Archive for the ‘Interview’ Category

The very first person I met through SCBWI was Barbara Lowell. She epitomizes the spirit of our SCBWI Oklahoma group – open and generous and willing to help anyone who asks. I am so grateful that she was the first to make a permanent impression on me. We met at one of the fall conferences, my first ever to attend. How lucky was I that she also soon became one of my very first critique partners, as well? I’m happy to say that she is still my critique partner to this day. We’ve both learned so much from when we started out as newbie writers, making typical mistakes and writing awful stories. Our whole group has grown and we have all come a long way from those stumbling beginnings. Barbara has fantastic suggestions that help me take my stories in much better directions, and even though she swears she could never write something so long herself, I’m not so sure she couldn’t if that’s where her passion led her. Fortunately for us, she loves writing dynamic and intriguing picture book biographies. I adore Barbara’s writing and have felt it a privilege to be a part of so many of her great stories. I’m so happy that the first of these has finally found its way to publication.

GEORGE FERRIS WHAT A WHEEL
Grosset & Dunlap. June 26, 2014.

 

George Ferris Book

 

George Ferris, ever confident, didn’t know that the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair would make him famous, but when engineers were challenged to build something unique and original, he knew he was the person to create it. George had to convince the fair officials, find the money and design and build an amusement wheel that could hold 2,160 people at the same time, something no one had ever done before.

 The Interview

 

Barbara was kind enough to stop by my blog to answer a few questions about her writing process and how she came to be the writer she is today. And she’s also donated not one, but two of her books for a fantastic giveaway! (I told you she was generous.) More details on that later. First, the questions!

Barbara Author PhotoValerie Lawson: What was the inspiration for this story? What made you want to tell it?

Barbara Lowell: My husband was reading Devil in the White City by Erik Larson about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. What amazed him most was that George Ferris had built an amusement wheel with train-sized cars that could hold 2,160 people at the same time.

As soon as he finished the book, I read it. Those two details and George’s confidence that despite overwhelming odds, he could and would build his wheel inspired me to write his story as a nonfiction picture book.

I also loved how Mrs. Ferris absolutely believed in George. She rode in one of the six cars mounted on the wheel for a second trial trip. The glass for the windows hadn’t been installed. When the car she was riding in reached the top of the wheel, 264 feet, she stood on her chair and cheered.

 

VL: I loved those details about the story. What devotion his wife had to test such a contraption. Mrs. Ferris must have been quite a character herself.

I was surprised by the sheer size of this first Ferris Wheel – so big that each car could hold a 40-piece marching band. Would you ever ride in a Ferris Wheel that big?

BL: I might try the new High Roller in Las Vegas. It is twice the height of George Ferris’s wheel, but holds 1,120 passengers verses George Ferris’s 2,160. 

 

VL: A book of this type requires an extensive amount of research. What is your writing process? How do you start a project like this?

BL: I love history, especially American history and researching is fun. There are many interesting stories to find that are not well-known. I try to research the person or story I am writing about as thoroughly as I can. Since I learned about George Ferris’s wheel in Devil in the White City, I first looked at Erik Larson’s sources. His sources that I couldn’t find in the Tulsa library system, I either found at the University of Tulsa or bought online.

One that I consulted over and over is Norman Anderson’s impeccably researched book Ferris Wheels. I researched the sources used for every book I read and dug deeper and deeper. I was able to find at the NOAA website that the lowest recorded temperature in Chicago in January 1893 was -16. I look for as many primary sources as I can – books written by and interviews conducted with the subject of my book, original documents and artifacts. I found an interview with George Ferris from 1893 – that was a great find. When I was unable to locate the answer to a question I had about George Ferris, I contacted the Chicago Historical Society.

 

VL: That is very diligent researching. It must have been amazing to read George Ferris’s own words and then incorporate that into your story.

Who were your childhood heroes and role models? What drew you to them?

BL: From the time I was in third grade, I loved reading biographies, especially about people I could learn from. My favorite autobiography was Helen Keller’s The Story of My Life. I read many books about Eleanor Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt. All three subjects faced enormous challenges with great courage. I still read lots of biographies and nonfiction history.

 

VL: I have such a strong memory of learning about Helen Keller, too. I thought she was amazing. 

When did you know you wanted to be a writer? When did you start pursuing that seriously?

BL: I knew when I was a child that I wanted to be a writer, but I never tried seriously to become one until my daughter started high school. I thought, now I have the time to work on this and it maybe now or never.

I tried on my own, but I was going nowhere until the wonderful Oklahoma writer, Anna Myers started the SCBWI Oklahoma Schmoozes (writers and illustrators meetings.) I attended the meetings and conferences, took online classes and joined a critique group. I began to learn how to write for children and continue every day to learn and improve. This is a tough business and the support of my fellow writers has given me the strength to pursue my writing goals.

 

VL: You are so right! The need for support cannot be emphasized enough. I may have given up long ago if not for my SCBWI family.

Tell me about the most memorable adventures you had with your friends outside of school.

BL: I loved the summer. I lived in a neighborhood with lots of children. We spent our summers dreaming up adventures and then acted them out. A friend’s father helped build sets for a local theater group and one day he brought home a full-size Conestoga wagon. We had a great time traveling out west in our imaginations. One summer we set up our own outdoor laundry and went around the neighborhood asking for things to wash. We played all kinds of outdoor games. There was so much to do that every day seemed to last forever. I loved being a kid and that’s why I like writing for them.

 

VL: Wow! A real Conestoga wagon? You kids must have had a field day with that. I think I would have wanted to camp out in it. Maybe sleep under the stars like a cowboy. I loved being a kid, too. I think you may have something there. 

What are you currently working on?

BL: I finished researching a picture book biography, and I am working on the first draft. I have also recently worked on the first picture book I ever wrote and have rewritten it, not just revised it, for about the sixth time. I think I have finally made it work – but I have thought that before. I also have a new idea for a picture book biography and will start my research by reading the subject’s autobiography. I hope I can find a great story arc there.

 

VL: I can’t wait to take a peek at it. :)

What are some of your favorite books for kids?

BL: I think I can agree with almost every fan of YA – The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I also love his book An Abundance of Katherines. I recently read Kathi Appelt’s latest middle grade novel The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp and her book The Underneath is one of my favorites. Karen Cushman, Laurie Halse Anderson and Anna Myers write some of my favorite historical fiction novels.

My favorite book period is To Kill a Mockingbird. I have a huge collection of picture book biographies and historical fiction picture books. My two favorites are Deborah Hopkinson’s Apples to Oregon and Patrick McDonnell’s Me…Jane (Jane Goodall.) I think his is the best picture book biography written. I also like all of Barbara Kerley’s biographies and one of my new favorites is On a Beam of Light (Albert Einstein) by Jennifer Berne.

 

VL: There were some favorites of mine there and some new ones I need to read. Great suggestions.

What has been the best part of being a writer?

BL: Becoming friends with children’s writers. I absolutely love spending time with them and being part of this close community.

Thank you for inviting me to your blog!

Thank you so much for being here, Barbara. And I hope to have you back very soon!

Learn more about Barbara Lowell here.

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The Giveaway

 

And now for the fabulous giveaway!

Barbara has generously donated two hardback editions of her new book GEORGE FERRIS WHAT A WHEEL. So there will be TWO WINNERS! This contest is open to everyone. The contest will run through July 18th and you can enter once a day. Good Luck! The winners can now been seen when you click on the giveaway site. Congratulations!

 

ENTER HERE!!!  ➤➤➤ Barbara Lowell Rafflecopter giveaway

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I met Hannah Harrison a few years ago at one of our local SCBWI OK conferences. I was immediately struck by her open, friendly demeanor and her amazing artistic talent. Also by the fact that she had a head of hair even curlier than mine. Hannah won the Illustrator’s Best Portfolio award that year and the next. Still, she remained grounded and humble and just as sweet as ever. As some of you may remember, Hannah gave the keynote speech at this fall’s Agent Day Conference where she told us all about her journey to publication, culminating in a two-book deal with Dial Books. 

Hannah’s first book coming out is EXTRAORDINARY JANE, releasing this February. We’re all so very proud and excited for her.

Extraordinary Jane cover

For anyone with a beloved pet, this delightful and heartwarming story set at the circus shows that quiet qualities like friendship, kindness, and loyalty are important and worthy.

Jane is an ordinary dog in an extraordinary circus. She isn’t strong, graceful, or brave like her family. When she tries to be those things, Jane just doesn’t feel like herself, but she also doesn’t feel special. Is she really meant for this kind of life? Her Ringmaster thinks so, but not for the reasons Jane believes. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Hannah was gracious enough to stop by for an interview, going into even more detail about her work and her life.

Valerie Lawson: I loved reading in your bio how your kindergarten teacher recognized your obvious artistic talent and put you in “Special Art” with the fifth graders. How huge an impact did that teacher make on you and in helping to develop your craft?

Hannah Harrison: So huge! Marlene Witham just made me feel so, well…special! She made me feel like everything I created was really something to behold—whether it be paint, or clay, or dry macaroni. It was so kind of her to have such confidence in me—to single me out the way that she did. Here I was, just a frizzy-haired pip-squeak in hand-me-down clothes, and she noticed me, and believed in me, and made me feel like my talent was unique. So, yes, her impact on my life was huge.

VL: She was bound to single you out when you drew yourself in profile when asked to draw a self-portrait. What Kindergartner does that? Incredible!

Smoking Bunnies

Bunny Smoking Pipe (Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall) by Hannah Harrison 1.25″ x 1.25″ acrylic on museum board. This won Best in Show 2013, awarded by the Cider Painters of America

Your miniature paintings just fascinate me – some as small as one inch by one inch! How did you get into this “small” world of miniature painting? 

HH: Well, I realized that it would probably be a good idea for an aspiring children’s book illustrator to know how to paint children. So I started doing little paintings from old photographs of me as a kid. Since they were just studies, I painted them small (I figured it’d be faster). I thought they turned out kind of snazzy, so I hung a few of them up in the artist co-op that I was a part of as an example for commissions. One of the other artists in the co-op, Irene Goddu, was a miniaturist, and when she saw my tiny portraits, she invited me to join The Cider Painters of America. Before this, I didn’t realize that miniature painting was something people did! There’s a niche for that? Turns out, there’s a pretty big niche with miniature painting societies all over the world. There’s even a World Federation of Miniaturists! Who knew?! So now I’m a Signature Member of The Cider Painters of America and The Hilliard Society, and I feel pretty fancy.

VL: They are really incredible – so much detail for such small works.

HH: Aw, thanks! What is it Bob Ross used to say? Three hairs and some air? It’s kind of like that.

VL: The number of paintings you have of animals far outweigh those of humans and yet the animal pictures tend to have human characteristics, wear clothing, etc. Are you more comfortable with animals or are they just more fun to draw?

HH: I love painting animals and people. But for illustration, I think I am more comfortable with animals—it’s easier for me to paint them from my imagination. People are hard to get just right (painting flesh tones is tricky business, and it’s hard to keep continuity of character), but with animals, as long as they’re good and fuzzy, and have soulful eyes, they’ll at least be endearing (I hope). A badly painted person? Not so cute. Sometimes creepy. Plus I love animals for picture books because 1) they can get into whatever kinds of shenanigans you want them to without too much regard for personal safety or rules or parents, 2) any kid, regardless of race, can relate to and identify with animals. I will also confess that as a kid, I often enjoyed dressing my pet cats up in doll clothes (I was an only child, leave me alone). The cats were not amused. I, however, thought it was stinkin’ hilarious. I still think animals in clothes are funny.

Kitty Victoria by Hannah Harrison, image from artist's website.

Kitty Victoria by Hannah Harrison

VL: Ah, those are excellent points. It’s really important for kids to be able to identify and connect with the characters. (I also can’t imagine someone wrestling a tempermental cat into a costume. That would take special talent, or little concern for danger.)

HH: Ha! It helps to use the element of surprise!

VL: Your paintings are so detailed and yet you are also such a prolific painter, your website has pages and pages of exquisite paintings posted in the gallery, how long does it take you to complete each piece?

HH: Thanks, Valerie! It’s hard to say how long it takes to complete a piece—they all vary so much. But I will say that the plethora of paintings on my website are a result of 10+ years of portfolio building in an attempt to break into the business combined with artwork created for various exhibitions. Show deadlines have a way of bringing the prolific-ness out of you! And being a “starving artist” doesn’t hurt, either.

VL: Ah ha ha! Yes, I agree. Hunger can be quite a motivator.

As a young kid, what was the worst trouble you ever got into? And what was your punishment?

HH: On the whole, I think I was a pretty good kid. My mouth, on the other hand, liked to get me into trouble. And when it did, into the corner I’d go! We spent a lot of quality time together, me, my mouth, and The Corner.

But I do remember this one thing….

Royal Pig Hannah Harrison

Royal Pig by Hannah Harrison

It was winter in New Hampshire, and me and the little boy that lived across the street (let’s call him Ishmael), were in my back yard playing and shoveling snow. We were probably about seven or eight. Anyway, I had this kid-size shovel—probably about three feet long—and the blade was made out of blue metal. Anyway, I got it in my head that Ishmael would be impressed if I got a big shovel full of snow and hurled it over my shoulder—you know, show off my big Popeye muscles. So I got a big shovel full of snow, hurled it over my shoulder, and… THUNK, nailed poor Ish (who was standing right behind me) square in the eyebrow with the metal blade. Oops. Well, if Ishmael was impressed by my super-human strength, he didn’t take the time to say so. He was too busy crying and running back to his house across the street. I knew I was in for it. I had been showing off, and I might have even killed Ishmael. Forget the The Corner—that was kid stuff. Surely the dreaded spoon was more befitting. But I didn’t get the corner or the spoon. No. My punishment was much, much worse. My mother marched me through the snow over to Ishmael’s house and made me…APOLOGIZE! Apologize? The horror! By this point, I was crying pretty good myself. But I did manage to stutter out a snot-filled apology. And, despite his scar and my wounded pride, Ishmael and I were able to stay friends.

VL: Is it wrong that I find that story hilarious? I can relate to poor Ishmael, though. My brother once thought it would be a great idea to throw a shovel up in the air. I caught it with my forehead.

HH: Oh nooo! I’m glad you lived to tell the tale.

VL: What did you want to be when you were in grade school? What influenced this choice?

HH: Oh, man. I have always wanted to be a children’s book writer and illustrator! I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love to draw. As a kid, I would spend hours on the living room floor sketching out the stories from my Little Thinker Tapes (do you remember those?). And then, when I was in second and third grade, I won the Young Author Book Awards, and got to represent my elementary school at a statewide conference. I was able to hear real-life authors speak about making books, and I was hooked. I knew that was what I wanted to do when I grew up. I couldn’t think of anything better!

VL: When did you know you wanted to be a writer/or to pursue the career you chose? When did you start pursuing that seriously?

Black Cat in Ridiculous Green Hat by Hannah Harrison, image from author's website.

Black Cat in Ridiculous Green Hat by Hannah Harrison

HH: Like I said, I’ve always known I wanted to do this, and so I’ve been taking baby steps towards the dream for pretty much my whole life. I always took art classes in school. And whenever there wasn’t an art class that fit my schedule, my teachers let me make art classes that fit my schedule. I took private art lessons, too. I majored in art, and minored in creative writing at Colby College. I created an independent study in children’s book writing, and did an internship with Kevin Hawkes. As a Senior Scholar, I explored the connection between writing and painting. After graduation, I worked for a sign company and in an art gallery, I painted theatre sets, and worked in an elementary school—all jobs that, to me, related back to the ultimate dream of doing books. But I guess you could say that I really got serious in 2002, when I joined SCBWI. That’s when I realized just how much work I still had cut out for me if I ever wanted to get published. Who knew there was so much to learn about the craft and the industry!? Who knew it was going to be so competitive?! Who knew it was going to be so…hard? I pursued children’s books seriously(ish) for 10 years before I got my first offer on a book.

VL: It’s amazing that people think writing books for children is easy, isn’t it?

Were you ever afraid of the dark, of anything under your bed or in your closet?

HH: Yes, yes, and YES! That’s why I always remained under the covers up to my nose, and never, ever, let an appendage drift too close to the edge of the bed. Ever. And if I had absolutely no choice but use the bathroom in the middle of the night, I leapt like a gazelle from said bed in order to completely clear the grabbing zone. And then I scampered. I scampered like my little life depended on it. Because it did.

VL: Ha ha! I would do the same thing. One of the drawbacks to having a very active imagination is that you can visualize monsters right into being.

Did you ever have a clubhouse or secret place of your own? What did you do there?

HH: Yes! My dad built me the most amazing treehouse in our back yard. It had stairs, a wrap-around porch, a skylight, a dutch door, windows with shutters, gingerbread trim, and carpeting…it sounds a lot nicer than the house I live in now, actually. Did I mention my dad’s the best? My friends and I had a lot of macaroni and cheese lunches up there. And I do remember my cousin and I camping out up there one night…until our imaginations got the best of us (see above), and my dad pretended to be a bear. It was also my favorite place to practice my flute. I’m guessing it was my parent’s favorite place for me to practice my flute, too (not so sure about the neighbors).

Top Hat Terrier

Top Hat Terrier by Hannah Harrison

What was the scariest thing that you ever experienced as a kid?

HH: I was once attacked by a bear in my tree house.

VL: Yikes! I hope the bear was your dad.

What was the worst job you ever had while going to school?

HH: The summer I spent in a factory packaging up heat-sinks was pretty awesome.

VL: Did your friends ever come by while you were working and embarrass you?

HH: Nope. Strangely enough, no one wanted to spend their summer afternoons hanging out in the dark, windowless, unconditioned, heat-sink factory. But fortunately, the three older ladies I worked with took care of the embarrassment factor by giving me the nickname “Sasquatch”. Apparently, the work boots at the end of my skinny little legs were quite becoming.

VL: Oh, what an unfortunate nickname!

HH: Tell me about it.

VL: What are you currently working on?

HH: I’m currently working on raising our four year old daughter. I am also working on the illustrations for my second book with Dial, Bernice gets Carried Away.

VL: How exciting! I can’t wait to see it.

What would be your dream assignment/what would you most like to write about?

HH: Hmmm. I’m not really sure! Maybe something with a koala bear in it? Oooh! Or a duck-billed platypus? They’re kind of adorable. See, it’s dilemmas like these that remind me just how much I LOVE MY JOB!

VL: We’re so very glad that you do! I sense there will be plenty more books from you coming our way. Thank you for being here, Hannah. I look forward to seeing your work in print very soon!

HH: It’s been my pleasure! Thanks so much for having me, Valerie!

Learn more about Hannah Harrison and see more of her artwork on her website here.

EXTRAORDINARY JANE is now available for preorders. Click on any of the retailer logos below to order your copy, today.

Extraordianry Jane art

Pub date – Feb 6, 2014 by Dial

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sonia-gensler-225I first met Sonia Gensler at a SCBWI LA Summer Conference dinner for all the people attending from our state. It was a banner year for Oklahoma with more than ten people crowded around the table. I had the good fortune of sitting near Sonia and her husband. I remember having a delightful time getting to know the two of them. At one point, there may or may not have been a discussion about the extreme hotness of Edward Norton in The Illusionist and a few other notable sexy nerd-types. Thus, a writer friendship nicely cemented, we saw each other over the years at local conferences. Soon Sonia was a guest speaker at our own SCBWI Oklahoma Fall conference with the exciting announcement of her first two-book deal. We were all so excited for her.

Sonia is a lovely writer who embraces things on the eerie end of the literary spectrum. Gothic architecture, haunted pasts, dead bodies, and restless spirits. You’ll find it all in her first dark mystery, The Revenant, set in a Cherokee Female Seminary in Indian Territory. The rich setting and fully developed, fabulously flawed characters were easy to fall in love with. As for the spooky elements, I did indeed get goosebumps. It reminded me of reading Agatha Christie novels as a young girl, under the covers, way past lights out because I had to know how the mystery ended.

Sonia’s latest book, The Dark Between, set in Cambridge, England, shows just as much promise for a delightfully spine-tingling read. And I just love the cover.

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Kate is a schemer,
Asher is a skeptic,
Elsie is a dreamer . . . who can speak with the dead.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Spiritualism and séances are all the rage—even in the scholarly town of Cambridge, England. While mediums dupe the grief-stricken, a group of local fringe scientists seeks to bridge the gap to the spirit world by investigating the dark corners of the human mind.

Each running from a shadowed past, Kate, Asher, and Elsie take refuge within the walls of Summerfield College. But their peace is soon shattered by the discovery of a dead body nearby. Is this the work of a flesh-and-blood villain, or is something otherworldly at play? This unlikely trio must illuminate what the scientists have not, and open a window to secrets taken to the grave—or risk joining the spirit world themselves.

The Dark Between, a supernatural romance about the powers that lie in the shadows of the mind, is perfect for fans of Sarah Rees Brennan, Alyxandra Harvey, and Libba Bray. (Plot summary from Sonia’s website.)

Following the success of her first book and on the eve of her second book’s release, I asked Sonia if she’d spare some time away from her hectic schedule (and from summering overseas in England – so jealous!) for an interview. Gracious as always, she agreed.

Valerie Lawson: Tell us about your latest book, The Dark Between, what inspired this story?

Sonia Gensler: The Dark Between is a paranormal murder mystery set in 1901 Cambridge, England. I was first inspired to write the story when I was researching The Revenant and happened across Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life after Death, an engaging look at a group of 19th century scholars and scientists who investigated paranormal phenomena. I found these men and women fascinating, but couldn’t help wondering what their teenaged children might have thought of it all. So I wrote a story about that!

VL: That does sound right up your alley. And I can only assume your delightful summer surroundings inspired the setting. England always seems a bit spookier to me. Great choice.

You just filmed the book trailer for The Dark Between right there in Cambridge, how was that experience?

SG: Stressful! Time-consuming. The actual trailer for the book is a 1 minute intro with text and images — that’s pretty much finished and I’m quite happy with it. What we filmed was a “behind the scenes” look at the town and university, and we were fortunate to have a Cambridge student helping us with historical context and the local perspective. At this point, it’s a matter of cutting all the material down. So difficult.

VL: Excellent! I can’t wait to see the finished trailer.

We have to talk about your affinity for watching television, how are you handling the withdrawal while across the pond?

SG: Strangely enough, we don’t have time to watch much TV, though we do see plays and concerts while we’re here. We’ve watched a few BBC shows on my computer. (The White Queen is entertaining — it comes to the US on STARZ soon.)

VL: Ahh! Plays, concerts! Don’t forget the circus. That does sound better than television.

What did you want to be when you were in grade school? What influenced this choice?

SG: I’m pretty sure I wanted to work with animals. I was fascinated by Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, who worked with chimpanzees and gorillas respectively. In grade school I probably would have said I wanted to go into primatology or zoology. My, how things change!

VL:  That is surprising. I wouldn’t have guessed chimps. Maybe a cat wrangler.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer/or to pursue the career you chose? When did you start pursuing that seriously?

SG: My high school students truly were the ones who inspired me to pursue a career in writing. Some of them were so committed and fearless that they challenged me to up my game. I finished my first novel (the one that will forever hide in a drawer) while I was teaching. Soon after that my husband encouraged me to take a year or two off to see if I could actually get something published. From the time I finished that first story to the publication of my first novel was probably about 5 years.

VL: That is so great! I love that your students inspired you. I can only imagine how inspiring you must be to them now.

Were you ever afraid of the dark, of anything under your bed or in your closet?

SG: I was ALWAYS afraid of the dark, and I was quite certain that scary things lurked under the bed or in the closet. I lost a lot of sleep over this and at times got so scared that I curled up under the covers at the foot of the bed in hopes that any monsters would think the bed was unmade and empty. The next morning my mom would lift the covers and find me drenched in sweat and gasping for air. She thought I was weird, but I preferred to smother under the covers rather than be eaten by a monster.

VL: I can definitely see where a seed may have been planted for stories to grow.

What are you currently working on?

SG: Right now I’m working on a middle grade contemporary story in which a group of kids are filming a ghost movie. It’s been a pleasure to take a break from historicals and to write for younger readers.

VL: A new writing challenge. Nice. Way to keep upping the game for yourself.

What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?

SG: Splendours and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz was the perfect book for me — I loved the Victorian Gothic setting, the magic and mystery of the plot, and most of all, the unique and sympathetic characters. It was such a joy to read!

VL: Thank you so much, Sonia, for sharing your time with us here, today. Enjoy the rest of your English summer and good luck with your book release! I, for one, can’t wait.

The Dark Between, arrives on August 27th. Preorder your copy, today!

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Learn more about Sonia Gensler here.

Follow Sonia on Twitter here.

Follow Sonia on Tumblr here.

tara hudsonTara Hudson, author of the spooky Hereafter trilogy, was the honored guest and speaker at our Tulsa schmooze anniversary dinner earlier this month. She discussed her writing journey and spoke frankly about the realities of publishing and what happens after you get a book deal. She began by telling us all about her childhood reading habits – mostly magical and paranormal books by Christopher Pike and R.L. Stein – and how these books later influenced her writing. She said a good tip for any aspiring author when picking their genre is to pay attention to the books you devoured as a kid.

“There’s a reason you picked those books. You’ll spend a lot of time with your stories, so you have to love the world you’re writing about.”

Tara went through many ups and downs with writing during her college years, bouncing from being a science

Tara speaking at the Tulsa Schmooze

Tara speaking at the Tulsa Schmooze

major to a writing major, then finally settling on the law. “I fall in love with something, then panic and move on to something else.” She almost did this with her first novel, instead she pursued in further.

While working as a lawyer at an unsatisfying job, Tara began tinkering with an old short story she’d written in college about a girl walking through an old Texas town who doesn’t realize that she’s dead. Tara was inspired to write this story when she drove through a small, creepy town and she really wanted to capture the memory down on the page. This was the first time an experience, an idea, had compelled her to write, to record it on paper before it vanished into the ether.

So she started writing her first book, one chapter at a time. She shared each one with some co-workers, friends who begged her for the next chapter. She thought at the time, “I can write a second chapter – not a fifth, maybe, but I can write a second”. She wrote this way, with a growing list of readers – her first beta readers, she later realized – until the book was finished. She left her job shortly afterwards and began the long, arduous editing process. The result was Hereafter.

Tara then began researching agents. As a lawyer, she said it is great to have an agent: “Those contracts are slippery little minnows.” She said she was so excited about getting published that they could’ve asked for the blood of her first born and she would’ve said, “That sounds reasonable”.

After 38 rejections, she changed her approach and soon caught the interest of Catherine Drayton from Inkwell Management. When she finally got the call, Catherine told her that after chapter nine, it was crap. She wouldn’t represent her. She said it “needs more ominous and sense of community”. Revise and resubmit. Tara went through a few days of just being angry. That direction was too vague to of any real help, but then she realized Catherine was right; she started revising.

Luck finally fell on Tara’s side. A few days after her initial rejection, Catherine called her back. Harper Teen was putting together a book tour and they needed one story set in a rural location. Tara’s book fit the bill. Catherine asked if she could pitch it, although it still needed work and there was no promise of representation. Tara agreed and Harper Teen bought her book eight days later.

“You’ll be put through a rigorous writing schedule after a book deal.” Once you’re signed up, you’re expected to have ideas for what to write next. You’ll have to write up synopses and submit them right away.

Tara and SCBWI gang 2

Tara with some of the SCBWI OK gang

During her querying process, Tara had returned to work full time and had learned that she was pregnant. To keep her health coverage, she had to continue working full time. On top of that, she now had three months to revise book one and then write a draft of book two.

She wrote book two during her maternity leave. “That’s why it’s the best and so dark”.

The Hereafter trilogy begins when Amelia Ashley, a ghost just awakening to her spiritual consciousness, saves a living boy when he almost drowns in her river – the same river she drowned in twenty years earlier.   The trilogy continuing with Arise follows the tale of their haunted love to an intense conclusion in Elegy, the final book of the series.

The final book, Elegy was just released this month. I raced through the first book and cannot wait to read the rest of the series. Here’s hereafter-200the plot summary for Hereafter, the first book, from the author’s website:

Drifting in the dark waters of a mysterious river, the only thing Amelia knows for sure is that she’s dead. With no recollection of her past life—or her actual death—she’s trapped alone in a nightmarish existence. All of this changes when she tries to rescue a boy, Joshua, from drowning in her river. As a ghost, she can do nothing but will him to live. Yet in an unforgettable moment of connection, she helps him survive.

Amelia and Joshua grow ever closer as they begin to uncover the strange circumstances of her death and the secrets of the dark river that held her captive for so long. But even while they struggle to keep their bond hidden from the living world, a frightening spirit named Eli is doing everything in his power to destroy their newfound happiness and drag Amelia back into the ghost world . . . forever.

Tara’s website has lots of extra goodies for fans of her Hereafter series. There are pictures from different settings, including the town of Wilburton, Oklahoma, the setting for the first book, and playlists of songs that inspired Tara while she wrote the books. There are also spine-tingling book trailers that make you want to pick up each book right away.

To learn more about Tara Hudson and the Hereafter trilogy, visit her website here.

Follow Tara on Twitter here.

JerryWelcome back to Part Two, the Question & Answer portion of our interview with illustrator and exotic beard cultivator, Jerry Bennett. (To catch up with the goodies you missed in Part One, click here.)

Valerie Lawson: Thanks for stopping by on your busy schedule, Jerry. Welcome back from the New Orleans Comic Con. I hope you enjoyed your time in The Big Easy.

Let’s get right to the questions, shall we?  You’ve recently been appointed to the position of Oklahoma SCBWI Regional Illustrator Coordinator; tell us about the role you play in Oklahoma SCBWI. How do you see that changing?

Jerry Bennett: That’s a good question, as I am still trying to get a feel for the position, since Oklahoma’s never had one before. It’s a tough pair of shoes to fill when the few and gifted group of illustrators we have are spread out across the state. My ultimate goal would be create a united group of Oklahoma illustrators that are able to encourage and fellowship together in our like-minded goals. I have a feeling the best way will be to do that through social media, so I’m in the process of building the best forms of internet communication for the illustrators to share what they are doing, and can help critique and promote each other’s work to strengthen and enable them to be the very best at what they do…I’m in the process of getting some events going that can be done for little expense and can yield valuable time of camaraderie and skill-building. One will be a sketchcrawl, where the artists will meet, whether it be a zoo, a mall or other scenic spot, and draw on location for skill-building, for reference researching or simply for fun. It can be a great chance to get to know the other illustrators and critique and encourage one another.

VL: That’s fantastic. Even though the full title of SCBWI is Society of Book Writers and Illustrators the focus seems to have been more on Dr Who Steampunkedwriters than illustrators in the past. Since you’ve become involved, there have already been exciting opportunities for illustrators at our annual spring conferences, including working with an art director on an art piece prior to the conference, just like one would for a book project. The feedback on that one in particular had to be amazing. How many novices get that kind of interaction? You’ve really helped to energize the illustrator portion of our group. I really look forward to seeing what great things you bring next.

Let’s go back to the beginning of your illustrious career. When did you know you wanted to be an illustrator? When did you start pursuing that seriously?

JB: I’ve always loved to draw. Always. It was in eighth grade, after trying to impress a girl by drawing a portrait of her, and all the gushing from everyone who saw it, made me realize that I could possibly do this as a career. [After the girl saw and loved the portrait, I chanced a request to a school dance with her. She said no.]

VL: I love getting to know someone better by probing into their childhood for embarrassing stories – what can I say, my father was a therapist and I have issues. So, here they come:

Thinking back to your childhood heroes /role models when you were a kid, who were they? What drew you to them? What powers/abilities did they have that you wished you could have? Do you still feel that way about them now?

JB: I see what you did there; ‘Drew’ you to them? :)

I was very heavy into knowing who made all my favorite movies. I was ‘drawn’ to the process of animation and special effects for the Star Wars movies as far back as elementary school! The power to bring anything, any creature, any ship, to life astounded me.

VL: What did you want to be when you were in grade school? What influenced this choice?

JB: I wanted to be a comic book artist! (All this time and nothing has changed!) Star Wars and Marvel Comics was my main source of influence. Still is.

Jerry Spidey

Jerry’s Favorite Hero

VL: Are you saying you haven’t grown up, yet? Never mind.

 As a young kid, what was the worst trouble you ever got into? And what was your punishment?

JB: Me? I never got into trouble. :)

The worst I can think of was when my brother and I decided to spray graffiti with graphite on our neighbor’s wall. Our mom caught us, and told to clean it up and go next door to apologize. (We pretended we apologized, and quickly cleaned it up!)

VL: Even when you were getting into trouble you were drawing. Nice.

Were you ever afraid of the dark, of anything under your bed or in your closet?

JB: I think I was, but I also remember waking up under the bed often, so was I afraid of myself?

VL: Bah ha ha! Maybe you were battling monsters in your sleep.

 Tell me about your most memorable adventure you had with your friends outside of school.

JB: When I was with my high school choir in Hawaii, my best friend was having issues with his girlfriend, and he wanted me to fix things with her, and had locked me on our seventh floor balcony until I promised I’d help. I would do no such thing, and climbed over to the next balcony and escaped. Yes, that was crazy and dumb. I was able to enjoy the rest of the trip after that, when he realized I wanted nothing to do with their problems.

Splatter BatVL: Hawaii??!!! I don’t know what kind of budget your school had, but my only band trips were to…oh, wait, I quit band in my sophomore year. Man, I hope they didn’t go to Hawaii. Maybe I should have joined the choir. And that was some crazy spidey stunt climbing over the balcony, if I say so myself. Crazy. Peter Parker wold have been proud.

Did you ever have a clubhouse or secret place of your own? What did you do there?

JB: My brother and I made forts out of our beds with blankets. Does that count? (Yes, it does!)

VL: Oh! Love blanket forts! Definitely counts.

VL: Did you ever have to deal with a bully? How did you handle it?

JB: Ugh. I remember when I rode the bus, two kids wanted to look at my Swatch, and I was naive enough to show them. They never gave it back, as they got off the bus and pretended they didn’t have it. When I pressed, one got in my face, while the other got behind me on his knees to trip me as I was pushed over. Days passed as I fantasized what I wanted to do, but eventually resigned that my Swatch was gone, and I went on with life, thinking that they will end up in prison one day while I lived a better life than them.

VL: Wow, that was pretty was a pretty mature attitude. I probably would have made an ineffective voodoo doll or something.

Tell me about the most interesting place you have ever lived. What did you like/hate most about it?

JB: I was born and raised in Oklahoma City, and at the time, found nothing interesting about living here. It may be why I

OKC Gazette Cover - OKC Thunder Avenger Style

Oklahoma City Gazette Cover – OKC Thunder Avenger Style

drew and played video games all the time: to get away from such a boring world I lived in. But now I can look with grown up eyes at all the awesomeness we have here now. The culture, the diversity, the friendliness that is a trademark for Okies.

VL: What was the worst job you ever had while going to school? Did your friends ever come by while you were working and embarrass you?

JB: In high school, I worked at Foleys (which is now Macys) as a sales associate, and I loved it! Friends did come by, but it was never embarrassing, though I was glad they never came by when I worked in handbags. I had always worked in the men’s and young men’s departments, then soon started working in all these women’s departments, housewares, and Godiva. I think they thought I was gay and better suited to work in ladies’ clothing. I didn’t mind it one bit. :)

VL: Ha! I can so see you selling the heck out of some ladies’ clothing. Best way to meet girls, too.

What is the most embarrassing thing one of your friends ever did to you?

JB: I remember in sixth grade, while stuttering and getting the nerve up to ask a girl to be my girlfriend, my brother, who was waiting impatiently to walk home with me, piped up and asked her if she wanted to be my girlfriend. She politely refused, citing she already had a boyfriend.

VL: Who was your childhood best friend? Are you still friends today?

JB: Honestly, I think my brother was my best friend. He was killed in a plane crash over 17 years ago now. It was understandably difficult.

VL: Very understandably. He must have been a great guy.

What would be your dream illustrating assignment?

Star Wars Tee Design

Star Wars Tee Design

JB: I’ve always wanted to draw a Spider-Man or Superman story, but now I’d throw in a Star Wars story into that mix, since Star Wars is a huge comic book property now, too! It would be amazing if I was approached by Scholastic to do a graphic novel series based on the Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins!

VL: Oh! Gregor the Overlander, that would be very cool as a graphic novel.

What has been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?

JB: I have really enjoyed the graphic novels of Doug TenNapel. I’ve discovered and read several this year, with Cardboard being my favorite, but they all have such heart, humor and action, all packed in very well flowing panels. Check ‘em out!

VL: Speaking of graphic novels, what are you currently working on?

JB: I’m multi-tasking, creating a sci-fi comic book, Nadir’s Zenith, creating several tee designs, selling prints of my work at comic book conventions, and deciding if I want to do another picture book for a local author. Something I’m very excited about is I’m writing, or more accurately, learning to write a graphic novel I will illustrate.

VL: I hear that you and your lovely wife are working on writing every week. If you’re putting in the work, then you ARE writing it! I am really looking forward to the graphic novel, Jerry. It sounds exciting. Thanks so much for taking the time to stop by!

Check out more of Jerry’s artwork here.

Become a fan of Jerry’s on Facebook here.

If you are ever anywhere near Jerry Bennett’s vicinity, you will know it when you hear his boisterous and unmistakable laughter. His is a personality that fills up a room and yet graciously makes plenty of space for others to share in his bright light. Jerry is the Regional Illustrator Coordinator for Oklahoma SCBWI and recently he did a fantastic presentation for our Tulsa group where he walked us through the illustration process of a picture book manuscript. One lucky soul had her words chosen at random for Jerry to bring to life right before our eyes as he talked with us about his process and his history of being an illustrator. I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t write a story while telling others how I write a story.

That’s talent.

He should be talented; he started drawing at the age of two and never stopped. His dad worked at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City while he was growing up so some up his very first drawing were of airplanes. Then came Star Wars. He knew right away that would be a life-long obsession. As he is a part of the JediOKC, an Oklahoma City Star Wars fan club that does some awesome charity things, I guess you can say that was an accurate prediction. Other things influenced his art in his youth – Transformers, Spiderman, Garfield (really? Okay, he’s a fuzzy cat person). Then came a seminal moment when he realized that he might actually make art a career.

It all started with a girl.

It was eighth grade and he was shy. So, how to get her to notice him? By drawing, of course. He drew her portrait and everyone who saw it thought it was great. That gave him the confidence to ask her out.

Yes!

She turned him down.

No!

His first rejection. He took it in stride and thought about how he might actually be able to make money with his art. He was on his way to becoming an artist. He developed an even tougher skin in art school where he learned to accept critiques of his work weekly. Meanwhile he had begun working on t-shirt designs during high school, something he is still doing to this day. His top seller, the Star Wars/Ghostbusters mash-up “It’s a Trap” has sold over 3,300 shirts. Marvel even licensed him.

More recently, he’s done some illustrations for a self-published series of books, The Pirate Bride and its sequel, The Lost Crew. He has also done the illustrations for the comic series Nadir’s Zenith.

We were ecstatic that Jerry was going to share his talents with us.

He began by reading the text aloud.

The first step is to read the story.

Here is all he had to go on:

Two hippos sailed a sky blue boat.

Jack wondered how they stayed afloat.

They only had one ruby oar,

Which made it hard to get to shore.”

(Thanks to Linda Mai for allowing me to share her text.)

You have to understand the plot, the characters, and the details before you can begin to illustrate. Jerry reads through the story several times. He’ll read it aloud with different inflections, using different voices – some funny or silly – to get a range of ideas. He said just as readers get images in their head when they read a novel, so do artists, yet artists are able to translate those images into illustrations.

One thing Jerry mentioned that made the inner editor in me cringe a bit was the reminder that if you’ve received the manuscript from a publisher, you won’t have much say in changing the text. You are stuck with the words you are given. Your job as the illustrator is how to best interpret the words and how to make the biggest impact on the story with images. You have to remember that in the author/illustrator partnership, you have two completely different artists, two owners sharing the same creation, yet working independently of each other.

As an illustrator of picture books, you should always be looking for ways to enhance the story. In the example that Jerry chose, there were hippos in a boat with only one oar. He decided Jack was the observer of the story and the illustration should focus on the hippos. He also thought that it would be funnier if the size of the oar and the boat were exaggerated compared to the hippos to make their predicament seem more outrageous. Nothing in the text said anything about what type of boat or how big it was – that was left up to him, so he took advantage of it to add something visually enticing for the reader.

The second step is to create a thumbnail layout.

For picture books, this is usually a layout of thirty-two pages of quick and simple sketches, just to place things. This can be in any format that works for you – a simple sheet of paper with thirty-two boxes marked out, a mock dummy with pages, etc. Jerry now does this digitally on his Wacom tablet. This purpose of the thumbnail sketching is to figure out the best possible way for the story to look. All aspect of the text is included as well as the imagery.

The third step is creating the individual pages of art for the initial layout.

When drawing free hand, he starts with the lightest sketching. Normally at home his work starts out on his Wacom tablet, then he moves it over to a pro tools program. His workstation is set up in an easel so he can draw naturally. Jerry usually listens to music, often movie soundtracks, while he is creating. The amount of time it takes him to complete a project can vary. For a comic, it takes him about a month while working eight to ten hours a day.

The fourth step is to send layouts to the editor.

If any changes need to be made, the editor will send it back with notes. He will rework it before the final layout. This step can be repeated as needed, just like with novel revisions.

Until at last everyone is happy with the end result.

Not bad for less than sixty minutes while giving a presentation, eh?

Stay tuned  for PART TWO, the Q & A with Jerry!

For most writers, the hardest part is getting to “The End”. Finishing a first draft can be daunting, but once accomplished, you feel like you can take on the world. You’ve managed to write a beginning, a middle, and an END!!! Congratulations! Have some cake! Then when you wake up the next day, remnants of your celebratory cake still stuck to your face after you crashed out on your couch from the massive sugar rush, you realize that the hard work is just starting; this is where the creative struggle really begins. The revision process can make or break your manuscript and one of the best teachers on how to get the most out of your novel revision is Darcy Pattison.

“Revisions are the messy route toward powerful stories.” from Darcy’s Novel Revision Workbook

I first met Darcy many years ago when she taught a novel revision retreat for our Oklahoma SCBWI group. She wasted no time. She told us that she didn’t care how we wrote our first draft – whether we were serious plotters or pantsters didn’t matter. The issue of “What is the story?” was no longer important. Our new focus should be, “What is the most dramatic way to tell this story?”

She never told any of us how we should change our stories, instead she gave us strategies and techniques for revision to tell our stories our way, from completing a detailed novel inventory worksheet, which gave us an overview of what was really in our drafts, to exploring the obligatory scene, to character epiphanies and, my personal favorite, the section on sensory detail; how using the senses can really anchor a scene. I still use many of the things I learned from Darcy to this day.

Darcy not only teaches other writers how to be better writers, she is a well accomplished writer herself. She has ten children’s books published,  as well as several instructive books on writing. In Darcy’s latest picture book, Desert Baths, she brings her aptitude for teaching together with her creative talent for storytelling. Children curious about animals living in the American Southwest can learn about the diverse species presented through their unusual bath time rituals. From the scaled quail who scrubs herself with ants to the western banded gecko who uses his long tongue to lick his eyeballs clean to the nocturnal mud-bathing activities of the javelina, all twelve animals make do without much water and none use soap.

Darcy has paired up again with illustrator Kathleen Rietz, whom she worked with on a previous nature picture book, Prairie Storms. The illustrations are gorgeous and compliment the lilting text that lead you through the desert landscape and leave you wanting to know more. This book can be used as a jumping off point to delve deeper into the world of desert animals. An extensive teaching guide can be found on the publisher’s website.

Here’s a really cute book trailer for Desert Baths with children acting out different animals bathing rituals:

I asked Ms. Pattison if she would be willing to be interviewed for her new book release and she graciously agreed.

Valerie Lawson: Darcy, I wanted to say, that reading your book, Desert Baths, brought back a memory of when I was a kid and I asked my mother – when she obviously wasn’t paying attention – if I could go take a bath out in the rain. I was curious about how people bathed before indoor showers. As someone who’s always been curious about the hows and whys of the world, I really enjoyed your book.

Now, on to the questions!

As a young kid, what was the worst trouble you ever got into? And what was your punishment?

Darcy Pattison: I got caught eating pieces of candy from a candy box that was meant for a Mother’s Day present. I had to set up a shop and sell— beg —my siblings to buy pieces of candy at the exorbitant price of 10¢ a piece. I had to use all the money I had saved from my allowance, plus what I could make selling that candy and buy a new box. Talk about humiliation in front of your family—I was totally mortified.

VL: How awful! I believe I did something similar when I was in Bluebirds. We were supposed to be selling boxes of chocolates; I had all of these boxes of chocolate in my bedroom. What was a seven year-old to do but open them and start eating? I didn’t stay in Bluebirds very long. I know I was punished for that, but I blocked that part out of my head.

VL: Tell me about your most memorable adventure you had with your friends outside of school.

DP: I lived in the mountain of New Mexico, just a mile from the Continental Divide. You may think of it as a long continuous line, but it’s really a series of ridges, often skipping a section of the ranges at a time. Ours was a small mountain that was loosely connected into the range. Once, my brothers dared my sister and I to go with them and climb the Divide. You could actually start at one end of “our Divide” and walk up a fairly gentle slope to the top. But this time, the challenge was to climb straight up. Memory is fuzzy—it must have been a couple hundred feet to the top. I remember reaching for the next finger and toe-holds and toiling hard, and working for hours and hours. I made it to within ten feet of the top, but the last bit was truly straight up. I couldn’t do it. It’s something I regret to this day, that I couldn’t finish the last bit of the climb.

VL: Isn’t that interesting that some of our most vivid memories are of failures rather than successes? Maybe you’ll make it back there someday and conquer that mountain.

On to one of my favorite questions, what was the scariest thing that you ever experienced as a kid?

DP: When I was 8 or 9, our dogs got rabies and they ran around and around and around the house, baying and barking, while we clung to window panes and watched and begged Mom to explain, “What’s wrong with them? How long will they do that? What’s wrong with them?”

It was the sounds that were the scariest: the barks, the whines, the feet racing around the house, the whimpers. The barks that wouldn’t quit.

Finally, my oldest brother had to go out with the shotgun and put them out of their misery. Even that was scary, because he had to avoid getting bit while trying to corner them. It was a sad, scary day.

VL: Oh! That’s not only frightening, but so sad.

VL: On to something a little more uplifting, what did you want to be when you were in grade school? What influenced this choice?

DP: An astronaut, of course. Every kid in the 60s/70s wanted to be an astronaut, it was the time of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. But then, someone told me that if you wore glasses or had ever had a broken arm, you would never qualify to be an astronaut. I had to give up my dream, since I wore glasses and my right wrist had been broken when I was ten. After that, I couldn’t decide on anything else, so I drifted until I found writing.

VL: Ah! How many of us drifted until we found writing? When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

DP: I was interested in sixth grade, when I read Lord of the Rings. I wondered what it would be like to be on the other side of reading, to be a writer. But I didn’t do anything about it till I was grown and had three children of my own and started reading the best of children’s literature again.

VL: Tolkein is quite an inspiration for a sixth-grader! When did you start pursuing your writing seriously?

DP: During nine months of 1985, my husband was unemployed. I was a stay-at-home Mom, who was homeschooling the oldest of our girls. But I had a Masters degree. I did a lot of fill-in work that year, but when a new job came through for my husband, we were still committed to having me stay home with the kids. But I thought that with this Masters degree, surely there was something else I could do while at home, some way to make money to fill in during lean times. I started writing—and never looked back.

VL: And we are so very glad that you did. Thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us, today. It has been a pleasure getting to know more about you.

If you would like to learn more about Darcy Pattison, visit her website –  Fiction Notes. There you will find an excellent resource of information on novel revision as well as a plethora of other writing topics.

And for one lucky reader, I have a signed copy of Desert Baths to give away. To enter to win, leave a comment. You can tweet about this interview or mention it on Facebook for an additional entry. Let me know how you got the word out so I can give you the extra credit – don’t you just love extra credit? I’ll determine the winner by a lucky roll of the twenty-sided die (or dice, depending on how many entries I receive) one week from this posting.