Emma D. Dryden: A Pre-#NY15SCBWI Interview

Registration for the SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC is well underway. If you’re attending, or planning to attend, you also have the opportunity to register for one of the great intensives taking place on Friday, February 6. Spots are going fast, and the Writers’ Intensive: World Building: A Hands-On Workshop is almost sold out.


 If registering for this intensive is in your plans, don’t delay. Register now. 

If you’re still considering, I have just the person you’ll want to hear from: the fabulous Emma D. Dryden, who will be moderating the World Building intensive. Emma is the founder of drydenbks, a premier children’s editorial and publishing consultancy firm. Emma has edited over a thousand books for children and young readers and many of her titles hit bestseller lists in USA Today, the New York Times, Washington Post, and Publishers Weekly. Books published under Emma’s guidance have received numerous awards and medals, including but not limited to, the Newbery Medal, Newbery Honor, and Caldecott Honor.

Emma took time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about the nearly sold out World Building Intensive. 

Jolie: Each year, the SCBWI precedes the winter conference with several great intensives. For writing we typically see a new focus each year. This year's: World Building: A Hands-on Workshop. While the idea of focusing on World Building for a entire day sounds amazing, I'm even more drawn by the hands-on aspect of this intensive. Can you share more about what participants can plan to experience as well as walk away with at the end of the day? 

Emma: I’m all about writers deepening their craft at every opportunity, and that includes new writers as well as writers who’ve been writing and publishing for many years. So saying, I’m a huge fan of any workshop, session, or intensive that provides opportunities for writers to actually do some WRITING. Impromptu writing, based on writing prompts or provocative questions, not only forces writers to write with abandon and with their internal editor turned off, but can also spark new ideas or perspectives for writers that they hadn’t thought of before. It can be quite exciting and revealing. So, in our World Building session, several of us will be guiding the attendees through some writing exercises specific to their current works-in-progress and specific to the concept of world building. By the end of the day, not only will writers walk away with helpful handouts and heads full of ideas, but they will walk away with some pieces of writing that may find their way into their manuscripts in some form—writing they might not have achieved otherwise. 

Jolie: I agree. There’s nothing better than an opportunity to do some writing, and I love that you say participants could write something they might not have otherwise. The other added bonus is that participants will have the opportunity to share their ideas and work though world-building strategies with industry experts. Can you tell us more about the critique opportunity? 

Emma: The writing exercises that will be discussed during the round table portions of the intensive are going to be based on Henry Neff's S.P.R.I.T.E. acronym which he'll be describing in his opening session. Honestly, I don't think there will be intensive or scary critiques of the writing exercises as much as discussion about the writing exercises insofar as this means a discussion about where people are with world building in their own manuscripts. The round tables will be a chance for all the attendees to, using Henry's exercise as a guide, discuss their world building techniques, questions, thoughts, to identify what work they need to do to deepen or authenticate their world building, and to get professional feedback and guidance in that setting. 

Jolie: That sounds invaluable. Is World Building focused only on fantasy and science fiction?

Emma: Not at all. Really paying attention to the details of world building is essential for the success of any story, be it fantasy or realistic, fiction, nonfiction, historical, or contemporary. How one character perceives the world in which they live, even if it’s meant to be our “here and now,” is going to be quite different from how another character perceives that very same world. Additionally, we often overlook the fact that world building consists not only of the details and facets of the world in which a story takes place, but also within our characters themselves. Just as a physical, geographic world has texture, landscape, and topography, so too does a character—and it’s just as important to explore and build the internal world of a character (the emotional, psychological, spiritual architecture of the character) as it is to explore and build the external world in which that character functions, emotes, perceives, and lives. 

Jolie: The Intensive description states that all children's book authors are welcome, but might you have advice about where writers should with their writing projects (concept only, ready to revise, submission ready, etc.)?

Emma: First, it’s important to note that world building is the architecture of any story, and world building happens at different levels in picture books, in novels, in non-fiction, and in fiction, so we trust writers who are not writing sci-fi or fantasy will see the value in this session. If writers are at the early concept stage, this intensive will help them focus on what questions they need to ask themselves in order to start figuring out the details of the external and internal worlds of their stories and characters. If writers are further along in the process, ready to revise or re-revise a completed manuscript, this intensive will help them sharpen their world building skills and assist them in spotting the places in their work where more external and internal world building may need to be teased out, developed, or fine-tuned. If writers are coming to this intensive with the feeling their work is submission-ready, I suspect this intensive will provide them with a kind of world building checklist that is likely to send those writers back to their manuscripts for at least one more round of revision! ☺ 

 Jolie: Thank you so much, Emma.

Emma also shared several related blog posts if you’re interested in a bit more reading about world building. The first two are from Emma’s blog, “our stories, ourselves,” and the third gives a sneak-preview of what Henry Neff will be talking about during the intensive.




You can also find and follow Emma and drydenbks on Twitter (@drydenbks) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/drydenbks)

Executive Editor Jill Santopolo: #LA14SCBWI Interview

Your opportunity to take advantage of early-bird registration is ending soon. Save a little by registering for the conference on or before June 15. 

Whether you're already registered, or planning on doing so soon, do consider adding the Monday intensives to your conference schedule. The intensives are just as they sound: concentrated, intimate, and valuable. 

Photo Credit: Michele Arlotta
One of the faculty members who will be leading an intensive is Jill Santopolo. I've had the pleasure of learning from Jill in many settings: retreat, intensive, conference break-out, and she is fantastic. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn from not only an executive editor but a successful author. Learn more about her intensive in the interview below.

Jill Santopolo is an executive editor at Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, a division of Penguin Random House. Her list includes many award-winning and New York Times best-selling authors including T.A. Barron, Floyd Cooper, Andrea Cremer, Olivier Dunrea, Lisa Graff, Alex London, Erin Moulton and Jane Yolen. Jill holds an MFA in Writing for Children from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and is the author of the Alec Flint series (Scholastic), the Sparkle Spa series (S&S), and the Follow Your Heart series (Puffin).  
It’s so great to see you’re part of the faculty for this summer’s conference. You were so well received at the winter conference. 

It’s so great to be part of the faculty! I had such a great time talking plot at the winter conference—I’m excited to go even more in-depth this time around.

At the winter conference you were part of the full-day plot intensive (with other editors and writers), and in LA you will be offering a 3-hour plot intensive. For those considering registering for the intensives who should hurry to grab up a spot before they’re gone?

I think my plot intensive will be helpful for writers in two different places in their book-writing process. First, I think it’ll help writers who have a nugget of an idea and want to flesh it out into a fully-formed story arc before they begin a first draft. Second, I think it’ll help writers who have written a first draft, but feel like the story is murky in the middle, or who have been getting feedback that not much happens or that there’s a lack of tension in their manuscript. The plot intensive should help writers in that second category diagnose plot problems and prepare them to tackle a plot-focused revision.

Can you give us just a peek inside your 3-hour intensive, From Beginning to End: Tips on Plotting Your Plot? 

Absolutely! We’re going to start small and go bigger and bigger and bigger, with a ton of exercises along the way. When people leave the intensive, they should have: An elevator pitch, a synopsis, a broad plot outline, a detailed plot outline, an emotional heartline, a story timeline, and a chapter-by-chapter manuscript outline, which should be the perfect jumping off point for beginning either a first draft or a revision.

I know many of those in attendance in NY felt your talk on plot helped them rethink their synopses. Perhaps this was an unexpected connection. Do you think some of your plotting tools are also helpful for synopsis writing?

 I don’t think the connection was unexpected at all. I think plotting and synopsis writing are similar because they both require breaking down the novel’s action in different ways. In fact, writing a synopsis will be part of the plot intensive.

Do you feel there is an element of plot that is often lacking or missing altogether in submission you receive?

I don’t think there’s anything that’s often missing altogether, but I do find that often the rising action could use some extra attention. A writer I once worked with told me that his mother, who was a writer herself, taught him that he had to torture his protagonist. It’s hard to do that sometimes, but when plots really work it tends to be because a protagonist keeps coming up against obstacles over and over again and then has to overcome them in new and different (and exciting) ways.

Are there any books that you’ve worked on that you think have especially well-crafted plots?

I think all of the authors I work with are pretty great plotters, but I’d suggest reading Proxy by Alex London andNightshade by Andrea Cremer if you want to see some extra intense, exciting plotting.

Follow Jill on Twitter @JillSantopolo.

Register for the conference and intensives here. Remember the final day for early-bird pricing is June15th. 

Kate Messner: Pre-#NY14SCBWI Interview

Kate Messner is the award-winning author of more than twenty current and forthcoming books for young readers. Kate’s titles include picture books like Over and Under the Snow, the Marty McGuire chapter book series, and middle grade novels like Wake Up Missing, Capture The Flag, and Hide And Seek. Kate’s books have been honored with the E.B. White Read Aloud Medal, and SCBWI’s Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Text; included on the New York Times Notable, ALSC Notable, CBC Outstanding Trade Books for Science, and Bank Street College’s Best Books for Children lists; and nominated for fourteen state book awards.  Kate spoke at the 2012 TED Conference and is a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and conferences for writers and educators. Find her on Twitter @KateMessner and at www.katemessner.com.

You were a middle school teacher, and, at least for a time, both writer and teacher. Can you share with us how teaching has influenced your writing, and how you balanced the two?

I spent fifteen years teaching middle school English and put, quite literally, thousands of books in kids’ hands during those years.  Handing a student that “just-right” book was one of my favorite parts of my job, and it led to me think a lot about what makes kids love a novel.  That’s one of the things that got me writing more seriously while I was teaching. In those days, my writing time was from about nine o’clock at night until midnight, and that’s how my first half dozen books were written.

Visiting schools to give presentations and do writing workshops with kids is still one of my favorite parts of my job. People ask me sometimes how I get the kids in my books to sound like real kids, and for me, it comes down to knowing how kids talk and think and what it feels like to be twelve. I still have all of those students’ voices in my head and their dreams and hopes and worries in my heart.

You have written many books for kids, ranging from picture books to novels. Is your process for each format the same, or does it change depending on the project?

It’s different for every project, and while I wish I could tell you that I have a “picture book process” or “novel-writing process” down pat, even that isn’t true.  While I do have a very general process (think and research – draft fast – revise fearlessly again and again) I’ve found that every book is different in what it demands of me.  If they’re at all unique, books can’t follow a cookie-cutter process, so I find myself inventing new planning and revision tools for every new book, and they’re not always useful later on.

Case in point: my science thriller WAKE UP MISSING has a main character with a concussion, which makes her narration shaky and unreliable at times. She’s receiving treatment through part of the book but not other parts, and when I was revising, I was worried that her actions and thoughts weren’t consistent with her post-concussion symptoms. The solution? I designed a chapter-day-symptom-treatment-thinking-emotion chart so that I could track, chapter by chapter, whether or not Cat’s symptoms were making sense with the other elements of the story. It was incredibly useful and helped me solve a lot of problems with that book, but is it going to come in handy again? Probably not!

In 2012 your picture book OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW won the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for picture book text. Can you share a little about that experience and the role SCBWI has played in your writing life?

I still remember getting that phone call from Lin Oliver. I was actually in California at the time, getting ready for the TED Talk I gave in 2012. Hearing all the other speakers at TED that week was a gift of an experience and I was quite literally walking back to my hotel room after one of the speaker sessions, thinking “Days don’t get much better than this,” when my cell phone rang and...well...the day got even better. Learning that OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW won the Golden Kite Award for picture book text was one of the most exciting things that’s happened in my writing life because it comes from my fellow writers in an organization that really forms the heart of our community. The New England SCBWI Conference is where I attended my first writing workshops and learned about agents and editors. It’s where I was inspired by speakers like Bruce Coville and Laurie Halse Anderson and Cynthia Lord.  It’s where I met my first writer pals – who are now not just critique buddies but some of my best friends in the world. So yes...that Golden Kite phone call made me a little weepy in the best possible way.

At the upcoming conference, you’ll be giving keynote, but you’ll also be presenting at the sold-out Plot Intensive. Do you tend to start your projects with plot?

I’m learning, answering your questions, that there aren’t a lot of “usuallys” in my writing world because my ideas come to me in all different shapes. SUGAR AND ICE, for example, started with character and setting – a figure skater and a maple farm. CAPTURE THE FLAG started with genre and setting – I remember thinking, “I want to write a mystery set in a snowed-in airport!” and taking it from there.  And Marty McGuire, of course, is all about character – Marty herself.

But plot is such an essential piece of the puzzle for any book we want kids to keep reading, so whether or not it’s the starting point, it’s something I always spend lots of time on. Usually, my plot outlines start out incredibly rough – a few scribbled lines in a notebook. From there, I do a rough outline in Scrivener, the writing software I use, and then I start writing.  Most days, after I write a scene or two, I go back and revise my outline, so it’s not a strict guideline but more of a fluid document that changes as I grow to understand my characters more fully. Plot that doesn’t grow out of character often feels forced to me, so it’s not often helpful for me to think about the two as if they’re separate elements of writing. I absolutely love to talk about planning and plotting, though, so I’m incredibly excited for the plot intensive. Any time I participate in a group workshop like this, I always learn so much preparing for my talk, and then on the day of the event, I inevitably learn at least as much as I teach. It should be a terrific day!

You can still register for the upcoming SCBWI Winter Conference HERE. It's right around the corner!

Matt de la Peña: SCBWI Pre-Conference Interview

The SCBWI summer conference is just days away. People are on planes, packing bags, and anticipating the event of the year. This year's conference is sold out, but you can still be there with us, just follow the live conference blog and tweets. We would love to have you join us.

Just before he flew out to California, I had the pleasure of asking Matt de la Peña a few questions. 

Matt de la Peña is the author of four critically-acclaimed YA novels—Ball Don't Lie, Mexican WhiteBoy, We Were Here and I Will Save You—and the award-winning picture book A Nation’s Hope: The story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis. This year his fifth YA novel, The Living, will be released as will his fist middle grade novel, Curse of the Ancients. Matt received his MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University and his BA from the University of the Pacific.  He teaches creative writing at NYU and Vermont College and visits high schools and colleges throughout the country. 

I know you just met an intense deadline. Can you give us a little taste of what's coming soon from you?

My newest YA novel, THE LIVING, comes out in November. And I just finished the sequel to THE LIVING a couple days ago (tentatively titled THE FORGOTTEN). In this two-book series, my main character, Shy, lands a summer job on a cruise ship, and while he's out at sea the "big one" slams California (a massive earthquake). THE LIVING is part adventure story, part romance, with a little bit of class and race exploration thrown into the mix. I also have a picture book coming out next year called LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET (illustrated by the talented Christian Robinson).

Once you've turned in a manuscript, do you usually have another in the works or will you start the brainstorming and drafting now?
I have a file on my computer labeled "future novel ideas." Whenever I'm writing a book under contract, and I find myself beginning to fall under the spell of the "slutty new idea," I take a few rough notes about the idea, file it away, and get back to the story I'm supposed to be writing. As soon as I'm finished with a project my reward is that I get to open the "future novel ideas" file and sift through the descriptions, looking for my next journey. I love trying to figure out what to do next. Each story has so much possibility. (Some of them are dumb, of course). And luckily my memory isn't the best, so I never remember how incredibly long and arduous the process of writing a book is. This allows me to start with the same naive smile I've started every book with.  

You'll be presenting an Intensive on dialogue during the conference. Is there a common mistake you see writers make when it comes to writing dialogue?
I get bummed when I read dialogue that's too cute or too "on the nose." And I throw the book out the window when I come across exposition that's masquerading as dialogue. On the flip side, nothing makes me happier than reading a well-crafted scene with artful and organic dialogue that still manages to stay on point.

Speed Round:

Favorite part of the writing process?
I love revision so much!

Least favorite part of the writing process?
First draft. (This is where drugs and alcohol come into play. Not really. But something like that. Because the whole "white page" thing really hurts.)

Favorite writing snack?
Iced lattes.

Favorite place to write?
The Brooklyn Writers Space, where I've written my last six books.

How do you celebrate when you get to "the end"?
An old fashioned or two at my favorite bar in Brooklyn. Three if the book was especially hard to write. 

Follow Matt on Twitter: @mattdelapena
Follow SCBWI on Twitter: @scbwi
Official conference hashtag: #LA13SCBWI

Peter Lerangis: SCBWI Team Blog Pre-Conference Interview

Peter Lerangis is the award-winning author of more than 160 books for kids that have sold over 5 million copies, including the New York Times best-selling THE COLOSSUS RISES, Book 1 of The Seven Wonders Series. 

Peter took time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions before the conference. I have no doubt we are in for a fun ride with him come August.

When you were a biochemistry major at Harvard, or working as a paralegal, was there ever an inkling of that writer of over 160 books somewhere inside of you?

Yes, it was just behind my spleen and a little toward the vertebrae.  I thought the doctors got it out, but they were not inklingectomy specialists and instead removed that little thingy that controls your ability to say no.  As it happened, one day I took a wrong turn for a biochemical paralegal party and found myself in a publishers party instead, and it was downhill from there.

Truth is, I always did want to be a writer and performer.  Biochemistry and law were things I thought I had to do, so I gave them a try.  It wasn’t until I was actually accepted into law school that I had the guts to try a career in musical theater, figuring I could defer admission and then go back if I wanted.  I developed a copyediting career in between shows, because I was a terrible waiter.  Which of course led me to the stable, sensible career of free-lance writer. 

I wonder if law school would still take me ...

After your many books and amazing successes, how has your writing process changed from when you first began your writing career?

I use neither charcoal nor crayons anymore, resulting in beautiful hands but a really crappy carpal tunnel.  Also, I develop and write ideas using my name along with my warped sensibility, instead of a pseudonym along with my warped sensibility. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received about writing or the industry?

Marry rich.  But like every other really excellent piece of advice, I ignored it.  And I’m glad.

Want to see even more of Peter before the conference?

Peter on Twitter.

And, check him out rocking a toga at Comic Con NYC.

CAROLYN MACKLER: SCBWI Pre-Conference Interview

There are so many reasons I love SCBWI conferences, but one of the best parts of attending has been meeting and hearing from some of my very favorite authors. 

My go-to author as a young reader was Judy Blume. SCBWI full-filled my dream of meeting her. But my writer crush as a young-adult writer (as I started to dip my toes in the YA waters) was (still is) Carolyn Mackler. SCBWI has given me the opportunity to meet her and hear her speak, and this summer I'll get to do it again. Yay!

Carolyn Mackler is the award-winning author of many novels for teens including: the Printz Honor Book THE EARTH, MY BUTT, AND OTHER BIG ROUND THINGS; VEGAN VIRGIN VALENTINE (one of my very favorite books); and her most recent, THE FUTURE OF US, co-written with bestselling author Jay Asher. 

If it isn't enough to have her on this summer's conference faculty, Carolyn was kind enough to answer a few questions before we all gather in a few short weeks. 

Do you have a favorite part of the writing process?
I love finishing a draft of a novel – any draft, really – and finally letting someone read it and see what's been in my head for the past several months.  My husband is always my first reader, and I hover over his shoulder saying, "What part are you reading now?  Did that make you laugh?  Hang on, why are you laughing?  Did that make you cry?"  Finally I force myself to leave the apartment and let him read in peace.

Do you have a favorite piece of advice that was shared with you?
When I first started writing novels, Judy Blume told me that she reads sections out loud to hear how they sound.  This is enormously helpful for me.  I catch so much in the editing process when I read out loud – words I repeated, dialogue that doesn't sound organic.  It's always funny to sit at my desk, reading and gesturing to an empty room.  I wonder what people in neighboring buildings think!

What is your favorite writing fuel?
 Coffee.  I can't imagine writing without coffee.  Coffee, vanilla soy milk, sugar.  That's my vice.

Can you give us any hints about the project you are working on now?
I'm working on a YA novel called EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN.  It's a big one – five teenagers over all four years of high school.  They meet at freshmen orientation and vow to reconvene at graduation.  I'm in revisions now.  It's about 400 pages, so it's a looong process.

I know I can't be the only one anxious to get my hands on that one!

Want even more of Carolyn before the conference? 

Still need to register for the conference? Click HERE to not miss Carolyn and the rest of the amazing faculty. The conference is nearly sold out!

Conference Hashttag: #LA13SCBWI

MATTHEW J KIRBY: SCBWI Pre-Conference Interview #NY13NYC

Ever wonder if you should get involved with SCBWI? Attend a conference or other event? Matthew Kirby is one of many SCBWI success stories who might stop you from continuing to wonder and actually get to doing.

Matthew is the award-winning author of CLOCKWORK THREE, ICEFALL, and the forthcoming fifth book in the Infinity Ring series. As I type, my own daughter has her nose buried in ICEFALL and she's loving it.

It was my pleasure to ask Matthew a few questions and I look forward to hearing him at the conference where he will be presenting as part of the Writers Intensive: Elements of the Novel.

You found your writing sweet spot in books for young readers. When you made the switch from writing for adults to writing for kids, what changed for you as writer (other than publication)?

The switch came about in a moment one day, driving alone in my car. An epiphany, I guess, though it felt more like someone smacking me upside the head than a shining revelation. I had been writing seriously for six or seven years, and by that I mean I was actively writing and submitting (and growing an impressive pile of rejection letters). During those years, I was trying to break into adult fiction markets, mostly science fiction and fantasy. I'd had a few minor successes along the way, but I was approaching what felt like my limit for disappointment and discouragement, and I was at that point I think many of us reach where we contemplate giving up. But you need to know that at that time, I was a school psychologist working in elementary schools. My leisure reading was almost exclusively in middle grade and YA, genres I loved. AND most of the protagonists in the stories I was writing and submitting to adult markets were kids. Should have been obvious, right? That's what I mean by a smack upside the head. So I was driving along, and suddenly all these things occurred to me at once, and I paused and said to myself, "Wow. I wonder if I'm a children's writer." Then I wondered if there was an organization for children's writers. I went home, found SCBWI, and joined that same day. I attended my first annual conference the following summer, and the experience was incredible. I felt like I had finally found the place I truly belonged as a writer.

Congrats on ICEFALL'S many awards. In a recent blog post about your PEN Center USA Award, you mentioned Ursula Le Guin, who also provided a blurb for ICEFALL (wow!). How has her work influenced your own writing?

It is no exaggeration to say that I am a writer because I read Ursula K. Le Guin. When I was twelve or thirteen, my parents gave me A Wizard of Earthsea, and the experience of that book was transformative. There is a place in the story where the main character, Ged, engages in a forbidden summoning spell, something way beyond his ability to understand and control. He opens a portal onto another plane, and this is how Le Guin described what happens next: "...and through that bright misshapen breach clambered something like a clot of black shadow, quick and hideous, and it leaped straight out at Ged's face." 

As a young reader, that sentence stopped me in my tracks. The power of it. The words. The whole scene is breathtaking. I went back and reread it, and reread it, and reread it. I marked the page with its own bookmark, and even as I moved forward with the story, I'd go back occasionally to that moment to read it again. In that book, in that scene, in that sentence, and even in that single word, "clot", I became aware of the act and art of writing and storytelling. I'd always enjoyed making up stories, and I'd been doing so since the third grade. But I'd never before considered it something powerful or important, and I'd certainly never thought about becoming a writer when I grew up. But after reading Le Guin, I knew that's what I wanted to do. And to this day, I carry a love for words and a care for the words I choose in my own writing. 

I'm very fond of something Richard Peck said at an SCBWI annual conference a few years ago. "We write by the light of every book we've ever read." That is true. And for me, Ursula K. Le Guin shines brightest.         

What is your favorite part of the writing process? Least favorite?

My favorite part is the beginning of a new story. The casting about for the voice and the language in which that story wants to be told, and the magic and thrill of finding it (I'll never forget the moment when I first met ICEFALL's Solveig). In the beginning of my writing process, a story can be anything, and contain anything. It's all possibilities when I start a new book. The characters haven't made any choices yet that might limit their later choices. That changes as the story moves forward and assumes its shape, after which the possibilities become limited to what is true and authentic to that story and its characters. Basically, when I begin a book, it seems big, but as I write, it gets smaller and smaller until the end. While that means I face an inevitable deflation when I stand at the end of a book and look back over it, there remains the quiet joy that comes from seeing something for what it is. And it has to be that way. Stories about everything are really about nothing, and offer no meaning, ask no questions, and provide little truth.

My least favorite part of writing is revision. I hate it, and I always have. Left to my own devices, I am far more likely to go after what is new and shiny than return to polish something I've already found. But my writers' group and my editor show me on a continual basis why it's important. So with their help and feedback, I make myself do it, and I hope my stories are better for it. 

What’s next for you?

Next fall, I have two books coming out. One of those will be my installment in Scholastic's INFINITY RING series, a new multi-platform time-travel adventure. It's been a blast working with the other authors on the series. The other book will be a standalone, a Jules Verne-esque Colonial American fantasy. I've also begun work on a new trilogy called THE QUANTUM LEAGUE. It's a contemporary magical crime saga, with quantum physics and dueling magicians. The first book will come out in spring 2014.

Sounds exciting! Thanks, Matthew!
You can follow on twitter at: @writerMattKirby

#LA12SCBWI Pre-Conference Interview: Dan Gutman

Not many authors publish their rejections letters. Not so for Dan Gutman. He shares several on his website, and says he’s received hundreds of them. Gutman has also published over a hundred books for kids, including the very popular MY WEIRD SCHOOL series. Not too shabby, eh?

So, Dan, you've received hundreds of rejections, but you've also published over a hundred books. At this point, for each rejection letter, do you now have a book?

No, because a lot of books have been rejected repeatedly.  "Honus" was rejected ten times.  "Johnny Hangtime" was rejected twelve times.  "Casey Back At Bat" was rejected TWENTY times.  It took ten years to get that one published.  Man, now you're getting me depressed!

Ha! Sorry ‘bout that, Dan. But it seems you’ve made peace with rejection being part of a writer’s life. Was there any one thing that helped you let go of the upset that comes with rejection?

It must have simply been blind arrogance, on my part.  I just convinced myself that my writing and my ideas were good ones that kids would really like.  I never assumed that just because somebody was an editor working for a major publishing company, they were a better judge than I was.  I trusted my instincts.  Also, I was motivated to succeed because I wanted to show those editors how wrong they were.  Success is the best revenge!

Love that! And thanks for the reminder.

Your journey is an interesting one. Your original desire was to write humor, but it took you a while to figure out that your writing sweet spot was writing for kids. Do you have any advice that might help people find their own writing sweet spot?

Everybody is different, of course.  But I'll tell you what worked for me--TRY EVERYTHING.  This was not my plan, but first I tried writing short essays for newspapers.  I tried writing longer magazine articles.  I tried writing screenplays.  I tried writing non-fiction books for adults.  I failed at ALL those things.  But by failing, I figured out what I was NOT good at.  And then, when I tried writing for kids, instantly I felt, "This is what I'm good at!  This is what I was meant to do!"  My only regret is that it took me ten years to get to that point.

You are amazingly prolific, having published over 100 books. Many writers, especially those just getting started, find finishing a project one of their biggest obstacles. Any advice for getting to “The End”?

Hmmm, for me, it's always the MIDDLE that is the hard part.  When I start a book, I usually know how it will begin and how it will end.  Then I struggle with what comes between.
I play little mental tricks on myself.  I will make a false deadline, a date by which a project must be finished (even if it's not due yet).  I will set the day before I'm going away on trip as the day I have to finish a project.  I'll limit the number of hours in a day I work on a project, because I find I get a lot done when I have to do it in a short period of time.  That kind of stuff.

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As alway, SCBWI Team Blog will be live blogging from the conference floor. Mark your calendar for the August 3rd kick-off.

SCBWI Pre-Conference Interview: Jean Feiwel

As part of SCBWI Team Blog pre-conference interviews, I had the opportunity to chat with the wonderful Jean Feiwel on the phone.

From the SCBWI conference website:

Jean Feiwel's career in publishing started in 1976 at Avon Books where she rose from Editorial Assistant to Editorial Director of Books for Young Readers. In 1983, she was hired away to Scholastic.  During her tenure as Editor-in-Chief and Publisher at Scholastic, Jean is credited with inventing middle grade series publishing with the creation of Ann Martin’s Babysitter’s Club, R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps, Katherine Applegate’s Animorphs, and the historical fiction series, Dear America. When pressed, she will also admit to being involved with the acquisition and publication of the Harry Potter series. In February 2006, Jean left Scholastic and joined Macmillan as Senior Vice President and Publisher. At Macmillan, she has launched Feiwel & Friends, her own commercially minded hardcover imprint, as well as a paperback/backlist program culled from FSG, Henry Holt and Roaring Brook’s lists, called Square Fish.  In January 2009, she was promoted to SVP Publishing Director of the new consolidated Macmillan Children’s division.

It was a real pleasure to speak with her. From our conversation, here are a few of the questions Jean answered for me:

You, along with three other industry professionals, will speak on a panel about Children’s Books today and tomorrow. In a time full of change, and at times negative talk, what gets you and keeps you excited and makes you feel optimistic?

I’m essentially a glass half full kind of person. I have always been enormously adaptable, and forward looking, and I love what I do. I love working with new authors and the ones that I’ve built already. I like the combination of discovering new talent while maintaining relationships that I’ve already established. The reason for the name Feiwel & Friends is: make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other’s gold. That represents my philosophy of publishing.

Young adult books are on fire right now. Why do you think young adult books are leading the way in the book sales and are today’s hot market?

I think that because there were plenty of middle grade series that sort of created that audience. I think Harry Potter being the most instrumental. I think Harry Potter was huge. I think it galvanized reading in general for kids, and for a whole population at a time. I think that’s part of it. And I think these things are cyclical. I’ve been around long enough to see there have been periods of times where young adult has been the dominant category and I’ve seen it over populate and max out in a way and sort of go into a hibernation.  I’m not surprised to see it so strong at this point. I think Stephanie Meyer happened to be somebody who hit a cord at the right place at the right time. The audience was there and waiting.

In that whole cyclical nature of things, does that also bring hope and optimism for the picture book?

I really feel like the demise of the picture is strongly overstated. I found with working with the press, in some ways, they want to sell papers, they want people to read what they write, so they tend to exaggerate. This is certainly an exaggeration. I think there is no doubt that the picture book category has changed, in that, kids are being hurried through childhood and hurried through the category…Kids want to read that reading book that chapter book, they want to feel accomplished and if they’re are being read to from the time they are in utero then they are not going to sit there with Bread and Jam for Francis, they’re going to want to be pacing through, along side of their brothers and sisters, the older books, so I think that has contributed to the category being smaller or in decline. But I think that’s okay because I think all of us have over published in the category. I think that a lot of books that duplicate each other. It’s a matter of being smarter in your publishing, and more focused. There’s definitely still an audience there, and it’s just a matter of not flooding the category. That would make for a healthy business all around.

As you and your fellow editors look to acquire books, is there one element that grabs you each time, that one essential element?

I say this in my rejections letter, if I don’t emotionally connect with something I’m not going to respond to it. There’s something about the story that has to pull on my emotions in some way. It has to make me laugh. It has to be very dramatic. It has to surprise me. Something has to happen for me to respond to a story. Even it’s something I’ve heard a lot , even if it’s yet another vampire story, if there’s something in it that feels fresh or emerges in some surprising way I’ll will respond and go after it. There has to be something emotionally alive in it for me.

Don't miss your chance to hear from Jean Feiwel and many others at the upcoming SCBWI conference in NYC. Register HERE.

SCBWI Pre-Conference Interview: Ginger Knowlton

Ginger Knowlton
I'm pleased to welcome Ginger Knowlton to Cuppa Jolie. Ginger will be sharing her views, along with three other agents, on the final panel of the conference: The Current Market for Your Work. 

From the Curtis Brown LTD website. 

Ginger Knowlton, Executive Vice President

Ginger Knowlton represents authors and illustrators of children's books in all genres, as well as a few adult book authors. Her list includes Newbery Medalists, Newbery Honor and Printz Honor winners, Edgar and Lambda winners, a Sibert and Orbis Pictus winner, New York Times bestsellers, and a host of other delightful and talented clients. Ginger started working at Curtis Brown as an assistant to Marilyn Marlow, one of the first literary agents to specialize in children's books in the 1960s. Working for Marilyn was a rite of passage, affectionately referred to as Curtis Brown’s "Boot Camp." Before joining the company, Ginger worked in the field of early childhood education in Sacramento and Mendocino, California. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Association of Authors' Representatives and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Library in her hometown in Westchester County.

And now on to the interview. How I love ending with an SCBWI success story! Read on...

Conferences can be a bit overwhelming. What advice do you have for conference-goers, especially those attending for the first time? 

Don’t be shy! Talk with other conference-goers, ask to sit with them at lunch, and if you came with a friend or group of friends, be sure to split up and do different things, so you can report back and share whatever you learned (or didn’t learn). Seek advice and camaraderie, and be open to listening as well as sharing. Go outside your comfort zone! Remember Eleanor Roosevelt’s wise words—“Do one thing every day that scares you.” (I’ll be doing that myself on January 29th at the Grand Hyatt…)

Writers often ask, "How do I know when my work is ready to submit?" Do you have any sort of measuring stick or advice for knowing when? 

My simple answer is: it’s ready when it sings ~ but I realize that’s subjective.

My short answer is: No.

Everyone works differently, and different things work for different people. Some people are blessed with writing partners/critiquers who offer advice and feedback that is spot on. Others are not so lucky, and still others don’t have partners or critiquers at all. I think what can often help is asking someone else to read your work aloud to you, or better yet, ask him/her to record himself reading it, and then listen to that recording by yourself and then with others. Do you like it? Do others? Are you fascinated and eager for more? If it’s a picture book, is it just too long? Would a youngster fidget? Would you, if you had to read it to said youngster time and again? Do you feel like the reader just didn’t get it and you could have done better reading it yourself? If so, there might be a lesson for you there—it may not be the reader’s fault at all. (Sorry!)

I know some authors finish a manuscript and decide to submit it to a lot of agents/editors at once—sort of flooding the field—and I recommend that you start out slower than that, in case you get actual feedback from someone who might help you make the submission stronger for the next round. While it’s important to be open to advice and other opinions, it’s also important to stay true to yourself and your writing. I realize this sounds cliché.

Do you have a particular pet peeve when it comes to receiving queries/submission?

Well, like everyone, I want the query to be addressed to me (Ginger Knowlton), not to Curtis Brown or Ginger Knowlton Clark or Agent or Tracey Adams (hey, Tracey!). And please take the time to proofread your queries and submissions so there are no misspellings. With spellcheck available, there’s just no excuse for that. I’m not saying I won’t read it if there are mistakes, but it is distracting, and why distract me from your writing when you’re hoping I’ll be enthusiastic about it?

Can you share with us a client's forthcoming or recently published book that you're extra excited about? 

I cannot wait to see I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black, with illustrations by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, coming out in the fall of 2012—and it all came about because of SCBWI! Here’s a recap from Debbie herself: http://debbieohi.squarespace.com/mentees/2010/9/4/how-a-rejection-got-me-a-book-deal-my-career-changing-scbwi.html

Thank you so much, Ginger!

To register for the upcoming conference, or to learn more about SCBWI visit scbwi.org

Monday Moment #132: a writing prompt for your work-in-progress

(If you’ve already read this then skip past all the italicized blah-di-blah and start writing.) Monday Moments are writing prompts for your work-in-progress. They are questions that come from my experiences and are my favorite way to find out more about my characters. I find I learn a lot. Some of it I use. Some of it I don’t. But I always, always get to know my characters better just by answering the question. I hope you do too.)

Oh man, my friends. Have I ever dropped the ball, or what?

I promise it's not without good reason. My plate has been beyond...BEYOND full, and unfortunately I've had to gobble up many other things before getting to the yumminess that is this blog. I apologize for that. I hope it will change soon.

When has your character ever dropped the ball? What was at stake?

(An added note: I think the second question is an important one. With Cuppa, the stakes for missing a Moment aren't huge. Yes, I have guilt, especially when someone says, "Hey, where was Cuppa Jolie this week." Or something like that. You don't let me forget that I missed. But some stakes can be far bigger.)

Monday Moment #131: a writing prompt for your work-in-progress

(If you’ve already read this then skip past all the italicized blah-di-blah and start writing.) Monday Moments are writing prompts for your work-in-progress. They are questions that come from my experiences and are my favorite way to find out more about my characters. I find I learn a lot. Some of it I use. Some of it I don’t. But I always, always get to know my characters better just by answering the question. I hope you do too.)

No good, very bad blogger. That's me. Sorry for the inconsistencies lately. I should just say here and now, if it's a three day weekend (Monday being a holiday) there will be no Moment that day. Makes sense, right?But what happened to me yesterday? Honestly, life happened. I ended up with a family member at the ER (all is okay though). That threw my entire day for a loop.

Today is a Monday do-over of sorts. So, there ya go.

I know that in other parts of the country, school started in August, but here in the Seattle area, we just started last week. Yesterday was the first Monday of the school year. Truly, the school year in Seattle should run October to July, because our summer happens in August and September, but that's another subject.

So...the start of a new school year. And for us, it meant sending our oldest girlie off to middle school. *gasp* It's shocking. It was made harder by the fact that she was not at all looking forward to it. In fact, she was expecting her first day to be a no-good-horribly-very-bad day. Fortunately, because her expectation were so awfully low, it was actually all right. *phew* She even told a former teacher that she would give it a 7 out of 10. A huge relief for this mama, and yet, I can't believe she is a middle schooler.

Along with going back to school, there was some good old school shopping, which can be fun and insane all at once. But, one thing I especially noticed as we reached the end of summer was that the kids (and my husband) have favorite pieces of clothing they don't want to part with...no matter how stained, holey, or small they might be. Good grief!

Anyone else experience this? I'm sure I'm not alone.

My oldest has been wearing a pair of fake Uggs (even during the summer) and you can literally pull the toe up and see her little piggies inside. She also has a tank tap that had a small hole along her side that has now expanded into what looks like another arm hole. But does she want to get rid of them, or stop wearing them? NO! I believe this is a genetic thing passed on from my husband. (A little secret...when something gets *really* bad it might accidentally end up in the trash.)

What? What's that? Someone wants to call me out? Okay, fine! Maybe I have one or two things I have yet to let go of myself. So there.

How about your character? Does s/he have a favorite piece of clothing? (Describe it. Why is s/he they so attached? What would they do if something happened to it?)

Monday Moment #130: a writing prompt for your work-in-progress

(If you’ve already read this then skip past all the italicized blah-di-blah and start writing.) Monday Moments are writing prompts for your work-in-progress. They are questions that come from my experiences and are my favorite way to find out more about my characters. I find I learn a lot. Some of it I use. Some of it I don’t. But I always, always get to know my characters better just by answering the question. I hope you do too.)

Here's a question for you: How do you turn one lizard into two guinea pigs?

What? You find that question strange? Oh...or you think it's some kind of joke with a punch line, maybe?

No...it's a little something my children made happen, with a little help from their dad.

So, here goes. This is how you do it. (Warning: you may not want your children to read this post.)

One morning, not long after my husband had left for work, I get a call from him saying, "Open the garage and tell the kids to meet me outside."

This can't be good. You're with me, right? Warning bells.

Sure enough, my hubby arrives with a shoe box which contains a lizard, a lizard that didn't want to take no for an answer (he couldn't get it to leave his van or the road). I don't have to tell you how my children reacted to seeing this clingy lizard, except to say it was the exact opposite of my reaction. I wasn't the one who wanted to keep it.

I had all sorts of arguments for why we shouldn't: we needed to know what it was; if it was safe for the lizard; if we could provide what it need; and oh...the fact that it eats LIVE crickets.

Fred the Lizard

The kids got right to work. Don't let your children tell you they can't research online because mine learned right quick that the lizard, the one which hitched a ride on their dad's bumper, was a Northwest Alligator Lizard. They knew what it ate and what it needed to be kept as a pet. Next step? Call the local pet store to see if they had the supplies needed to keep the lizard. And, even more important, to ask if it's okay to keep it? Maybe it would just be cruel to the little guy.

Pet store fail! They said, "Hey. No problem. We've got what you need. Come on down. Oh...and you'll probably want to get a cricket habitat so you don't have to continually buy crickets."

Oh, joy!

Because I was so excited about this lizard, I thought it was only fair for the girls to fork over their own money for half the costs (and they agreed...I should have requested all the costs). Of course as we loaded up on lizardy needs at Pet Town, the girls checked out the mice, hamsters, and gerbils. Then after the we received the total and handed over $70 (FOR A LIZARD!) my youngest said, "We should've just got the mouse. It was only a couple bucks."

EEEEERCH! Uh...what? Did we not just spend all this time and money for a lizard?

As we loaded up in the car, realizing after all of that we'd actually forgotten to get crickets and meal worms for the lizard, we had a conversation. I had to ask, "Do you really want a lizard? Or if you had a choice would you prefer to have another rodent-pet (we've had gerbils in the past)."

The answer was fast and clear...they wanted something warm-blooded again. (Frankly, I was open to this because it meant no more lizard.)

In we went, stating our buyer's remorse to the nice girl behind the counter. We were able to return all the lizard supplies and now make a decision about what furry pet to bring home: The cute little white mouse with brown spots that was only $2? Or, that fat hamster...he's awfully cute. Another gerbil? Oh, but don't forget the nice girl behind the counter told us how incredibly sweet the female guinea pig was.

Guinea Pig!?!

Seriously, those things are huge. And not $2.

But, okay...let's hold the guinea pig just to check it out. That little black guinea pig snuggled into the girls' chests and made sweet squeaky sounds, and then it was my turn to hold her. 

Really? Why didn't anyone tell me that guinea pigs are so sweet. Not all squirmy and bitey like hamsters and gerbils. Well, there was no leaving without that pig. And on the way home, she was given her name: Charlotte.


And after the girls' Grandma and Papa fell in love with Charlotte, too, and the girls learned that guinea pigs are herd animals and are happier with a friend, Grandma decided she wanted to buy the girls a friend for their new addition. Welcome, Clarabelle.


And what happened to the lizard that actually was given the name Fred? Well, we released him into the woods next to our house. And, believe it or not, not too many days later a very familiar looking lizard was under my hubby's van.

And that's how you turn one lizard into two guinea pigs.

Kids can be quite good at manipulating situations to get what they want. (Or at least mine are really good at doing it with me.)

What has your character been able to talk a grown up into doing or getting or saying?

What? No Monday Moment?

Please forgive me for missing the Moment yesterday. A headache took me out yesterday and posting the Monday Moment fell low on the list of to-dos (only the have-tos happened).

And, as tempted as I am to get it post right now, I will not. I'm going to make the Moment wait, along with the laundry and other to-dos and I'm going to get the writing done first (especially since my children are currently not here).

Care to join me, anyone? (We'll get to the Moment some time later. Promise.)

Monday Moment #129: a writing prompt for your work-in-progress

(If you’ve already read this then skip past all the italicized blah-di-blah and start writing.) Monday Moments are writing prompts for your work-in-progress. They are questions that come from my experiences and are my favorite way to find out more about my characters. I find I learn a lot. Some of it I use. Some of it I don’t. But I always, always get to know my characters better just by answering the question. I hope you do too.)

Sorry I missed you all last week. I was a bit busy doing the SCBWI-Team-Blog thing, helping to commemorate the 40th anniversary of SCBWI and the summer conference. I hope you followed along on the blog, but if you haven't check it out, it's there for the looking. It was one super special event. And a bit of a dream come true for me.

Whose lap am I all snuggled up on, you ask? Why that's just me and Judy Blume: an icon and my idol.

A giddy me with Judy Blume
(I'm not actually on her lap. She invited me to the arm of her chair.)

She was an absolute highlight for me. Judy Blume was the only reason I was a reader in Middle School. I've never really understood that whole freaking-out thing when someone sees a celeb they love and admire, that is until I was in the presence of Judy Blume. It all hit me; what she meant to me as a kid and what she means to me as a writer. The best part? She didn't disappoint. She's even more wonderful than I could have imagined, and I will forever remember her graciousness.

As much fun as I had in L.A., it was also so great to get home.

But something funny happened this time when my family picked me up from the ferry boat after I arrived back in Seattle. I sandwiched in the backseat of my parents' car right between my two girlies: the best place I could be. After I kissed and squeezed each of them, my youngest said, "You smell funny." Just what a mama wants to hear upon returning home.

So then my oldest gave me a whiff. "Yeah, you smell weird."

I replied, "Well, I probably smell a bit like hotel, and airplane, and train, and ferry with an added touch of Judy Blume (that above picture had only been taken hours before)."

Later, when I finally saw my husband, he said the same. "You don't smell like you."

It got me thinking about personal scents and where they come from: our homes, laundry detergent, foods we eat, and especially the products we use. All of those items that create my scent had changed over the week. The mix was all wrong, and my family could tell.

What are some of the things your character does and some of the items your character uses that create his/her scent (or that of another character your MC is around a lot)?

Monday Moment #128: a writing prompt for your work-in-progress

(If you’ve already read this then skip past all the italicized blah-di-blah and start writing.) Monday Moments are writing prompts for your work-in-progress. They are questions that come from my experiences and are my favorite way to find out more about my characters. I find I learn a lot. Some of it I use. Some of it I don’t. But I always, always get to know my characters better just by answering the question. I hope you do too.)

So much going on I'm not even sure what Moment to tell you about today: I'm gearing up to leave for the big SCBWI Summer conference; I'm preparing to welcome over 200 during an Orientation just before the big event kicks off; We've been figuring out chore schedules and allowance for our girlies; My youngest girlie and I just ran in her first race, a one-mile fun run; and, we turned a lizard into two guinea pigs (now that's a story...and probably one that requires more time than I have today).

So...now to decide. What should today's Moment be?

 I choose...FUN RUN.

And it was so much fun.

At the end of this last school year my girls had a to do a one-mile run at school. I have horrid memories of running one mile for academic fitness tests and I usually did anything and everything to get out of them. My oldest girlie (11) feels the same way. But there was something about that one mile and running that my youngest (9) really enjoyed.

She ran it at school in just over 11 minutes. When we talked about it later, I mentioned how running is sport you can compete against yourself in, and she was into it. A summer goal became improving that one-mile time. We got her a great pair of running shoes and started to hit the track two to three times a week.

Then came this Saturday; a community in our area had a Whale of Run. Skylar and I got up early and drove the 45 minutes to sign up and run; a really different experience without being on a track and running along side all those other runner.

Skylar and her proud Mama pre-race.

We were sort of left in the dust as most took off a bit too fast. Of course they started to hit a wall a quarter mile in or so, but we kept on our pace. A pesky side ache slowed us down a bit but we pushed on. Skylar was determine and I tried to keep her motivated. I think she really enjoyed the fact that about half-way along, we started passing other runners.

It was hard to tell how our pace was comparing to our typical runs. Skylar had so far improved her time by quite a bit. Her best time, 10:28. So as we rounded the corner and could spot the finish we pushed a bit more. Then the clock came into view, and we could see a 9! A 9. Could we possible get our time under 10 minutes?

We made our final push to the finish and I believe we crossed that line right about 9:55. What an amazing improvement. And, So. Much. Fun.

Skylar after the race. She now says her favorite number is 186.

I was (and still am) a proud Mama. And even if she didn't say it, I know Skylar was proud of herself. And she's looking forward to another run in the future. She even said, maybe next year we can run the four mile. Amazing.

Now, I'm not a runner. I may be a fitness-loving freak. But I'm a gym rat. But let me tell you, I will run to the ends of the Earth with that kids. Pure joy. Chokes me up a bit.

It seems like there are so many questions that can be asked about character from this experience, so feel free to come up with one that might work best for your character's situations, but I'll ask this one:

What is one activity your character finds common interest in with an adult (parent, mentor, family member)? (Could certainly be positive or negative.)

Monday Moment #127: a writing prompt for your work-in-progress

(If you’ve already read this then skip past all the italicized blah-di-blah and start writing.) Monday Moments are writing prompts for your work-in-progress. They are questions that come from my experiences and are my favorite way to find out more about my characters. I find I learn a lot. Some of it I use. Some of it I don’t. But I always, always get to know my characters better just by answering the question. I hope you do too.)

Home again, home again, jiggity jig!

We've made it home from our big MT road trip, after a very long day on the road yesterday. But man...re-entry is painful. So much to do. So. Much. To. Do.

There are so many reasons why one (or at least me) would prefer to still be vacationing: the chores of everyday life, playing catch-up, and since I'm returning to the Seattle area...missing the summer sunshine! (Come on, Seattle. It's summer already.)

That said, there's almost always a reason to LOVE returning home. For me: my bed. Ah...I slept so well last night. I'm already looking forward to visiting it again tonight.

When your character leaves home, what about returning makes them the most happy?

Monday Moment #126: a writing prompt for your work-in-progress

(If you’ve already read this then skip past all the italicized blah-di-blah and start writing.) Monday Moments are writing prompts for your work-in-progress. They are questions that come from my experiences and are my favorite way to find out more about my characters. I find I learn a lot. Some of it I use. Some of it I don’t. But I always, always get to know my characters better just by answering the question. I hope you do too.)

Holy Big Sky Bungle. I thought TODAY was Monday. I'm so off my game. Well, hopefully I can get pass as I'm on the road and yesterday was my 13th wedding anniversary. Ahhh!

I'm blogging live from what my husband has dubbed Grammapalooza. Although, he doesn't have it quite right since it's more like a Grandparentpalooza, but the former sounds better. It's also been affectionately called The Silver Hair Tour.

We are currently trekking through the Big Sky state, visiting our six lovely grandparents (yes...SIX). I will say we are blessed to have so many of them still in our lives. They are all in three different cities in Montana, so we are driving a big triangle under this great big sky. First Missoula then Great Falls finally ending up in Livingston where we'll celebrate my grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary. Double Ahhh!

So, I won't stay here long, but share a few things we've done and seen. One grandma visited, kissed, and loved on. A full day at the Splash Montana, where no sunscreen was enough to keep our Seattle skin from getting pink. Some sweet fawns relaxing and chasing and nursing (vigorously). An ice cream cone from the famous Big Dipper Ice Cream, but the licking had to be brisk in this heat. So far, nothing but delight.

One mention of something I found funny: As I drove into Montana there was suddenly big splatters on my windshield, sounding just like rain beginning to fall as it often does in the Seattle area. I had to tell myself, that's not rain and ask (in my own mind), What is that? It was very BIG bugs reaching an unfortunate state of splat on my windshield. Ha!

Has your main character ever taken a road trip? If so where, why, and what kind of different and wonderful experiences did they have?

SCBWI Team Blog Exclusive Interview: Laurie Halse Anderson

SCBWI couldn't have called on a better writer to cap off this summer's conference experience, as they'll bring Laurie Halse Anderson to the stage to deliver the final keynote and send conference-goers on their way to tackle creative endeavors.

That said, before we get any further, if you have any wish, desire, inkling, etc. to go to the summer conference, the time to register is NOW. For the first time in SCBWI history, they will be closing registrations. Go HERE to register. Registration will close on Monday, July 18th and no part-time or walk-in registrations will be allowed.

But let's get back to Laurie. Laurie Halse Anderson is the award-winning and best-selling author of many books for children of all ages, including SPEAK and CHAINS (both National Book Award finalists).

It's a real treat to welcome Laurie Halse Anderson here to Cuppa Jolie.

One of your Facebook status updates last week said, “Laurie has been writing all week and is very happy about that.” With a very busy life and schedule, how do you ensure you get the writing time you need? And, can I take a guess that perhaps this will be a bit of what you’ll discuss during your conference break-out (The Nuts and Bolts of Crafting a Creative Life:Finding Lost Time and Reclaiming Creativity)?

It has become a little easier to make writing time now that our youngest has flown the nest. However, as our kids (all four of them) were starting to drive themselves to soccer practice and not require homework help, we became responsible for our elderly parents. And - to my shock and horror - I've found that being a published author actually takes time away from writing, instead of magically creating more hours in the day. I have developed a few Highly Secret Methods over the years, though, enough to have helped me carve out the time to write 27 books in the last 18 years. I'm looking forward to sharing them with everyone!

How has your writing life changed, if at all, since you’ve been in your lovely writing cottage?

The cottage is heaven on earth because I can relax there, free from the nagging worry I might be interrupted. It is also lovely to be able to look around the space and NOT see undone household tasks like laundry that needs to be put away or tumbleweeds of dog hair. But the absolute best aspect of it? That would have to be a tie between the beauty of the space and the the luxury of solitude. While I love traveling and meeting readers and fellow writers, the truth is that I am deeply introverted. Spending time around other people drains all the creativity and ink from my soul. The solitude of my cottage in the woods helps refill it.

(See video of Laurie's writing cottage below.)

You’ve experienced the bumpy ride of having your books challenged. How do you continue to write without fear, or have the challenges only created a fire in you when it comes to story and honesty?

The first couple of dozen times my books were challenged, I took it very personally. I bawled like a baby and wasted untold days paralyzed by the thought that anyone would think I'd ever seek to harm a child.

Then I got over myself.

Book challenges say very little about the book being targeted (or the author!) and rather a lot about the people bringing the challenge. Our intellectual freedoms are worth standing up and fighting for. I'm happy to plunge into battle when the trumpets sound!

You’ll be sending conference-goers on their way, following your closing keynote. Can you give us a little taste of your talk: Daring the Universe?

Here's a sneak peek of my keynote:
1. Life is short.
2. Death is guaranteed.
3. Given Point 1 and Point 2, you have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain by embracing your creativity every day!

A huge thank you to you, Laurie.

For the rest of you, those already registered I'm certain you're looking forward to the big event beginning August 5. Everyone else...hurry, hurry, hurry so you can join us too. But, if you can't be with us in LA, SCBWI Team Blog has you covered as we'll be be blogging live from the conference floor.

Monday Moment #125: a writing prompt for your work-in-progress

(If you’ve already read this then skip past all the italicized blah-di-blah and start writing.) Monday Moments are writing prompts for your work-in-progress. They are questions that come from my experiences and are my favorite way to find out more about my characters. I find I learn a lot. Some of it I use. Some of it I don’t. But I always, always get to know my characters better just by answering the question. I hope you do too.)

Last Monday, the 4th, blew up on me! Not in a bad way. But in a busy Fourth of July way. Hope your day was as fun as mine. I was hoping to at least type a, See ya next week message. But I couldn't even get that much done.

Being with friends (ones that are like family) on the Fourth got me to thinking about nicknames--especially nicknames for family members. I don't think there is a family anywhere where every person goes by their traditional title: Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Uncle, etc. Somewhere along the line a nickname comes along and it usually happens in a very organic way.  (In my experience, a forced nickname never works.)

In our family's case, I have dear girlfriends that have been Aunties to my girls since Day One. That said, when my oldest was barely two, instead of calling my friend Auntie Roz, she became Uncle Roz (I think because she had been around uncles more than aunties). On top of that, Uncle Roz had a handsome boyfriend (who later became her husband). His name: Gabe. So when our oldest spoke of them, they became Uncle Roz and Uncle Babe, which was too cute.

The girls with Uncle Babe
On another family note, one of our youngest's first words was Sis, and she's called her big sister that ever since. When she was young if she was asked, "What's your sister's name?" her answer was, "Sis." And still today, to hear her say he sister's given name doesn't even sound right. She will forever call her Sis (and she's the ONLY one who does).

And, now about personal nicknames? I had a couple: Squirt and JD (both were my dad's nicknames for me). As for shortening my name, I didn't like it (still don't). I never wanted anyone to call me Jo. The only person who ever did, or ever I ever let, call me Jo was my little brother.

What nicknames are in your character's family and how did they come about? Does your character have any nicknames?