Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chatting with Amy Ignatow

This week, I'm so happy to be sharing an interview with Amy Ignatow, whose first book... wait while I take a breath... The Popularity Papers: Research for the Social Improvement and General Betterment of Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang, is out now. But I see that the title is often shortened simply to: The Popularity Papers.


I read Amy's book some time ago and was delighted that she wanted to participate in my summer author-interviewing madness. Enjoy getting to know a little more about Amy!

Q: When you were a child, what did you like to ‘pretend’ most? How much of a role did your imagination play in your life?

A: I was a very, very dreamy kid. Countless frustrated teachers called endless parent/teacher conferences to try to bring me back down to earth, but imagining alternate worlds and doodling them in the margins of my notebook was so much more interesting to me than paying attention and doing homework. My poor, long-suffering teachers. It was such a relief to get to art school where dreaming and doodling was required.


Q: Do you have a favorite word, words, or quote?

A: In the movie Footloose Kevin Bacon learns about the anti-dancing ordinance in town and exclaims, “Jump back!” I’ve been trying for years to make that my go-to expression of surprise. Otherwise I’m very fond of the words “regardless” and “noodle”.

(Ingrid here... I have, since reading Amy's answers myself, been trying to incorporate "Jump back!" as a go-to expression myself. It cracks me up every time.)


Q: When you were growing up, was there a specific book (or books) that changed you somehow—a book that you feel is responsible for a little (or big) piece of who you are today?

A: I must have checked The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren out of the Huntington Public Library about twenty times when I was a kid. It’s this heartbreakingly thrilling tale of two brothers; Karl, the narrator, is younger and deathly ill, and his older brother Jonathan is wonderful and beautiful and brave and noble. Knowing that Karl is going to die, Jonathan tells him stories of what it will be like in the land of Nangiyala, where he will be healthy and have knightly adventures. Then there is a fire in their home, and Jonathan rushed in to save Karl and dies. Then, a few months later, Karl dies. This all happens within the first chapter or two. It’s so grim! But they reunite in Nangiyala, where everything is great for about five minutes until they’re battling an evil warlord with a nasty dragon. I loved how dark and beautiful this book was, and how Ms. Lindgren never pulled any punches just because she was writing for children. Kids love and feel respected by writing that inflames the imagination.

A few years ago I bought a copy of The Brothers Lionheart only to find out that it didn’t pack the same punch, and I was so disappointed. My husband hunted down an earlier translation with the gorgeous illustrations of J. K. Lambert that I remembered so well, and I felt all the same old thrills when I read it. While my art and writing tend to be much sillier and far less devastating than The Brothers Lionheart, I think that my characters would be as taken by that book as I was.


Q: If you could pick any book to live inside for a day, what book would it be and why?

A: Can I live inside a Mario Batali cookbook? I know I should come up with a book that takes place in a place and time and land that it would impossible to get to outside of the imagination, but I once saw Mario Batali carve a bowl out of a wheel of parmesan cheese and fill it with flaming grappa, and it just blew my mind.


Q: What do you do when you have a tough writing day? How do you get through it?

A: I am a master of putzing around the house. When I’m having a bad writing day the laundry gets done, the garden gets weeded, errands are run, friends are sent long emails, I answer questions for blogs…sometimes I’m able to turn a bad writing day into a good drawing day; for any of my friends that get paintings as presents, chances are they were created on bad writing days.


Q: How do you like to celebrate when you finish writing a book, get a good review, etc?

A: Impromptu dance party. Any time, anywhere.


Q: What’s up? Tell us about where you are in your writing process right now. What’s out? What’s coming? What are you currently working on?

A: Right now I’m finishing up my second book, which is a sequel to The Popularity Papers that will come out in 2011. It’s almost finished, and I’m really excited about how Lydia and Julie are developing. I’m also planning a late summer book tour (we’ll be driving from Philadelphia to Denver and back) and that’s really exciting. My husband has been spending a lot of time on the Roadside America website and telling tales of World's Largest Things and palaces made entirely of corn.


Thank you, Amy! And enjoy your road trip. If you are in the Nebraska area, check out the World's Largest Porch Swing in Hebron and think of Savvy.

You can find out more about The Popularity Papers and the book's official website: http://www.abramsbooks.com/popularitypapers/

I'm not sure who will be up next... or when my next author chat post will be, but check back soon! As always, if you want to read previous interviews, click on the Author Chats label at the end of this post.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Shoe's on the other foot...

I've been interviewing a lot of authors this summer, but this week you can find me being interviewed online as well if you're interested.

Hilary Hattenbach and Jason White asked me some great questions about my writing process and posted my answers at their blog: Totally Writeous. Isn't that a great name for a blog?

It's been a little while since the interview-shoe was on the other foot and I was answering questions instead of asking them.

To read the full interview, click HERE.

Thanks, Hilary and Jason!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Chatting with Kirby Larson

Kirby Larson is the author of multiple books. Among her many accomplishments, Kirby won a Newbery Honor in 2007 for her first novel, Hattie Big Sky; and her picture book, The Two Bobbies, illustrated by Jean Cassels, has been awarded or nominated for multiple awards as well.

Let's get to know a little more about Kirby...

Q: When you were a child, what did you like to ‘pretend’ most? How much of a role did your imagination play in your life?

A: I have vivid memories of pretending my old iron bike was a palomino stallion and that we galloped together across the Wild West. In all of my pretend playing, I took an active role: detective, spy, famous explorer. While my imagination was a great source of pleasure, it also scared me to death sometimes. Once, when I was five or so, we moved to a house and in the distance was a mountain that a neighbor kid told me was called Bear Mountain. I could hardly bring myself to play outside, in our unfenced backyard, certain one of the bears from that mountain would clamber down, into our yard, and get me. Mind you, this was in a suburb of Seattle, which is relatively bear-free.


Q: Do you have a favorite word, words, or quote?

A: I have a favorite mis-quote! I loved these words from Russell Hoban’s A Mouse and His Child: “You’ve got to take those daring leaps, or you’re nowhere.” But then I learned I had copied it down wrong and it’s really, “You’ve got to make those daring leaps, or you’re nowhere.” What a difference one word makes! As a writer, I take lots of leaps but they aren’t always successful, thus was disappointed when I learned of my error.


Q: When you were growing up, was there a specific book (or books) that changed you somehow—a book that you feel is responsible for a little (or big) piece of who you are today?

A: We didn’t own books at our house; not that we weren’t readers, but we couldn’t afford them. When I was in grade school, my aunt took a trip and for some reason, bought me a paperback copy of Alice in Wonderland. I didn’t love the story as much as I loved owning my very own book (which is why my many bookcases are overflowing as I type this). I also remember my dad taking me to the library when I was in 3rd grade and telling the librarian to let me check out Gulliver’s Travels, which I had selected and she thought was too old for me. Of course, she was right – the book went over my head completely! – but I loved that my dad believed I could handle it. And my mom always talked about her favorite book from childhood, Susan and Arabella, Pioneers. I finally found it as an adult, read it and loved it as much as my mom had.


(pictured above, Kirby in the 4th grade)

On reflection, I would say it’s hard to point to a book or book that’s responsible for any bit of who I am today – I think it was more that the adults who cared about me, and made sure I had access to books.


Q: If you could pick any book to live inside for a day, what book would it be and why?

A: The Ozma of Oz book that has the scene where the Princess gets to choose each morning which head she’ll wear for the day – because who wouldn’t like to try on a different persona once in awhile!


Q: What do you do when you have a tough writing day? How do you get through it?

A: Isn’t it tough every day?! When something is really discouraging or hard to bear, I call one of my kids to be reminded that I am loved and that I am a pretty good mom, even if my writing stinks. Then I call or email a writing friend; without that support system, I would’ve chucked it all in years ago. And then a walk with Winston the Wonder Dog, or a hug from my husband, or something chocolate or a glass of wine certainly helps – and sometimes, it takes all of the above to recover.


Q: How do you like to celebrate when you finish writing a book, get a good review, etc?

A: I am not very good about celebrating. I share the good news with friends and family, but I think I should probably do something more.

(pictured below: Kirby--at far right--with her son, Tyler, and co-author, Mary Nethery, celebrates winning the Christopher Award for Nubs.)



Q: What’s up? Tell us about where you are in your writing process right now. What’s out? What’s coming? What are you currently working on?

A: I had great fun writing a new title for the Dear America series, the first in five years: The Fences Between Us will come out this September. It’s the diary of a young girl whose friends are incarcerated in the War Relocation Camps during WWII. And my Dreaded Second Novel is finally finished (after one complete overhaul and too many revisions to count). The Friendship Doll (Delacorte) comes out in May, and is the story of the impact a Friendship Doll – in 1927, 58 of them were sent to the children of America by the children of Japan in hopes of improving our nations’ relations -- has on the lives of four girls living in different parts of the country during the Great Depression. My editor and art director gave me a much-needed affirmation by creating yet another stunning cover (which I don’t think I can show yet). And I’m currently working on an historical chapter book, and another historical novel about which I’m going to be very vague and evasive. And my colleague, Mary Nethery, and I have our eyes peeled for a third project to work on together! No rest for the wicked.


Thank you for your answers, Kirby. And for the great photographs!

If you'd like to find out more about Kirby and her books, check out her website at: www.kirbylarson.com

To read past author chats, simply scroll down or click on the 'Author chats' label below.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Word of the Week

Ha ha! This week's word totally cracks me up. It gives me joy. It makes me smile. And it is borrowed from one of my favorite word-of-the-day websites: Worthless Word for the Day. (I get the BEST words there!) Normally, I don't use the words I discover on these sites the same week they have them up, but this one's simply too good not to share.

The word is SPARBLE. It's a verb.

I think I particularly enjoy words that toy with the mouth. I'm not a linguistics expert or anything, but I did take a linguistics class in college, which I loved. In that class, I learned that the mouth and tongue do the very same thing to make a 'P' and a 'B'--only, when we make a 'P' sound, we only use breath. When we make a 'B' sound we add voice to the breath. Try it! Say 'puh' then say 'buh'. You'll see. It's almost like a physical-action alliteration. (If I were a linguistic expert, I'd probably know proper terminology for this effect... if you know, feel free to email me at ingrid@ingridlaw.com since I don't have comments turned on for this blog.) It's the same for 'S' and 'Z', by the way ('sss' and 'zzz'). And for 'D' and 'T'... you get the picture.

So the word sparble makes the mouth form the same shape twice but does a little something different with the sound and/or vibration. I think that's the root of what I enjoy about the word. It's physically fun to say.

Of course, I also like the definition, which is "to scatter or disperse".

You can check out the Worthless Word for the Day website here: http://home.comcast.net/~wwftd/

I admit it, I'm a word nerd. But I'm a proud word nerd.

Oo-oo-ooh! I just realized that someone can sparble marbles! That's niiiiiice.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Chatting With Frances O'Roark Dowell


I had the pleasure of meeting Frances O'Roark Dowell in October, 2008, at the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, where we both received honor awards that year (Frances for Shooting the Moon). Frances is the author of ten books for young readers, including Dovey Coe, winner of a 2001 Edgar Award and the William Allen White Award; Where I'd Like To Be, an IRA/CBC Children's Choice; The Secret Language of Girls; Chicken Boy, an ALA Notable Book and NCTE Notable Book; and Phineas L. MacGuire...Erupts!: The First Experiment. Her newest book is titled Falling In.

Frances and I were both at IRA in Chicago this year, but our signings overlapped and we didn't get to say a personal hello. But I was able to get a signed copy of her book and, more recently, she was gracious and answered my usual interview questions for my blog.

So, a little more about Frances Dowell...

Q: When you were a child, what did you like to ‘pretend’ most? How much of a role did your imagination play in your life?

A: I did a lot of pretend play! I liked playing house and school and library. At night, I told myself stories as I fell asleep. When I was little they were stories about castles and princesses, but as I got older I tended to insert myself into the sort of stories I liked to read—some nights I helped Harriet Tubman on the Underground Railroad, other nights I pretended I was sleeping up in the loft with Laura and Mary Ingalls.

My imagination wasn’t wild, but it was active. I daydreamed a lot. I also spent a lot of time drawing, which was probably my favorite thing to do besides read.


Q: Do you have a favorite word, words, or quote?

A: “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”—Leonard Cohen

“The only way out is through.” —Robert Frost


Q: When you were growing up, was there a specific book (or books) that changed you somehow—a book that you feel is responsible for a little (or big) piece of who you are today?

A: I was blown away by Harriet the Spy, especially the part where the kids in her class turn against her. I had friends like that. Reading Harriet the Spy was the first time I realized other people had friends like that, too. It’s one of the most powerful things about reading—we learn we’re not alone.


Q: If you could pick any book to live inside for a day, what book would it be and why?

A: Probably Little Women. I don’t have sisters and always wanted some, and I’m very interested in that time period. Also, Little Women is one of my favorite books.


Q: What do you do when you have a tough writing day? How do you get through it?

A: I have a twenty-minute rule. If the writing is going slow right from the beginning, I have to slog it out for at least twenty minutes. If, after twenty minutes, it’s still tough, I take the morning off. This rule works because nine times out of ten, once I’ve been writing for twenty minutes I get warmed up and am happy to continue. But if I’m having a really bad day, it’s probably best just to take a break.


Q: How do you like to celebrate when you finish writing a book, get a good review, etc?

A: I don’t really have a celebration ritual for when I finish a book—I’m usually so behind on the rest of my life that I have to immediately turn from writing to catching up with correspondence and cleaning bathrooms! Also, the finishing of a book is such a long, drawn out thing, I’m never quite sure when it’s finished.

My editor is very nice about sending me notices of good reviews. I celebrate by emailing them to my husband, who is the only person I feel comfortable bragging to.


Q: What’s up? Tell us about where you are in your writing process right now. What’s out? What’s coming? What are you currently working on?

A: I just had a book come out in March called Falling In, which is being called a fantasy, though I think of leaning more toward fairy tale. This spring I finished the final draft of my first YA, Ten Miles Past Normal, which will be out sometime next spring. I’m working on something now, but it’s too new to talk about!

Thank you, Frances, for joining me on my blog! (Yay! Another Leonard Cohen fan--his music was a staple in my family's home when I was growing up.)

If you want to find out more about Frances and her books, check out her website: www.francesdowell.com

Come back soon for more summer author chats. Next up: Kirby Larson. Tune in next week! (Or, rather, click back next week.) To read more from other authors who have visited my blog, click on the 'Author chats' label at the end of this post.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Word of the Week



This week's word is LEPIDOPTERA.

Lepidoptera is the order of insects made up of butterflies and moths. More specifically, of insects "with four scaly wings". The word was coined in 1735 by Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus. It is from the Greek: lepis, meaning "scale" (as in fish scale) and pteron, meaning "wing, feather".*

The word lepidoptera appears in Scumble, as Uncle Autry's insect-controlling savvy makes him into the world's best insect wrangler. In the book, Autry O'Connell is particularly concerned with Queen Alexandra's Birdwing butterflies.

I am fortunate to live quite close to the Butterfly Pavilion. I love to go there. I have family passes, and I even got a private behind the scenes tour last year. I went there again yesterday with my daughter (whose shoulder made a nice resting place for one of the butterflies), my sister, and my two-year-old nephew. Following a two-year-old is sort of like trying to follow a butterfly. They both seem to follow the same winding, unpredictable, non-stop path.



Along with all the beautiful butterflies, the place is also filled with stunning flowers.






*LEPIDOPTERA. Dictionary.com. Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/LEPIDOPTERA (accessed: June 11, 2010).

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Chatting with Greg van Eekhout



For this week's author chat, we're joined by Greg van Eekhout, author of the funny middle grade novel adventure Kid vs. Squid, which has been picked by independent booksellers for the Summer 2010 Kids’ Indie Next List.

Let's find out a little more about Greg!


Q: When you were a child, what did you like to ‘pretend’ most? How much of a role did your imagination play in your life?

A: I was really big on comics and science fiction, so my pretend games usually involved having superpowers or piloting space ships. My best friend and I would draw space ship control panels on construction paper and put them on our school desks so we could pretend to fire our phasers during math.

Imagination has always been a HUGE presence in my life. Seeing things the way they really are is just a jumping-off point for me. I'm always saying things like, "Wouldn't it be cool if a triceratops busted through the window of this shoe shop." Because shoe shops are boring. If they came with rampaging triceratopses, they'd be AWESOME. Also, writing books and stories is the only work I've ever truly loved doing, and imagination is everything when it comes to the kinds of stories I like to tell.


Q: Do you have a favorite word, words, or quote?

A: I like this one, spoken by the character Miles Vorkosigan in Lois McMaster Bujold's science fiction novel, Memory: "The one thing you can't trade for your heart's desire is your heart."


Q: When you were growing up, was there a specific book (or books) that changed you somehow—a book that you feel is responsible for a little (or big) piece of who you are today?

A: I think every book I ever read has changed me in some way, usually small. But I'll tell you one book I should probably re-read every day: The Monster at the End of This Book. Like Grover, I am full of fears. But also like Grover, I find I can usually deal with whatever I have to once I've faced my fears. Monsters usually aren't quite as scary once you've stopped hiding from them. Also, it's a fun book to read, because you kinda get to mess with Grover's head just by turning the pages.


Q: If you could pick any book to live inside for a day, what book would it be and why?

A: I don't think I'd want to live inside most of the books I like. Sometimes they feature amazing worlds to explore, like Earthsea or Middle Earth, but the characters are usually exhausted and starving and kind of miserable and they never even get to use the bathroom. But if I could get inside Willie Wonka's chocolate factory for a few hours, that would be okay.


Q: What do you do when you have a tough writing day? How do you get through it?

A: I try to remember that tough writing days are part of the process and that if I keep writing I'll get through it eventually and I'll be rewarded by a totally fun writing day. If I stop writing when things are going rough, then it's like giving up while you're in the middle of the mud pit. Do that, and you're in the mud pit. Keep working, and then you'll get out of the mud pit.

Or sometimes I just go out for a walk if the weather is nice.


Q: How do you like to celebrate when you finish writing a book, get a good review, etc?

A: Finishing or selling a book is usually good for a nice dinner out. Getting paid is usually good for a more expensive dinner out!


Q: What’s up? Tell us about where you are in your writing process right now. What’s out? What’s coming? What are you currently working on?

A: I just got editorial feedback for my next book, so that means over the next several weeks I'll be prying the book apart, taking out the cruddy parts, and replacing them with better parts. In other words, I plan to spend the next several weeks howling in anguish. The book in question is futuristic adventure story about a kid who may very well be the last boy on Earth. He sets off to find other humans with his companions, a broken robot and a cloned mammoth.

The book out now is Kid vs. Squid, and it's about a boy who's spending summer vacation helping his uncle run a weird seaside museum. When an exhibit is stolen from the museum, our hero finds himself caught up in the age-old conflict between the severed head of an ancient witch and the last survivors of the sunken city of Atlantis. I tried to make it a funny book with a lot of adventure and action, but also with parts that could maybe make you cry a little bit, if you're willing.


Thanks, Greg, for taking the time out of your busy schedule (and away from your revisions) to share your insights into your writing world!


You can find out more about Greg at: http://www.writingandsnacks.com/

And (Ingrid here) I must say, having worked in a shoe department for a year or two, they can be boring places. But my imagination always saved me. I never imagined a triceratops bursting through the window, but, when unpacking and prepping crates of new shoes, I did sometimes pretend I was prepping ordinance for fighter pilots on a spaceship. And, yes, I was twenty. I sort of think writing fiction is just a legitimate way for grownups to keep pretending.

Thanks for reading, and check back soon for more great author chats! And, as always, to read previous interviews, click on the Author Chats label at the end of this post.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Word of the Week

One of my duties in my last job was to issue marriage licenses. June was always a busy month for those, but I was surprised to discover that, year after year, August was when we issued the most.

I don't ever write a character who is a complete copy of someone real whom I know or have met, but sitting down with about-to-be married couples from all walks of life was a great way to observe character.

There were people who answered every question (even those meant for their future spouse); people who could not make eye contact even for a second--especially during the oath; people who had been married six, seven, eight times; elderly widow/widower couples who had dated as teens but married other people and were finally marrying; people who claimed to be from outer space; couples who met online; soldiers about to be sent overseas; women in red saris; men in dark sunglasses; couples who intended to make their pets their witnesses, or the rocks and trees and sky; really, really young people with their parents there to give permission; smoochy people; drunk people; crazy people; happy people; crying people; arguing people... even dying people.

You get the idea.

All interesting people.

So, what's my word of the day? What made me think of all that? The word SHIVAREE. A word to celebrate all of those people and more.

SHIVAREE

–noun
1.
a mock serenade with kettles, pans, horns, and other noisemakers given for a newly married couple; charivari.
2.
Informal. an elaborate, noisy celebration.

–verb (used with object)
3.
to serenade with a shivaree.*

The above definitions as well as the explanation below are taken from Dictionary.com (one of my favorite places online--AND they have a free iPod app).

If you want to know more about the history of this word:

According to Dictionary.com, "Shivaree is the most common American regional form of charivari, a French word meaning "a noisy mock serenade for newlyweds" and probably deriving in turn from a Late Latin word meaning "headache." The term, most likely borrowed from French traders and settlers along the Mississippi River, was well established in the United States by 1805; an account dating from that year describes a shivaree in New Orleans: "The house is mobbed by thousands of the people of the town, vociferating and shouting with loud acclaim.... [M]any [are] in disguises and masks; and all have some kind of discordant and noisy music, such as old kettles, and shovels, and tongs.... All civil authority and rule seems laid aside" (John F. Watson). The word shivaree is especially common along and west of the Mississippi River. Its use thus forms a dialect boundary running north-south, dividing western usage from eastern. This is unusual in that most dialect boundaries run east-west, dividing the country into northern and southern dialect regions. Some regional equivalents are belling, used in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan; horning, from upstate New York, northern Pennsylvania, and western New England; and serenade, a term used chiefly in the South Atlantic states."


*shivaree. Dictionary.com. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/shivaree (accessed: June 04, 2010).