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, 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.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Interview with Picture Book Author Tara Lazar

I am so excited to share this interview with picture book author, Tara Lazar. Tara is the author of Monstore, the soon to be released, I Thought This Was a Bear Book, and she has four more books coming out over the next two years. Tara has inspired my 3rd grade students year after year to write create their own helpful monsters when she has come to my class via Skype. You can see some of their monsters on her website, TaraLazar.com. Not only does Tara write picture books, she also founded PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month), and she’s a member of the Rutgers University Council  on Children’s Literature. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and her two daughters. Today she is going to tell us about her journey.

When did you decide to become an author?
When I was 8 years old and my elementary school librarian, Mrs. Seamus, told me a 12-year-old girl wrote “She Was Nice to Mice.” I thought if she can do it, I can do it, too! It only took me about 30 more years!

Tell us about your journey. How did you get your first book published?

I just kept doing what I loved. I kept writing new stories. 

When I first starting sending manuscripts around, I got nothing but rejections. Something didn't feel quite right. I knew I had the desire and drive, but I hadn't hit upon a winning concept. So I wrote and I wrote. When I finished THE MONSTORE, my critique partner, Corey Rosen Schwartz (THE THREE NINJA PIGS, NINJA RED RIDING HOOD) said, "This is it! This will get published!" 

But I had become so shy about my work. I hadn't sent anything out in a year because I felt what I was producing just wasn't ready. It wasn't good enough. It took another positive reaction from author Jean Reidy (ALL THROUGH MY TOWN, LIGHT UP THE NIGHT) and a referral to Ammi-Joan Paquette (from BOTH of them) to finally seek out an agent. And Joan loved everything I sent her. We clicked immediately.

But it took me two weeks to tell Joan, “yes!” I just couldn't make a decision to go forward with this whole "author" thing. Although I had been waiting for this opportunity for a long time, I wasn't in the best state of mind.

I had recently been diagnosed with MS and I was in a terrible depression. I had been bedridden for weeks. So a month later, when Joan sold the manuscript, I don't recall feeling happy. I was too worried about my health and my future.

Was there ever a point when you felt like giving up?
Yes, at that point, I almost felt like it didn't matter any more. Being an author wasn't as important as being able to walk. Thankfully, with the support of my family, I made it through that dark time. It took about a year to get over my funk and realize that my life was not over. It was just a new chapter. I had to modify the way I did things--and I still do, every day. But I'm happier than I've ever been.

Is there anything about being a published author that has surprised you?
Yes! How tough it continues to be.

I think before you're published, you imagine the first contract is like receiving a golden ticket that will grant you admission from here on in. But no, that's not the way it goes. Selling each subsequent manuscript is like starting all over again. The slate is wiped clean. You're being judged on the manuscript that sits in front of the editor, and that's it. You don't get a free pass if they think your story's “meh.” You get a rejection. 

I continue to get rejections every week. It's part of the job. (The crappy part, but you get used to it. Rejections slide off my back now and I move on. Sometimes I act upon the criticism and sometimes I don't. But I always move onward.)

Any advice you would give to a writer just starting out?
Read, write, attend!

Read many new books in your desired genre. It helps you to understand structure and story. It seeps into your noggin. I read hundreds of picture books before I ever sat down to write one. 

Write as many stories as you can. You will gain skill with each new one. 

Attend as many craft workshops and conferences as you can. Network with other writers. You will learn a lot from friends. 

The children's book community is the friendliest, most welcoming group of professionals. They want you to succeed. Success for you is success for all of us--it means more books in the hands of children. More imaginations inspired. Higher literacy rates. Every book makes a difference. 

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?
It is a popular misconception that authors choose their illustrator. That's always one of the first questions I'm asked, “How did you find your illustrator?”

But think of it this way--an editor falls in love with your manuscripts and buys it because they have a vision. That vision includes a particular style of illustration, and it's their business to know who draws what. Who is quirky? Who is traditional? Who works in watercolor? Who works digitally? Can this illustrator draw humans as well as animals?

With Alyson, my editor for both MONSTORE and BEAR, she came to me and said, "We really like this person. What do you think of their portfolio?" And each time I've been BLOWN AWAY. YES, HIRE JAMES, GET BENJI, YES, YES, YES! (Think the deli scene in "When Harry Met Sally".)

I've also been shown early sketches of the characters for each book and asked for my input. Again, MIND BLOWN. I had no idea how anyone would look, and it's so surprising and fun to see the illustrators' interpretations. It's nothing you can ever imagine, and it's always exciting to see your characters come to life. It's the most fun part of the whole job!

Any big plans for the release of I Thought This Was a Bear Book, coming on August 4th?
Oh, it's so hard with a book coming out in the heat of summer! I'm getting out to a few bookstores to teach kids how to write their own fractured fairytales. One appearance will be while on vacation! Other than that, I will probably have a nice dinner on the 4th.

You have five books coming out between now and 2017. Is it hard to wait? What do you do to pass the time?
Write new stuff! It wouldn't be any fun if there weren't a current submission causing me stress and agita! LOL! 

But there's a lot of other things that come with the “author” title. I'm also the marketing and PR director, book reviewer, blogger, teacher, literacy advocate, and speaker. That's probably not everything. I'm getting tired....LOL....

Is there anything else you would like my readers to know about you and your books?
F-U-N. I write to bring happiness to people. I love to make people laugh. If you and your children enjoy my book together, then I'm thrilled. There's nothing better. My goal with picture books is to instill a life-long love of reading. And that means making my books FUN and FUNNY so you'll want to read them again and again. (And again? PUHLEEZE?)

Thank you so much for doing this interview, Tara. Best of luck for your launch. You can learn more about Tara and her books at TaraLazar.com, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Sweet Spot turns one month old

Saturday is the one month anniversary of THE SWEET SPOT. It has been an amazing first month and it's time to celebrate!

From 8:00 AM Pacific Time on the 11th to the 18th the Kindle copy of the book will be on a countdown sale on Amazon. That means that on the 11th you can get a copy for only $0.99! Each day the price of the book will go up until its back to its list price. A signed paperback copy will also be given away on Goodreads during that week.

You can help celebrate by continuing to review the book and by brining The Sweet Spot with you to any kind of baseball game, professional or local and taking a photo of the book at the game and posting it in the comments here or on my Facebook page. I took my copy with me to see the New York Mets, imagining Sam, there with me cheering on her favorite team.

Thank you to Nina Haberli for posting the first one.

Here are some taken at Citi Field:

And here I am with my copy at Citi Field: