Posts Tagged ‘Author Spotlight’

The December meeting for our SCBWI- San Diego chapter features local published authors sharing lessons that they have learned throughout the year. This is a highly informative meeting and I always come away feeling truly inspired. This year, local author Karen Coombs shared her experiences of turning an out of print book into the ebook “Bully at Ambush Corner.” I was inspired by her story and invited Karen to visit with us on the Sidewalk


Karen’s Bio:

Karen Mueller Coombs is the author of nine published fiction and nonfiction books for children and young adults. Born in Wisconsin and raised in Northern Alberta, Karen is a former elementary school teacher now living in Southern California, where she ice curls and plays golf when she isn’t reading and writing.

Author Spotlight:

WOTS: Can you tell me a bit about your writing process? Do you plot or not?

KMC: I’m definitely not a plotter. I usually have an idea of how I want the story to end, but the road between the beginning and that goal often goes back and forth and around and around. I’m like a night traveler with a lantern that illuminates only a teeny bit of the dark path ahead. Fortunately, both the traveler and I can reach our destinations one step at a time, and if I’ve created characters with enough depth and breadth, and if I love and trust them, they will lead me in the right direction. I admire people who plot out an entire novel, scene by scene, before they write the first sentence. I think I’d lose my enthusiasm for the work if I did that. I seem to work best by hurtling down that dark path and getting excited by the ideas I stumble over on the way.

Because I don’t plot, I once had an unnerving experience. I was working on the first draft of a middle grade novel and was excited about what was going to happen next, but didn’t make a note of it. Why should I? It was such a marvelous idea, I couldn’t possibly forget it. Ri-i-i-ght! Life intervened and I didn’t get back to the story for a few months. By that time, my wonderful plot point had dribbled out of my brain. An excellent—though frustrating—lesson. When you have a brilliant idea, write it down no matter how much you trust your memory!

WOTS: Are you working on any new projects that you can tell us about?

KMC: I have quite a few manuscripts underway. Some are picture books, which I’d love to see illustrated and published, but which I forget to submit. (Did I mention brain dribble?)

I have a humorous, young adult contemporary novel circulating among agents and editors. The main characters are two 15-year-old boys. An agent is interested, but wants a revision, which might require me to restore at least one of the two subplots I had previously cut, but which I WROTE DOWN. The story is cleaner without the subplots, but I don’t think it has as much depth, which is what the agent felt too.

Currently, I’m totally engrossed in revising a middle grade historical fiction set in the west in the late 1800s. This has been a long-term project, and I believe this rewrite is the version it was meant to be. Gee, if I were a plotter, I might have reached this point sooner. But by working slowly, I’ve really gotten to know my hysterically funny, rebellious main character (based on a real person) and to enjoy her company longer. When this book is finished, I’ll miss having her rattle around in my head and sharing her hair-brained schemes, which are meant to solve her problems, but which only complicate her life.

The latest project is an eBook collaboration with a group of other published writers. We are banding together and working with an eBook coordinator to update and publish our out-of-print biographies under the series heading Spotlight Biographies.

WOTS: Describe your studio or usual work space for us.

KMC: In high school, I had a home economics teacher who daily drilled us on the maxim, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” Since I’m an organized person who has difficulty thinking straight if I’m surrounded by a mess, in my office everything does have a place. That being said, I’ll confess that when I’m in the middle of a number of different projects, my desk looks like someone tossed a recycling bin on it. However, I am very, very fortunate to have a dedicated office of my own, with lots of desk space to litter, book shelves all around, and all the necessary equipment, paraphernalia, and reference books at hand. I have windows on the south, and French doors on the east looking out on a fountain, whose trickle I find soothing when the writing’s not going well, and which attracts an entertaining parade of birds that ruffle around in the water or sit at the edge and take dainty sips when they aren’t at the nearby bird feeder. Once, flocks of crows decimated the feeder on a regular basis, digging in with their greedy beaks and flinging out the seed as fast as we could add it, so it’s now covered with a plastic grid that allows the smaller birds to go through or behind, but keeps the crows out. It was fun watching the crows’ first visit after the barrier was added, trying to come up with a way to get past it. Now they seldom bother to come. Fast learners, crows.

On my office walls, there is a print of the loaded shelves and the spiral staircase in the Trinity College Library in Dublin for inspiration, two prints by Canadian “Group of Seven” artists A.Y. Jackson and Tom Thomson, which remind me of home, and another of shaggy Highland cattle, which reminds me of my heritage. Writing awards, family photos, and handmade gifts from my children when they were small are scattered around the shelves. But my pièce de résistance is a housekeeping doorknob hanger I pinched from a hotel in Scotland. Whenever I don’t want to be bothered, I close my door to reveal the hanger, which does not say, “Privacy Please,” but the more direct, “Leave me alone.”No one pays it any mind.

WOTS: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

KMC: There are quite a few professions I would have loved to attempt. Heck, since I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be, perhaps I’ll still try them!

When I was about to graduate from high school, the career counselor called me in to discuss my career plans. I told her I wanted to be an interior designer. Why? Because I had recently seen a movie that made that job look romantic and exciting. Wonderful logic!

The counselor never looked at my grades to see where I excelled. She never suggested journalism or creative writing, or even teaching, so off I went to college to study interior design, completely forgetting that my tenth grade English teacher had told me I could make my living as a writer. If only I had known how many different kinds of jobs existed in that field.

It wasn’t long before I was getting F in furniture design—because I couldn’t remember a Queen Ann-style leg from a Victorian—and getting A in English and psychology. I ended up becoming a teacher, because I didn’t know there were such jobs as journalist, columnist, or foreign correspondent, careers I might still choose if I go for a do-over.

However (shhhh, don’t tell), my longtime secret, secret dream was to be a singer. A country western singer. What stopped me? The big hair and big skirts they wore back in the day. What stops me now? My voice dribbled away like a certain plot point, going from mellow to screech.

WOTS: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

I’m an avid ice curler who is able to feed my passion because there is a curling league in San Diego. We don’t have a dedicated curling rink, so use arena ice. But for those of us who love the sport, it’s still curling, and we’re grateful to be able to slide, sweep, and, occasionally, crack our heads. Had curling been a viable profession when I was in high school, it would have been my number one career choice, relegating the country western singing to the shower. And if curling had been an Olympic event back then, I would have aimed for that. Two of my loves—curling and the Olympics. Heaven!

And for those of you who think curling is a boring, wussy sport, please join us. You’ll learn how much of the game depends on skill and strategy. And I’ll provide the Tiger Balm.

WOTS: Your recent ebook release, Bully at Ambush Corner, is a revision of a previously published book, can you tell us what led to this decision?  

KMC: For a few years, life was crazy and demanding, and I wasn’t able to write. When I returned to it full time, the business had changed. (Plenty has been written about how different it is today for writers trying to sell their work, so I won’t go into that.) Where once my manuscripts would easily have found a publishing house, now I struggled to get an overworked agent or editor to even read them. I am persistent, determined, and a hard worker. (I’m a Taurus, after all.) But my efforts seemed to be getting me nowhere. Frustrated, I began paying attention to all the talk of eBooks, and decided my out-of-print books might be worth converting to that format. From my middle grade novels, I chose Beating Bully O’Brien for my initiation, because the topic of bullying is timely and timeless. I chose BookBaby to design the cover and do the conversions to all formats. After a revision, the greatly improved book, renamed Bully at Ambush Corner, was published on November 1.

 WOTS: Can you share some of the highs and lows of republishing a book as an ebook?

KMC: Publishing my ebook was a wild roller coaster ride. The same challenge could fit both the high and low category. For example, for a (recovering) control freak it’s a definite high knowing I had complete control of the entire book, cover included. At the same time, complete control meant I also had full responsibility for the book’s failure or success, because promoting it fell entirely on my shoulders. A definite low.

Getting the perfect cover design was a challenge for me. The first cover samples from BookBaby seemed too busy and the characters didn’t match their descriptions. I ended up spending hours and hours on Photoshop designing the cover myself. A downer. But the final results are exactly what I had in mind. An upper.

Release day was more anxiety-producing than for any of my previous eight books. I knew I hadn’t done as much preliminary promotion as I should have. I wasn’t even sure what kind of promotion I should be doing and was playing catch up as quickly as possible. Then, when I discovered errors in the book, I immediately went into a massive stomach clench. (You can read about that on my blog.)

One difficult aspect of my journey through eBookville is the lack of feedback I’m getting to date. Because I used a third party to convert and submit my manuscript, I don’t get sales figures directly from the booksellers, but have to wait until BookBaby receives them and sends them to me. So I have no idea if or how many books are being sold. Patience. Patience. Gr-r-r-r-r.

The biggest challenge, however, is the promotion itself. It takes oodles of time to contact news outlets, to blog, tweet, and post on Facebook, and, to date, there is little to indicate if my efforts are going out into a big black void of silent indifference. An invitation to guest on another blog, such as Writing on the Sidewalk, is a massive high.

Weighing the highs and lows, would I do it again? Sure. It’s great knowing my out-of-print books can be made available to a new generation of readers. Double darn sure I’d do it again if sales reports indicate I might actually earn some money. And since we’re already moving ahead with the Spotlight Biographies series, whose first book is soon to be released, I guess I’m committed. Here’s hoping.

WOTS: We here at Writing on the Sidewalk tend to procrastinate with our writing, where do you fit in Procrastinator or Proactive?

KMC: Both. When I have a book underway, I’m eager to get to my office and write. In between, not so much. I’ll dither and dawdle, toy with different ideas, organize a lot of cupboards and drawers, play computer games, and read. And that last act is the one that gets me back to my desk. Then, once I have seat of pants on seat of chair, I remember how much fun writing is and I get enthusiastic about a new idea, a new book. So, for me, first comes the perspiration, then the inspiration. If I waited to be inspired, I’d never write. Occasionally I’ll come up with an idea that sends me scampering to my computer, which is what happened with my current YA contemporary, but usually I dive in first and then I get fired up about my work.

A quotation by Emerson is posted above my desk: “May the work that you do be the play that you love.”

When it comes to my writing, that says it all. Now excuse me while I go and play.

WOTS: Thanks Karen for visiting with us today.

If you’d like to learn more about Karen or her book Bully at Ambush Corner please be sure to check the following links:



Happy Reading,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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I heard Erin Dealey and her agent Deborah Warren speak at a recent SCBWI meeting. The presentation was fun and informative and I knew that I had to ask Erin to step into the spotlight.

Author Bio:

Erin Dealey writes fiction for kids, from toddlers to teens, including picture books GOLDIE LOCKS HAS CHICKEN POX and LITTLE BO PEEP CAN’T GET TO SLEEP (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster), two novelty books (Unibooks), a paired reader (Pearson), poetry, and plays.  She is a K-12 Language Arts/ theater teacher,  Co-Regional Advisor for SCBWI California North/Central, and tweets far more regularly than she blogs. (@ErinDealey)

Author Spotlight:

WOTS: What was your road to publication?
ED: Mine is a slush pile success story. As a high school theater teacher, I wrote skits and plays for my students as well as elementary classes to perform. My first published play was “The Christmas Wrap Rap” in Plays magazine. (And you thought my Writers’ Rap youtube was a first!) One day I picked up a YA  novel left behind by one of my drama students and thought, I could do this.  I always told my students to follow their dreams, so I took my own advice. I starting writing a YA and swapping pages with a fellow teacher, author Anne Martin Bowler. But Annie was having me read a picture book pages while I gave her chapters. This is when Goldie Locks Has Chicken Pox popped into my head. To my surprise it was like writing a skit or play, a story to be performed (or read) aloud, and keep “audiences” coming back for more. When Goldie was done, I queried two publishers and received a rejection slip right away from one of them. The other editor asked me to send the full manuscript, which I did. During the summer, I run the Theater Department at Sugarloaf Fine Arts Camp, so I truly lost track of how much time had passed. In September, I got a call from a Senior Editor at Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, who eventually offered me a contract.
WOTS: Can you tell me a bit about your writing process? Do you plot or not?

ED: With picture books, I start with a title or concept and see where it goes. Most of my first drafts are hand-written “sloppy copies.” Even with longer works, I try to get the story out first–beginning to end–to see where it goes. Because of all my theater work, characters, voice, and dialog come easy. I’m definitely plot-challenged. With my most recent WIP, another YA novel, I’d just finished the first draft when we went on vacation–far away from computers–so I ended up mapping it out in a notebook. This turned out to be an incredible help in my revisions.

WOTS: Are you working on any new projects that you can tell us about?

ED: The current YA is set in the theater department of a high school. As you can tell, whenever I work on longer manuscripts like this, picture book ideas pop up, so I use those to take a break on my WIP. Let’s just say I’ve been taking plenty of pb breaks lately.

WOTS: Describe your studio or usual work space for us.
ED: The best description would be…spacious, wall-to-wall books, gorgeous view. The minute I step into it, I’m inspired; and the house elf arrives at midnight to keep it that way.  A more honest description  would be…cluttered, every inch of desk space covered with notes, a few To Do lists, and piles of books. Luckily my inspirations come from kids–my own, all the students I’ve ever taught, and the kid inside me who never grew up–not an office. (Did you really believe the part about the house elf?)

WOTS: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

ED: Writing for kids encompasses many of the paths I’ve already taken: mom, teacher, actor, director, playwright, book store manager–maybe not my stint in the Pineapple Factory (see erindealey.com for details), but you never know.

WOTS: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

ED: Well the Pineapple Factory gig is out of the bag now. And my on-screen credits will be too if people check out my web site. I always tell kids at school visits that no one expected me to write books some day, but most adults don’t know this. I started college as a Math major/French minor, and ended up with a degree in English and Art.

WOTS: Has your experience as a drama teacher helped you with your writing?

ED: Most definitely. As I said before, picture books–even longer works—are theater. You need to engage your audience from the start, make sure they come back at intermission, and give them something to chew on after the curtain falls. Actors learn to create a character’s back story and experiment with voice and physicality. As an actor and playwright, I love words. I also love Author assemblies. Give me a microphone and a multi-purpose room full of kids and I’m in heaven.

WOTS: For your books “Goldie Locks has Chicken Pox” and “Little Bo Peep Can’t Get to Sleep” you incorporate flawlessly characters from many different nursery rhymes. Was it a conscious decision which characters to use or was it defined by the use of verse?

ED: Thanks so much for the kind words. The whole concept of nursery rhyme characters having experiences other than just breaking Baby Bear’s chair came after I directed a high school production of Into the Woods (A Sondheim/Lapine musical that, coincidentally, debuted at San Diego’s Old Globe in 1986.). I honestly never try to write in rhyme. It just happens, probably due to all those song lyrics I wrote down as a teenager, years of touring with a children’s theater company, and directing Shakespeare.

WOTS: We here at Writing on the Sidewalk tend to procrastinate with our writing, where do you fit in Procrastinator or Proactive?

ED: Most of the time, I’m proactive. This YA novel seems like it’s taking forever, but I mean it when I say that people rarely succeed on talent alone. It takes patience, professionalism, and persistence. The last time I procrastinated big time was when I had to write Progress Reports, call a parent, or correct piles of tests or essays. The beauty of writing children’s books is that my life is now free of report cards, and I still get motivate kids to read and write. : )  How cool is that?

WOTS: Thanks Erin for taking the time to visit with us on the Sidewalk.

If you’d like to learn more about Erin be sure to check out her website erindealey.com.

Happy Reading,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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This week we have a fabulous guest for our latest Author Spotlight. I met Greg van Eekhout at an event at a local bookstore here in San Diego and was impressed by his presentation. Son #2 finished his book The Boy at the End of the World in less than a day.

Author Bio:

Greg van Eekhout was born in Los Angeles, California. He has held many jobs, including instructional designer, multimedia developer, college English teacher, bookseller, advertising salesman, and ice cream scooper. He writes for adult and middle-grade audiences, including the books Norse Code, Kid vs. Squid, and The Boy at the End of the World. After many years of living around Phoenix, Arizona, he now lives in San Diego.

 Author Spotlight:

WOTS: What was your road to publication?

GvE: It was one of those roads where a pterodactyl swoops down and flies off with your engine, but then it turns out the gas station has your favorite kind of jerky, so it’s all right.

I learned to write by writing short stories. It was useful learning how to envision an entire story and get experience in starting and finishing things. Also, a lot of the writers who were influencing me back in my teens, when I started writing in earnest, were principally short-story writers.  I also got experience formatting manuscripts and following submission guidelines, and getting into the mindset of writing and submitting things. Mostly I’d send the stories to little horror magazines who’d say they were going to buy my story but then they’d never send the check and it would always turn out that the magazine folded four minutes after mailing off my acceptance letter. This went on for some time. I made my first sale to a former co-worker who ran an odd little photocopied magazine, and then to an anthology that was stocked at bookstores, and then to proper science fiction and fantasy magazines and anthologies. After a few years of that, some of the editors at the traditional New York book publishing companies became aware of me through my stories, and they started expressing interest in seeing a novel from me, so when I finished my second book (the first book was trunked), I sent it to one of those editors, and much to my shock, she made me an offer. That was Norse Code, which came out from Ballantine Spectra.

While I was waiting for Norse Code to be released, I wrote a middle-grade novel and sold it in a two-book deal, and those two books, Kid vs. Squid and The Boy at the End of the World, got me started as a middle-grade writer.

WOTS: Can you tell me a bit about your writing process? Do you plot or not?

GvE: I plot. Then, I realize my plot stinks and I start making stuff up as I go along. Then I write myself into a corner and I decide that my plot was brilliant and I regret going off the planned course, so I throw out a bunch of words and revisit my outline. I go through this stumbling sort of process several times, and gradually the book takes shape. Then, in revision, I end up tossing out whole huge chunks and rewriting them from scratch. It’s a crazy way to write a book, but it seems to be my process, and while I always hope to get better with every book, the books do get written and I don’t think they’re completely terrible, so even though my process is maddeningly inefficient, it mainly works.

WOTS: Are you working on any new projects that you can tell us about?

GvE: Yes! Right now I’m working on the first of three urban fantasy novels for adults. They’re about modern-day wizards who get magic from the remains of magical creatures, like griffins and dragons and so forth, found in places like the La Brea Tar Pits or peat bogs or the frozen Siberian tundra. While I’m writing these, I’m also in the very early stages of some middle-grade projects.

WOTS: Describe your studio or usual work space for us.

GvE: I have a tiny desk, right next to the sofa in the living room. It’s got enough room for my laptop, a lamp, a couple pieces of paper, and my coffee cup. There’s usually a scruffy little dog at my feet. I used to do a lot of time writing in coffee shops, which is stimulating, but when I sold my first book I realized how much money I was spending every week at coffee shops, and it stopped making sense from a business standpoint.

WOTS: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

GvE: I love doodling, and before I committed to being a writer, I thought I might be some kind of comic-book artist or cartoonist. I guess I didn’t want it badly enough to work hard at it, though. But I still daydream about it.

WOTS: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

GvE: I’m Batman.

WOTS: For your story The Boy at the End of the World you have created a fantastic post-apocalyptic  world. Can you share a little of the process you used in creating this world?

GvE: I wanted it to be a far, far future world, but that kind of setting is problematic. If we project so far into the future that animals have evolved drastically, then almost all our structures and all evidence that humans have ever been here are probably going to be swallowed up by nature. Yet, I wanted there to be ruins and abandoned shopping malls and such, just because an environment with crumbling buildings is far more interesting to me than complete wilderness. So I had to let the animals be changed by genetic engineering, and the landscape to be changed by environmental engineering. At first it seemed to me as if I were making a compromise, but then I realized the idea of unintended consequences is one of the major themes of human history, at least since the Industrial Revolution, and it’s likely to be a continuing theme as we face the future. Science fiction, whether the intended audience is adults or middle-grade readers, is most interesting to me when the physical and social environments are entwined with theme.

WOTS: We here at Writing on the Sidewalk tend to procrastinate with our writing, where do you fit in Procrastinator or Proactive?

GvE: When I had a job with a regular schedule, I was definitely Team Proactive. I had an hour in the morning to write before work, and it was the most important hour of the day, because it belonged to me, not to my employer. So, wasting that hour would be giving away something I didn’t want to give. Now that I don’t have a job with a regular schedule, I’ve sadly become Team Procrastinator. The me of a few years ago would want to give the me of today a kick in the butt, and the me of today would deserve it.

WOTS: Thanks Greg for visiting with us today.

If you’d like to learn more about Greg be sure to check out his Writing and Snacks  website and blog.

Happy Writing,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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We are thrilled to have Erin E. Moulton under the spotlight today!

Erin E. Moulton graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2007. She is the author of Flutter: The Story of Four Sisters and One Incredible Journey (Philomel/Penguin 2011), and Tracing Stars, forthcoming from Philomel/Penguin in 2012. Erin is co-founder of the Kinship Writers Association. She lives in Southern New Hampshire with her husband and puppy where she has a big annual pumpkin carving party, writes, reads, drinks tea, dreams and occasionally runs through the neighbor’s yard to catch her darned dog (Sorry Mr. and Mrs. Murray). You can visit her online at www.erinemoulton.com or on Facebook as Erin E. Moulton (Author).

Flutter: The Story of Four Sisters and One Incredible Journey is one exciting, yet charming girl adventure story!

The story: Big things are about the happen at Maple’s house. Mama’s going to have a baby, which means now there will be four Rittle sisters instead of just three. But when baby Lily is born too early and can’t come home from the hospital, Maple knows it’s up to her to save her sister. So she and Dawn, armed with a map and some leftover dinner, head off down a river and up a mountain to find the Wise Woman who can grant miracles. Now it’s not only Lily’s survival that they have to worry about, but also their own. The dangers that Maple and Dawn encounter on their journey makes them realize a thing or two about miracles-and about each other.

Writing on the Sidewalk (WOTS): For our first step on the interview path, I love your title. As someone who struggles with titles, I am curious, what came first, the title or the story?

Erin: I struggle with titles, too!  Luckily, the good people of Philomel do not have that same problem.  Originally my manuscript, FLUTTER was entitled The Devil’s Washbowl.  In the first draft, the title came before the story, but obviously throughout the entire process, the title was the last thing to change. With both this book and the next one, we have gone back and forth about titles quite a bit! After we switched from The Devil’s Washbowl we were thinking it would be Maple T. Rittle and the Quest for a Miracle.  But that one was too long, so we went with a short title and a long subtitle. FLUTTER: The Story of Four Sisters and One Incredible Journey. Even though the title had a few transformations it is not odd for me and the critique buddies to still refer to FLUTTER as The Devil’s Washbowl or DW for short.

WOTS: And going back to being curious, how about Curious, the beloved and loyal family mutt in your novel – is he based on any real life canines?

Erin:  Yes!  Curious was a real life pup. We had two dogs growing up.  They were both mutts.  One was named Curious and one was named Stormy.  So that little bit was snatched directly from real life.  Later on, we also had Gal E. Wickets who was another very gentle pound pup.  She has not yet shown up in any stories, but I am sure she will.  Also, there is another dog featured in FLUTTER.  Gramma tells a story of Great Uncle Meyers and a hunting hound named Remington.  My husband and I have a Remington.  He is a bratty 1 year old Pointer/Beagle mix.  And he was actually named after the dog in the book.  Just like in the book, our Remi will follow his nose anywhere! It gets him in plenty of trouble. He was abandoned and we got him when he was about five weeks old.  And he had been away from his litter for at least a week or two before that, so the poor little guy needed some TLC.  He’s pretty hardy now.  He likes to carry his blanky all around the house and he loves looking out the windows and using the windowsills as a shelf.  He places his toys and bones there for safekeeping.

WOTS: What an organized hound! Now, were there any obstacles in Flutter’s journey to publication? Any Devil’s Washbowls along the way?

Erin: Hrm.  Well, the biggest obstacle was getting my agent.  I think I looked for Joan(Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency) for about two years.  I started querying approximately 6 months after I left VC.  And sent out many queries and received many rejections before I got that call from Joan.  Once I found Joan, we got an offer for FLUTTER within a month!  It was great!  I think with writing in general there is always another obstacle to overcome or another goal to aim for.  It’s certainly not an easy climb, but I am enjoying it very much and am thankful for the opportunities I have had thus far!

WOTS: What tempts you toward procrastination in your writing process?

Erin: Ugh, reading reviews and checking numbers.  I’m always skipping around the internet to look for those.  It got so bad that in order to prevent myself from obsessing I have a different account I can log onto on my computer.  I set up parent controls so that when I am logged onto that account I cannot access the internet. I’m glad that there is technology out there for people like me with no self control!

WOTS: Self countrol? Do some people have that? Anyway… The sister dynamics in your story are brilliantly uneven – full of love but also middle of the night silent fights – any true life sister stories we should know about?

Erin: Haha!  I have had some interesting reactions to this.  Some people really enjoy it and some frown on it.  I was just trying to write true to life and it is true that if you have a sister, you love them unconditionally and you get into it when necessary.

My older sister was a real pain because she almost always won every fight.  Her fists seemed very large and she always knew where to hit to make it hurt, like right in the calf.  Instant Charlie horse.  My little sisters were much younger, one 5 years younger and one 7 years younger.  So they were smaller than me, but they had the benefit of being able to tag team. I remember that they had once been watching too many Disney Movies, or something, and were infatuated with the kissing at the end, so they would grab my face and smooch my cheek as hard as they could.  My defense to this was to take one of them and throw that one at the other one.  They would both fall back momentarily, but rebound and come at me again.  I would grab the first one I could get a hold of and basically use her as a shield.  These were the tricks you had to learn.

And I am not the only one who got into it.  Casey and Moie (the two younger siblings) once had a fight in the candy aisle at the Moretown store.  The only difference is that Casey, after she punched Moie in the stomach and left her curled over the open container of Swedish fish, retreated to the car and confessed to Mom. Mom would have probably found me hiding in the bathroom or behind one of the display cases if it had been me.

Having said all that, I love my sisters and we got along a lot more than we fought.  We would fight, apologize and move on.  No sense in brooding.  You’re stuck with them for life.

WOTS: It’s these important self-defense lessons that sisters provide! Personally, I know to always check my sheets for fish food!

So, Erin, lastly, any upcoming new quests/journeys/new stories we can look forward to reading?

Erin: As a matter of fact, yes!  My second novel Tracing Stars will be out in 2012 (Philomel/Penguin).  It’s a story about 11 year old Indie Lee Chickory who wants two things in life, to be a better Chickory so her older sister, Bebe, will not be so mortified by her existence, and to find her lost golden lobster, The Lobster Monty Cola.  During the day she spends her time at the theater, showing Bebe how well she can fit in with her crowd, and at night she works on finding The Lobser Monty Cola by building a fishing boat in a tree with the boy from the props shop, Owen Stone.  Everything is going okay until Bebe makes it clear that being friends with Owen is a ticket straight to loserville.  Will Indie be able to keep her friendship with Owen a secret?  And will doing so make her a better Chickory—or a worse one? It’s a story of friendship, family and self-discovery.

I’m also having fun with a work in progress called Ticonderoga Summer. Eleven year old, Valore Arbuckle, fancies herself a historian.  She is delighted to spend the summer with her history buff of a Gramma at Fort Ticonderoga only to find out, upon arrival, that it is being shut down due to low funding. She has heard a story of Toby Finnegan’s treasure–a revolutionary war treasure that was never found–and she knows that if she can find it, she can save the fort. From there, she and her sister, Scooter, hunt down clues to find the treasure in an attempt to secure the fort’s future.  Unfortunately, before long it is not just the fort’s survival that they have to worry about, but also their own!

That’s it for now.  Other ideas are just stewing on the back burner.

Thank you for having me on, Sarah!

WOTS: Thank you, Erin! We loved having you in the spotlight!

Sarah Wones Tomp


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It’s time for our semi-regular (meaning it happens when I get around to it) Author Spotlight feature. So grab a cup of coffee and meet the lovely Clara Gillow Clark.

Here is a brief bio:

Clara Gillow Clark is the author of six MG novels of historical fiction published with Boyds Mills Press and Candlewick Press. She lives with her husband near the upper Delaware River in the Country of her heart.

Author Spotlight:
WOTS: What was your road to publication?
CGC:Are you familiar with the old classic, Pilgrim’s Progress?  My journey was like that—slow, rocky, arduous, with many trials, and sloughs of despond. I guess you could say that Sisyphus and Pilgrim are tied for first place. You know, every time you get that rock to the top of the hill, it rolls back on you.
WOTS: Can you tell me a bit about your writing process? 

CGC: Let me use my book, Hill Hawk Hattie, as an example. The Upper Delaware River region is the Country of my heart and for many years I wanted to write about the old time rafting era that spanned from before the Revolutionary War to 1922, with its heyday in the 1880s. I researched and gathered materials for many years, but I didn’t have a story or a character. I guess you could say that I didn’t even have an idea, just an enormous connection to setting. But out of the research and my own personal loss of a parent when I was very young, came the voice of Hattie. So the process of creating a story stemmed from blending the outer story of time and place gained from research, with imagination and emotional experience—in this case, loss and healing. Once you make those connections and understand what the inner and outer stories are, the rest of the job is butt in chair.

WOTS: Do you plot or not?

CGC: I do plot to some degree. I like to know what my character lacks in the beginning of the story and what the character wants. Then I ask will s/he or won’t s/he get what s/he wants? Why or why not? How will s/he grow and change?

WOTS: Are you working on any new projects that you can tell us about?

CGC: I’d love to, but I can’t. Talking about projects can take away the desire to write them.

WOTS: Describe your studio or usual work space for us. 

CGC: I’m a tidy person, but my office often resembles a library book sale.

WOTS: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

CGC: Quantum physicist

WOTS: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

CGC: You mean like Superman and Clark Kent? I’m good at keeping secrets and not just my own.

WOTS: Can you share what you do at a typical school visit? 

CGC: I share my writing process from idea to the published book, but I also share stories from my schools years and about my background that show why I became a writer and how some of those childhood experiences ended up in my books.

WOTS: Can you describe some of the challenges of writing historical fiction?

CGC: All writing is challenging, but the one thing particular to historical fiction is often a detail of everyday life that you can’t seem to track down. If you can’t see it, you can’t write it.

WOTS: We here at Writing on the Sidewalk tend to procrastinate with our writing, where do you fit in Procrastinator or Proactive?

GCG: Once I have a project going, I normally set goals for myself for writing at least two pages a day. If I stop at a place in the middle of an event or action, it’s a lot easier to pick up the story thread and run with it the next day and avoid too much procrastination. But then again, I like to putter!

Thanks Clara for visiting with us today. If you’d like to learn more about Clara and her books be sure to check her blog and website.

Happy Reading,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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Our newest author spotlight is Lisa Schroeder. Lisa is a busy author of a picture book and several mid-grade and YA novels. Lisa’s newest books Sprinkles and Secrets and  The Day Before will be released later this year.

Lisa’s Bio:

Lisa Schroeder is a native Oregonian which means her childhood summers were spent camping, fishing, reading books (of course!) and playing in the sun, when it finally came out. These days, Lisa spends her summers, and every other part of the year, sharing all of the wonderful things Oregon has to offer with her husband and two sons. She is the author of numerous books for kids and teens, including CHASING BROOKLYN (Simon Pulse, 2010) and IT’S RAINING CUPCAKES (Aladdin, 2010).

Author Spotlight:

WOTS: What was your road to publication?

LS:I wrote a few middle grade novels over the course of a few years and with each one, tried to find an agent, but only got rejections. After I wrote my first YA verse novel, I got one positive response to my query (and many not-so-positive ones too), and that positive response led me to my agent. We received a number of rejections, but an editor we’d sent it to at S&S sent it over to the commercial division, Pulse, and an editorial assistant picked the manuscript out of the pile and read it on the train and loved it. He came back and championed for that book – he didn’t have the ability to acquire at that point, but it’s because of him my book was published. It’s a good reminder to everyone that all it takes is one person to really love your book.

WOTS: Can you tell me a bit about your writing process? Do you plot or not?

LS:I try to write a one-sentence description before I start writing to get my head around the hook of the book. I may make some notes in a notebook about thoughts on plot and character. But mostly, I just start writing and see where things take me. Often times, a few chapters in, I’ll take more notes if I need to around plot. I’m much more of a pantser than a plotter, but I am now better at spotting when I need to stop and think about plot more methodically and figure out where I’m going and important things that need to happen to get there.

WOTS: Are you working on any new projects that you can tell us about?

LS:I’m always working on something, but I don’t talk much about the WIP. I find it loses its appeal if I share too much about it, for some reason. The couple of months before a book’s release can be a nerve-wracking time, and I find having a project to work on takes my mind off the other stuff. And since my next YA comes out in a couple of months, I’m trying hard to focus on the WIP rather than what people may or may not be saying about the upcoming book. I like the writing part of this business so much more than the business part, so yes, there is always a project I’m working on.

WOTS: Describe your studio or usual work space for us.

LS: I have a small office in my house with a desktop computer, a couple of book cases, a rocking chair in case I want to take a break and read for a few minutes, and lots of my favorite things around me. I write best in my office – I know other people love getting out and writing in coffee shops or the library, but I do best in my regular spot at home.

WOTS: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

LS: I would love to be a YA librarian. I think it’d be such a cool job – being around YA books all day long and talking to teens about books. It just seems like such a fun, rewarding career.

WOTS: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

LS:Although I loved music and writing in school, it didn’t occur to me to follow those passions in college. I majored in business because my mom told me I could do a lot with a business degree. I wish I could go back and have a do-over. Although I’m now writing full-time and really enjoying that, so maybe it all turned out okay after all.

WOTS: Your novel “I heart you, You haunt me” was written in verse. Can you share some of the challenges in writing a novel this way? 

LS:My brain tends to work better writing in a sparse kind of way, but the hard part is making it all poetic. Dialogue isn’t very poetic, for example. Story always has to be the number one priority, as it is with any book, but then to try and be poetic on top of it – it’s hard! But there’s a part of me that really loves writing that way too, obviously, so I guess it all balances out. 

WOTS: We here at Writing on the Sidewalk tend to procrastinate with our writing, where do you fit in Procrastinator or Proactive? 
LS:It depends on the day. If I’m liking the scene I’m working on, I’m good. If it’s hard, then I find myself clicking around the internet a little too much. Twitter is my big time-waster. People tell me to turn off the internet, but I google things all the time when I’m writing, so I don’t want to do that! Still, I do write my books fairly fast, so I guess as long as I’m doing what I need to do, even if I’m taking a twitter break every 10 minutes, it’s okay.

Thanks so much for having me here!!
Thanks Lisa, for visiting with us on the Sidewalk. If you would like to learn more about Lisa and her books be sure to check out her website.
Suzanne Santillan
Writing on the Sidewalk

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Our newest author spotlight is on the talented Andrea Zimmerman. Andrea is a fellow SCBWI member and the hostess for our local Picture Book Party here in San Diego. She is generous with her time and a great inspiration for us all.

Here is a brief bio:

Andrea Zimmerman was born in Ohio and grew up in New York, Utah, and California. As a child, she loved exploring nature and reading comic books. As a teenager, she loved riding her horse. She went to college, got a degree in Fine Arts for Children, and started writing. Later, she went back to school at UCLA and became a dentist. She enjoys her family, going to museums, gardening, and traveling. She also likes her cats.

WOTS: What was your road to publication?

AZ:My mother had published some magazine articles as a young woman and encouraged me to be a writer, too. Since I liked art, picture books seem to be a natural.

WOTS: Can you tell me a bit about your writing process? Do you plot or not?

AZ: Basically, I purposely daydream with the intent of coming up with a story. I form a pretty clear idea of the beginning, middle and end before I write it down. Of course, sometimes it changes in the rewriting.

WOTS: Are you working on any new projects that you can tell us about?

AZ: As far as new work, I think it’s better to keep stories quiet, until you get them finished, so the magic doesn’t evaporate. But I have some picture book in various stages of readiness and some I’m sending out.

WOTS: Describe your studio or usual work space for us.

AZ:Well, my space tends to migrate around the house. Right now my desk is in the dining room and my computer is in the bedroom. These change depending on what else is happening around our house. For the real creative part, I like lying down on the bed or couch.

WOTS: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

AZ:I hope to avoid any other professions! I’ve had different jobs, and I worked in dentistry for years. My kids are grown and I love the freedom I have now to set my own schedule.  I want to just do the best I can at making books for children.

WOTS: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

AZ: People often say I seem calm and confident. I’m not.

WOTS: You write and illustrate books with your husband David Clemesha, how to you share the workload?

AZ: I usually write the story and David points out what doesn’t work and makes suggestions. With illustrating, David does the line drawings, and I point out what doesn’t work and make suggestions. We blend our ideas, and agree a lot, though it’s a long, slow process for us. Then I paint the colors, which is time consuming, but pretty straight forward. We have been enjoying picture books together since we first met, decades ago, so it’s part of our marriage.

WOTS: Your book “Eliza’s Cherry Trees” is a bit different from some of your other books, what inspired you to write a book about Eliza Scidmore?

AZ: About ten years ago, I read an article about Eliza. I thought she should be getting more recognition for bringing the cherry trees to Washington and for her other accomplishments. She was an outstanding woman for her times. It seemed like a perfect tale for a picture book because it was an interesting story, and because of the women’s history and multicultural aspects.

WOTS: You mention in your blog that “Eliza’s Cherry Trees” took persistence to get it published. Can you share some of the difficulties you experienced and how you over came them?

AZ:I used Eliza as my role model for persistence since it took her 24 years to get the trees to Washington. I wrote the book, tried to get a publisher and couldn’t.  I put the manuscript away, waiting until the hundredth anniversary was approaching. I started sending it out again, had offers that fell through, and just kept trying. Eventually I sold it, but it was rejected many, many times. I think it was harder to sell because although publishers may say that they do not want books on famous people who have been “overdone”, it may be challenging  for them to take a chance on someone less well known, but with a great life story. They may wonder if there will be a market for the book. But I think Eliza will be relevant every Spring, when the cherries bloom again in Washington.

WOTS: We here at Writing on the Sidewalk tend to procrastinate with our writing, where do you fit in Procrastinator or Proactive?

AZ: I invented and perfected procrastinating.

If you would like to learn more about Andrea be sure to check out her website and her Picture Book Party blog. Andrea was recently interviewed about her book “Eliza’s Cherry Trees”  on the NPR program “Here and Now,”  select the “Listen to the Story” button to hear the interview.  To learn more about Eliza Scidmore, check out Andrea’s great resource site here.

Thanks Andrea, for taking the time to visit with us.

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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One of the great things about doing these author spotlights is making new friends. I ran across the book “Neil Armstrong is my Uncle & Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me” by Nan Marino and I knew I had found a kindred spirit. I contacted Nan and asked if she would participate in an author spotlight and she graciously agreed.

Here is Nan’s Bio:

Nan Marino spent her childhood climbing trees and hanging out on garage roofs in the town of Massapequa Park, New York. Since then, she’s ventured a 100 miles south to the Jersey shore where writes middle grade stories and works as a librarian. She lives with her husband and their very large dog.

Author Spotlight

WOTS: What was your road to publication?

NM: It took years. I scribbled my first story the day a school librarian friend remarked that she wished she had a story to go with her new set of penguin puppets. From that point on, I was hooked.  But I had a lot to learn. Fortunately, for Christmas, two friends gave me a gift of membership to SCBWI.  Through that, I found critique groups and writing buddies. Over the years, I wrote many manuscripts –and got many rejections. I stopped counting but if you add them up I was well into the hundreds. I taught my dog, Chi, how to chew up those rejection letters and moved on. One day, a manuscript got the attention of my amazing agent, Rosemary Stimola.  She asked for a rewrite and then signed me on. She sold Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me to Roaring Brook Press  –and I got to work with my wonderful editor, Nancy Mercado.

WOTS: Can you tell me a bit about your writing process? Do you plot or not?

NM: I’m one of those people who has problems writing on lined paper so I’m not sure if I could ever plot out a story chapter by chapter. Generally I have an idea where things are going – and I have thoughts on where I’d like my characters to be at the end. But it doesn’t always work out that way. As a writer, it’s my job to develop a deep understanding of my characters, put them into unusual or difficult situations and let them do what they need to do. I’m much more comfortable writing when my characters are in control.

WOTS: Are you working on any new projects that you can tell us about?

NM: Yes. I’m working on a book called Piney Moon, which is scheduled to be published in Fall 2012 by Roaring Brook Press. It’s about a famous 11-yr-old musical prodigy who freezes on stage during a televised talent competition. To escape the paparazzi, he hides out in the Pinelands of New Jersey.

WOTS: Describe your studio or usual work space for us.

NM: My writing space is really small. The washer/dryer is in the nearby closet. The dog’s favorite chair is in there too. Even in its best moments, my desk could always be neater.

There’s a tray of rocks near my pc. My favorites are the ones that were given to me by friends—those are the ones that come with great stories. I have stones from a lake in New Hampshire, a gift shop in Ireland, and a schoolyard on Long Island. A friend gave me the sparkly word “hope” when I was going through a difficult time. I love the juxtaposition of the glittery word and the unpolished stones.  And I have this superstition: the first few pages of any manuscript must spend time sitting on top of all those rocks and underneath the sparkly “hope” before they go out into the world.

WOTS: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

NM: An herb farmer. I have visions of wandering through meandering paths of lavender, rosemary and thyme (although I suspect that most herbs are grown in straight lines and that real herb farmers don’t spend a lot of time wandering.)

Also I’d love to work at a rescue organization for stray dogs and cats, one that encourages people to adopt from shelters. There are so many great animals there.

WOTS: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

NM: I studied martial arts and can break a board in two. I was a terrible martial arts student, but I did love the board breaking part. If you do it right, it feels like your hand is going through butter. If you do it wrong, well that’s another story.

WOTS: Was it easier or more difficult writing from childhood events and memories?

NM: For Neil Armstrong is My Uncle, it was fun to take snippets of my real life and put it into the book. At every party when I was growing up, we had a neighbor who sang the song “If I Were A Rich Man” so I had a character sing that song in the book. We also had tons of barbeques, and I played lots of kickball. It was fun putting some of my memories into the story. I hope I captured that close-knit neighborhood feeling.

Like most people who write for children and teens, I have very vivid childhood memories. No matter what type of story I’m writing, I draw on those experiences and feelings.

WOTS: What has been the response of your friends and family to your story?

NM: It’s been wonderful. My friends and family have been supportive at every point in my writing journey. Of course, my mom tells everyone. Even sales people and telemarketers know about my book.

WOTS: We here at Writing on the Sidewalk tend to procrastinate with our writing, where do you fit in Procrastinator or Proactive?

NM: I really want to say I’m proactive. I love that word – but it would be a lie. To be honest, procrastination and I are old friends.

There are many types of procrastination. Sometimes I’m filled with doubts at my ability to fulfill the promise of the story. I lose faith. Then I procrastinate because of fear. It takes guts to write.

However, there are other times when stepping away and doing something else is a good thing. It gives you a chance to think things over. Stories need to simmer and perk. That’s useful procrastination (or at least that’s what I tell myself when I’m searching the internet for a new lemon risotto recipe).

Of course, nothing happens unless you write. It’s all about balance. I’m still working on finding that perfect combination…

The paper back version of Nan’s book will be released on April 26th, be sure to look for it at your local bookstore. I am looking forward to reading her newest book Piney Moon in 2012.

Thanks for visiting with us on the sidewalk Nan.

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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I found the picture book “I’m Not”(Schwartz & Wade 2010) at our local book story I was so charmed by the story I asked the author Pam Smallcomb to share a little more about herself.

Here is a brief bio:

Pam Smallcomb is the author of I’m Not (2011), Earth to Clunk (2011) and other books for children. She is a member of the SCBWI and the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, D.C. A transplanted Californian, she now lives in rural Maryland with her family and assorted critters. When she’s not writing, she sews plushies and makes art dolls. You can find them at http://www.etsy.com/shop/yoborobo.

Author Spotlight:

WOTS: What was your road to publication?

PS: My road to publication was long and winding and definitely needed better signage. I hit far too many potholes, and clipped a few mailboxes on the way. I have begun to see a theme in my life. It is this: “You are a late bloomer and nothing will come easily.” I didn’t begin to seriously try to write until after I left work to be at home with my kids (after starting my family late, in keeping with the theme). Some delusional part of me thought that staying home with four small children would make it easier for me to find the time to write. HAH. I wrote in the evening hours, bleary-eyed and in the same clothes I had been wearing for weeks, possibly months. A dear friend introduced me to the SCBWI, and I began to attend conferences every time I could sneak away (in clean clothes, of course). Several years and many rejection letters later, I sold my first book. I thought that it was all going to be easy-peasy from that day on. I was going to be selling books to editors like hotcakes. Um, I was wrong about that. I firmly believe that if you want to be a published children’s writer, you must have pitbull determination. As with most things in life, friends help a lot.

WOTS: Can you tell me a bit about your writing process? Do you plot or not?

PS: I do both. I have plotted a couple of middle grade novels, and it is very nice to know where I am going.  It’s like having a roadmap that I can choose to follow, or take a detour if I feel like it. I have also written stories without plotting at all. Sometimes that works, and other times I have found myself in rewriting hell, or with a story that just quits. When I do plot, I have used Celtx (a screenwriting tool) and, for me, it seems like a natural way to define characters, and plot the action of a story.

WOTS: Are you working on any new projects that you can tell us about?

PS: Does thinking about writing count? If it does, then I am working on several projects right now. Actual-writing-wise, I have a couple of stories started (because we all know it is easier to start stories than to finish them). One is a fictional memoir, and it’s the one I am having the most fun working on. I am also trying to pound several picture books into shape, but they are not cooperating in the slightest.

WOTS: Describe your studio or usual work space for us.

PS: I, sadly, do not have a studio. I usually write upstairs in my bedroom, because it’s quiet there, and I can’t hear the explosions coming from the Halo battles in the basement. I sit in a decrepit recliner, with duct tape on the arms (think of Fraser’s Dad’s chair), and work from my laptop. I’m not very good at getting actual writing done at places like Starbuck’s because I distract too easily. I eavesdrop. I talk to strangers. I interrupt my writer friends who are trying to get real work done. So I do most of my writing from home. Maybe some day I will get a recliner without duct tape. It is something to strive for.

WOTS: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

PS: I would love to be an artist. My degree is in art, and I have always fantasized about having a big barn for a studio, where I go each day (coffee in hand) to slap paint on to canvases, or to create mixed media pieces. It’s another way to create, and I would love to have more time to explore art.

If I couldn’t be an artist, I would love to be an archeologist. I can’t think of a more interesting way to spend the day than looking at pieces of the past. Besides you get to dig in the dirt. That appeals to me.

WOTS: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

PS: Honestly, I think I might possibly be the most boring person on Earth. I have had this question thrown at me before, and I come up with zilch. I wish I could tell you about some nefarious chapter in my life, but there aren’t any. I do have a fear of clowns (thanks a lot, Stephen King). Oh! There is one thing… I would love to have chickens.

WOTS: What was your inspiration for “I’m Not”?

PS: I think it’s human nature to compare yourself to a friend (or a sibling). A kid might have a friend who is really good at sports, or ballet, or a friend who is really funny. It can make you feel like you come up short. For example, I have terribly witty friends and there are times when we get together that I want to put my head down on the table and say, “I’m not worthy!”  I wanted to write a story that points out that a friendship is based on both people getting something from the relationship; you enjoy each other. You see strengths in your friend, and she sees strengths in you. You each bring something to the party. I wanted to say that without hitting a kid over the head with it.

WOTS: Did you work closely with the illustrator Robert Weinstock?

PS: No, I didn’t, but when I saw his website (early in the project), I jumped up and down for joy. I just knew he would knock it out of the park, and he did. He is, quite simply, brilliant. I got very lucky when our editor teamed us up.

WOTS: We here at Writing on the Sidewalk tend to procrastinate with our writing, where do you fit in Procrastinator or Proactive?

PS: Proactive? What does this word mean? I am unfamiliar with it. I think it’s very safe to say I am a procrastinator. I love distractions. They make me feel like I have legitimate reasons for getting nothing at all accomplished. At dinner, I can turn to my husband and say things like “I would have had more time for writing but the lint trap in the dryer was a mess!” Procrastination is like an onion. Maybe on the first layer, you tell yourself “I really need to pay these bills before I sit down to write.” Legitimate excuse, after all the power needs to stay on, right? But then, as you are paying the bills, you see a coupon for dog food that is going to expire TODAY! You hop in your car and drive to Target, buy the dog food and $300 of other essentials, go home, put it all away, clean the kitchen, which reminds you the bathrooms are disgusting, and oh my gosh they need repainting, and then you are tired, so you take a nap, make dinner, watch TV and go to bed. All because you had to pay the power bill.  Procrastination encourages distraction. It’s like your mind equates writing to homework, which in some ways, I guess it is. But it feels really good when you do actually write, and you make progress on a story. Why we fight it is beyond me.

Pam’s newest book “Earth to Clunk” is coming this summer. If you would like to know more about Pam and her books you can visit her site pamsmallcomb.com.

Thanks for visiting with us,

Suzanne Santillan

Writing on the Sidewalk

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Today it is my great pleasure to feature Edith Hope Fine! I met Edith through the San Diego chapter of SCBWI. She is warm, funny, and a natural born teacher – she has this uncanny way of making me want to be better…. a better writer, but also an all-around better person. I guess you could say she makes me want to grow!

Her latest book, Water, Weed, and Wait is the result of a collaboration with another local author, Angela Demos Halpin.

Edith’s bio:
Edith Hope Fine is a teacher-turned-writer, with numerous magazine and newspaper credits. Her award-winning books include science, grammar, picture books. Titles include Water, Weed, and Wait, Under the Lemon Moon, CryptoMania! Teleporting into Greek and Latin with the CryptoKidsArmando and the Blue Tarp School, and the Nitty-Gritty Grammar books. She’s also written biographies of Gary Paulsen, Barbara McClintock, Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks, science curriculum, and Can-Do Cursive, a handwriting workbook for students covering grammar, Greek and Latin roots, and writing.
Edith lives near San Diego and is lucky enough to have her four grandkids close by. She’s active in the San Diego Chapter of SCBWI, a book group, and a critique group. Veggies grow happily in the front yard, but raccoons have (temporarily?) put an end to her trench composting. Her website is www.edithfine.com.
Author Spotlight – Edith Hope Fine

EHF: Angela Halpin and I belong to the same book group and she started the garden at her three sons’ school in San Diego. When a San Diego Master Gardener told us that teachers needed a book to read to their kiddos about building a school garden, the idea sprouted.


EHF: Like all writers, we checked to see what was out there about school gardening. The answer: zero. Voila! There was that hole on library, school, and home bookshelves that writers seek.

We’d meet for delicious editing sessions at the Pannikin in Del Mar, passing the manuscript back and forth on the big wood bench outside BookWorks, so all the loose words running around inside could come out to play.

A collaboration bonus—our Tricycle editor sent us a sampling artists’ online portfolios for our input. What a privilege. We love Colleen Madden’s whimsical style and the sorbet-hued palette she chose, a perfect fit for our light-hearted, can-do take on school gardening. (www.greenfrographics.com)


EHF: Knowing how the word “underwear” makes kids giggle, we first used “Mr. Grumpy Drawers” as we searched for a name for Pepper Lane Elementary’s grouchy neighbor. But kids today only equate “drawers” with places for shirts or silverware (or underwear!). We renamed this central character “Mr. Barkley,” nicknamed “Mr. Barks-a-lot” by the kids.

For me, tracking changes online with our editor was a prickly process. Sometimes there’d be seventeen blobs attached to one sentence or phrase and I wanted to reach for the weed killer! A slight exaggeration, but you get the idea. I still prefer to edit by hand. There’s something about holding that pen . . .

At first, we wrote far more detailed information on school gardens for the back of the book, but soon realized that soil conditions, temperature, school size, number of volunteers, and many other factors differ so widely nationwide that it was crazy (impossible) to cover it all in a picture book. Plus great info and resources for school gardens are easy to find online. We did include web sites and you can see Before and After photos from Angela’s school. Look for Master Gardener groups—these enthusiastic gardeners do consulting for schools. A great way to get started. (www.mastergardenerssandiego.org)

As always, getting from idea to holding a finished book in your hands takes longer than one thinks humanly possible. You pull one weed and another one pops up. Reading the manuscript aloud was the key to hoeing out the extraneous words and keeping those word furrows straight.

The hardest news came in November when our lovely editor called to say that Random House was closing Tricycle Press. RH will keep the Tricycle books on their backlist, like my CryptoMania: Teleporting into Greek and Latin with the CryptoKids and our Water, Weed, and Wait, but fans of the remarkable Tricycle team are pained to see this quirky, high quality, daring children’s imprint vanish from the scene.


EHF: I love the moment when I feel that shivery frisson, knowing that an idea is unique, and fresh and just waiting for me.

Visiting schools is fun. Both of us come from teaching backgrounds. Angela was a natural at her first-ever school presentation. We’ve been startled at how little the kids we’ve met seem to know about how things grow. Few youngsters could tell a lima bean seed from a radish seed. The obvious exception is at schools with active school gardens.

As a friend says, “Today’s kids live so far off the ground . . .” with computers, Wii, and an increasingly techie and potentially isolating world. Like Michelle Obama and other leaders in the school garden movement, we want to see students outside, getting their fingers dirty.

On one school visit, I showed a PPT slide of a red potato with eyes that had grown out. I walked the aisle with this potato and they kept asking, “How did you DO that?” meaning how did we make the potato grow eyes? Neglect in a cool, dry place! Just cut said potato into pieces and plant. There’s nothing like new potatoes from your yard for dinner.

The funniest thing that’s happened with Water, Weed, and Wait was at the launch at San Diego Botanic Garden in September. When Angela read the part about Mr. Barkley’s head popping over the playground fence so he see what all the noise is on clean-up day, she looked out at all the kids gathered for the story and said, “Show me your grumpy eyebrows.” A total hoot. Where was our camera?! We’ve used that line every time since.

I must also add my fellow critiquers. Our subjects vary widely, but to be with other logophiles who can offer, specific insight and support is incredibly valuable. The mysterious chemistry works. And I’m active in our San Diego Chapter of SCBWI, another reliable source for inspiration.


EHF: What doesn’t? I’m much better off, workwise, on tight-schedule days than loose days. If I didn’t create fake deadlines for myself, playing with grandkids or reading or walking or making soups or or swimming or Sudokus or even laundry can take over. Angela teaches full-time so she gets extra kudos for squeezing out the moments to co-produce Water, Weed, and Wait, her first book.


EHF: I had to laugh reading Anne Mazer’s WOTS interview, because my office matched her description. But this November I decided to give myself a Christmas present and really worked hard to toss old papers, duplicates, irrelevant materials, long-published manuscripts, grocery lists, coupons from 2004 . . . So now I could actually Skype with classes from here without being totally embarrassed. A friend, spying the change, asked sweetly, “Were these counters always here?”


EHF: In my writing file I have five manuscripts on the front burner and about twenty-one simmering on the back burner. Some queries are out, but even though I’ve written fifteen books, it can still feel like starting from scratch when trying to sell a new piece. I’m quietly working on an adult novel, too. It hasn’t told me where it’s going yet—I’m waiting in hope while it percolates.


EHF: Like our fictional characters, we all have secrets. Most of mine will remain mine, but not too many people know I’ll try to root any plant from seeds, bulbs, cuttings, leaves (try coleus), a la my college botany class. Three-toothpicks in a sweet potato, peanut butter jar, water? I grow them, then plant in the yard. A pineapple top! Sure—and it’s now big with long spikey leaves. I’ve got blueberries, lemons, arugula, and a bunch of volunteer Sweet 100 tomatoes pop up each year.

I still find the most extraordinary cloud shapes. And when I go to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, I can spread my arms out and almost match that ape arm display!

There's Edith peeking out from the back - and with the longest arms!

EHF: That’s getting to the root of our new book, eh? Hope you’ll get out there with your favorite kids and water, weed, and wait.

Thank you to Edith for this peek into the creation of Water, Weed, and Wait, a truly charming book that makes a fantastic read-aloud. This book is the perfect gift for an aspiring gardener – and for every teacher.  And be sure to read her other books as well. Her picture books are truly written for children, but can help their grown-ups grow as well.

Sarah Wones Tomp
Writing on the Sidewalk

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