Archive for the ‘writers conference’ Category

lisaPapademetriouThis interview was conducted by Joan Axelrod-Contrada. Lisa will be our morning speaker and will conduct a workshop called Secrets of the Plot Goddess.


Why did you become a writer? When did the writing bug first bite you?

When I was in fifth grade, I had a sudden realization – the books I was reading were written by grown ups who wrote those novels, stories, and poems as their job. That was it. I knew that was what I wanted to do.

What is the most rewarding part of being a writer?

The most rewarding part of being a writer is those moments of flow – when you’re so absorbed in what you are doing that you lose yourself. Sometimes, when I look over what I have written, I don’t remember writing it, as if I have been channeling something beyond myself. That, to me, feels like a spiritual occurrence. It feels meaningful.

The most frustrating?

The only frustrating part is the publishing industry. I love my editors, my agent, the art directors, the marketers, my booking agent. All of the people I come into contact with in the industry are smart, talented, and passionate about books. But the business itself feels impenetrable and sometimes arbitrary.

Can you tell us about your latest release?

My next book (out in April 2017) is called APARTMENT 1986. It’s about a girl who – for various reasons having to do with family, friends, and school – decides to skip out on her fancy New York City private school for a week and, instead, visit the museums on the Upper East Side. She makes a friend and, as I like to say, shenanigans ensue. It’s very funny, but it also touches on some serious issues. But, mostly, it’s funny.

What inspired it?

I grew up in Houston, Texas, but when I was fourteen, my father got remarried and moved to the Upper East Side of New York City. He and my stepmother live a block from the Met. When I would come to visit as a teen, I always felt overwhelmed by the city and like a fish out of water. It’s a bit about that, and about other things that were happening in my family around that time. But it’s a novel – it’s not like my actual life at all.

You’re the morning speaker for WriteAngles. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re planning?

Hah! This question sounds like I might be planning a laser light show or surprise guest appearance by Taylor Swift! (And maybe I am . . .)

My talk is called Creativity Takes Courage, and I’m planning to talk about rejection, failure, fear, and how to handle it. The good thing about that topic is that if I totally blow the speech, I can use all of the advice in my talk right away.

You’re also presenting a workshop called Secrets of the Plot Goddess — How Destiny Drives Your Story. Tell us about that.

This is a workshop I designed for people who are more comfortable thinking about characters than plots. It’s a framework for imagining the plot as if it is a character with a specific desire line, as if it is making choices and taking action along with the protagonist.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a new novel called THE DREAMWAY, which is about a girl whose brother is kidnapped by a Nightmare and taken into the underground subway system that powers our dreams. I’m also continuing to work on my grammar humor website, IvanaCorrectya.com, and on helping to develop and grow the low-residency Writing for Children and Young Adults Track of the MFA program at Sierra Nevada College, where I’m on faculty. Our next 10-day residency is in Jamaica in January, so anyone who is considering getting a Master’s degree should check it out!

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It’s unusual to have agent meeting slots available this close to the conference date but we have just learned that there are a few available. Do not delay if you are interested.

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Registration still open

We are still taking registrations for our Oct. 29 conference, but we recommend not waiting too much longer if you are interested in attending. It’s two weeks from tomorrow and we will be closing registration a few days in advance of that.

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spikethemixedupmonstersusanhoodThis interview was conducted by Samantha Hoffman, panel moderator for Writing for Children: The Craft of the Picture Book at this year’s WriteAngles conference.


What do you like most about writing for children?

I love the playfulness of children’s picture books, the music in the language, and the way the words and artwork weave together to something neither could accomplish alone.

Kids are often very passionate about the stories they read (or have read to them). Have you had any reactions from your young readers that stood out and stuck with you?

The most touching experience I ever had was when a severely autistic young boy spotted my book SPIKE, THE MIXED-UP MONSTER at a book festival. SPIKE is about a little-known salamander called an axolotl. Well, this boy knew all about axolotls! He started jumping up and down telling his grandmother about them. I’ll never forget the look of pure joy on his face (and hers) when she bought him the book.

Another incredible experience was when a classroom invited me to see an entire musical they had created around SPIKE. Kids are amazing!

You’ve written an impressive number of books (over 200!). Do you have any favorites?

Usually the one I’m working on at the moment!

You’ve also written very broadly — nonfiction, fiction, board books, easy readers, picture books — is there anything specific that you haven’t done yet that you would like to write someday?

ADA’S VIOLIN is my first nonfiction picture book and I’ve found that I love doing interviews and research. So I hope to do more of that. I’m also venturing into the whole new world of middle-grade fiction.

Speaking of middle-grade, how did the process of putting your upcoming middle grade book LIFEBOAT 12 together differ from how you approach your books for younger audiences?

Some of the process is not so different. Each book starts with a discovery or a new idea I’m passionate about. Then I do research, create a structure, focus on characters and plot, refine the language for clarity, emotion, and sound, and revise, revise, revise. When I’m done, I share the book with a writer’s group I’ve been with for seven years. Then I revise again!

Each genre has its own demands. Most picture books are 500-1000 words. So the author’s job is to boil the story down to its essence, carefully selecting evocative words that will inspire the illustrator to expand on the story, sometimes in ways the author never imagined. Here’s what’s difficult: while most people think picture book authors and illustrators collaborate very closely, you may never meet. So you have to write the best story you can, know when to stop talking, and then trust the illustrator to take it away!

Since most novels don’t have illustrations I’ve had to unlearn what I learned as a picture book author and elaborate on the pictures in my head. Currently, LIFEBOAT 12 is about 25,000 words geared to 8-13-year-olds, rather than my usual audience of 2-6-year-olds. And while I’m writing this little-known World War II story as historical fiction, I’m working hard to ensure that all the dates, events, and people named in the story are factual. There’s a tremendous amount of research behind it. I traveled to England last summer to interview some of the key characters and do research in the National Archives and British Library. I still have a lot to learn about the middle-grade genre, but I’m loving the process and the challenge!

One of your most recent books, ADA’S VIOLIN: THE STORY OF THE RECYCLED ORCHESTRA OF PARAGUAY, is about a real person, Ada Ríos. What drew you to her story?

adasviolinsusanhoodIt’s impossible not to fall in love with Ada and all the kids of the Recycled Orchestra. Growing up on a landfill in Paraguay, these children spent their days playing in broken glass, rusty metal, and toxic chemicals as their parents picked through the garbage looking for anything they could recycle and sell. But one day, an environmental technician named Favio Chávez had the brilliant idea to create musical instruments from the trash and provide music lessons. Using violins built from baking pans, cellos crafted from oil drums and flutes fashioned from drain pipes, Favio taught the kids to play Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach. Soon they formed an orchestra and are now touring the world. They recently played for the Pope!

I first heard about the orchestra on 60 Minutes and knew I wanted to share this extraordinary true tale with kids. Most of the press focused on Favio, but I wanted to tell the story from the point of view of a child in the orchestra. I interviewed first violinist Ada Ríos along with orchestra conductor Favio Chávez. Since then, they’ve been featured in a new documentary film called the Landfill Harmonic and profiled on NPR. Their story illuminates issues of poverty, pollution, and even climate change in a way that celebrates a can-do spirit and leaves a little Mozart in your heart.

You’ve had a very busy 2016, with the releases of LEAP AND BOUNCE, ADA’S VIOLIN, MISSION: BACK TO SCHOOL, and the soon-to-be-released THE FIX-IT MAN! Is there anything in the works for the future that you would like to tell readers about?

Yes, next spring I’m publishing my first book with Candlewick Press. It’s called DOUBLE TAKE and is written in rhyme with adorable retro art by Jay Fleck. My editor calls it a topsy-turvy funhouse about opposites, relative words, and point of view with a dollop of yin and yang for good measure. Then LIFEBOAT 12 launches in September, 2017 from Simon and Schuster.

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spaghettieddiejackieurbanovicThis interview was conducted by Samantha Hoffman, panel moderator for Writing for Children: The Craft of the Picture Book at this year’s WriteAngles conference.


What do you like most about creating for children?

I love to see a child interact with my books and my illustrations. It is pure joy. Second, it’s an adventure for me. I really get my steps in as I take walks everywhere and let the ideas percolate. I hike with my dog in the woods, I browse the downtown areas and nearby farms. Once I have an idea, I may travel to take photos and do research. I talk to friends about it. I love that during this process I get to think deeply about my pivotal experiences as well as our experiences as human beings. I think such thoughts as: Why in the world would they think that? How does it feel to be left alone? Why would that character choose something obviously so bad for them? And, interestingly enough, these deeply felt emotions are the perfect foil for humor. I actually laugh out loud as I am writing or thinking about my stories and illustrations. I just can’t help myself.

Lastly, when I do school visits and talk to teachers, librarians and students, I get to hear their laughter, their comments and feelings about the stories. It’s a “twofer”: I’m writing both for myself and for all of them.

How did you start making picture books?

I began as a freelance graphic designer and cartoonist. Somewhere along the way, maybe 15 years into my career, someone offered me a coloring book job. I really enjoyed it and came to the realization that humorous art was perfect for children. At that point I began seeking out educational children’s book publishers. For years I illustrated only educational books and I wondered how I would ever be able to break into trade books. I sent my art samples to “Highlights for Children”. The art director at “Highlights” passed my samples to someone in their trade book division, Boyd’s Mills Press. They offered me my first trade picture book, SPAGHETTI EDDIE. It’s a great example of the serendipitous opportunities that show up when you put yourself out there.

You were primarily an illustrator before you made your authorial debut with the DUCK AT THE DOOR series — what made you want to try your hand at writing?

duckatthedoorjackieurbanovicWhile I never thought of myself as a writer, when I look back; I can see I was always telling stories. I drew story pictures as a child, wrote sappy romance stories as a teenager, brainstormed headlines and ad campaigns for clients, and wrote comic strips. I read a lot, my family told funny stories, I was surrounded by stories. But it wasn’t until an illustrator friend of mine decided to try his hand at writing a picture book. When he was successfully published, I began wondering if I could do it too. I took a week-long class with author Jane Resh Thomas at the Split Rock Arts Program in Duluth, Minnesota, and Jane answered the question for me. She invited me to join her writing group and she and that group of incredible authors gave me my start. It is beyond wonderful to have a professional group of peers for support.

Do you find that the way you approach the illustrations changes when you’re also the author? Is there a lot of interplay between the draft stages of the text and the early stages of the illustration?

When I’m illustrating for someone else, I can help decide where the text will go and how it is illustrated, but I can’t alter the text. When I’m the author, everything is possible and changeable. I talk to myself more. I begin with words. I always write far too much and the pictures help me to simplify. Midway through my drafts I scribble out thumbnail pages. When I do this, new ideas show themselves. I go back and forth between altering pictures and then words. It’s very fluid. Like clay, the story starts large and malleable and gets more specific and solid as I get nearer to finishing.

Your stories often involve animal protagonists who find themselves caught in hilarious, outrageous situations. What inspires you most about writing that type of tale?

As I said earlier, I love to laugh and even better, to make others laugh. I’m also inspired by humorists who manage to include emotional resonance and meaning to the humor. I’m always trying for that. Also, I have had a number of very funny pets who have gotten themselves into tremendously hilarious and seemingly impossible situations. I often call on at least parts of those stories in my writing. It flows easily for me to create a story full of heart and humor, when I think of some of the animals I have adored.

Are there any books that you find particularly inspirational?

There are MANY. I’ll try to limit it to a few: The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo; Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon; Stone Soup by Jon J. Muth; It’s a Book by Lane Smith; Grandpa Green by Lane Smith; any picture book by Melissa Sweet; Roald Dahl’s stories and Quentin Blake’s art; Patrick McDonnell’s picture books and his comic strip Mutts; Take Joy by Jane Yolen; Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg; The Good Times are Killing Me by Linda Barry; the Tiffany Aching stories by Terry Pratchett; and anything written by Barbara Kingsolver.

Can you tell us anything about your upcoming projects?

I just finished illustrating a picture book titled Splatypus and written by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. The story takes place in Australia and their landscapes are fascinating. I was inspired by the Krazy Kat comic strip and a bit of Dr. Suess because the rocks and plants there are deliciously surreal and a delight to paint. Also, the art director really had great ideas for the visuals, which made it a real pleasure.

Recently, I created a painting for the Cat in the Hat show, which will be at the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts in Springfield beginning in October. And I’m pleased to be a part of the Annual Illustration Show at the Michelson Gallery in Northampton in November. And, of course, I always have three or four story drafts in progress. Crafting stories excites me and awakens my mind to all the possibilities.

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Registration is open

We are now accepting registrations for this year’s WriteAngles conference.

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We are planning to open registration by 9:00 a.m. at the latest, perhaps a little earlier if possible. You will also be able to pay online using PayPal if that is the form of payment you prefer. We will also accept checks.

We will also be introducing the WriteAngles Journal tomorrow.

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