair and colored mascara to my eyelashes. Yikes!

5.  Moment/Event of your Teen Life
My first dance team tryout was a disaster! I barely remembered the routines, flapped my arms like a bird, bent in two during my high kicks, and two quarters in my pocket jingled—clink, clink, clink—with every move. But I really wanted to be on the dance team, so I spent the next year driving my curvy 16-year-old self to dance lessons with a group of prepubescent twelve year olds. I made the team my junior and senior year, and while I always had to work harder than many of my teammates, I won several individual and team competitions. The combination of bouncing back and working hard after initially failing has definitely helped me as a writer! Persistence + hard work = success!
Thanks again so much for the interview, Sydney!!  It was awesome getting to know you!  :-)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Crissa-Jean Chappell interviews Jen Doktorski with photo prompts

For my interview with Crissa-Jean Chappell, she provided the photo prompts, and I provided the photos. Crissa put together an awesome video to answer my interview questions earlier in the month, so I liked her suggestion that we keep the visual theme going. Here are Crissa's prompts and my pics.

--pictures of settings that are mentioned in your novels (or inspired your stories).

These first three are from HOW MY SUMMER WENT UP IN FLAMES. The characters take a cross-country road trip. That third one is Cadillac ranch in  Amarillo,Texas.
This is from FAMOUS LAST WORDS for which I drew on my experiences as a journalist and obit writer. This POW I interviewed found his way into my story.
These are images from Seaside Park, NJ, the setting of my upcoming YA novel THE SUMMER AFTER YOU AND ME.
Also from my upcoming novel. Madame Marie was a fortune teller is Asbury Park, NJ made famous by a Bruce Springsteen song.

--a picture of your writing desk or place where you work (love these!)
Maybe you can't put Baby in the corner but it doesn't bother me and Buffy, my writing partner. She recently ousted me from the chair we once shared, so now I've been using that old, wooden stool.

--a photo of yourself as a teen, the house where you grew up, etc.

This is me at 16. It was taken in a photo booth on the boardwalk in Seaside Park.

--a picture of your "writing partner" (a pet or mascot....could also be an object).

This is Buffy, my fox terrier writing partner. She's very opinionated, just like me.

--a photo that gives a clue about your next project.

I'm currently working on a middle grade series that I've been describing as Big Band Theory meets The Babysitters Club.

--photos of signing or events, you with writing friends or agent, editor.

This is me with the amazing Annette Pollert, who edited HOW MY SUMMER WENT UP IN FLAMES and my upcoming YA. We recently met up at the Rutgers University Council on Children's Literature One-on-One Conference where I was asked to give the "success story" speech at breakfast. I met both my agent and first editor as a result of this wonderful conference.
This is me with Jennifer Ann Mann, a talented author and dear friend. She writes the funny, smart, and heartwarming SUNNY SWEET middle grade series. This past May we signed books and presented a workshop together at Wellesley Books in Massachusetts during Children's Book Week.