This is the blog of children's book author and elementary school teacher, Stacy Barnett Mozer. I blog about my own writing journey, the journey of other kidlit authors, my classroom, and talk about books. Thanks for stopping by. Your thoughts are always welcome (and encouraged).

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Brighting Our World: Books that Promote Love and Kindness

It's been a very dark autumn, and not just because of the days getting shorter. The news seems to be filled with stories that promote hate. Raising middle graders in a world where it is okay to give speeches and make social media comments that would make people uncomfortable in a polite conversation can be challenging. Here are two books from other challenging time periods your middle grader can read to see love in action.

In Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmdt, the main character Doug is growing up in America during the time of the Vietnam War. Doug moves to a new town and is immediately stereotyped as a "bad boy" based on his poor family and long hair. When his brother is accused of robbing some of the local stores, people's attitudes towards him get even worse. But Doug's good nature shines through and as people get to know the real Doug, the reader witnesses kindness in action. Told from the first person point of view of Doug, Okay for Now can help a middle grader understand that age old phrase, "You can't judge a book by its cover."

In The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine, the main character Marlee has to challenge the racist feelings of others and decide to take action. Set in 1958, before desegregation, Marlee finds out that her best friend has been posing as white when she is really black. Marlee decides that skin doesn't matter and works to make sure that she keeps her friendship, even when others would use violence to prevent it. Told from Marless's point of view, this book shows how even a shy young girl can stand up for others.

Do you have a favorite book that promotes kindness? Please share your recommendation in the comments.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

#nErDcampLI 2015

If you love books and teaching, then you have to find your local Nerd Camp. I found mine on Long Island on November 7.

Even though my school had run an edcamp and I followed the tweets of #nErDcampMI over the summer, I still wasn't quite sure what to expect when I walked in the door. I certainly wasn't expecting a huge hug from #nErDcampLI's coordinator, JoEllen McCarthy. JoEllen and the other organizers directed me to an empty board with spots for workshops waiting to be filled. And like magic, it was loaded with interesting and exciting topics taught by both educators and rock star authors.

Since I was there as both an educator and a rock star author, I was persuaded to run a workshop of my own.

The organizers, JoEllen, Alison McDermott, and Kristen Picone, welcomed us all to the event and explained how the day would work. Then they sent us off to our first session.

A handful of educators came to my session on using notice, wonder, and think to explore character traits. They were very understanding when I only had enough material to cover a half an hour. But that is the beauty of this event, you learn with your feet! So as soon as the room emptied out, a new group of educators walked in and I presented all over again. As part of my presentation I shared the draft of my Teacher's Guide which has a strong focus on character analysis. You can download the guide for free here

After going to a wonderful session on POV given by author Victoria Coe, I sat with many of the other rock star authors to answer questions about becoming a teacher-writer. There was so much talent in the room and the teachers asked great questions.

The day ended with a book signing. Teacher attendees were encouraged to invite their classes to meet the authors and I loved meeting so many wonderful educators and adorable children. 

It was a great day and I loved being there as both an educator and author. I met some amazing teachers, like Dahiana Romero, who is currently getting her masters in education. 

I also spent time with many rock star authors such as Victoria Coe, Corey Rosen Schwartz, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Josh Funk, Carol Ekster, Paul Czajak, Chris Grabenstein, and Christine Leronimo. You can see a complete list of the author attendees here.

Victoria Coe

Corey Rosen Schwartz

It was an amazing day. I can't wait until they do it again!

For more information on #nErDcampLI, visit their website or follow their hashtag on Twitter. And don't forget to look for a #nErDcamp or #Edcamp in your area.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Sweet Spot Interview with the Hawk Eye News

To prepare students for meeting me at their upcoming book fair, Carmel Academy Hawk Eye News interviewed me about my book. I thought this eighth grade news reporter did a great job. Let her know what you thought in the comments.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Fanatical About the Mets

One of the questions I get most often about my book, The Sweet Spot, is why I decided to write a book about a girl who plays baseball. The answer is not in the sport my main character chooses to play, but in the team that dominates many of my pages, the NY Mets.

When I was little I was always trying to find ways to spend time with my dad. So when he invited me to come to Mets games with him and a friend, I jumped at the chance. I don't know if we went once or a bunch of times, but I remember being there with my dad, eating hot dogs and cracker jacks. Rooting for the Mets.

With my dad at a game at Shea Stadium

In 1983, my dad got it into his head that he could design the best Mets banner and win banner day. The dining room was set up as our workshop. Glitter and paint went everywhere. In the end, we didn't win. But my dad, my sister, and I walked on the field at Shea Stadium with that banner. It couldn't get better than that. But it did.

1986, came around and the Mets could do no wrong. I was in middle school a die hard fan. We watched each game in anticipation of greatness. Everything revolved around the Mets. I even auditioned for my middle school kick line to the "Let's Go Mets Go" theme song (I didn't get chosen for the line but I don't think it was because they objected to my song choice). The Mets were my team, our team, and they won!

And then they didn't. For years they would get close but it took until 2000, before they had another chance at the title and it was taken by the Yankees. In 2007, and 2008, they completely fell apart after starting strong, causing even my dad to loose faith for a few years (he may have even rooted for the Cubs). But I never gave up hope that another 1986, would come and when I wrote my book it was only natural that my main character would be a huge fan of the Mets as well.

We have not been disappointed this year and my dad came back to the Mets as well. Sharing the experience with him and my own family, my son at the age I was in 1986, has made it even more special. Even if they don't win, I will never stop being a die hard Mets fan.

Stacy Mozer with The Sweet Spot in front of Citi Field.

#LGM 2015!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Goodreads Giveaway!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Sweet Spot by Stacy Barnett Mozer

The Sweet Spot

by Stacy Barnett Mozer

Giveaway ends November 04, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Interview with the author AND the illustrator of Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows, Liza Gardner Walsh and Hazel Mitchell

Today I'm joined by Liza Gardner Walsh and Hazel Mitchell, the author and the illustrator of a wonderful new picture book Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows. 

Liza Gardner Walsh has worked as a children’s librarian, pre-school teacher, high-school English teacher, writing tutor, museum educator, and she holds an MFA in writing from Vermont College. She lives with her family in Camden, Maine. 

Award-winning illustrator of more than a dozen books, Hazel Mitchell grew up in England, where she attended art college and served in the Royal Navy before moving to the states in 2000. She lives in Detroit, Maine. 

Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows is an adorable book. Liza, how did you come up with the idea?
Liza: First, thank you so much for the kind words and for interviewing us! The idea came to me on a walk where I was actually trudging about in the snow. I found a perfect little tree hollow and thought what a good fairy house it would make.  But then I wondered if the fairies hung around in the winter or if they took a long nap or headed south. The questions kept coming and I felt like it might just be a story. It helped that I was teaching preschool at the time and probably heard about three hundred questions a day! 

Hazel, I love your fairies. How did you decide how they would look?
Hazel: This was pretty easy! I was at a book festival a few years ago and Liza and I were at adjacent tables. I had some postcards on my table and one of those was a picture of a flying fairy and her little bunny friend! Liza fell in love with it. (It's almost the very same image that is now on the cover of the book, with some clothing adjustments). Liza mentioned she was writing a picture book about fairies (she'd already published a couple of non-fiction books about fairies and fairy houses), and would I be interested in illustrating it? You bet! I'd always loved the little sample drawing I'd done of flying fairies and now they'd found a home. Which just goes to show, always draw what's in your heart, because you never know where it'll find a home. Or fairy home in this case.

I know that many authors and illustrators do not meet during this process. Some do not even talk. What was your relationship in creating this book?
Liza: When it was decided that Hazel would illustrate the book, I was over the moon.  I had complete trust that she was going to get it and when I saw the first proofs, I knew it was going to be great.

Hazel: It really was a serendipitous meeting at that book festival! When Down East approached me saying Liza had suggested me to illustrate her book it was like illustrating for a friend. But I had free rein to create the drawings. Liza saw them at sketch stage and loved them. Really, this was a very easy book to illustrate and a lot of fun! Now the book is almost with us, and because we live quite close together in Maine, Liza and I are able to do quite a lot of marketing and promotional stuff together and that's going to be a lot of fun! Who doesn't love little, cute fairies?

Tell us about your journeys. How did you get your first book contracts?
Liza: My first book was The Fairy House Handbook. I heard through some friends that the publisher was looking for an author to write a book about fairy houses. I “auditioned” for the role and was very fortunate to get it. 

Hazel: Pretty much my first contracts came to me from mailing out postcards to publishers. I built a list from CWIM, SCBWI and other places and mailed out regularly, about 500 postcards. Other things that really helped were having an online presence, a website for editors and art directors to go and see and attending as many conferences as I could afford. 

Was there ever a point when you felt like giving up?
Liza: I don’t think I could give this up if I tried. I am hooked but I do have a non-fiction picture book that I have been working on for three years. Sometimes I wonder if I should give it up but I am in love with the idea and despite my hundreds of drafts, I trust the right shape will emerge someday. It is not the easiest career but it is the only thing I have ever really wanted to do.

Hazel: Yes. Usually when I'm dog-tired on a deadline. So that still happens! But when you are working on a book, you are working with a team of people (the author, the editor, art director and all the other people who will help make the book a success), so that keeps you going too! But mostly I just have too many ideas that won't let me give up.

Is there anything about being a published author and a published illustrator that has surprised you?
Liza: I am always surprised when I see the book in person after so many months of writing, editing, and designing.  And there is also the surprising fact that books don’t write themselves and you really have to sit down in your chair or else nothing happens!

Hazel: That this is a game of waiting. You are always waiting for something. So learn to be patient. The nicest surprise is when someone loves what you do. That makes all the waiting worth it.

Liza, any advice you would give to a picture book author just starting out?
Liza: It’s the old cliche, but read in your genre. Reading a gazillion children’s books as a former children’s librarian was the absolute best training for my writing. Not only did it give me a good ear, but I was able to gauge how kids respond to certain styles and subjects. My other advice is to do the things that scare you a little. Reach out to your favorite writers, write something that is a stretch for you, read your work in front of people you don’t well. I find my best writing has come when I am a little at sea and not too comfy. 

Hazel, any advice you would give to a new illustrator?
Draw, read, draw, read, draw, read, draw, read, draw, read, draw. Respect your health. Draw, read. Laugh. Draw, read. Meet other illustrators. Draw, read. READ.

Thank you so much for joining me here today Liza and Hazel. To learn more about Liza, visit her website. To learn more about Hazel, visit her website. You can find out more about Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows by joining the book's Facebook page.

Get your own copy of Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows at B&N or at Indiebound or win it here with a winter fairy kit by leaving a comment on this post. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Interview with YA Author Amy K. Nichols

Today it is my pleasure to interview Amy K. Nichols. Amy holds a master’s in literature and studied medieval paleography before switching her focus to writing fiction. She is mentored by award-winning novelist James Sallis. Insatiably curious, Amy dabbles in art, studies karate, and has a long list of things to do before she dies. She lives with her family on the edge of the desert outside Phoenix, AZ. In the evenings, she enjoys counting bats and naming stars. Sometimes she names the bats.

When did you decide to become an author?
Like many authors, this is something I’ve dreamed of doing since I was very young. Early on, my parents instilled in me a love for reading and books. I wrote stories when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade. My mom still has some of them. However, as I got older, my dream of being an author was dampened by the advice to choose a practical career and my fear of rejection. So, while I continued to write for myself, I got a master’s in literature (because I loved books) and then foundered through a number of odd jobs (tech writer, political aide, graphics and web designer). All the while, I whined to my husband about wanting to be an author. Finally, in 2004, I took the leap by participating in the 3-Day Novel Contest, an international writing contest where participants write a “novel” (novella, really) over Labor Day weekend. It was an intense three days, unlike anything I’d ever done before. Monday, nearing midnight and the end of the contest, I wrote, “The End” and I sat at my kitchen table and cried. A couple of months later I found out I’d won third place. I took that as a sign and I haven’t stopped since.

Tell us about your journey. How did you get your first book published?
Even though I started writing with the goal of publication in 2004, I didn’t have a finished, publishable manuscript until somewhere around 2010. I spent the years in between learning as much about writing as I could by going to conferences, workshops and classes. I also joined a writing group (The Parking Lot Confessional - http://parkinglotconfessional.com). Another member of the group and I had both been revising our novels for a long time and realized we could stay on the revisions hamster wheel forever if we let ourselves. So in the fall of 2011 we made a pact that by spring 2012 we’d be querying agents, and we kept each other accountable to that timeline. I started querying in April 2012, signed with my agent in August, and sold the novel to Knopf in November. Hooray for deadlines and accountability!

Did you always know that you would write a sequel to Now That You’re Here?
I didn’t, and it’s a pretty cool story that way the sequel came about. I wrote Now That You’re Here as a standalone, then we pitched it to publishers as a trilogy all set in the same universe. My editor came back with a different idea: two books with the second book set in the parallel world mentioned in the first book. When she shared this idea with me I about fell off my chair. I thought it was a brilliant idea. Still do. 

I noticed that for each of your books you include a playlist on your website. Can you tell us more about this? 
Music plays a big part in my writing process. Back when I started taking writing seriously, I had two small children at home. My husband has always been very supportive, watching the kids while I write, but I found that I had to drown them out completely or I’d get distracted. So headphones and music started out a necessity and became part of my process. What I usually do is find a song that matches the mood of the scene or chapter I’m working on, and I play it on repeat while I write. By about the third play through, the song becomes white noise while the mood and tone sink into my subconscious and inform what I’m writing. I create playlists as I go. When the novel is done, they become a kind of road map through the story, which is kind of cool. I shared them on my site in hopes they might offer readers another insight into the books. 

Was there ever a point when you felt like giving up?
Yes! Like, every other day. Writing is a crazy gig. One day you’re up, the next you’re down. You spend a lot of time alone, caught up in your thoughts. Some people take you seriously, others don’t. There’s rejection to deal with. Negative reviews. There have been many points along my journey where I doubted I was cut out for this business. But I’m wired to write stories. It’s how I think. Back in 2004 when I made the decision to pursue writing was when I started becoming who I’m supposed to be. So I keep going. 

Is there anything about being a published author that has surprised you?
There’s a scene in While You Were Gone where Eevee returns to her room after an event that pushed her way outside her comfort zone. She flips on the light and sees that her room is just as she left it, and she says, “Nothing has changed. Everything has changed.” That’s how I feel about being published. It’s this huge accomplishment. I’m really proud of what I’ve created and I’m excited about my future. At the same time, though, everything is the same. I still drive my kids to school. Still do the dishes. Play with my dogs. Have coffee with friends. There’s a pretty big learning curve when you’re going through publication the first time, and I’m still getting my head around a lot of the business aspects of the job. There are also times when I have to pinch myself and I think, How did I get here? Like Eevee, I stop sometimes, look around, and realize I’ve changed. I’ve stepped way outside my comfort zone and it’s taken me places I never thought I’d go. And that’s pretty cool. 

Any advice you would give to a writer just starting out?
That drive you have to tell stories is a gift. Not everyone has that. And those who do have it don’t have it the same way. The stories you have to tell are unique to you. Unless you write them down, they’ll only exist inside you. The world is poorer if you don’t share them. So honor that drive. Respect it and foster it. Give your stories the chance to live outside of you so others can read them and be richer for them. Respect yourself as a writer and give yourself permission to make time for your stories. Even if it’s only an hour here, fifteen minutes there. Those minutes add up. You and your stories are worth it. 

Is there anything else about you or your books you would like to tell us?
Thank you for inviting me here to talk about writing and my work. And thank you to everyone who’s read the books!

Thank you, Amy, for joining me today. To learn more about Amy and her books visit her online.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Interview with YA Author Nina Mansfield

Happy Birthday to Swimming Alone by Nina Mansfield! Nina is a long time critique partner and I am so excited to share in her publishing success by featuring her interview on this special day. Nina Mansfield is a Greenwich, Connecticut based writer. Her debut novel, Swimming Alone, a YA Mystery, was published by Fire & Ice YA. Her short mystery fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Mysterical-E. She is also a published and internationally produced playwright.

Congratulations on your debut novel! Tell us about your journey.  How did you publish this book?
Thank you! I started writing Swimming Alone over ten years ago when I was in a writing group in NYC. Most of us were playwrights, but I asked if I could bring in some fiction. I had started writing some pages of what I hoped would become a young adult mystery novel. The group really enjoyed the pages I brought in, and that encouraged me to keep writing. But life got in the way, and it took me a long time to finish the first draft. And then I rewrote it many, many times. Eventually, I was able to land an agent, but despite some great feedback, the book did not sell right away. I put it away in a drawer; several years later, I stumbled across the website for Fire & Ice YA, and thought that they might be the perfect publisher for my book.  I was right! They loved the book, and I have loved working with them.

When did you decide to become an author?
I wrote and illustrated my first picture book when I was five.  But I decided to really take my writing seriously about ten years ago. That is the summer I finished writing my first draft of Swimming Alone. Up to that point, I had considered writing a hobby.  

Your book, Swimming Alone, is a mystery. How did you decide when to drop clues? Did you have a plan or did it just come out organically as you were writing?
When I started writing, I had no idea where the book was heading. I just wrote and wrote and eventually I figured out the plot. At that point I started to outline. But my outline kept changing as I continued to write. Once I had a novel-length work, the real work began. The original book was written in the third person and contained a series of flashbacks. I got some great feedback from a friend who suggested that I tell the tale from the beginning (rather than through flashbacks) and focus on the friendship between Cathy and Lauren. During this rewrite, I knew where the book was heading so I was able to weave in the clues, and also a number of red herrings. (Incidentally, I would do one more complete revision to work on the character’s voice.)

How do you plan to celebrate?
There’s an online Book Launch Party on tonigh from 7-10pm (EDT) on Facebook, Twitter and on my blog Not Even Joking. I will also be launching the book at the Byram Shubert Library in Greenwich, CT on September 26, 2015 as part of the Authors Live@Byram series. The event starts at 3pm. Refreshments will be sold, and copies of Swimming Alone will be available for purchase. In addition, I will be making a bunch of cyberspace appearances (like this one!)

You are also a playwright. How do you use that experience when writing novels?
Hmmm… I’m not really sure. I would like to say the writing process is similar for both, but it isn’t. With plays, I usually start with a line of dialogue. I hear my characters speaking the words. When I write fiction, I tend to immerse myself in imagery and the feelings of the characters. I don’t know why some ideas come to me as plays and some as works of fiction. With my plays, I also always try to get a group of actors to read the play aloud to me, and stage a reading in front of an audience. A live audience is really essential for a play. With a novel, there is just the book and the reader. I still rely on feedback, but it is a different kind of feedback.

Was there ever a point when you felt like giving up?
 Oh yes! Many, many times. There were times when I would see a production of one of my plays that did not really work, and I would think of digging a large hole and hiding in it. There were times that I brought work into my critique group, and after receiving some feedback, I would think, “why am I trying to do this?” The process of attempting to get work published and/or produced can also be very disheartening. But every time I was about to give up, the universe would send me a sign that I needed to keep going.

Is there anything about becoming a published author that has surprised you?
I was surprised how much the editing and final proofreading process has taught me about my own writing. I think the experience has helped me to really grow as a writer.

Any advice you would give to a writer just starting out?
Writing is hard work and takes patience. Don’t try to rush things. And don’t become overly attached to any piece of writing. Find a critique group or a beta reader you really trust. Listen to their comments (but always stay true to the story you want to tell). Join a writing organization (like SCBWI or Mystery Writers of America) and meet other writers. And don’t be afraid to put your writing away for a while so that you can look at it with fresh eyes.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you or your books?
I finished writing the first draft of Swimming Alone the summer after my first year teaching high school. I had worked with a lot of students who were not really interested in reading. I wanted to write something that even a reluctant reader would find suspenseful and entertaining. I hope I succeeded!

 I am sure you did! You can learn more about Nina and Swimming Alone by visiting her website and blog. And don’t forget to join her tonight for her Virtual Book Launch.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Interview with Picture Book Author Jodi Moore

This week I have the pleasure of interviewing picture book writer and SCBWI friend, Jodi Moore. Jodi is the award winning author of WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN, WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN AGAIN (both Flashlight Press) and GOOD NEWS NELSON (Story Pie Press). She considers books, along with chocolate, to be one of the main food groups. She writes both picture books and young adult novels, hoping to challenge, nourish and inspire her readers by opening up brand new worlds and encouraging unique ways of thinking. Today she is going to tell us about her journey.

 When did you decide to become an author?
When I was a toddler, my mom worked outside the home. Each night, she would bring home a book for us to share. I quickly learned to associate books with love. The seed was planted! Books helped me to make sense of my own world, and transport me to new ones. I think I started creating stories as soon as I could hold a crayon, drawing them long before written words were an option. But I believe it was having children of my own, and reading to them, that cemented the passion, desire and determination.

Tell us about your journey. How did you get your first book published?
My journey is a bit of a long and winding road. Although I spent most of my childhood and teenage years writing, it was never presented to me as a viable career option. It wasn’t until I started reading to my own boys that I realized how much I missed sharing stories. I began writing picture books. I began submitting. I began getting REJECTIONS. Although some were positive (I actually received a hand-written note from Kent Brown), I only saw the “no”s. They crushed me. I buried my dream and busied myself writing articles for magazines instead.

Despite my own issues with confidence, my husband Larry and I both recognized how important it was to nurture the dreams of our children. Both boys displayed talent and an interest in the arts at an early age, and we cheered them every step of the way. “If it were easy,” we’d assure them, “everyone would do it.” Before we knew it, they were accepting their high school diplomas. Empty nest threatened to hit hard.

“It’s time for you to get back to your passion,” Larry said. “Writing stories for children.”

I shook my head. “It’s too hard to get published.”

“What?” Both boys were incredulous. “Have you been lying to us all these years?”

Busted. They called me out.

Larry issued a challenge. “Hit it hard for the four years the boys are in college,” he said. “Go to conferences, hone your craft, submit your stories. If you aren’t published by the time the boys graduate, we’ll reevaluate the situation.” So I did. And I got rejections. And they stung. But I kept at it. Finally, I took the manuscript for WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN to a conference, where I received two professional and conflicting critiques. (Yes! That happens! This is a very subjective business.) One editor told me I had to make sure the readers knew the dragon was real. The other? She proposed I revise it so readers knew the dragon was imaginary.

Needless to say, I was confused and discouraged. I wanted the readers to decide whether the dragon was real or not. I was beginning to feel it would never happen. I remember thinking, “When I receive my rejection from Flashlight, I guess I’ll have some rewriting to do.” But I didn’t get a rejection. And my brilliant editor, Shari Dash Greenspan, not only saw my vision, she embraced it and took it to another level.

Fast forward four years after Larry’s challenge: Our family celebrated two degrees…and one Dragon. Because one yes is all you need.

Was there ever a point when you felt like giving up?
Of course. The important thing is NOT to. (Hugs from your family and writer buddies help. So does chocolate.)

Is there anything about being a published author that has surprised you?
I think I’m surprised by something everyday! That being said, I think one of the most delightful “gifts” has been finding out how truly inspiring author visits are…for me. I might be the one receiving invitations to share information, guidance and motivation, but the kids are the ones who keep me going…and sometimes bring a tear to my eye. I never imagined I would receive notes like this: (and feel so blessed that I do!)

Oh, and to keep us humble? One thing that seems to surprise everyone: even well established authors still get rejections.

Any advice you would give to a writer just starting out?
Read everything you can. Go to museums. Concerts. Shows. Explore nature. Keep a journal. Then play. Dabble. Draw. Paint. Write. While it’s imperative to learn and refine your craft, it’s just as important to find your unique voice; to celebrate and share your own vision and heart.

Challenge yourself.

Celebrate and enjoy the process.

Create honestly and bravely.

Surround yourself with positive, supportive people - those who share your passion and your compassion. Don’t listen to the “no”-it-alls. Only you can tell your own story. And the world needs to hear it.

My students are always surprised to hear that authors don’t always get to approve their illustrator and some don't even see the pictures until the book releases. What was that process like for you? Did anything surprise you when you saw the illustrations?
What many don’t realize is that illustrators do more than “draw” the author’s words, they tell the other half of the story. That’s why it’s so important for writers to leave room for their artists’ unique imaginations.

In my case, it was my editor who was the go-between, sharing my vision with Howard McWilliam (Dragon’s award-winning amazing illustrator), imparting her own thoughts and then giving him the breadth to work his magic. Specific art notes from me would have only served to restrict him. Howard took my dream – and our Dragon – to heights I never could have imagined!

You now have a sequel! What was hardest part about writing a second book? Will there be more Dragon books to come?
Oh! I hope so! *grins* But writing a sequel has its challenges. It has to stand on its own. It has to echo the flavor, humor and voice of the first one, yet be its own fresh and unique creation. I pitched four ideas for sequels before one stuck.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about you or your writing?
It’s important to note that while writing is a solitary activity, getting published is not. I couldn’t have done any of this without the support of my family, my treasured writer friends and critique buddies, professional groups such as SCBWI, my editors, illustrators, teachers, librarians, bloggers and readers. Please give yourselves all a HUGE hug from me! And a ton of love, hugs and thanks to you, Stacy, for hosting me on this blog!

Thank you so much for being here, Jodi! You can find out more about Jodi and her books on her website

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Interview with author Nora Raleigh Baskin

This week I am thrilled to interview Nora Raleigh Baskin. Nora was one of the first people I met when I started running workshops for NESCBWI. The workshop was called, Speaking from the Heart and as you will see, Nora is a writer who always speaks from the heart. Nora is the author of the middle grade novels Ruby on the Outside (Simon & Schuster), What Every Girl (except me) Knows, Almost Home (Little, Brown and Company), Basketball (or Something Like It), In the Company of Crazies (HarperCollins), and The Truth About My Bat Mitzvah and Runt (Simon & Schuster), as well as the YA novels Subway Love, Surfacing, All We Know Of Love (Candlewick), Anything But Typical, and The Summer Before Boys (Simon & Schuster). She has also published short stories and personal essays in the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine and The Writer. She has taught at the Writers Center in Sleepy Hollow, NY. She holds a BA from SUNY Purchase.

When did you decide to become an author?
Well, I think there is a difference between being an author and being a writer, or wanting to be either. I wanted to be a writer when I was in 6th grade and my Language Arts teacher read my story out loud to the class. It was the first time I felt there was something I could do well enough to get attention for, positive attention. I was at a very, very low and lonely point in my family life, and up until then negative attention was the only kind I knew how to get (and I did it well!) Writing was a way I could express myself, figure out my world, and find my own voice. Thats when I knew I wanted to write. Because it felt good! Choosing to try and dreaming of becoming an author didnt come until I was an adult, married with children.

Tell us about your journey. How did you get your first book published?
Its a long story (I do a whole keynote presentation on the subject, in fact) but briefly- it was a nine year process, beginning with adult short stories ABOUT children that morphed into stories FOR children. I can honestly say things changed when I joined SCBWI and learned how to approach publishing professionally. I joined a critique group and I didnt give up. But at the same time, I didnt keep sending out the same thing I kept writing new work and getting better by doing. And by reading. And then ultimately (and maybe ironically) writing the story I had always wanted to tell since I was in 6th grade!!

Was there ever a point when you felt like giving up?
Well, no I never wanted to give up but I was at the point where I was going to have to get a full time job. I was teaching nursery school and Hebrew school but my kids were older and I needed more security. The summer I applied to SCSU for my teaching degree was the summer my first novel was bought. Needless to say, I didnt go to grad school, however it would be another 10 years before I made any kind of helpful money. And I still teach as often as I can. I still teach Hebrew school.

Is there anything about being a published author that has surprised you?
That I still get rejected. And that it still feels really, really bad.

Any advice you would give to a writer just starting out?
Yes, as I said abovedont write one thing and send it out over and over hoping for the right person. Write something else. And then something else. And then something else. And dont look for trends. Be authentic. True to yourself.

Your latest novel, Ruby on the Outside, is about a girl whose mother is in prison. Why did you decide to write about this topic? Or to put it more broadly, where do you get your ideas?
All of my novels are in one way or another bases on my own storythe loss of my mother. Whether that shows up as a mom in the military (Summer Before Boys) or a mom that abandoned her daughter and lives in Florida (All We Know Of Love) or in prison (Ruby on the Outside) they are all parts of my exploration of my self. Sometimes its obvious and sometimes its more symbolic. The various contemporary backstories(Autism, mandatory drug sentencing, women in war) I get from just living. Keeping my eyes and heart open to what moves me. Things I care about

I have heard you say that each of your novels is about you in some way. How is the story of Ruby on the Outside connected to your real life?
There are so many hidden ways in that book that are bits of my life - more than anyone realizes (except my husband- he saw it all) Some are privatebut it works for me. Everyone needs to find their own process.

Is there anything else you would like to share about you or your books?
I already share too much in my work!  Its all on the pageblood, sweat and tears. Oh, another tipavoid cliches! :)

Thank you so much for doing this interview, Nora. To learn more about Nora and her books visit her online at NoraBaskin.com.