Friday, December 16, 2011

SCBWI Pre-Conference Interview: Jean Feiwel

As part of SCBWI Team Blog pre-conference interviews, I had the opportunity to chat with the wonderful Jean Feiwel on the phone.

From the SCBWI conference website:

Jean Feiwel's career in publishing started in 1976 at Avon Books where she rose from Editorial Assistant to Editorial Director of Books for Young Readers. In 1983, she was hired away to Scholastic.  During her tenure as Editor-in-Chief and Publisher at Scholastic, Jean is credited with inventing middle grade series publishing with the creation of Ann Martin’s Babysitter’s Club, R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps, Katherine Applegate’s Animorphs, and the historical fiction series, Dear America. When pressed, she will also admit to being involved with the acquisition and publication of the Harry Potter series. In February 2006, Jean left Scholastic and joined Macmillan as Senior Vice President and Publisher. At Macmillan, she has launched Feiwel & Friends, her own commercially minded hardcover imprint, as well as a paperback/backlist program culled from FSG, Henry Holt and Roaring Brook’s lists, called Square Fish.  In January 2009, she was promoted to SVP Publishing Director of the new consolidated Macmillan Children’s division.

It was a real pleasure to speak with her. From our conversation, here are a few of the questions Jean answered for me:

You, along with three other industry professionals, will speak on a panel about Children’s Books today and tomorrow. In a time full of change, and at times negative talk, what gets you and keeps you excited and makes you feel optimistic?

I’m essentially a glass half full kind of person. I have always been enormously adaptable, and forward looking, and I love what I do. I love working with new authors and the ones that I’ve built already. I like the combination of discovering new talent while maintaining relationships that I’ve already established. The reason for the name Feiwel & Friends is: make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other’s gold. That represents my philosophy of publishing.

Young adult books are on fire right now. Why do you think young adult books are leading the way in the book sales and are today’s hot market?

I think that because there were plenty of middle grade series that sort of created that audience. I think Harry Potter being the most instrumental. I think Harry Potter was huge. I think it galvanized reading in general for kids, and for a whole population at a time. I think that’s part of it. And I think these things are cyclical. I’ve been around long enough to see there have been periods of times where young adult has been the dominant category and I’ve seen it over populate and max out in a way and sort of go into a hibernation.  I’m not surprised to see it so strong at this point. I think Stephanie Meyer happened to be somebody who hit a cord at the right place at the right time. The audience was there and waiting.

In that whole cyclical nature of things, does that also bring hope and optimism for the picture book?

I really feel like the demise of the picture is strongly overstated. I found with working with the press, in some ways, they want to sell papers, they want people to read what they write, so they tend to exaggerate. This is certainly an exaggeration. I think there is no doubt that the picture book category has changed, in that, kids are being hurried through childhood and hurried through the category…Kids want to read that reading book that chapter book, they want to feel accomplished and if they’re are being read to from the time they are in utero then they are not going to sit there with Bread and Jam for Francis, they’re going to want to be pacing through, along side of their brothers and sisters, the older books, so I think that has contributed to the category being smaller or in decline. But I think that’s okay because I think all of us have over published in the category. I think that a lot of books that duplicate each other. It’s a matter of being smarter in your publishing, and more focused. There’s definitely still an audience there, and it’s just a matter of not flooding the category. That would make for a healthy business all around.

As you and your fellow editors look to acquire books, is there one element that grabs you each time, that one essential element?

I say this in my rejections letter, if I don’t emotionally connect with something I’m not going to respond to it. There’s something about the story that has to pull on my emotions in some way. It has to make me laugh. It has to be very dramatic. It has to surprise me. Something has to happen for me to respond to a story. Even it’s something I’ve heard a lot , even if it’s yet another vampire story, if there’s something in it that feels fresh or emerges in some surprising way I’ll will respond and go after it. There has to be something emotionally alive in it for me.

Don't miss your chance to hear from Jean Feiwel and many others at the upcoming SCBWI conference in NYC. Register HERE.

Monday, December 12, 2011

SCBWI Pre-Conference Interview: Ginger Knowlton

Ginger Knowlton
I'm pleased to welcome Ginger Knowlton to Cuppa Jolie. Ginger will be sharing her views, along with three other agents, on the final panel of the conference: The Current Market for Your Work. 

From the Curtis Brown LTD website. 

Ginger Knowlton, Executive Vice President

Ginger Knowlton represents authors and illustrators of children's books in all genres, as well as a few adult book authors. Her list includes Newbery Medalists, Newbery Honor and Printz Honor winners, Edgar and Lambda winners, a Sibert and Orbis Pictus winner, New York Times bestsellers, and a host of other delightful and talented clients. Ginger started working at Curtis Brown as an assistant to Marilyn Marlow, one of the first literary agents to specialize in children's books in the 1960s. Working for Marilyn was a rite of passage, affectionately referred to as Curtis Brown’s "Boot Camp." Before joining the company, Ginger worked in the field of early childhood education in Sacramento and Mendocino, California. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Association of Authors' Representatives and currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Library in her hometown in Westchester County.

And now on to the interview. How I love ending with an SCBWI success story! Read on...

Conferences can be a bit overwhelming. What advice do you have for conference-goers, especially those attending for the first time? 

Don’t be shy! Talk with other conference-goers, ask to sit with them at lunch, and if you came with a friend or group of friends, be sure to split up and do different things, so you can report back and share whatever you learned (or didn’t learn). Seek advice and camaraderie, and be open to listening as well as sharing. Go outside your comfort zone! Remember Eleanor Roosevelt’s wise words—“Do one thing every day that scares you.” (I’ll be doing that myself on January 29th at the Grand Hyatt…)

Writers often ask, "How do I know when my work is ready to submit?" Do you have any sort of measuring stick or advice for knowing when? 

My simple answer is: it’s ready when it sings ~ but I realize that’s subjective.

My short answer is: No.

Everyone works differently, and different things work for different people. Some people are blessed with writing partners/critiquers who offer advice and feedback that is spot on. Others are not so lucky, and still others don’t have partners or critiquers at all. I think what can often help is asking someone else to read your work aloud to you, or better yet, ask him/her to record himself reading it, and then listen to that recording by yourself and then with others. Do you like it? Do others? Are you fascinated and eager for more? If it’s a picture book, is it just too long? Would a youngster fidget? Would you, if you had to read it to said youngster time and again? Do you feel like the reader just didn’t get it and you could have done better reading it yourself? If so, there might be a lesson for you there—it may not be the reader’s fault at all. (Sorry!)

I know some authors finish a manuscript and decide to submit it to a lot of agents/editors at once—sort of flooding the field—and I recommend that you start out slower than that, in case you get actual feedback from someone who might help you make the submission stronger for the next round. While it’s important to be open to advice and other opinions, it’s also important to stay true to yourself and your writing. I realize this sounds cliché.

Do you have a particular pet peeve when it comes to receiving queries/submission?

Well, like everyone, I want the query to be addressed to me (Ginger Knowlton), not to Curtis Brown or Ginger Knowlton Clark or Agent or Tracey Adams (hey, Tracey!). And please take the time to proofread your queries and submissions so there are no misspellings. With spellcheck available, there’s just no excuse for that. I’m not saying I won’t read it if there are mistakes, but it is distracting, and why distract me from your writing when you’re hoping I’ll be enthusiastic about it?

Can you share with us a client's forthcoming or recently published book that you're extra excited about? 

I cannot wait to see I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black, with illustrations by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, coming out in the fall of 2012—and it all came about because of SCBWI! Here’s a recap from Debbie herself:

Thank you so much, Ginger!

To register for the upcoming conference, or to learn more about SCBWI visit

Monday, October 10, 2011

Monday Moment #132: a writing prompt for your work-in-progress

(If you’ve already read this then skip past all the italicized blah-di-blah and start writing.) Monday Moments are writing prompts for your work-in-progress. They are questions that come from my experiences and are my favorite way to find out more about my characters. I find I learn a lot. Some of it I use. Some of it I don’t. But I always, always get to know my characters better just by answering the question. I hope you do too.)

Oh man, my friends. Have I ever dropped the ball, or what?

I promise it's not without good reason. My plate has been beyond...BEYOND full, and unfortunately I've had to gobble up many other things before getting to the yumminess that is this blog. I apologize for that. I hope it will change soon.

When has your character ever dropped the ball? What was at stake?

(An added note: I think the second question is an important one. With Cuppa, the stakes for missing a Moment aren't huge. Yes, I have guilt, especially when someone says, "Hey, where was Cuppa Jolie this week." Or something like that. You don't let me forget that I missed. But some stakes can be far bigger.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Monday Moment #131: a writing prompt for your work-in-progress

(If you’ve already read this then skip past all the italicized blah-di-blah and start writing.) Monday Moments are writing prompts for your work-in-progress. They are questions that come from my experiences and are my favorite way to find out more about my characters. I find I learn a lot. Some of it I use. Some of it I don’t. But I always, always get to know my characters better just by answering the question. I hope you do too.)

No good, very bad blogger. That's me. Sorry for the inconsistencies lately. I should just say here and now, if it's a three day weekend (Monday being a holiday) there will be no Moment that day. Makes sense, right?But what happened to me yesterday? Honestly, life happened. I ended up with a family member at the ER (all is okay though). That threw my entire day for a loop.

Today is a Monday do-over of sorts. So, there ya go.

I know that in other parts of the country, school started in August, but here in the Seattle area, we just started last week. Yesterday was the first Monday of the school year. Truly, the school year in Seattle should run October to July, because our summer happens in August and September, but that's another subject.

So...the start of a new school year. And for us, it meant sending our oldest girlie off to middle school. *gasp* It's shocking. It was made harder by the fact that she was not at all looking forward to it. In fact, she was expecting her first day to be a no-good-horribly-very-bad day. Fortunately, because her expectation were so awfully low, it was actually all right. *phew* She even told a former teacher that she would give it a 7 out of 10. A huge relief for this mama, and yet, I can't believe she is a middle schooler.

Along with going back to school, there was some good old school shopping, which can be fun and insane all at once. But, one thing I especially noticed as we reached the end of summer was that the kids (and my husband) have favorite pieces of clothing they don't want to part matter how stained, holey, or small they might be. Good grief!

Anyone else experience this? I'm sure I'm not alone.

My oldest has been wearing a pair of fake Uggs (even during the summer) and you can literally pull the toe up and see her little piggies inside. She also has a tank tap that had a small hole along her side that has now expanded into what looks like another arm hole. But does she want to get rid of them, or stop wearing them? NO! I believe this is a genetic thing passed on from my husband. (A little secret...when something gets *really* bad it might accidentally end up in the trash.)

What? What's that? Someone wants to call me out? Okay, fine! Maybe I have one or two things I have yet to let go of myself. So there.

How about your character? Does s/he have a favorite piece of clothing? (Describe it. Why is s/he they so attached? What would they do if something happened to it?)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday Moment #130: a writing prompt for your work-in-progress

(If you’ve already read this then skip past all the italicized blah-di-blah and start writing.) Monday Moments are writing prompts for your work-in-progress. They are questions that come from my experiences and are my favorite way to find out more about my characters. I find I learn a lot. Some of it I use. Some of it I don’t. But I always, always get to know my characters better just by answering the question. I hope you do too.)

Here's a question for you: How do you turn one lizard into two guinea pigs?

What? You find that question strange? Oh...or you think it's some kind of joke with a punch line, maybe?'s a little something my children made happen, with a little help from their dad.

So, here goes. This is how you do it. (Warning: you may not want your children to read this post.)

One morning, not long after my husband had left for work, I get a call from him saying, "Open the garage and tell the kids to meet me outside."

This can't be good. You're with me, right? Warning bells.

Sure enough, my hubby arrives with a shoe box which contains a lizard, a lizard that didn't want to take no for an answer (he couldn't get it to leave his van or the road). I don't have to tell you how my children reacted to seeing this clingy lizard, except to say it was the exact opposite of my reaction. I wasn't the one who wanted to keep it.

I had all sorts of arguments for why we shouldn't: we needed to know what it was; if it was safe for the lizard; if we could provide what it need; and oh...the fact that it eats LIVE crickets.

Fred the Lizard

The kids got right to work. Don't let your children tell you they can't research online because mine learned right quick that the lizard, the one which hitched a ride on their dad's bumper, was a Northwest Alligator Lizard. They knew what it ate and what it needed to be kept as a pet. Next step? Call the local pet store to see if they had the supplies needed to keep the lizard. And, even more important, to ask if it's okay to keep it? Maybe it would just be cruel to the little guy.

Pet store fail! They said, "Hey. No problem. We've got what you need. Come on down. Oh...and you'll probably want to get a cricket habitat so you don't have to continually buy crickets."

Oh, joy!

Because I was so excited about this lizard, I thought it was only fair for the girls to fork over their own money for half the costs (and they agreed...I should have requested all the costs). Of course as we loaded up on lizardy needs at Pet Town, the girls checked out the mice, hamsters, and gerbils. Then after the we received the total and handed over $70 (FOR A LIZARD!) my youngest said, "We should've just got the mouse. It was only a couple bucks."

EEEEERCH! Uh...what? Did we not just spend all this time and money for a lizard?

As we loaded up in the car, realizing after all of that we'd actually forgotten to get crickets and meal worms for the lizard, we had a conversation. I had to ask, "Do you really want a lizard? Or if you had a choice would you prefer to have another rodent-pet (we've had gerbils in the past)."

The answer was fast and clear...they wanted something warm-blooded again. (Frankly, I was open to this because it meant no more lizard.)

In we went, stating our buyer's remorse to the nice girl behind the counter. We were able to return all the lizard supplies and now make a decision about what furry pet to bring home: The cute little white mouse with brown spots that was only $2? Or, that fat hamster...he's awfully cute. Another gerbil? Oh, but don't forget the nice girl behind the counter told us how incredibly sweet the female guinea pig was.

Guinea Pig!?!

Seriously, those things are huge. And not $2.

But, okay...let's hold the guinea pig just to check it out. That little black guinea pig snuggled into the girls' chests and made sweet squeaky sounds, and then it was my turn to hold her. 

Really? Why didn't anyone tell me that guinea pigs are so sweet. Not all squirmy and bitey like hamsters and gerbils. Well, there was no leaving without that pig. And on the way home, she was given her name: Charlotte.


And after the girls' Grandma and Papa fell in love with Charlotte, too, and the girls learned that guinea pigs are herd animals and are happier with a friend, Grandma decided she wanted to buy the girls a friend for their new addition. Welcome, Clarabelle.


And what happened to the lizard that actually was given the name Fred? Well, we released him into the woods next to our house. And, believe it or not, not too many days later a very familiar looking lizard was under my hubby's van.

And that's how you turn one lizard into two guinea pigs.

Kids can be quite good at manipulating situations to get what they want. (Or at least mine are really good at doing it with me.)

What has your character been able to talk a grown up into doing or getting or saying?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What? No Monday Moment?

Please forgive me for missing the Moment yesterday. A headache took me out yesterday and posting the Monday Moment fell low on the list of to-dos (only the have-tos happened).

And, as tempted as I am to get it post right now, I will not. I'm going to make the Moment wait, along with the laundry and other to-dos and I'm going to get the writing done first (especially since my children are currently not here).

Care to join me, anyone? (We'll get to the Moment some time later. Promise.)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Monday Moment #129: a writing prompt for your work-in-progress

(If you’ve already read this then skip past all the italicized blah-di-blah and start writing.) Monday Moments are writing prompts for your work-in-progress. They are questions that come from my experiences and are my favorite way to find out more about my characters. I find I learn a lot. Some of it I use. Some of it I don’t. But I always, always get to know my characters better just by answering the question. I hope you do too.)

Sorry I missed you all last week. I was a bit busy doing the SCBWI-Team-Blog thing, helping to commemorate the 40th anniversary of SCBWI and the summer conference. I hope you followed along on the blog, but if you haven't check it out, it's there for the looking. It was one super special event. And a bit of a dream come true for me.

Whose lap am I all snuggled up on, you ask? Why that's just me and Judy Blume: an icon and my idol.

A giddy me with Judy Blume
(I'm not actually on her lap. She invited me to the arm of her chair.)

She was an absolute highlight for me. Judy Blume was the only reason I was a reader in Middle School. I've never really understood that whole freaking-out thing when someone sees a celeb they love and admire, that is until I was in the presence of Judy Blume. It all hit me; what she meant to me as a kid and what she means to me as a writer. The best part? She didn't disappoint. She's even more wonderful than I could have imagined, and I will forever remember her graciousness.

As much fun as I had in L.A., it was also so great to get home.

But something funny happened this time when my family picked me up from the ferry boat after I arrived back in Seattle. I sandwiched in the backseat of my parents' car right between my two girlies: the best place I could be. After I kissed and squeezed each of them, my youngest said, "You smell funny." Just what a mama wants to hear upon returning home.

So then my oldest gave me a whiff. "Yeah, you smell weird."

I replied, "Well, I probably smell a bit like hotel, and airplane, and train, and ferry with an added touch of Judy Blume (that above picture had only been taken hours before)."

Later, when I finally saw my husband, he said the same. "You don't smell like you."

It got me thinking about personal scents and where they come from: our homes, laundry detergent, foods we eat, and especially the products we use. All of those items that create my scent had changed over the week. The mix was all wrong, and my family could tell.

What are some of the things your character does and some of the items your character uses that create his/her scent (or that of another character your MC is around a lot)?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Monday Moment #128: a writing prompt for your work-in-progress

(If you’ve already read this then skip past all the italicized blah-di-blah and start writing.) Monday Moments are writing prompts for your work-in-progress. They are questions that come from my experiences and are my favorite way to find out more about my characters. I find I learn a lot. Some of it I use. Some of it I don’t. But I always, always get to know my characters better just by answering the question. I hope you do too.)

So much going on I'm not even sure what Moment to tell you about today: I'm gearing up to leave for the big SCBWI Summer conference; I'm preparing to welcome over 200 during an Orientation just before the big event kicks off; We've been figuring out chore schedules and allowance for our girlies; My youngest girlie and I just ran in her first race, a one-mile fun run; and, we turned a lizard into two guinea pigs (now that's a story...and probably one that requires more time than I have today). to decide. What should today's Moment be?

 I choose...FUN RUN.

And it was so much fun.

At the end of this last school year my girls had a to do a one-mile run at school. I have horrid memories of running one mile for academic fitness tests and I usually did anything and everything to get out of them. My oldest girlie (11) feels the same way. But there was something about that one mile and running that my youngest (9) really enjoyed.

She ran it at school in just over 11 minutes. When we talked about it later, I mentioned how running is sport you can compete against yourself in, and she was into it. A summer goal became improving that one-mile time. We got her a great pair of running shoes and started to hit the track two to three times a week.

Then came this Saturday; a community in our area had a Whale of Run. Skylar and I got up early and drove the 45 minutes to sign up and run; a really different experience without being on a track and running along side all those other runner.

Skylar and her proud Mama pre-race.

We were sort of left in the dust as most took off a bit too fast. Of course they started to hit a wall a quarter mile in or so, but we kept on our pace. A pesky side ache slowed us down a bit but we pushed on. Skylar was determine and I tried to keep her motivated. I think she really enjoyed the fact that about half-way along, we started passing other runners.

It was hard to tell how our pace was comparing to our typical runs. Skylar had so far improved her time by quite a bit. Her best time, 10:28. So as we rounded the corner and could spot the finish we pushed a bit more. Then the clock came into view, and we could see a 9! A 9. Could we possible get our time under 10 minutes?

We made our final push to the finish and I believe we crossed that line right about 9:55. What an amazing improvement. And, So. Much. Fun.

Skylar after the race. She now says her favorite number is 186.

I was (and still am) a proud Mama. And even if she didn't say it, I know Skylar was proud of herself. And she's looking forward to another run in the future. She even said, maybe next year we can run the four mile. Amazing.

Now, I'm not a runner. I may be a fitness-loving freak. But I'm a gym rat. But let me tell you, I will run to the ends of the Earth with that kids. Pure joy. Chokes me up a bit.

It seems like there are so many questions that can be asked about character from this experience, so feel free to come up with one that might work best for your character's situations, but I'll ask this one:

What is one activity your character finds common interest in with an adult (parent, mentor, family member)? (Could certainly be positive or negative.)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday Moment #127: a writing prompt for your work-in-progress

(If you’ve already read this then skip past all the italicized blah-di-blah and start writing.) Monday Moments are writing prompts for your work-in-progress. They are questions that come from my experiences and are my favorite way to find out more about my characters. I find I learn a lot. Some of it I use. Some of it I don’t. But I always, always get to know my characters better just by answering the question. I hope you do too.)

Home again, home again, jiggity jig!

We've made it home from our big MT road trip, after a very long day on the road yesterday. But is painful. So much to do. So. Much. To. Do.

There are so many reasons why one (or at least me) would prefer to still be vacationing: the chores of everyday life, playing catch-up, and since I'm returning to the Seattle area...missing the summer sunshine! (Come on, Seattle. It's summer already.)

That said, there's almost always a reason to LOVE returning home. For me: my bed. Ah...I slept so well last night. I'm already looking forward to visiting it again tonight.

When your character leaves home, what about returning makes them the most happy?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Monday Moment #126: a writing prompt for your work-in-progress

(If you’ve already read this then skip past all the italicized blah-di-blah and start writing.) Monday Moments are writing prompts for your work-in-progress. They are questions that come from my experiences and are my favorite way to find out more about my characters. I find I learn a lot. Some of it I use. Some of it I don’t. But I always, always get to know my characters better just by answering the question. I hope you do too.)

Holy Big Sky Bungle. I thought TODAY was Monday. I'm so off my game. Well, hopefully I can get pass as I'm on the road and yesterday was my 13th wedding anniversary. Ahhh!

I'm blogging live from what my husband has dubbed Grammapalooza. Although, he doesn't have it quite right since it's more like a Grandparentpalooza, but the former sounds better. It's also been affectionately called The Silver Hair Tour.

We are currently trekking through the Big Sky state, visiting our six lovely grandparents (yes...SIX). I will say we are blessed to have so many of them still in our lives. They are all in three different cities in Montana, so we are driving a big triangle under this great big sky. First Missoula then Great Falls finally ending up in Livingston where we'll celebrate my grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary. Double Ahhh!

So, I won't stay here long, but share a few things we've done and seen. One grandma visited, kissed, and loved on. A full day at the Splash Montana, where no sunscreen was enough to keep our Seattle skin from getting pink. Some sweet fawns relaxing and chasing and nursing (vigorously). An ice cream cone from the famous Big Dipper Ice Cream, but the licking had to be brisk in this heat. So far, nothing but delight.

One mention of something I found funny: As I drove into Montana there was suddenly big splatters on my windshield, sounding just like rain beginning to fall as it often does in the Seattle area. I had to tell myself, that's not rain and ask (in my own mind), What is that? It was very BIG bugs reaching an unfortunate state of splat on my windshield. Ha!

Has your main character ever taken a road trip? If so where, why, and what kind of different and wonderful experiences did they have?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

SCBWI Team Blog Exclusive Interview: Laurie Halse Anderson

SCBWI couldn't have called on a better writer to cap off this summer's conference experience, as they'll bring Laurie Halse Anderson to the stage to deliver the final keynote and send conference-goers on their way to tackle creative endeavors.

That said, before we get any further, if you have any wish, desire, inkling, etc. to go to the summer conference, the time to register is NOW. For the first time in SCBWI history, they will be closing registrations. Go HERE to register. Registration will close on Monday, July 18th and no part-time or walk-in registrations will be allowed.

But let's get back to Laurie. Laurie Halse Anderson is the award-winning and best-selling author of many books for children of all ages, including SPEAK and CHAINS (both National Book Award finalists).

It's a real treat to welcome Laurie Halse Anderson here to Cuppa Jolie.

One of your Facebook status updates last week said, “Laurie has been writing all week and is very happy about that.” With a very busy life and schedule, how do you ensure you get the writing time you need? And, can I take a guess that perhaps this will be a bit of what you’ll discuss during your conference break-out (The Nuts and Bolts of Crafting a Creative Life:Finding Lost Time and Reclaiming Creativity)?

It has become a little easier to make writing time now that our youngest has flown the nest. However, as our kids (all four of them) were starting to drive themselves to soccer practice and not require homework help, we became responsible for our elderly parents. And - to my shock and horror - I've found that being a published author actually takes time away from writing, instead of magically creating more hours in the day. I have developed a few Highly Secret Methods over the years, though, enough to have helped me carve out the time to write 27 books in the last 18 years. I'm looking forward to sharing them with everyone!

How has your writing life changed, if at all, since you’ve been in your lovely writing cottage?

The cottage is heaven on earth because I can relax there, free from the nagging worry I might be interrupted. It is also lovely to be able to look around the space and NOT see undone household tasks like laundry that needs to be put away or tumbleweeds of dog hair. But the absolute best aspect of it? That would have to be a tie between the beauty of the space and the the luxury of solitude. While I love traveling and meeting readers and fellow writers, the truth is that I am deeply introverted. Spending time around other people drains all the creativity and ink from my soul. The solitude of my cottage in the woods helps refill it.

(See video of Laurie's writing cottage below.)

You’ve experienced the bumpy ride of having your books challenged. How do you continue to write without fear, or have the challenges only created a fire in you when it comes to story and honesty?

The first couple of dozen times my books were challenged, I took it very personally. I bawled like a baby and wasted untold days paralyzed by the thought that anyone would think I'd ever seek to harm a child.

Then I got over myself.

Book challenges say very little about the book being targeted (or the author!) and rather a lot about the people bringing the challenge. Our intellectual freedoms are worth standing up and fighting for. I'm happy to plunge into battle when the trumpets sound!

You’ll be sending conference-goers on their way, following your closing keynote. Can you give us a little taste of your talk: Daring the Universe?

Here's a sneak peek of my keynote:
1. Life is short.
2. Death is guaranteed.
3. Given Point 1 and Point 2, you have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain by embracing your creativity every day!

A huge thank you to you, Laurie.

For the rest of you, those already registered I'm certain you're looking forward to the big event beginning August 5. Everyone else...hurry, hurry, hurry so you can join us too. But, if you can't be with us in LA, SCBWI Team Blog has you covered as we'll be be blogging live from the conference floor.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Monday Moment #125: a writing prompt for your work-in-progress

(If you’ve already read this then skip past all the italicized blah-di-blah and start writing.) Monday Moments are writing prompts for your work-in-progress. They are questions that come from my experiences and are my favorite way to find out more about my characters. I find I learn a lot. Some of it I use. Some of it I don’t. But I always, always get to know my characters better just by answering the question. I hope you do too.)

Last Monday, the 4th, blew up on me! Not in a bad way. But in a busy Fourth of July way. Hope your day was as fun as mine. I was hoping to at least type a, See ya next week message. But I couldn't even get that much done.

Being with friends (ones that are like family) on the Fourth got me to thinking about nicknames--especially nicknames for family members. I don't think there is a family anywhere where every person goes by their traditional title: Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Uncle, etc. Somewhere along the line a nickname comes along and it usually happens in a very organic way.  (In my experience, a forced nickname never works.)

In our family's case, I have dear girlfriends that have been Aunties to my girls since Day One. That said, when my oldest was barely two, instead of calling my friend Auntie Roz, she became Uncle Roz (I think because she had been around uncles more than aunties). On top of that, Uncle Roz had a handsome boyfriend (who later became her husband). His name: Gabe. So when our oldest spoke of them, they became Uncle Roz and Uncle Babe, which was too cute.

The girls with Uncle Babe
On another family note, one of our youngest's first words was Sis, and she's called her big sister that ever since. When she was young if she was asked, "What's your sister's name?" her answer was, "Sis." And still today, to hear her say he sister's given name doesn't even sound right. She will forever call her Sis (and she's the ONLY one who does).

And, now about personal nicknames? I had a couple: Squirt and JD (both were my dad's nicknames for me). As for shortening my name, I didn't like it (still don't). I never wanted anyone to call me Jo. The only person who ever did, or ever I ever let, call me Jo was my little brother.

What nicknames are in your character's family and how did they come about? Does your character have any nicknames?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Monday Moment #124: a writing prompt for your work-in-progress

(If you’ve already read this then skip past all the italicized blah-di-blah and start writing.) Monday Moments are writing prompts for your work-in-progress. They are questions that come from my experiences and are my favorite way to find out more about my characters. I find I learn a lot. Some of it I use. Some of it I don’t. But I always, always get to know my characters better just by answering the question. I hope you do too.)

SCHOOL'S OUT FOR SUMMER! (sing it with me)

But, oh man... I already miss school. I miss it in several ways.

I miss it as a teacher. I'm not a regular classroom teacher any longer, but I have been working weekly with a group of home-schooled students. I miss that. I wish I could keep working with them all year long.

Then there's the things I miss as a mom. I miss the routine the school year brings. You know, there's that magical time when the kids are at school and time belongs to me and not to the kids. Call me selfish, but I find that time rather lovely.Then there's just the regularity bedtime, and other schedules. Not that there's no longer a bedtime, it's just different.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love the warmer weather (the VERY little we've had of it) and additional time with the girlies, but...well, you know. I mean really, on day one they were ALREADY saying, "I'm bored."


I have to believe, that even for the kids, there is something about school that the they miss once summer hits. I'm sure it's different for each kid, but there's something.

What does your character miss about school over summer break?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

SCBWI Team Blog: First-time Attendee Pre-conference Interview

As part of our Team Blog interviews, I'll be chatting with several people (published and not) who will be attending an international SCBWI conference for the first time this summer. Those of us who have attended before know it can be both exciting and overwhelming.

This year SCBWI will be offering an opportunity to attended a First-time Attendee Orientation just prior to the open of the conference on August 4. The 45 minute session will provide a bit a of peek into the weekend and offer some insight on how to make the most of conference. If you're already registered, watch your email for more details.

When I inquired on Twitter about who was attending for the first time, Patti Gabrielson was the first to raise her virtual hand, and it was my pleasure to invite her here for a quick chat.

Welcome to Cuppa Jolie, Patti. This will be the first time I've interviewed a first-time conference attendee here. So, thank you for taking the plunge with me. I certainly wish we were in my living room so I could share a true cuppa with you.

Can you share with us a little bit about yourself?

I am attempting to get into illustrating children's books. I started this journey about seven years ago. Like a silly rookie, I had an idea for a children's book when my daughter was about 2 yrs old. I thought I'd write it, draw some pictures and boom. . . "they'd" start calling me, wanting to give me millions of dollars.

About two years ago my journey became more realistic. That's when I joined the San Diego chapter of SCBWI. I am now on a much more realistic path. I have a better understanding of the steps to take and how to take them. My portfolio isn't quite ready, but I'm planning on showing it at the L.A. Conference, along with a book dummy of that idea I had seven or more years ago.

Sounds as though the San Diego Chapter has already been of great benefit to you. I'm guessing then that you've attended regional conferences and events.

Our monthly meetings have been both inspirational and informative. We've had speakers such as Literary Agent, Kelly Sonnack with the Angela Brown Literary Agency talk about contracts. . . before you sign. A panel of some of our self published authors discussed the pro's and cons of self publishing (which runs through many of our minds). Author/Illustrator D.J. MacHale gave a very entertaining presentation at a meeting. Joy Chu of attends all of our meetings and gives us fantastic advice on a monthly basis. And author, Nancy Sanders, was an amazing speaker at one of our meetings. The chapter meetings offer all of this plus so much more.

If all of that doesn't get you excited to write or draw, we also had a one-day conference with literary agents and editors that filled our day with advice, information and insight to the publishing world. And for the illustrators, award winning artist, David Diaz, provided portfolio reviews, more information and humor.

And then there was a workshop this past weekend. We (illustrators) got to spend four fabulous hours with Priscilla Burris as she, and Joy Chu, went over portfolio standards for submission and advice for the L.A. conference. It was so cool!

What I have a hard time believing is that everyone in the world of children's books is so willing to help each other. SCBWI seems like such a well oiled wheel. Everybody is so kind, happy and energetic. As I told my husband, "I've found my peeps".

You have great things happening there in the San Diego Chapter! And I agree, there are no better people than those in children's books and SCBWI. It's a huge reason I LOVE to go the the international conferences, especially the summer conference which is quite social.

What made you decide to go to this summer's conference in L.A.? (It's the 40th anniversary, too. Lots in store!)

I reached the point where I had to stop procrastinating and just go for it. We had just finished our one day conference in February. I was still jumping with excitement, when I decided that I needed to take the next step. The point of no return. (Oh, what have I done!)

You've signed yourself up for a great time, loads of new friends, and a wonderful learning experience plus a super dose of inspiration.

Is there a particular session or part of the conference you are most looking forward to?

Oh my gosh, to pick just one? Many artists have his/her styles well developed. But it's been years since I've drawn on a regular basis. So Monday's Illustrators Intensive is going to be very cool for me. To watch these incredible artists do their thing will be so fun.

I'm also so excited to find out all that I can about e-books and apps. I work digitally and I'm ready to jump into the new digital horizons.

I'm glad you mentioned the Intensives, as this is a new format to the summer conference. And, in case you missed it, Team Blog member Jaime Temairik posted details about the Illustrator Intensive and she also has several great interviews with the faculty. Check 'em out.

But here's the big question: Do you have your pajamas picked out for the 40 Winks Ball?

It's odd, but none of the stores seem to have a pajama section of big, bright, slightly obnoxious pj's. Go figure. But if I can find it, I'll be the one wearing orange and white polka-dot jammies.

Ah, orange and white polka-dot jammies. Appropriate for you! (Check out Patti's website and you'll know why.) I'm so glad to hear you'll be there! It's an event not to be missed.

Do you have one main worry or question about being at the conference for the first time?

ONE? I'd say I have about one hundred. There will be so many attendees that have been doing this for a while, with such great talent. I guess my main worry is that my work will look so lame next to theirs. But I know that's just part of the game!

Not lame, just different. And who would their work to look like another illustrator's. Only you can do Patti!

Thank you so much for chatting with me, Patti. You already have a new friend from the conference and it hasn't even happened yet. I look forward to meeting you in person, and seeing your work.

Let's have a cuppa something together while in L.A.!

If you haven't registered for the conference here's where you need to GO.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Monday Moment #123: a writing prompt for your work-in-progress

(If you’ve already read this then skip past all the italicized blah-di-blah and start writing.) Monday Moments are writing prompts for your work-in-progress. They are questions that come from my experiences and are my favorite way to find out more about my characters. I find I learn a lot. Some of it I use. Some of it I don’t. But I always, always get to know my characters better just by answering the question. I hope you do too.)

I mentioned in my last Monday Moment that my oldest is graduating 5th grade and moving on to the craziness that is middle school. To celebrate the 5th graders, parents created posters of the kids from babyhood on. Going through pictures stirred up a lot of memories.

On top of that, my mom pulled out a journal she's kept with funny and sweet stories about her grandkids. It's so nice to have those stories written down.

Here are two stories, one about each of my girlies, written by my mom. Both girls were about 2 and a half when the following happened.

Madison's story:

Madison discovered her roaring voice during the month of October. She was very good at it too! It was a lion-roaring voice as far as she was concerned and she was quite proud to show it off to all.

For quite a while, when asked, Madison said she would be a lion for Halloween. Somewhere, somehow, sometime that changed. Her mom bought her a beautiful lion costume, but when asked shortly after that purchase she exclaimed, "I want to be a doctor for Halloween."

I think a bit of "lion persuasion" started, to no avail. Madison wanted nothing to do with the lion costume.

One day, shortly after all of the discussion and questioning about what Madison would be for Halloween, her mom asked the controversial question, "Madison, what do you want to be for Halloween?"

Madison's reply? "Not a lion!"

Here's a photo of from that Halloween.


Skylar's story:

Skylar loves Mommy's arms. She loves to rub, pinch, and scratch. (Mommy doesn't like the pinching and scratching.) So Mommy told Skylar that if she pinched Mommy's arm she would have to stop reading a book.

Daddy said, "What's Mommy going to do if you pinch her arm?"

Skylar said, "Stop reading the book and put it away."

Daddy said, "How would that make you feel?"

Skylar said, "Sad, and then I would cry. And call Mommy poo-poo head, bad Mommy."

Those dimples help ease the pain of being called poo-poo head, bad mommy.

Ah, I love those girlies. It's fun to recall those memories. And hearing these stories made the girls crack up.

Childhood stories, those that are sweet, funny, and embarrassing, are often told by family members or others. Whether it's a fun experience for a kid or horrible depends on the story, who's telling it, where it's being told, and the kid him/herself.

What's a story recalled and told about your main character and what's that experience like for him/her?

Friday, June 17, 2011

SCBWI Team Blog Exclusive Interview: MARY POPE OSBORNE

I raised my hand high for the chance to interview the incomparable MARY POPE OSBORNE as part of our SCBWI Team Blog Exclusive interviews.

Mary Pope Osborne is the author of one of the most successful children's book series EVER: The Magic Tree House series. The first Magic Tree House book, Dinosaurs Before Dark, came out in 1992. Now both #46 and #47 are available for pre-order and are as popular as ever.

I first knew Mary Pope Osborne as a teacher. For my students, reading a Magic Tree House book meant they had reached a huge milestone. Once they had read one they could declare, "I'm a chapter book reader." So exciting. Although, not all young readers may know Mary Pope Osborne's name, they know her beloved characters: Jack and Annie. And they can rattle off title after title of her popular books.

Mary Pope Osborne will be a giving a keynote, as well as conducting a breakout session during the SCBWI summer conference in LA.

And now, welcome to Mary Pope Osborne!

Your MAGIC TREE HOUSE series is really a series like no other. You can now pre-order both books #46 and #47. How do you maintain your inspiration and joy as you continue to work on such a successful and well-known series.

First I love my readers – kids between 5 and 9 are the most generous human beings on earth. They always give me encouragement and inspiration. (One young reader once sent me an apple and some marshmallows in case I needed a snack break from my writing.) Second, I love my characters Jack and Annie. I’ve come to think of them as friends and always look forward to finding out how they’ll behave in new times and places. Third I love exploring and researching all those different times and places. In fact, doing research for each book is the most fun part of the work and often dictates the plot and story elements. I’m always on the lookout for new information that will help keep the series fresh.

Somewhere along the way, has the success of the series ever brought fear that got you "stuck" as you moved forward to the next book?
This may sound hard to believe, but I honestly don’t think about the success of the series. I think about writing the stories for my husband Will who is my sounding-board, and I think about my editor Mallory Loehr who has worked on every single book. And I think about Jack and Annie and let them tell me what they would do and how they would feel in the places and situations I create for them.

If I stick to the task at hand, following Jack and Annie moment by moment, I never seem to get stuck. My advice for writers is not to worry about the sales of your work or even whether it’s “good”, but rather, invest yourself in the process of writing for the joy of the experience.

Such great advice!

Before Magic Tree House you published several other books. Do you ever dream up stories and characters unrelated to MAGIC TREE HOUSE?

Actually I had published at least twenty other books before I started the series; and I continue to write other books. Many of my books were retellings of mythology and folklore, including a six-part series of tales from the Odyssey. I’ve also written a number of Dear America books, picture books, YA novels, two mysteries, biographies, and works of nonfiction, such One World, Many Religions. All these works have helped the Magic Tree House series, as I incorporate myth, history and biography into Jack and Annie’s adventures.

And, you must tell us about all those adorable pups on your website's home page.

Oh, they are so glad you asked about them. Joey and Mr. Bezo are Norfolk terriers, and like many terriers, they are little demons with huge personalities and a great resistance to being obedient. They rule our house and have us very well-trained. The third dog, Little Bear, is a precious adoptee whom I first saw walking blithely down a country road. I liked to think he was waltzing into our lives to the tune of Moon River. He’s been a blissful companion ever since and endlessly tries to discipline his two scrappy brothers.

Thank you, Mary! I can't wait to meet Jack and Annie's creator in L.A.

For more, here's a great video interview about her creative process.

If you haven't registered for the conference yet you're in luck! Early registration (at a discount) will remain open until Monday, June 20th. Take advantage. Sign up HERE.