October 15, 2015

Interview with Author Pat Schmatz

Posted in author, books, interview tagged , at 11:03 am by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

Today I’m welcoming Pat Schmatz to my series of author interviews. Pat is the author of a number of novels for young adults including Bluefish, Mousetraps, Mrs. Estronsky and the U.F.O., Circle the Truth, and the recently released Lizard Radio.

Q: Welcome, Pat! Can you tell us about your new novel, Lizard Radio?

A: Lizard Radio is a coming of age story that takes place in an alternate universe, about Kivali, a gender-queer teen who might also sometimes be a lizard. It started a few years back when I sketched a young lizard wearing headphones. The lizard was trying desperately to get a signal. I began following the character, and she led me to some very unusual places. Kirkus Reviews called it science fiction, which surprised me. Others have called it dystopian. I don’t think it’s much more dystopian than our own world. I think my favorite description of it came from The Horn Book, who called it “mildly magical.”

More than anything, I’d say that it’s the story of Kivali figuring out how to tune into her own sense of ethics and truth, and to find the gray areas and gaps in the borders of a world that constantly demands either-or decisions and commitments.

Q: Many of your novels are character-driven, with a teenage protagonist who is, or thinks s/he is, an outsider. How do you go about developing your characters?

A: Like the lizard, most of my characters come to me as an impression, a feeling. They present themselves, and then I begin asking questions. I do a lot of question-asking throughout the writing process, actually writing out the dialogue of question and answer. I’ve found that a good tool for drawing out the character’s authentic voice. I also do a lot of work with setting, because I think setting and character are inextricably intertwined. I use poetry a lot. I’m not a particularly good poet, but I find the characters will often say things to me in poetry that they might not say in prose.

Q: You mentioned at a recent conference that because your novels are focused on characters, your books have been criticized for being “light on plot.” However, a starred review from Kirkus says that Lizard Radio has an “intricate, suspenseful plot.” Did you do anything differently when writing your most recent novel?

A: I did! I made up my mind that this time, by God, I was going to figure out how to plot. Someone had recommended The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson on draft #3, or maybe it was #4, I read from that book every day and followed instructions. I drew charts and graphs. I wrote out note cards. I hung graphs on my office wall. I thought very consciously about the rise and fall of action and emotion. I found it difficult – sort of like incorporating math into writing – but I think it helped.

Q: What do you find the greatest challenge in writing books for teenagers?

A: I don’t find any different challenges in writing books for teenagers that I do any other kind of writing. The greatest challenge for every writing project is to get a draft written. Once I have a rough story on paper, honing it is a matter of patience and hard work. But to go from the blank page to a real story, with living breathing people? That’s the challenge.

Q: What are some of the things you’ve done to promote your books?

A: I’m not a great promoter. When I visit schools or libraries, I like to have a topic or a workshop to teach. I find readings and signings excruciating, and I’m not much of a performer, but I do enjoy teaching. I’m passionate about books and creative expression – whether that’s writing, music, art, dance, whatever – so it’s fun to bring kids into that world with me.

I usually start my school visits off with the (true-ish) story about my very first school visit, which involved an almost debilitating case of nerves and an unfortunate encounter with a poopsicle (dog-flavored). That story generally loosens up the crowd and settles me down. Most everyone likes a good dog poop story.

Q: Do you have a favorite book or author?

A: The book that changed everything for me was The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. I read it when I was 10 or 11, and it told some truths that resonated for me in a way nothing else ever had. I decided after reading it that I wanted to write for teens. I’m amazed, when I talk with students about it now, how much kids still engage with those characters.

We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Q: Pizza or salad?
A: Pizza

Q: Ocean or mountain?
A: Ocean

Q: Tree house or doll house?
A: Tree

Q: Violin or piano?
A: Piano

Q: Comic story or learn-something story?
A: Neither. I’ll pick feel-something story every time.

Q: Laura Ingalls Wilder or Hermione Granger?
A: Can I pick Ginny Weasley?

Great Choice!

To learn more about Pat and her books, visit her website http://www.patschmatz.com, like her on Facebook http://facebook.com/PatSchmatzBooks, or follow her on twitter http://twitter.com/schmatz5

Thanks, Pat!

September 29, 2015

Comprehension Questions: The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Posted in books, chapter questions, teaching at 1:57 pm by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

Chapter One
1. Describe the place where Dorothy lives (use three details).
2. What does Dorothy do when the house is being carried by the tornado?
Chapter Two
1. Who does Dorothy’s house kill?
2. What surrounds the land of Oz and prevents Dorothy from easily returning to Kansas?
3. Why does the Witch of the North kiss Dorothy?
Chapter Three
1. What does Dorothy do to get ready for her long journey to the Emerald City?
2. What is the favorite color of the people of Munchkinland?
3. What does the Scarecrow hope to get from the Wizard?
Chapter Four
1. Is the Scarecrow able to scare crows?
2. Who tells the Scarecrow that he will only be as good as a real man if he has a brain?
Chapter Five
1. What does the Tin Woodman hope to get from the Wizard?
2. Why is the Tin Woodman made of tin? Explain the whole story.
Chapter Six
1. How does Dorothy protect Toto from the Lion?
2. What does the Lion hope to get from the Wizard?
Chapter Seven
1. How do they cross the two large ditches in the road? Who has these ideas?
2. What happens with the Kalidahs?
Chapter Eight
1. How does the raft get out of the current and to the other side of the river?
2. How is the Scarecrow rescued from the pole in the river?
3. Why are the poppy flowers dangerous?
Chapter Nine
1. Who does the Tin Woodman save by killing the wildcat?
2. How is the Lion saved from the field of Poppies?
Chapter Ten
1. What must everyone wear before entering the Emerald City gates?
Chapter Eleven
2. What does the wizard look like to Dorothy, to the Scarecrow, to the Tin Woodman and to the Lion?
3. What does the wizard ask them to do before he will help them?

Chapter Twelve
1. What happens when the Witch’s wolves try to kill Dorothy and her friends?
2. What happens when the Witch’s crows try to kill Dorothy and her friends?
3. What happens when the Witch’s bees try to kill Dorothy and her friends?
4. What happens when the Winkies try to capture Dorothy and her friends?
5. What happens when the Winged Monkeys attack Dorothy and her friends?
6. How does Dorothy kill the Wicked Witch?
Chapter Thirteen
1. How are the Tin Woodman and Scarecrow rescued?
2. What does Dorothy find in a cupboard and take with her when they leave?
Chapter Fourteen
1. How do the friends return to the Emerald City?
2. What trick did the Winged Monkeys do to Quelala?
3. What punishment did Queen Gayelette give the monkeys for their trick?
Chapter Fifteen
1. Who is the Great Oz really?
2. How did the he get to the land of Oz?
Chapter Sixteen
1. How does the wizard give the Scarecrow a brain?
2. How does the wizard give the Tin Woodman a heart?
3. How does the wizard give the Lion courage?
Chapter Seventeen
1. How does the wizard plan to take Dorothy back to Kansas?
2. What goes wrong?
3. Who will rule Emerald City after the wizard leaves?
Chapter Eighteen
1. Why can’t the Winged Monkeys fly Dorothy to Kansas?
2. Who might be able to help Dorothy?
3. Where does she live?
Chapter Nineteen
1. What stops the travelers from going through the trees?
2. How do they solve this problem?
Chapter Twenty
1. What is on the other side of the wall?
2. Why won’t the china princess go with Dorothy to Kansas?
Chapter Twenty-One
1. Why did the animals of the forest call a meeting?
2. How does the Lion kill the monster?
Chapter Twenty-Two
1. How do the armless Hammer-Heads keep people out of their country?
2. How do Dorothy and her friends get past the Hammer-Heads?
Chapter Twenty-Three
1. What will each of Dorothy’s friends (the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Lion) do after Dorothy leaves?
2. How does Dorothy get back to Kansas?
3. What happens to the Silver Shoes?
Chapter Twenty-Four
1. What does Aunt Em do when she sees Dorothy?
2. Is Dorothy happy to be home?

July 17, 2015

Two Great Books for You to Read!

Posted in books, reading tagged at 3:04 pm by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

Within the last two weeks, I read two books about Christian missionaries traveling to alien worlds. I recommend them both. Both are works of fantasy, yet both are grounded in reality, providing wonderful character studies and handling deep philosophical questions.

book of strange new thingsIn The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber, Peter, an English pastor, is chosen by a powerful multi-national corporation to act as a missionary to the Oasans, people on a planet newly colonized by earth. Peter must leave his beloved wife, Bea, and their cat, Jacob. Bea introduced Peter to Christianity and their marriage has been one of deep love and total companionship. The difficulty of their separation and what it does to their relationship is one of the main focuses of the novel. The “aliens” that Peter ministers to are thirsty for knowledge of Christ, and we wonder why. We also wonder about the powerful muti-national corporation and its motivation for sending Peter. And what about the previous pastor who disappeared? And the linguist who taught the natives English and also disappeared? While the novel is suspenseful, it isn’t action-packed. The stress on Peter and Bea’s relationship also causes stress on their faith, and this is where the book excels. Its examination of love and faith in crisis is fascinating.

The Sparrow bookThe Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell is also an examination of faith. Father Emilio Sandoz had it and lost it: why? Father Emilio Sandoz is one of a crew of Jesuit missionaries sent toward Alpha Centauri after radio signals demonstrate that intelligent life exists on a planet in that area of space. Sandoz is the only survivor of the mission. The book alternates between “past” and “present.” In present day, Sandoz is being interrogated by the Jesuits to discover what went wrong. He is accused of some horrible crimes. In alternate chapters, we learn about the discovery of the radio signals, the recruitment of the crew (all wonderful characters, that we readers fall in love with; Sandoz being the most wonderful), the trip across space, until the past meets up with Sandoz’s confessions. What went wrong? How did everyone die? How did Sandoz “go bad” ? This book has action, great characterization, and incredible world building. The author, Mary Doria Russell, has a PhD in biological anthropology, and uses her knowledge well. The development of the setting on the new planet–the cultures and languages and interactions of the races–is brilliant and probably my favorite part of the book.

I was disappointed by the endings of both books. However….

After thinking about the ending of The Book of Strange New Things for several days, I changed my mind. It ends exactly how it should. I didn’t “get” it at first, but I do now.

The Sparrow puts so much emphasis on what went wrong, what horrible thing happened, that its discovery was anti-climactic for me. I still recommend the book.

I highly recommend both books. So, get reading!

May 21, 2015

Writer’s Voice Contestant

Posted in books, Cinderella, steampunk, Writer's Voice at 11:25 am by elizabethcaulfieldfelt


Dear Krista, Brenda, Mónica, and Elizabeth,

Ever wonder why Cinderella’s stepsisters were so mean? They’ve been misunderstood. THE STEPSISTERS is a young adult, steampunk Cinderella told in alternating first person by the stepsisters. It is complete at 55,000 words.

Drusilla “Dru” is a mildly autistic, scientifically-minded teen who doesn’t use pronouns. When her father dies, she vows to complete all his laboratory plans and projects. Dru’s younger sister Charlotte “Lottie” is a social fashionista who grieves the death of her father and the loss of the family fortune. Their mother re-marries to save the family from poverty, and they move to a two-room farmhouse where their stepsister Cyntia Rellah runs a messenger pigeon service.

The Rellah farm is near the country palace of the King and Queen, who are expecting a child. For centuries the Royalty of Jacobia have been born with weak hearts because of an ancient curse. A special medicine is no longer available, so the King brings Dru to the royal laboratory to finish her father’s work: discover a new medicine or create a mechanical heart for an infant. As the day of birth draws near, Dru must complete the invention her father began or else the child won’t survive.

Impressed by Lottie’s sense of fashion and magical aura, the Queen entangles her in a quest to find and kill the descendant of the sorceress who placed the curse. Lottie must choose between saving her family or serving the Queen.

The traditional Cinderella tropes are used and transformed in this tale of magic, science and romance.

I teach children’s literature at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. My adult historical novel, SYNCOPATION: A MEMOIR OF ADELE HUGO was published by Cornerstone Press in 2012. My middle-grade mystery, THE STOLEN GOLDIN VIOLIN, was self-published in 2010. I am a member of SCBWI, AWP and the Historical Novels Society.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


The gondola of the luxury airship Ludtwidge sways gently beneath its hydrogen-filled webwrought balloon. Pilot Brijit Eyre studies the darkness out the bridge window and taps the barometer. Something’s off. She can feel it in the air, in her bones.

“Betti, change course 5 degrees north-northwest. Alec, get a mech-pigeon ready.”

Captain Eyre flips a valve. Steam hisses through a pipe, moving the engine to full throttle.

The Ludtwidge uses a Steppe steam engine. Instead of creating steam by burning coal or gas, Steppe engines use the flameless heat of firestones. A vast improvement over past airship engines. Flame and hydrogen are a deadly combination.

In the largest cabin of the Ludtwidge, inventor Sir Ernest Steppe lies on his bunk, melting into sleep.

His daughter Dru holds her hat, which begins to fly. She yells at Ernest. No, it isn’t Dru. It’s the Queen. She’s angry at Ernest. He hasn’t done what he should’ve done. Is it about Dru’s engagement to the Prince? He dreads explaining the situation to his wife. The Queen expands to twice her size. Her red hair ignites into flames. She leans over—

Ernest wakes when his body hits the floor. The airship’s gondola rocks. The floor tilts. He slides from one side of the cabin to the other.

Ernest grabs the porthole’s raised edges and pulls himself up. Rain pelts the glass. Lighting flickers in the distance. Thunder rumbles.

“Heavens undone.”

Ernest puts on his shoes and heads to the engine room.

April 2, 2015

Septimus Heap and International Children’s Book Day

Posted in author, books, reading at 12:01 pm by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

Me reading to my boys (a few years ago)

Me reading to my boys (who no longer fit on my lap)

When my boys were little, we did a lot of reading aloud, including Angie Sage’s Septimus Heap books, a 7-book, middle-grade fantasy series about the seventh son of a seventh son. We read books 1-3, then got book 4 when it came out. By the time book 5 came out, we were reading them on our own, and I had forgotten so much about the earlier books, that I didn’t know what was going on all the time. I decided I’d wait for books 6 and 7 to come out and then start at the beginning again.

And then the years went by and I forgot….

Until I found book 7 in a store two weeks ago and re-started the series. Wow! It is even better than I remembered. Angie Sage’s world building is fabulous. She has many, many characters and they are well developed and interesting. The plot moves like an out-of-control roller coaster. The writing is clever and funny.

But the best thing. The most notable thing about this series: The number of female characters. The number of female characters either matches or is greater than the number of male characters. The female characters have important roles too.

The first in the series

The first in the series

This kingdom is a matriarchy, with power passing from Queen to Princess. Ten-year-old Princess Jenna is a main character, as “main” as the title character of Septimus. There are male and female wizards, but the top wizard, the Extra-Ordinary Wizard, is a woman. There is a coven of witches (all female) and a female boat builder. A series about a boy named Septimus Heap, who is the seventh son of a seventh son, is going to have a lot of boys in it. And it does. But not more boys than girls.

It is so rare to find as many female characters as male characters in a fantasy novel that this book seems female-heavy. Yet, when you sit down and count, the numbers of male and female characters are even. Just like real life.

Is this important? I think so.

Harry Potter has Hermione and Professor McGonagall and Bellatrix, but each of them stands in the shadow of a more important male character: Harry, Dumbledore, Voldemort. All the key characters are male.

I don’t blame JK Rowling. Would her books have gotten the same attention if Harry had been Henrietta, the girl who lived? I doubt it.

Angie Sage's Septimus Heap series (I must have loaned out book 2)

Angie Sage’s Septimus Heap series (I must have loaned out book 2)

So, please, on this International Children’s Book Day, buy (or borrow) the Septimus Heap series (Magyk, Flyte, Physik, Queste, Syren, Darke, and Fyre) and read them to your favorite children.

You will be struck by the number of female characters. But guess what? Your children won’t.

March 6, 2015

Rain Reign and Crossover

Posted in books, poetry, reading at 11:57 am by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

For the past several years, my ladies book club has decide to spend the months of December and January reading children’s novels that have a chance at the Newbery Medal. We do a bit of research, come up with about 15 to 20 titles, then share the books. We meet in January and talk about our favorites. The Newbery Medal is  announced at the end of January.

RainReignThis year, the book I liked most was Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin. The story is about an autistic girl and her dog. It is a beautiful, beautiful book.  I was extremely disappointed when the Newbery Medal was awarded to Kwame Alexander’s Crossover, a book I hadn’t even heard of.

crossoverWell, I just finished reading Crossover, and I am delighted that it won the award. It is a wonderful novel-in-verse about two African American brothers who love basketball.  I’m not male, I’m not African American, and I don’t much like basketball.  It doesn’t matter! The story is brilliant and the writing inspired. Alexander’s poetry jumps off the page and sings in your head.  Some poetry you have to read aloud to hear it as poetry, but I could hear the cadence and the rhymes in my head even in silent reading.

Crossover is not only a book for people who love to read, it is a book that will appeal to those who hardly ever read.  So, hats off to Kwame Alexander and the Newbery Award committee. Great book. Great choice.

February 27, 2015

Reading Challenge 2015: Update #1

Posted in author, books, reading at 11:04 am by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

A Facebook friend of mine is doing a reading challenge, and I agreed to do it with her. I’m not sure where she found the list, but I printed it (when I decided to do the challenge) and through a google search (just now) found an online copy on the blog of children’s author Julie Stroebel Barichello.

Two months into the year and I’ve read eighteen books. Here’s how they fit into some of the challenge categories:
A book with more than 500 pages: One Summer by Bill Bryson
A book published this year: The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber
A book with a number in the title: Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
A book with nonhuman characters: The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck
A book by a female author: Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff
A book with a one-word title: Firegirl by Tony Abbott
A book set in a different country: The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
A book by an author you love that you have not read yet: The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis
A book a friend recommended: Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor
A book more than 100 years old: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
A book from your childhood: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
A book set in the future: The Ear, the Eye and the Arm by Nancy Farmer
A book that made you cry: Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson
A book with magic: First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen
A book by an author you’ve never read before: As Love Blooms by Lorna Seilstad

As the year progresses, I’ll match more books with more categories and post updates here. It isn’t too late to join the challenge!

November 30, 2014

Author Interview: Susan Manzke

Posted in author, books, interview at 9:45 pm by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

susan manskeToday I’m welcoming Susan Manzke to my series of author interviews. Susan is the author of the recently released middle-grade novel Chicken Charlie’s Year. Susan has been writing a weekly column for Wisconsin State Farmer since 1980. Her two adult romances, Never Bring Her Roses and When the Spotlight Fades were published by Doubleday.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us about your new book, Chicken Charlie’s Year?

Susan: Here’s my blurb about the book:

susan manske book ChickenTen-year-old Charlie Petkus isn’t surprised to get scratchy wool underwear from Aunt Mutzi for Christmas 1932, but he is surprised that her gift package includes a diary. To his dismay, his Lithuanian-immigrant mother thinks a diary is the perfect present. “You man of family, Casimir,” she says. “You learn to write the English like good American.” Charlie wants more than anything to make Mama proud. But he’s not sure education is the way to manhood, especially since he doesn’t like school. With the Great Depression on, Charlie thinks it would be much manlier to quit the 4th grade and go to work like his friend Ray.

From Christmas 1932 to Christmas 1933, Charlie finds plenty of fun and adventure in his ethnic neighborhood. He discovers that sledding on a car hood results in embarrassment and a very snowy bottom. He finds that a “dead” pheasant that isn’t quite as dead as he thought can make a big mess in a Ford Model B. He learns that if you take a job harvesting onions before school, you get your feet filthy on just the day they make you take your shoes off to be weighed and measured—but you also earn a whole dime for your work. By night, Charlie writes in his diary to make Mama proud. But by day, he watches Ray, who now dresses like a man, smokes like a man, and earns a man’s wage. Charlie wonders why his mama and sisters should live on cabbage soup and the occasional package of broken cookies while “the man of the family” sits in school writing a poem called “Spring is Here.” The decision Charlie makes next will determine the course of his life and his understanding of what it really means to be a man.

This story is filled with fun adventures and family moments. At times when I was writing it felt like I was channeling my father’s family.

Elizabeth: How long did it take from story idea until the book was published?

Susan: I think I’ve been working on this story most of my life. My father told funny stories about his childhood to put my sister and me to sleep. I always loved those stories and creating this novel was my way of using some of them.

I can’t exactly remember when I started writing this actual book. It has been a long time. My critique group has read bits and pieces of it for years.

The hardest part is deciding when the book was polished and ready to publish. I wanted it to be the best I could do, to honor my father and I didn’t want to mess up.

Elizabeth: You’ve been writing for Wisconsin State Farmer for many years. Can you tell us what sort of columns you write for that publication?

Susan: My column is my life. I write about things that happen to me and my family. I began writing this weekly column in 1980. Back then I had a new baby, a three-year-old, and a five-year-old. Subjects then were about raising a young family. Today I have grandchildren. They often end up in my column these days.

I like to write about the funny side of life. Sometimes something will happen on our farm, Sunnybook Farm, and it won’t seem funny until a day or two later. A stuck tractor isn’t funny when you are covered with mud and working hard to get it out, but a few days later it makes its way into my column and it is funny.

susan manske book wordsElizabeth: You’ve written a middle-grade novel, personal essays, columns (which have been published in the Words in My Pocket collections), and adult romances. How do you approach these very different kinds of writing?

Susan: I have a weekly deadline for my column, which runs about 650+ words. I’m always thinking about column ideas, so usually when I sit down I can start writing and get something done in one afternoon.

When I work on a novel, I get a germ of an idea and mull it over before starting to write. It may take me years to write a novel. I don’t outline, but I usually know the beginning and the end. The fun part is figuring out how to get from Chapter One to the end. For me it’s the journey that keeps me interested.

Elizabeth: You write in many genres, do you read in many genres? Which are your favorite?

Susan: I love to read middle-grade novels. I like anything that keeps my attention. Often ‘adult’ novels are too convoluted for me. I hate putting a book down, but my time is limited. Just tell me a good story. I have a form of dyslexia, so I’m a slow reader, but that hasn’t stopped me. I discovered my love for reading when I read Lassie Come Home in the seventh grade. Up until then reading was just a chore. I don’t want a book to be a chore to read.

Elizabeth: Tell us about yourself.

Susan: I live with my husband of 41 years, Bob, on Sunnybook Farm. We have 4 adult children, 6 grandchildren, 1 step grandson, and 1 step great granddaughter. We have 3 house cats and one dog. We also have 9 chickens and a bunch of barn cats. I love getting together with family. We laugh a lot and I never get enough of my grandchildren.

I went back to college in my 50s and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in 2009. It wasn’t easy going back to school after all those years, but every time I finished a class, I felt a great sense of accomplishment.

Elizabeth: Do you have any advice for young readers and writers?

Susan: I like to encourage writers who have dyslexia to charge ahead and write. I’m proof it can be done. Join a critique group to help improve your writing. Critiques may hurt at first, but I know I learned a lot from mine and I still do.

We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Elizabeth: Pizza or salad?

Susan: Pizza!

Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?

Susan: Mountain

Elizabeth: Tree house or doll house?

Susan: Tree House, like the one in Swiss Family Robinson

Elizabeth: Violin or piano?

Susan: Piano

Elizabeth: Comic story or learn-something story?

Susan: Tough one….I like to learn something in a story by accident, not on purpose. It has to be part of the story, even a comic story.

Elizabeth: Laura Ingalls Wilder or Hermione Granger?

Susan: Another tough one….Hermione Granger

Thanks, Susan for joining me today.  For more about Susan Manzke, visit her website: http://www.susanmanzke.net

Chicken Charlie’s Year is available here on amazon.com

Susan’s columns are available in the Words in my Pocket collections

October 21, 2014

Nano 2014

Posted in author, books, Cinderella, NaNoWriMo, steampunk at 1:08 pm by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

Want to write a book? Want to do it fast?  Want encouragement from famous people?  Want to connect with other writers in your local area?

Nano 2014Then you need to join NaNoWriMo! I went to the National Novel Writing Month website and got myself signed up to write (finish) a novel in November.  If you join NaNoWriMo, be sure to make me one of your writing buddies.

This year, my NaNo project is once again The Stepsisters. It feels as if I’ve been writing this book  f – o – r – e – v – e – r .

I’m two-thirds finished with my third revision, and I think this is the one. My goal for November is to finish The Stepsisters.  For those of you who haven’t already heard about this novel, The Stepsisters is a steampunk Cinderella, told in alternating first person by the two stepsisters.  And not to brag or anything, but it is la-la fabulous.  Or will be. When I finish it. In November.

OK, so go do the NaNo thing.  You know you want to. Here’s the link again: National Novel Writing Month website.

October 1, 2014

Author Interview: Jamie Swenson

Posted in author, books, interview, writing at 4:28 pm by elizabethcaulfieldfelt

jamie swensonToday I’m welcoming Jamie Swenson to my series of author interviews. Jamie is the picture book author of Big Rig, Boom Boom Boom, and If You Were a Dog.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us about If You Were a Dog?

Jamie: If You Were a Dog released yesterday – Sept.30th. jamie book dog

When I think about this book – it makes me smile. The book asks a series of questions for kids to consider about what sort of animal they would be if they were, say, a dog, a cat, a bird, a fish, a frog – even a dinosaur. The book opens with the dog question:

If you were a dog, would you be a speedy-quick,



Frisbee catching,

Hotdog stealing,

Pillow hogging,

Best-friend-ever sort of dog?

Would you howl at the moon?


Some dogs do.

Elizabeth: How long did it take from story idea until the book was published?

Jamie: Sometimes the initial idea for a book just flows from me in a matter of hours. That’s what happened with If You Were a Dog. I’d been talking with a little boy who was pretending to be a dog and I asked him, “What sort of dog are you? Are you going to bark in storytime today?” And that’s really all it took – I practically ran home that day and wrote the first few lines of the book about what type of dog a child might be. I’ve had dogs my whole life – so all the questions are based on the dogs I’ve known.

Of course, a book needs more than just one fun thought … and it took me a little while to focus on only animals – and even longer to get all the descriptive words right. Plus, I believe I spent months putting hyphens in and taking hyphens out again … in total, I think it took over a year to get the text into a form I was ready to submit to publishers.

When I finally did start submitting, I sent it to five open houses that I loved – into slush piles. I didn’t hear anything for months and then one morning I saw that I had an email message from Janine O’Malley at Farrar, Straus & Giroux. She wondered if the book was still available and if I would email her a copy so she could share it with her colleagues. That was in December of 2009. I think Janine made me an offer in January and the book was scheduled to release in 2012.

AND THEN … the most amazing thing happened. Caldecott-winning illustrator Chris Raschka signed onto the project. I was stunned when I found out. I knew and respected Chris’ work – it was an unbelievable thought that he would be bringing my text to life. Of course, he’s busy. The publication date ended up moving back to 2014 to accommodate his schedule. So, the first book I sold has ended up being the third to be released. In my mind, Chris’ work was well worth the extra two year wait!

Elizabeth: Chris Raschka! How exciting! Well worth the wait. I’ve noticed that your books are each by a different illustrator. Do you, as an author, have any input on who gets to illustrate your story?

jamie book bigrigJamie: As the author, I have had no say in who the illustrators for my books would be – beyond giving a general “yes” or “no” to the choices made by my editors. So far, I have only said, “AWESOME!” to all three of the illustrators: David Walker, Ned Young, and Chris Raschka.

With each project, at some point, I do see rough sketches or early drafts of the art and I am able to give feedback. There were a few instances in each manuscript when I did give feedback that affected the final book. In all cases, I was so happy with the overall style/tone/feel of the book – I really think each illustrator brought exactly what the text needed to the project. When I look at the art in my books – I simply can’t imagine any other style/look. I’ve heard of authors being disappointed in the art in their books – or feeling a loss of control, but I have never felt that way. I go into every book – even in the early writing stage—saying, “I’m leaving space right there for an illustrator to play and have fun creating.” I have never wanted to have too much control – and I try to stay away from exacting illustration directions/notes.

jamie book boomIn my mind, every person connected with the book process knows what he/she is doing and each person adds a richness to the book that wouldn’t exist if I were the one making all the choices. I love how books represent many creative spirits coming together for the best product – because they are created for the best people on the planet – kids.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us a little about your writing process?

Jamie: My writing process is dictated by the project I’m working on. If I need to research a topic – I will spend a few weeks reading or watching everything I can that is connected to the topic and taking notes or just letting it sink into my brain. Finally, I’ll spend two or three straight days writing the first draft (if it’s a picture book) and then I’ll spend days, weeks, months, or years revising the manuscript. Usually, it’s just a matter of a month or two of writing and revising. I often write for about two hours, take a break such as a walk with my dogs, and then come back to write/revise for a few more hours. Breaks are essential – and knowing that I need to find perfect words and not settle for just okay keeps me motivated. Picture books are like a puzzle where you keep taking out and replacing pieces until they all fit together perfectly.

Elizabeth: To write for children, do you think an author needs to have regular interaction with children?

Jamie: No, I do not think that writers have to have regular interaction with kids to write for kids – I think writers have to have once been a kid and be interested in topics of interest to kids. Of course, for me, it certainly helps that I do work with kids. My work is very much affected by my daily interactions with kids, and I would certainly miss that inspiration if I suddenly went to live in a cabin in a forest without any people around me (and believe me, I have considered this – hee hee).

For me, being a storyteller/associate librarian gives me a unique perspective on the types of books that I write. I write books that I would want to use in storytime with preschoolers. My books all have opportunities for the kids to become a part of the reading – be it with howling or clapping or making the “URRRRNNNT-URRRRNNNT!” of big rig’s horn. When I write, I visualize the way the book will work with the kids I will read it to one day.

But, I know many successful authors who do not interact with kids on a daily or even weekly basis. This does not mean they ignore what today’s kids are like or what interests them or what kids need from books – it just means, like any writer – they know their subject and their audience. Some writers write for the child they once were. That’s fantastic!

Of course, if you’re writing for children/teens, it helps to understand their developmental needs. For instance, most two year olds have not yet lost a tooth, been to the principal’s office, or learned to ride a two-wheeler. I wouldn’t pick those topics in writing for a preschooler – on the flip side, most fifth graders are no longer interested in how to tie their shoes, or put on pants, or button a shirt. They don’t worry so much about nap time either. A teen might be very interested in getting his/her driver’s license, but not that interested in stories about spelling bees or first slumber parties. Knowing what your audience is currently experiencing, or will soon experience, helps you write a story that they will enjoy.

My advice to those writing for kids who are not able to be around kids – read books currently published for the age group you want to write for and think about the big emotional issues you experienced at that age. The specifics may have changed since you were a kid (What do you mean you didn’t have a cell phone? How did you text people?), but the emotions haven’t changed. It still hurts to be left out. It’s still scary to be alone in your bed in the dark. And it’s still awesome to find out that a special someone LIKE likes you.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us a little more about yourself?

Jamie: I’ve been writing for kids for about fourteen years now. My early books were certainly inspired by a combination of raising children (my husband and I have two amazing daughters) and working as an associate librarian doing early literacy storytimes. I graduated from Hamline University’s MFAC program in 2009 – that experience remains a highlight of my writing life. Through Hamline and SCBWI, I have been fortunate to meet and be inspired by an array of incredible writers and illustrators.

For me, being a writer isn’t a career as much as it is simply who I am. Words and stories float around me and inspire me. Stories and words make me happy. I love being a part of a world that creates stories for children. Writing for kids and inspiring them become readers is my vocation, I can’t image doing anything else. People ask me all the time what the best part of being a writer is – and I always answer – the best thing about being a writer is the opportunity to meet interesting, passionate, fabulous people: readers, writers, illustrators, editors, agents, book-lovers of all sorts. I honestly believe book people are the best sort of people – and people who dedicate their lives to giving kids the world through books – well, I’m blessed to be a part of that.

Elizabeth: We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Q: Pizza or salad?

A: Both.

Q: Ocean or mountain?

A: Midwest forest. As northern as possible.

Q: Tree house or doll house?

A: Doll house in a tree house.

Q: Violin or piano?

A: Lalalalala – I’m a singer.

Q: Comic story or learn-something story?

A: Both – I hope to take something away from every story I read – but if there is no comic-relief in a book – I’m not likely to keep reading it for long. That is NOT to say that I wouldn’t read a dark topic or a serious topic – but even in those scary places – there is still joy in this world. So, I do appreciate a little bit of levity with every topic.

Q: Laura Ingalls Wilder or Hermione Granger?

A: Hmmm… both of these characters have spunk and do not take no for an answer. They also both make some big mistakes due to overconfidence… They are smart, brave, women of their time. One, of course is based on a real person – but the two characters are iconic. Too hard to answer –both Laura and Hermione would be preferred over a Bella Swan any day of the week.

For more information about Jamie Swenson visit her website: www.jamieswenson.com

Her books are available at: http://www.indiebound.org/ and other bookstores.

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