Category Archives: The 5 Questions

The Five Questions: Stasia Kehoe

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Stasia Kehoe

 

“I can’t stand when a writing teacher doesn’t look a little deeper than to say something that basically means, ‘I don’t like your style or your subject matter.'”

I met Stasia Kehoe at the Boston Teen Author Festival where we instantly bonded over her name (my daughter, Anastasia, prefers to be called, “Stasia”) and by the inclusion of handicapped-sibling characters/issues in our novels. Here’s what she has to say:

1. What’s the surprising inspiration behind one (your choice) of the characters or stories you’ve created?

It’s amazing how characters sometimes appear out of the blue while you’re writing. In THE SOUND OF LETTING GO, Daisy’s best friend, Justine, seemed to come from nowhere with her conflicted sense of rebel and good girl, and the struggle she and her brassy mother have to rebuild their lives after her dad leaves. It’s not so much an inspiration as a “Wow, where did that come from?” sensation that never ceases to surprise me. It’s one of the great joys of writing fiction.

2. If you could rescue one obscure book and make it more widely known to the world, which book would you choose and why?

WHEN HITLER STOLE PINK RABBIT by Judith Kerr. It is an amazing study of a nine-year-old girl swept into the horrors of World War II. Anna doesn’t realize the danger she’s in or the larger threats her family is facing, but she must learn new languages in new countries, and continually reinvent herself as her parents struggle to carve out some kind of future.

3. You can ask one question to any author, living or dead. What would you ask and why?

I would ask Agatha Christie to demonstrate her technique of speaking aloud dialogue for her characters because I am frequently awed by the brightness, fun, and volume of her work.

4. What’s the best (or your favorite) feedback you’ve received from a reader?

I recently got an email from a woman who read THE SOUND OF LETTING GO who told me she was so grateful someone had captured the emotional experience of having a handicapped sibling leave the home, as that had been her childhood experience, too. I was so glad she thought I’d got it right!

5. What’s the worst writing advice you’ve received from a teacher?

 Wow, that’s a tough question. I suppose the worst thing a teacher ever said to me was “I don’t get it.” I can’t stand when a writing teacher doesn’t look a little deeper than to say something that basically means, “I don’t like your style or your subject matter.” At least, that’s my interpretation.

For more information about Stasia Kehoe and her books:

Visit her online at: www.stasiawardkehoe.com

Join her on Twitter: @swkehoe

The Five Questions: Emily Franklin

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8365-for web and email

 

“The book changed all that for them – they left town, stayed safe, and found the strength to keep going.”

Emily Franklin is the author of Last Night at the Circle Cinema and will be one of the speakers at the Boston Teen Author Festival in Cambridge, September 26.

1. What’s the surprising inspiration behind one (your choice) of the characters or stories you’ve created?
LAST NIGHT AT THE CIRCLE CINEMA is set at the real abandoned Circle theatre outside of Boston. It housed a lot of teenage afternoons and evenings, some heartaches and lust-filled lobby visits for unnecessary Sno-Caps. When I wrote this novel, the Circle became a character (and a metaphor).
2. If you could rescue one obscure book and make it more widely known to the world, which book would you choose and why?
Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright. It was one of my favorites – set on a farm in Wisconsin circa 1920s with amazing descriptions. Each chapter is its own story that fits with the novel but has a beginning, middle, and end.
3. You can ask one question to any author, living or dead. What would you ask and why?
Emily Danforth, can our characters be friends (or us)? Why: because she’s a great writer and I think our people could have adventures together.
Or Flannery O’connor – will you read aloud to me? Why: Read A Good Man is Hard to Find and you’ll see.
4. What’s the best (or your favorite) feedback you’ve received from a reader?
When Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom came out (nod to its LGBTQ main character), I received a letter from a person who had been contemplating suicide because of their sexual orientation and family and town’s hatred. The book changed all that for them – they left town, stayed safe, and found the strength to keep going.
5. What’s the worst writing advice you’ve received from a teacher?
“Write the story and end it with ‘…but it turned out to be a dream.”
For more information about Emily Franklin and her books:
Visit her online at: http://emilyfranklin.com 

The Five Questions: Becky Albertalli

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Photo courtesy of Decisive Moments Events

Photo courtesy of Decisive Moments Events

“I see a lot of people saying you have to have connections in the industry to get a book deal. Absolutely not true.”

Becky Albertalli is the author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and will be a fellow panelist at the Boston Teen Author Festival in Cambridge this September 26.

1. What’s the surprising inspiration behind one (your choice) of the characters or stories you’ve created?

While it’s probably not surprising that I drew upon my high school journals for inspiration, it might surprise readers to know that two scenes in Simon are pulled almost directly from the journals. But I won’t specify which scenes.

2. If you could rescue one obscure book and make it more widely known to the world, which book would you choose and why?

Jaclyn Moriarty’s adult book, I Have a Bed Made of Buttermilk Pancakes. I’m not sure if this is obscure in Australia, but I wasn’t able to get it in the US without ordering it from abroad. It’s one of my all-time favorite books.

3. You can ask one question to any author, living or dead. What would you ask and why?

I would ask J.K. Rowling to marry me. I’m guessing this requires no explanation.

4. What’s the best (or your favorite) feedback you’ve received from a reader?

I’ve gotten so much incredible feedback, including letters from several teen readers who came out to their friends and families after reading Simon! But I also love something one of my friends said to me recently: “I’m so glad I loved your book as much as I was going to say I loved it.”

5. What’s the worst writing advice you’ve received from a teacher?

I don’t know that I’ve ever received bad writing advice from a teacher, but I guess I’ve come across questionable advice on writing forums. This one’s more related to publishing than writing, but I see a lot of people saying you have to have connections in the industry to get a book deal. Absolutely not true.

For more information about Becky Albertalli and her books:

Visit her online at: www.beckyalbertalli.com

Join her on Twitter at @beckyalbertalli

The Five Questions: Kekla Magoon

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KeklaMagoon-Hi Res 1

“‘Write what you know’ is the worst advice.”

Fortunately, Kekla Magoon has better advice. She is the author of many novels, including the recently published How it Went Down, and will be one of the excellent authors featured at the Boston Teen Author Festival at the Cambridge Public Library on Saturday, September 26.

1. What’s the surprising inspiration behind one (your choice) of the characters or stories you’ve created?

I wrote about the Black Panthers and Malcolm X, and my stories help to show that these guys were really quite different than what is stereotypically thought about radical black activists. I portray them in a way that is true to the real life inspiration, but may be surprising to some readers, which I love, because it helps broaden people’s understandings of civil rights activism.

2. If you could rescue one obscure book and make it more widely known to the world, which book would you choose and why?

In high school I loved a book called Being of Two Minds, by Pamela F. Service. It’s about two best friends, Connie and Rudy, who share a unique telepathic link. As a lonely teen, I really liked the friendship story there, and the fantasy of being very connected to one special friend who would travel across the world to save you.

3. You can ask one question to any author, living or dead. What would you ask and why?

I would want to talk to Audre Lorde. I’ve always loved her quote: “Your silence will not protect you.” I’d ask her if there was anything about which she remained silent that she regrets.

4. What’s the best (or your favorite) feedback you’ve received from a reader?

A seventh-grader once told me, “I was reading your book and it was time to go to bed, but I didn’t want to stop reading, so I took it into the bathroom, propped it on the mirror, and read it while I brushed my teeth.”

5. What’s the worst writing advice you’ve received from a teacher?

“Write what you know” is the worst advice. If you worry too much about writing based on your experience, you cut off your imagination, and what you write can come out sounding stilted. Your experiences, history, and knowledge are going to inform your writing whether you mean them to or not. Just as fantasy can be the most effective allegory for society, any piece of fiction inherently reflects the thoughts and hopes of its author. The intersection between your imagination and your real self is where the magic of storytelling happens.

For more information about Kekla Magoon and her books:

Visit her online at: keklamagoon.com
Follow her on Twitter: @KeklaMagoon

The Five Questions: Kendall Kulper

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Kulper

“I would sit in the cafeteria writing page after page, and kids would line up down the table, reading every page as I wrote it.”

On Saturday, September 26th, Kendall Kulper will one of the terrific YA authors speaking, reading and engaging at the Boston Teen Author Festival at the Cambridge Public Library. Consider this a preview on her point-of-view:

1. What’s the surprising inspiration behind one (your choice) of the characters or stories you’ve created?

Well, my second novel DRIFT & DAGGER basically came about because I fell in love with a throwaway character in my first novel, SALT & STORM. I needed a slightly-nefarious Han-Solo-like ship captain, so I created this character, gave him a handful of lines, and figured that was it. But I kept thinking about him—his name, his story, where he fit into the world—and when my editor asked if I might be interested in writing another book in SALT & STORM’s world, I immediately thought about this character.

I never would have thought I’d write a whole book about this guy, but I absolutely loved exploring the world through his eyes!

2. If you could rescue one obscure book and make it more widely known to the world, which book would you choose and why?

I have a special place in my heart for a YA I read when I was a kid, a book called CELINE by Brock Cole. It’s about a teen girl who’s an artist, and she has such a fascinating, visual, funny, vulnerable perspective on her world. I read this book until the spine split apart, and I still think about it constantly. It’s such a quiet book, but it’s stayed with me my whole life, and I can see kids of all ages and generations falling in love with it.

3. You can ask one question to any author, living or dead. What would you ask and why?

Everyone’s going to say J.K. Rowling, but J.K. Rowling! She is just such a fascinating person, writer, thinker. I am so consistently impressed with her talent, of course, but also with how she approaches fans, media, criticism, setback. I would ask her what she’s learned and how she’s grown by publishing books anonymously and her thoughts on building audiences and readership in an increasingly-competitive publishing world.

4. What’s the best (or your favorite) feedback you’ve received from a reader?

Oh man. My favorite feedback might be some of the earliest. When I was a kid in elementary school, I used to write sort of serialized horror-style stories (I was a big R.L. Stine fan). Every day after school, I would sit in the cafeteria writing page after page, and kids would line up down the table, reading every page as I wrote it. I can still remember how cool it was to see people reading—and loving—what I had written. Kids would track me down in the halls to find out how the story would end. It was the first time I saw readers connecting with my stories, and it was such a thrill. I think I’ve basically been chasing that high my whole career…

5. What’s the worst writing advice you’ve received from a teacher?

Well, I’ve been extremely lucky to have had great teachers, so thankfully this is a really hard question to answer! I will say that I sometimes got pressure from writing instructors that writing YA literature was not writing Real Literature. YA writers weren’t actual writers, and the idea was that anyone could just dash off a Twilight in their spare time and make a million dollars (to which I say: go ahead. Do it. I’ll wait.).

So even though I was interested in YA stories, I was encouraged to write more along the lines of “adult” fiction. I dutifully put aside my YA and tried it—and it made me miserable. I was writing stuff that felt dreary and dull and it sucked all the fun out of writing for a very long time. Finally I realized that hey, those writing classes might have been wrong about this, and I should just be writing what made me happy. It all worked out, but I wish I hadn’t wasted a few years trying to be the writer I’m not.

For more information about Kendall Kulper and her books:

Visit her online at: http://kendallkulper.com
Follow her on Twitter: @Kendall_Kulper

The Five Questions: Jen Brooks

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Ringler Associates

“Jane Austen: Would you please give me some feedback on my manuscript?”

Jen Brooks is the author of In A World Just Right and will be reading with me (and many other wonderful authors) at the Boston Teen Author Festival on Saturday, September 26th at the Cambridge Public Library. Here’s her take on The Five Questions:

1. What’s the surprising inspiration behind one (your choice) of the characters or stories you’ve created?

I don’t think it’s surprising to find that most things about Jonathan and Kylie, my main characters, are similar to me. Anyone who knows me personally has found reason to smile at the details I’ve chosen to include . . . like my love of chicken burritos. That said, much of the inspiration for the characters and setting comes from my time spent teaching.

2. If you could rescue one obscure book and make it more widely known to the world, which book would you choose and why?

I’m going to cheat and pick a book that is far from obscure, but I think deserves as much attention as it can get: Cristin Terrill’s All Our Yesterdays. It’s a fabulous time-travel, save-the-world story, with characters to make your heart beat faster and who have to make choices I would never want to have to make.

3. You can ask one question to any author, living or dead. What would you ask and why?

Jane Austen: Would you please give me some feedback on my manuscript? ☺

4. What’s the best (or your favorite) feedback you’ve received from a reader?

My “favorite” feedback has come from many readers. There is nothing as affirming as having a reader really get what my book is trying to say, really see Jonathan as a person not to be judged for the mistakes he makes, but empathized with for the things he has to face. Readers moved so much by Jonathan’s story that they admit crying are my special favorites.

5. What’s the worst writing advice you’ve received from a teacher?

Ha! I don’t remember ever specifically receiving bad writing advice. I’ve always considered my writing teachers as excellent. However, I do know that there are things I learned in school (like using “creative” dialogue tags instead of the invisible “said”) that I had to unlearn in graduate school.

For more information about Jen Brooks and her books:

Visit her online at: www.jenbrookswriter.com
Join her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jen-Brooks/204436282955580

The Five Questions: Tasneem Zehra Husain

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TasneemZehraHusain

“Suddenly, I knew exactly what the story was going to be about — redshift and increasing distances.”

For most writers, writing isn’t “rocket science” or “brain science” or any kind of science we use to distinguish elite or inaccessible intellectual vocations. But Tasneem is in fact a theoretical physicist with a doctorate from Stockholm University and post-doctoral experience at Harvard; better still, her writing mission aims to make the inaccessible, accessible. Her first book, Only the Longest Threads, is a fictionalized account of the great breakthroughs in physics, from Newton’s Classical Mechanics to the Tasmanian Devil’s (this will make sense when you read the book) String Theory.

  1. What’s the surprising inspiration behind one (your choice) of the articles or books you’ve published?

This year marks the centennial of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, and I was asked to contribute a short story to an anthology that marks the occasion. While I cast around for an idea that would fit, the song “La Vie En Rose” played over and over in my head with annoying persistence. I couldn’t make it stop, so I finally stopped ignoring it and actually considered the lyrics. The instant I thought about life, seen through rose colored glasses, a vivid image flashed to mind: sunset over the Notre Dame, and two lovers separated by the Seine. Suddenly, I knew exactly what the story was going to be about — redshift and increasing distances.

  1. If you could rescue one obscure book and make it more widely known to the world, which book would you choose and why?

The Dean’s Watch, by Elizabeth Goudge. Goudge is one of the last Victorian authors, and even though the undertones of faith in her books don’t always sit well with a modern audience, her writing has a lyrical beauty that is timeless. She has a flair for description, and picking just the right detail to zoom in on. She shows an incredible depth of understanding, and compassion, for each of her characters and her ability to completely inhabit their various perspectives is astounding. Her stories feel quiet and restful, there’s no high drama anywhere – yet they keep you engaged while you read them, and stay with you afterwards. I love most of her work, but The Dean’s Watch is up there at the top of my list, so that’s the one I would rescue from obscurity if I could.

  1. You can ask one question to any author, living or dead. What would you ask and why?

I’d ask Arthur Stanley Eddington how he approached popular science writing. Most people know Eddington only as the man who gathered experimental proof for Einsten’s theory, but that barely scratches the surface of who he was. Eddington’s true gifts were his deep insights into the intricacies of physics, and a unique talent for portraying complex truths in a lucid, but not overly simplistic, way. In addition to his scientific work, he did an amazing amount of outreach, and his popular books (and lecture transcripts) are an absolute joy to read. I am particularly impressed by how he manages to maintain a sense of rigor even in his most non-technical explanations, and I think this is partly due to his brilliant use of metaphor. Metaphors are endlessly fascinating to me. They can be such a powerful tool, particularly in the kind of writing I do, that I’d like to sit Eddington down and ask him to talk me through his process.

  1. What’s the best (or your favorite) feedback you’ve received from a reader?

An award winning science writer, whose work I have admired and respected for a long time, wrote to tell me she had read my book and loved it. I couldn’t get over how surreal that felt. I grew up turning her phrases around in my head, and then one day I find she has not only read my writing, but liked it enough to reach out and tell me! That is one of the most powerful arguments I can make for having the strength to put your work out there. You never know who will find it. And when someone actually connects with what you’ve written, it’s a high like no other.

  1. What’s the worst writing advice you’ve received from a teacher?

To categorize my writing, and force it to fit into a pre-labeled box. This whole business of having to ‘decide’ whether something is fiction or non-fiction, scientific or literary, A or B, was overwhelming at first, but now it just seems unnecessary. I totally agree that you need to have a clear vision where your writing is headed – otherwise the words ramble off the page – and that it often helps to have a particular reader in mind, to keep you on track. But being targeted isn’t the same as being constrained. Few real world readers have tastes that can be categorized by a single keyword. Life isn’t neatly split up into mutually exclusive compartments, and it isn’t always possible – or even preferable – to write as if it were. Most of us live in a space where genres overlap, and it is only natural that our books occasionally do the same.

For more information about Tasneem Zehra Husain and her books:

Visit her online at: www.tasneemzehrahusain.com

Follow her on Twitter: @tasneemzhusain

The Five Questions: Carolyn Macker

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Carolyn Mackler by Sarah Klock

“Can’t you let the pigeon drive the bus? Just once??!”

Carolyn Macker is the author of Best Friend Next Door and the upcoming, Infinite in Between. She will be joining Lori Goldstein, Anna Schumacher and myself at the July 1 Teen Author Reading Night at the Jefferson Market Branch of the New York Public Library.

  1. What’s the surprising inspiration behind one (your choice) of the characters or stories you’ve created?

In my new YA novel, Infinite in Between, all of my characters, boys and girls of varying levels of popularity and dorkiness, are all pretty much me. Does that sound like Sybil? It’s just that there are so many parts to a person and, as a novelist, I get to expand my personality quirks into entire people. 

  1. If you could rescue one obscure book and make it more widely known to the world, which book would you choose and why?

Goop Tales. Classic kids book circa 1904 with all these round-headed kids who are mostly nice but have one very naughty trait like “Badinskool” and “Nevershair.” I used to read it at my grandparents’ house when I was a kid. It has a much more, shall we say, fierce take on childrearing. 

  1. You can ask one question to any author, living or dead. What would you ask and why? 

Mo Willems. Can’t you let the pigeon drive the bus? Just once??!  

  1. What’s the best (or your favorite) feedback you’ve received from a reader?

When my readers tell me that they hated reading until they read my books. Or that one of my books saved/changed their life. That makes me stop everything in my day and just be grateful I get to do what I do. 

  1. What’s the worst writing advice you’ve received from a teacher?

Write neater. Stay in the lines. Work harder on illustrations.

For more information about Carolyn Macker and her books:

Visit her online at: www.carolynmackler.com

Follow her on Twitter at: @carolynmackler

The Five Questions: Anna Schumacher

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Anna Schumacher

“I was fascinated by how quickly these tiny, sleepy towns transformed into booming cities where fortune, opportunity, desperation, and poverty all rubbed elbows.”

Anna Schumacher is the author of Children of the Earth, an End Times novel, and will be one of the the panelists at the upcoming NYC Teen Author Festival Reading Night this July 1 in Greenwich Village.

  1. What’s the surprising inspiration behind one (your choice) of the characters or stories you’ve created?

I stumbled upon the inspiration for END TIMES, my doomsday thriller series, in a New York Times article about oil boomtowns in North Dakota. I was fascinated by how quickly these tiny, sleepy towns transformed into booming cities where fortune, opportunity, desperation, and poverty all rubbed elbows, and I thought a setting like that would be perfect for an epic battle between good and evil. 

  1. If you could rescue one obscure book and make it more widely known to the world, which book would you choose and why?

When I was in high school I loved The Grounding of Group Six and everything else by Julian F. Thompson; he wrote about groups of teens thrown together in unusual and sinister circumstances, and his characters were all kind of quirky and wry and lovable. I never understood why he didn’t get the same kind of recognition as other YA authors at the time – there were way fewer of us then! 

  1. You can ask one question to any author, living or dead. What would you ask and why?

I’d ask Stephen King how he comes up with his characters’ speech quirks and inner monologues. He’s the absolute master of dialogue: every character sounds utterly distinct. I’m sure a lot of it is pure talent, but he has to have a few tricks up his sleeve too, right? 

  1. What’s the best (or your favorite) feedback you’ve received from a reader?

An Amazon reviewer for End Times complained that the cover felt so rough on her hands that she ended up taping a plastic bag over it. I kind of got a kick out of that. 

  1. What’s the worst writing advice you’ve received from a teacher? 

In the third grade I had an English teacher who insisted that poetry had to rhyme. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.

For more information about Anna Schumacher and her books:

 

Visit her online at: http://schumacherya.tumblr.com/

Follow her on Twitter at: @schumacherYA

The Five Questions: Lori Goldstein

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Lori-Goldstein-Author-1

“So long as you know the rules and have a good reason for breaking them, they most certainly can and should be broken…”

Lori Goldstein is the author of Becoming Jinn and will be a fellow panelist of mine at two upcoming events: the NYC Teen Author Festival reading on July 1, and the Boston Teen Author Festival on September 26.

  1. What’s the surprising inspiration behind one (your choice) of the characters or stories you’ve created?

Becoming Jinn was inspired by a name I heard on the news. A few years ago, there was a devastating earthquake in Turkey. A mother and her two-week-old infant daughter were pulled from the rubble and both miraculously survived. That baby’s name was Azra, which is my protagonist in Becoming Jinn.

YA paranormal and supernatural has always been a genre I loved, and in hearing this name and thinking of what would be a cool story for this girl, somehow it all sparked the idea of writing a book featuring Jinn, which for some reason (probably because it was on the X-Files!) I knew was the term for spirits derived from North African and Middle Eastern lore but akin to our Western world’s notion of the genie.

In terms of inspiration, it’s hard to have a book with magic in it without acknowledging the influence of J.K. Rowling, but I knew I also loved contemporary books like those from Rainbow Rowell. And I love The Vampire Diaries, which is paranormal in a contemporary setting with a lot of sarcastic humor. All of that, subconsciously at least, influenced the direction I took with Becoming Jinn.

  1. If you could rescue one obscure book and make it more widely known to the world, which book would you choose and why?

Though it’s not YA, I loved a book called THE KITCHEN HOUSE. I feel it got a bit lost when THE HELP became popular, and while that’s a wonderful book, I always wished THE KITCHEN HOUSE got its due.

  1. You can ask one question to any author, living or dead. What would you ask and why?

I’d ask J.K. Rowling if I could see all her plotting notes for Harry Potter! Her skill in creating a seven-book series where things planted in book one appear years later is nothing short of genius and a true master at work.

  1. What’s the best (or your favorite) feedback you’ve received from a reader?

Well, this is now turning into a J.K. Rowling post, but I recently received a fan letter—a true letter in the mail, which is amazing in and of itself—in which a reader said my book was among her favorite book of all time, noting she reads a lot of books, and the kicker: that she liked my book more than Harry Potter. Um, really? Wow and thanks!!

  1. What’s the worst writing advice you’ve received from a teacher?

This wasn’t from a teacher, but I was told I couldn’t end BECOMING JINN on a cliffhanger. That no agent would touch it and no editor would let it stay. That ending to BECOMING JINN that I was told would never make it into the finished book? Well, it did. So long as you know the rules and have a good reason for breaking them, they most certainly can and should be broken so long as it improves your story.

For more information about Lori Goldstein and her books:

Visit her online at www.lorigoldsteinbooks.com

Follow her on Twitter at: @loriagoldstein

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