Monday, June 28, 2010

Voices You Should Hear: Picture Book Author Peggy Archer

Something a bit different today - I'm pleased to be able to host picture book author Peggy Archer. Here's what she has to say about how she crafts her books...

Congratulations on the publication of your newest picture book, NAME THAT DOG! Can you tell us a bit about the book?

Thank you, Janet!

NAME THAT DOG! is an alphabet book, and a book of poems about dogs and their names. It all started when we got a puppy and named her Snickers. After we named her, I started thinking of how she actually reminded me of a snickers bar. She was a caramel color. Her ears looked kind of like milk chocolate. And she was definitely nutty! So I wrote a poem about her and her name. I had no idea at that time that this would be the start of a picture book.

I wrote more poems about Snickers, and eventually about other dogs, too, including poems about dogs’ names. It grew into the idea of writing a book about dogs and their names.

I chose the alphabet as a framework, and selected names that fit the dog’s looks or personality rather than using people’s names, although there were a few exceptions. Elvis was named for a famous person. Frank was a nickname for frankfurter. Rex was also a nickname, for T-Rex, and Oscar was named for the Oscar awards. I wanted the poems to be fun, and make the reader smile. I used a marching rhythm for Liberty (born on the 4th of July), and put yoyo tricks into the poem about YoYo. I thought that adding the breeds of the dogs pictured would be an added bonus. My own dog, Snickers, is in many of the poems. She passed away last November, but her memory will live on in this book.

I know you also have other picture books - can you tell us about them, too?

My very first book, ONE of THE FAMILY, is a Little Golden Book published in 1984. At that time most of the ‘new baby’ books were about an older sibling feeling left out and adjusting. My own kids loved new babies! We have six children. I wanted to write about a family where the new baby was accepted and fit right in. ONE OF THE FAMILY is out of print, but can be found on e-bay.

My next book didn’t come out until 2005. TURKEY SURPRISE, Dial Books for Young Readers, is a Thanksgiving picture book about two pilgrim brothers hunting for a turkey and a turkey who is trying very hard to keep out of sight. The idea came from the radio, when two DJ’s were talking about turkeys flying. I never knew that turkeys could fly, and wasn’t sure that I believed it. So I did some research, and found out that wild turkeys do, indeed, fly. After that, I knew I had to write a book where the turkey would fly. The turkey only flies on one page of the book. The real story is about the little pilgrim brother who doesn’t want to hunt for a turkey, and the story goes from there. TURKEY SURPRISE sold well, and came out in paperback from Puffin in 2007 and made the NY Times bestsellers’ list for children’s paperback books that November.

FROM DAWN TO DREAMS: Poems for Busy Babies, Candlewick 2007, was my first book of poetry for children. Intended for babies and toddlers. I wanted to write poems about things that they could understand. I also wanted it to be something that a grownup and the child could interact with. FROM DAWN TO DREAMS is a collection of poems about very simple things that happen throughout a young child’s day—riding in the car, naptime, taking a bath, and rocking, etc. 

When you have an idea for a book, how do you structure it? Do you storyboard? Freewrite?

I think about it a lot first. Once I get the beginning in my head, then I can start writing it down on paper. Then I go to the computer to finish it. I don’t outline. I just write, beginning to end. Then revise a lot, and think about details, and tightening the story.

I can only imagine that when you surrender your story to an illustrator, you must have to believe that he or she will "get" your vision. Can you talk about that?

It’s a leap of faith! I need to trust my editor’s vision as well as that of the illustrator and the art director. In the end, I love it. The editor’s and art director’s job is to match the words with illustrations to make a book that is appealing and enjoyable to read. It’s not always what I’d imagined when I was writing. But in the end I can see that the illustrations complete the book, and make it even better. In TURKEY SURPRISE Thor Wickstrom brought the little dog into the story, which along with the expressions of the turkey, added so much to the humor of the story. Hanako Wakiyama’s illustrations for FROM DAWN TO DREAMS gave it a nostalgic dimension. And Stephanie Buscema’s wonderful dogs and detail, including paw prints on the cover and spine, in NAME THAT DOG! add more fun to the book.

Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?

I have a wonderful husband who has always been very supportive of my writing. We have six children, and six grandchildren. I work as a pediatric nurse at St. Anthony’s hospital, although I only work a few days a month now.  And I am the assistant regional advisor for Indiana SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators), a wonderful organization for children’s writers and illustrators. I love spending time with my family, and enjoy doing things outdoors. I also enjoy reading mysteries and doing puzzles. And someday I am going to start line dancing again!

I’m inspired by other children’s authors and their stories, by people who work with children, and by children themselves. I didn’t start to write for publication until I had five children of my own. I sometime wonder what it might have been like if I had started sooner. Thinking about that, I don’t think I would change anything. I love being a nurse, and I feel blessed to have been able to work only part time and spend time with my children as they were growing up. I love being a children’s author, and I’m enjoying that now. I hope to continue to write books that children love, and that publishers will want to publish. And I hope to always have children in my life.

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?

I’m working on a manuscript about animals and teeth that I hope to have completed by the end of the summer. And I’m looking for a home for a Christmas story called THE BABY IN THE BARN.  I hope to get back to a couple of unfinished projects, and a new idea not yet started, sometime soon.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about your books? 

My website is at, and you can also read my weekly blog there. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fabulous New Fiction: 2k10 Debut Author N.H. Senzai

SHOOTING KABUL by N.H. Senzai debuted this week - and this is a story that is not only of the moment but also receiving terrific advance press. And I think the cover is truly gorgeous. I'm delighted to have Naheed here to discuss her novel. And check out the number of cookbooks she owns...I'm ready to invite myself to dinner!

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, SHOOTING KABUL. It's receiving terrific advance press. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?

SHOOTING KABUL was inspired in part by my husband’s experience fleeing Soviet controlled Afghanistan in 1979.
The story is about a boy, Fadi, who never imagines he’d start middle school in Fremont, California, thousands of miles away from home in Kabul.  But, here he is, half a world apart from his missing six year old sister who’s been lost because of him, as they'd fled Afghanistan. Adjusting to life in the United States isn’t easy for Fadi’s family and as the events of September 11th unfold, the prospects of locating Mariam in a war torn Afghanistan seem slim -- impossible. Desperate, Fadi tries every hare-brained scheme he can think of to find her. When a photography competition with a grand prize trip to India is announced, Fadi sees his chance to return to Afghanistan and find his sister. But can one photo really bring Mariam home?
How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?

Gosh, I’ve been writing since the fifth grade, but got serious about it around five years ago. My first novel is a badly written fantasy, which is where I learned the craft of writing (it is lying in a box in my attic!) SHOOTING KABUL is my second book, the first to be published.

Can you describe your path to the publication of SHOOTING KABUL?

When I first got the idea for the book I wrote a synopsis for my agent, Michael Bourret, who liked the concept right away. I wrote it pretty quickly, in about 6 months. Michael suggested some edits and after completing those changes Michael submitted the novel to a group of editors. We were lucky to get a deal within three weeks after interest by multiple publishing houses. We chose to work with the clever and insightful Alexandra Penfold at Simon & Schuster.

Six months! Wow - I'm impressed. Do you have advice for beginning writers?

Dig within yourself and write what you know, you’ll surprise yourself! Really, don’t try to follow trends, write what you love, but look at your life, you’ll be surprised what unique knowledge, angle you have to write YOUR book.

Such great advice - and you've clearly followed it. Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?

1. At age four I moved to Jubail, Saudi Arabia from San Francisco when my father, a civil engineer, was transferred for work. I lived there 10 years, made tons of friends, ate camel meatloaf, camped on the beach with my girl scout troop and had a blast.

2. I went to a boarding school in London, England, wore a navy, itchy blue uniform and was voted “Most Likely to Lead Literary Revolution” (Mostly because I was reading comic books and romance novels when I was supposed to be analyzing Anna Karenina, doing calculus problems and distilling compounds in chemistry.)

3. I love to cook and own over 300 cookbooks. Most of my favorites deal with dessert..(Sshhh... I have sweet tooth and a secret desire to become a pastry chef.)

4. I’ve sailed down the Nile, through Cairo, past the Pyramids, the Temple of Luxor and swam with barracudas in the red sea.

5. I am an Intellectual Property Consultant in Silicon Valley by day and help companies and inventors figure out what to do with their patents. A few of the technologies I’ve worked on are: hybrid cars, plastic packaging, car seat warmers, fireworks, cell phones, meat processing, MRI machines and robots.

Wow. What an amazing resume! Do you have any new writing ventures underway?

Yes, I have another idea for a middle grade of am working on with my editor, but it’s all top secret right now !

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about SHOOTING KABUL? 

Thanks, Naheed!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Social Networking: To Be or Not To Be

Those of you who read my blog know that I rarely post a personal comment. I'm actually a shy person - I was the kind of kid who watched from the sidelines, the kind of teen who hid behind her books, and I'm the kind of adult who doesn't like the spotlight.

But I wanted to post on this topic, even if it feels a little weird, because it's piqued my curiosity. And the topic is...just how much social networking/personal marketing does an author have to do?

I was chatting with my critique partners the other day about social networking, and I made the rash statement, "I've been hearing that publishers expect you to have an online presence." They looked at me as if I'd told them they had to eat dirt (or something nastier) in order to get published. "Why?" one of them - a published author of award-winning books, who doesn't blog or tweet - asked. "Well," I said, "um..."

Good question.

I've been reading a number of discussions on various blogs about the concept of author "branding" as part of our publishing persona. I think this concept of branding is tied to my assumption that having an online presence is an essential part of my job. That in order to sell my books I have to blog, tweet, and Facebook. I certainly do all those things, and I think they've helped introduce my books to readers. I think.

But I also know that they take time - time away from writing - and frankly some of my online stuff makes me feel...awkward. As in tweeting "visit this blog where I've been interviewed!" Whooee, mama. Sure, I'm a writer who wants to be read. But why do I feel like I'm screaming "look at me!"?

And branding - that's a whole other level. I have some really smart writer friends who say it's essential to develop a personal brand. I have some equally smart writer friends who scoff at the notion. I wish I knew what "branding" really means. Other than the cowpoke thing that turns my stomach (yep - done that.)

So, here I am, standing alone in the wind, so that I can toss out a few questions to you all. How much social networking do you think is necessary for writers to do? How much is too much? Does it really help us sell our books?

What do you think?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Voices You Should Hear: JT Dutton

JT Dutton is a 2k classmate, whose debut novel, FREAKED, came out last year. Her second novel, STRANDED, has just launched to rave reviews. She's been a wonderful person to "meet" virtually - smart and supportive - and I'm truly delighted to have her here. And I'm pleased that I'll finally meet her in person when we are both speaking on a panel at NCTE this fall!

Congratulations on the publication of your second novel, STRANDED. Please tell us a bit about the novel.

Kelly Louise Sorenson is a teen girl whose Mom forces her to move to a small town in Iowa, an area still reeling from a media reaction to an abandoned baby. Bored and frustrated, Kelly Louise embarks on a campaign to corrupt her goody-goody cousin only to discover that Natalie has serious secrets which the whole family must come to terms with.

What was the biggest difference in craft terms between this novel and your first novel, FREAKED?

I wrote FREAKED as if it were a nostalgia/humor novel for Deadheads. I thought teens might be interested, but I didn’t think that they would be the primary audience, at least at first. When I wrote STRANDED, I kept teen readers in mind from the beginning and tried to make the themes, references, writing style, snappy.

I also switched from writing about a boy to telling a girl’s story. Believe it or not, despite my gender and the fact that I was once like Kelly Louise, I found “being a ‘girl” in my writing difficult, especially when it came to expressing negative feelings.  Kelly Louise’s quirky humor came to my rescue, as my own weird way of looking at the world once helped me, but the work was still hard because I think girls are less free to express certain frustrations out loud. 

I read in a post you wrote for the Class of 2k10 that you feel that the personal concept of what is "good" drives your novels. Can you talk about that a bit?

People have asked me a lot about my dark characters. My interest in teens who don’t behave well carries over into my personal life. I have read a lot of novels of transgression, dated a lot of bad boys in my single years and know more than my share of addicts and homeless people. Some people love vampires but I love the human version of risk taking, outsider, and otherness. 

I think we live in a broken society. The frustration of oil leaking into the gulf of Mexico, for example, angers me enough that rather than tell stories of characters who patiently endure and survive, behave as victims of wrongdoing, I am motivated to write ones about characters who get angry and defy.

Scotty Loveletter and Kelly Louise Sorenson, my protagonists, may make more mistakes than their less rebellious peers, but in the end they have at least stepped out of a passive shell or desire to let their troubles roll over them. By the end of both books, neither one is hiding anymore. I can’t always say what they do is “right” but I think they are more on the way to adulthood than they would be if they folded their hands and waited for someone else to save them.

Do you usually start with a concept, like "goodness", or do you start with a character?

I actually began writing STRANDED in response to an incident—a baby abandoned in a corn field in Iowa. Huge media arguments about right to life vs. right to choice erupted following a very real incident in the news and I began wondering about questions of forgiveness. Usually I start with a character or I begin channeling a voice, but this time I felt the draw of a moral dilemma.

You're a teacher. Do you share your work with your students? How do you share your craft with them?

I teach College Composition and Creative Writing at Hiram College in Ohio. It’s hard to share my work with my students, but I always do, in the form of group writing exercises and sometimes readings. To be honest, I think some of my students are more creative, artful, and sometimes even better word-smiths than me and by exposing them to my raw stuff I have to suck up a lot of feelings of embarrassment.  I toss my struggles into the mix because I feel like no writer should have to suffer alone. Writing is hard, but motivation, support, and a great deal of insight can come from some kind of collaboration.

I stay in touch with a lot of my former students because one day one of them is going to win the Pulitzer or something, I just know it.

What are you working on now?

I am writing a novel about a character from STRANDED who almost stole the whole show from Kelly Louise as I was drafting. I love the project because it involves a wealthy girls camp, a degenerate boy, and an explosion—sort of the best of all worlds.

How can readers find out more about you?

I have a website— The usual links to Facebook and Twitter are posted there.

And here is the trailer for STRANDED:

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Fabulous New Fiction: 2k10 Debut Author Shari Maurer

I'm delighted to introduce Shari Maurer, whose debut novel CHANGE OF HEART has a lovely back story. You'll see what I mean...

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, CHANGE OF HEART. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?

CHANGE OF HEART is about a 16 year old soccer player who needs a heart transplant. It was inspired by a Discovery Health program we were watching one night. There was a young girl waiting for a transplant and I was totally haunted by the look in her eyes as they wheeled her into the operating room for her transplant, not knowing if she would live or die.

How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?

This is my first teen novel. I worked for Children's Television Workshop on international versions of Sesame Street several years ago, so I've always been interested in entertaining kids and teens.

Can you describe your path to the publication of CHANGE OF HEART?

It was a long one, but fortunately I have a tenacious agent. I really liked everything I read about WestSide Books and thought they'd be a great fit for CHANGE OF HEART. We submitted the novel in September, but didn't hear back from them until May--it was a long wait, but certainly worth it!
Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Read everything you can. I'm constantly reading. I love YA, which is probably part of why I decided to write that. You can learn so much from things you enjoy and from things that bore you. And the other piece of advice I heard from David A. Adler when he spoke at my kids' school: there's no such thing as a bad first draft. Just get it on paper, take a chance and go from there.

Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?

I'm learning to balance promotion for CHANGE OF HEART with focusing on my next project. It's hard to turn off the internet and all the other distractions I call Life. I was very lucky and able to accompany my husband to Rome recently, where I wrote for good, focused chunks of time. I'm trying to imitate that at home by taking my netbook to different places. In July, I'm heading to Durham, NC to drive my sons and their friends to Duke Basketball Camp. I'll have five days of solitude and hope to get a lot done then, too. Duke's my alma mater, so I'm excited to be back there and wander the quad and the Duke Gardens and write and read.
Do you have any new writing ventures underway?

I just finished a hopefully promising first draft of a new book. I'm looking forward to revising it and bringing it to where it needs to be.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about CHANGE OF HEART? 

Yes! Come visit me and say hi there!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Fabulous New Fiction: 2k10 Debut Author Shannon Delany

I'm thrilled to introduce debut and 2k10 author Shannon Delany and her novel 13 TO LIFE.

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, 13 TO LIFE. I know it had an unusual beginning! Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?

Thanks, Janet! Yes, 13 TO LIFE started as a textnovel--a cell phone novel over at I was a finalist with it and another story, but 13 TO LIFE won the first-ever cell phone novel contest in the western world, landing me some cash and an agent (he was part of my winnings).

The story itself grew very organically. Thinking back about it now I realize I'd seen LOTS of vampire novels, but almost no werewolf ones (and I've always loved wolves and the clarity with which werewolves symbolism change in many ways). I was messing around on Textnovel and the phrase "13 to Life" was stuck in my head. That and werewolves slammed together and my characters announced themselves.

Can you describe your path to the publication of 13 TO LIFE?

Sure. I stumbled onto an announcement about the site and promptly forgot about it. I saw it about a month later and read about cell phone novels (they are HUGE in Asia). Figuring I'd give it a try I posted a super-brief chapter or two every day until the contest's end. I built a blog (which has remianed my blog) and posted polls about what characters looked like and what could happen next and then wrote to the results the public gave (which really made me stretch a couple times). When I won my agent put out a press release. We got contacted by the man who is now my editor and a movie producer first. Meanwhile my agent (Stan Soper) was busy dealing with queries. We got another big publisher who took an interest, but St. Martin's Press definitely had me hooked. Great people--invested and interested and easy to talk to. I <3 St. Martin's Press and always recommend them to other authors.

How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?

The first story I ever got published was when I was in 8th grade and it was definitely for teens, but I gave up on writing for a while after a string of rejections in 9th grade (I had no clue what I was doing and I probably felt those rejections much more deeply back then than I should have). I still wrote, but it was just for myself (which I firmly believe all writers should do: write for yourself first). When my son was just a baby I was in an area with a writer's group. I wrote a short story every week because of that group. It was also then that I started submitting to magazines and got published a couple times. My confidence built. But I was still playing and freelancing when I hit 13 to Life is the first novel I truly completed.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Yes. Read a lot, write even more, and be patient with your journey to success. It may seem like I had overnight success, but I've been writing creatively for a looong time. I just hadn't gotten really serious about it. The audience at gave me the kick in the rump I needed.

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?

Yes. I'm currently in heavy research for what I expect will be another trilogy. I'm melding gobs of history and legend together for this one. I'm also building what we'll incorrectly call a steampunk (but if I tell you what it really should be called it'd give too much away at the moment) and another paranormal series that started as an ugly rough draft from NaNoWriMo 2009. Those are my main projects right now (other than making sure book 3 of 13 TO LIFE is really closed up as far as I want). We'll see what goes where and when, but, for now, I'm writing the story the characters want me to tell.

Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?

I live on a 26+ acre farmstead raising heritage livestock. I'm married and have a six year-old boy --they are very much my inspirations. My husband is one of my first readers and a great partner in brainstorming. My son has ideas for his own stories (and stories he wants me to write). I have lots of goals for my future in writing, but right now I'm just trying to keep my head above water with everything I'm doing for 13 TO LIFE's release. Book 2 in the 13 TO LIFE series is scheduled for January 2011 with book 3 hitting shelves in summer 2011.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about 13 TO LIFE?

Absolutely! You can delve into the world of Junction (the main town in 13 TO LIFE) by going to . There you can see what Jessie's reading or what she recommends, check out the book's playlists, prowl around Jessie's farm and check out Junction High School. The site will keep growing and deepening as the series grows, so check back from time to time! If you want to know about me, hop over to or join me at my blog: or my Facebook Fanpage ( ) or join me on Twitter (I'm @Shannon_Delany).

Thanks, Shannon!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Fabulous New Fiction: 2k10 Debut Author Tom Leveen

Today I'm delighted to bring you an interview with debut author Tom Leveen, discussing his novel PARTY.

Congratulations on the publication of your novel, PARTY. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?

PARTY takes place over the course of one night in Santa Barbara, where 11 students take turns relating the events of a raging end-of-year party. It was partly inspired by a trip to Santa Barbara - a very cool town - and loosely modeled on several experiences I had or that were had by close friends in high school.

I love Santa Barbara! How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?

I've written other books, but PARTY was the first to be published. One I have been work on since 1993 (!) seems to have finally found a home, though I can't make a formal announcement quite yet unfortunately. (Welcome to the glacial pace of publishing!). Most of my work has been about teens because they experience life in such profound, exciting ways. There's little need to add drama to their stories; the drama is part of life!

Yes, publication can take a glacial pace. Can you describe your complete path to the publication of PARTY?

Tedious. :) And rewarding! I obtained my first agent in the usual manner - query, rejection, query, rejection, x40. But the book I signed with didn't get picked up at the time (but was later to become the second book I just spoke of above). We went through four or five revisions, then I got a new agent at the same agency, where we revised again. What happened after that, I don't know exactly, but PARTY did sell at auction, which was awesome. My advice: keep working on those query letters. They are so hard to do well, and honestly, I hope I never have to write another one!

That is awesome! Do you have any other advice for beginning writers?

Play by the rules. Agency and publishing house rules for submission can be strange to navigate sometimes, but they exist for a reason, and you're best served by following instructions to the letter. Remember that while being a writer is fun, being an author is a job. Treat it like one. That includes treating your agent, editor, and everyone else as a professional. One, ten, or even forty rejections doesn't mean you're done; keep writing. I personally also recommend not focusing on a "series." Write one solid book, pitch it, then get to work on another book. Worry about "series potential" after you have that first book out. But that's only an opinion. Lastly: tell a good story. Good stories are what gets editors' attention.

Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?

I'm inspired largely by my friends, friends I've had for 20+ years in most cases. My plans for the future include writing more YA novels, God willing, and hopefully being able to go to schools, bookstores, and libraries and talk with teens about their lives. If just one teen gets something positive out of something I've written or said, then I consider my job done. As for goals - mainly, just to keep writing and entertaining. I'm a storyteller, we all are, and that's what I live for.

Do you have any new writing ventures underway?

I do! I'll be entering revision on "Book Two" soon, hopefully. My agent has two other books on her desk right now that we'll start revising later this month, I believe. Meanwhile I'm playing with middle grade fiction for the first time, which is a whole new animal for me.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about PARTY?

Sure. Most everything can be found at My facebook page (there's a link on my website) is also a good place for the most up-to--date info on signings and other news.

Author photo credit: John Groseclose

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

And the Winner Is...

The winner of my randomly selected May FAITHFUL "last ARC" plus cameo charm contest is...

Linda Benson!

I'm also delighted to announce that three librarians have won copies of FAITHFUL through the School Library Journal contest:

Rebecca Clark of the Aurora Public Library (Aurora, IL), Susan Hunter of the Riverside Middle School Library (Springfield, VT), and Diane Lozano of Alpine, TX. Congratultions, ladies!

The good news is there is one more giveaway for FAITHFUL. AUTHORSNOW has just posted a Spotlight and giveaway here.

I also want to thank Sydney Salter for hosting a giveaway and interview, and Kay Cassidy for including me in her Scavenger Hunt. And I'm on Ticket to Anywhere this week, too!

Hugs to all...