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, 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