Monthly Archives: June 2015

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

The Five Questions: Katrin Schumann

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Katrin Schumann

“Were authors back then as conflicted about the demands of the marketplace as we are today?”

In addition to being the co-author of The Secret Power of Middle Children and Mothers Need Time-Outs Too, Katrin is a co-leader of Grub Street’s Launch Lab, a multi-week workshop for authors launching new books and new careers. She has asked me to alert fellow writers that Launch Lab is actively seeking candidates for the 2015 workshop; you can find more information here.

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

When I was writing The Secret Power of Middle Children, I soon realized that in order to make the research more accessible and compelling, it would help to begin each chapter with a character sketch of a famous middle child and allow the reader to guess who it was. This proved to be great fun and a wonderful hook. So, for example, when trying to illustrate how middles are great negotiators, I researched historical figures and spent time on Google images rather than history books or websites. A lot of what I write, whether fiction or nonfiction, is inspired by images. I came up with this (see if you can guess who it is):

“The balding, fine-boned Egyptian man stood confidently in front of the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, in November 1977. As he looked up from his papers, reflected in his square eyeglasses was a room packed full of people filled with both shock and awe. The crowd was full of skepticism and hope, and hung on his every word. This was the first time in modern history that the leader of a nation at war set foot on enemy soil to calmly, logically and with great finesse make the case for peace.”

Anwar Sadat. As I was researching him, I came across a striking image of him addressing parliament. This gave me the freedom to turn that moment into a mini-scene in my book, and show a negotiator—and middle child—in action.

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

Many years ago I read a quiet book by Lily King called “The Pleasing Hour” that did not get a lot of press. I think it masterfully interweaves present day with the past, and beautifully tells the story of a naïve young girl’s awakening on a houseboat in Paris. Her most recent book “Euphoria” is getting lots of attention, but in my opinion it’s this earlier novel that is truly magical.

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

Katrin to Gustave Flaubert: “Gus, how did you have the guts to center your debut novel on the story of a bored and insufferable housewife’s self destruction?”

I’m intrigued by how novelists choose their subjects. Is it obsession? Intuition? Were authors back then as conflicted about the demands of the marketplace as we are today? I wonder if Flaubert would have imagined in his wildest dreams that Madame Bovary would become a bestseller that would continue to move people with its exquisite attention to detail more than a hundred years after his death.

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

It’s been such a thrill to hear from readers that the information in my books has improved their lives. People really do go to the trouble to track you down and share their personal stories with you. It’s the kind of thing you dream of as a writer and then when it happens, it’s so gratifying.

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

One teacher insisted that you should NEVER change point of view within a scene. I’ve read many books in which the author breaks this rule and it works well. I’ve tried, but am inhibited by this teacher’s stern admonition to avoid doing this at all costs. 

For more information about Katrin Schumann and her book:

Visit her online at: www.katrinschumann.com

Follow her on Twitter at: @katrinschumann

 

 

The Five Questions: Patrick Gabridge

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Patrick Gabridge farm headshot

“As a young writer, I was stunned to realize that what we write can have a real-world impact on the lives of our audience.”

Triple-threat Patrick Gabridge writes novels, writes plays and grows vegetables on his own farm. From his Facebook posts, I know that Patrick takes as much care weighing his crop yields as he does tracking his daily word counts!

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

I remember exactly where I stumbled across Robert Smalls, whose story is the basis for Steering to Freedom. My family was new to Boston and our daughter was attending St. Patrick’s School in Roxbury. They had a long-unused library in an adjacent convent, and since I’m a writer and my wife is a librarian, we thought helping rehab that library would be a way to help out at the school. So one or two mornings a week, I’d pack up my son, who was only about a year old, give him a bunch of toys and Cheerios and try to create some sort of order out of the chaos of this room filled with stacks of books that hadn’t been touched for years. Just by luck, I happened across a book entitled Captain of the Planter, by Dorothy Sterling. And I said, “Who is this guy?” And the story was just incredible. In addition, as a white parent of two black kids, I’m always on the lookout for stories about black heroes. From that day forward, I was determined to explore Robert’s incredible story and try to share it with as much of the world as I could. 

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

In doing research for Steering to Freedom, I read many fascinating histories and autobiographies from the Civil War era. One that stood out was Behind the Scenes by Elizabeth Keckley. Keckley (which is properly spelled Keckly) brought herself out of slavery to freedom, through hard work and perseverance, and eventually became Mary Todd Lincoln’s dressmaker and fashion advisor. Her book is frank about the pain she suffered as a slave and gives us a first-hand view into this extraordinary time. She crossed paths with Robert Smalls when she had him give a speech to her Contraband Relief Association in Washington, which was a bit of wonderful serendipity for me, because it let me include her as a character in Steering to Freedom. In Behind the Scenes she gives both a horrific and nuanced view of slavery—she was violently abused while a slave, yet after the war she spent a five-week visit with the women of the family that had owned her, of which she wrote “were five of the most delightful weeks of my life.” Her strength of character was truly astonishing. 

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

I’d want to talk with William Tyndale, who was responsible for the first printed English translation of the Bible. Outside of Shakespeare, he was the one man who had the greatest influence over our modern English language. He operated in exile in the 1520s and 30s and helped smuggle thousands of contraband Bibles into England, where possessing or reading a Bible in English was illegal. (I wrote about Tyndale and his friends in my play, Fire on Earth.) I’d ask for his English translation of the psalms—he died before they were published and they are lost to us. I’d ask how he felt when his friends were being rounded up and burned at the stake, knowing that his turn would come eventually. I’d probably ask him stupid real life questions, too, like what was his favorite flower and what did he like to eat for dessert. Because I want to know the human side of what made him tick.

I actually have a whole list of historical figures about whom I’ve written that I’d like to talk with. So if you could arrange a lunch with Tyndale, John Tewkesbury, Johannes Kepler, Daniel Sharp Ford, Auguste Ciparis, and Thomas Hutchinson, I would very much appreciate it. 

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

After my novel, Tornado Siren, came out, people would say that they thought about the book whenever they saw a news story about tornadoes plowing through a town, and couldn’t help thinking about Ben and his wanderings. It was pretty cool to think that one of my books made them look a little differently at the sky and severe storms.

After my very first full-length play, In a Glass Cage, was produced in New York, a friend of ours let me know that watching the play led him quit a job that he hated and start a new career. As a young writer, I was stunned to realize that what we write can have a real-world impact on the lives of our audience. I was completely hooked after that. 

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

 When I was an undergrad at MIT, I wrote a feature-length screenplay for my undergraduate thesis. I’d worked and slaved over it for months. And when I turned it in, my advisor met with me and she said, “About this thesis. Maybe you should try writing some short stories instead.” That was probably the toughest critique I’d ever had (or hope to have). Luckily, I kept on writing scripts, both for screen and stage. I wouldn’t be the writer or person who I am today, if I had retreated. It was a good lesson in standing strong in the face of criticism and being willing to plow forward and keep trying to improve my writing.

For more information about Patrick Gabridge and his books:

Visit him online at: http://www.gabridge.com/

Follow him on Twitter at: @patrickgabridge

 

The Five Questions: Ann Sussman

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annsussman

“The book provided a means to resolve ‘childhood trauma’ and I now understand my deeper motivations for writing it.”

Ann Sussman is the first nonfiction guest at The Five Questions, and will be my co-panelist at a Harvard Book Store reading, Monday, June 22 at 7pm titled, The Power of Place. She will be reading from her recently published book, Cognitive Architecture, a exploration of the surprising links between our internal neurology and our external built environment. I hope our Greater Boston friends will join us June 22!

  1. What’s the surprising inspiration behind the book you’ve published?

I didn’t realize, until much after the fact, that it was my early childhood experience and specifically my relationship with my mother that lead me – no, drove me – to write Cognitive Architecture. Perhaps, one can take everything back to pre-school days, but in my case, my mother was not always available in ways I most needed her to be; though physically present, severe, untreated, depression took her away from me much of the time. In need of attachment, I looked for and found it elsewhere, specifically, in buildings. They seemed so constant, reliable, and ready to ‘see’ me. I had no idea until I started researching Cognitive Architecture, many decades later, that people do indeed ‘see’ faces subconsciously in building facades, and are oriented by and emotionally attach to them, whether actively aware of it or not. In a sense, the book provided a means to resolve ‘childhood trauma’ and I now understand my deeper motivations for writing it. Anne Morrow Lindbergh writes, “the only true way to reach the universal, (is) through the knot-hole of the personal.” This is true, I also see, in ways I never could have imagined.

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

Eric Kandel, The Age of Insight, (2012). Neither book, nor author, are obscure, but still not as widely read as they should be. Kandel, a Nobel-prize winning neuroscientist at Columbia, bridges the arts and sciences here cogently explaining how new findings in brain science can help us understand why the visual arts captivate us the way they do. Kandel’s book was an important resource for Cognitive Architecture and I think more people would be fascinated by its contents – if they knew of its existence.

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

I would have to ask Henry David Thoreau what he thought of modern-day Concord, (a town where the average home price is now about $1 million) and today’s growing Green movement. I would like to know how he thought of and explained American habits of over-consumption as well as his response to seeing his work undergird the growing environmental movement in this country. I would like to hear his assessment of the contradictions inherent in these contemporaneous developments, more than a century and a half since his passing.

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

The best feedback, by far, is “Your book changed how I see architecture or the built-environment generally.” When I get that, it’s super – because that was the intent!

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

I can’t recall a teacher ever giving writing advice! Except on one occasion, my college adviser noted, “Your writing needs work, but not as much as many of your classmates.” Not exactly helpful. But what I do recall, at a time when I was struggling with identity, was a psychiatrist saying, “You’re an artist”, and a short while later, another psychiatrist saying, “You’re a writer.” This was terribly confusing. Could I be both? Are they one and the same? But, I am no longer troubled by such distinctions. I now see that we humans both live in our stories and our buildings, that narrative is intrinsic to the human condition, and the creative effort to create one or the other has many similarities.

For more information about Ann Sussman and her books:

Visit her online at: annsussman.com

Follow her on Twitter at: @ann_sussman

The Five Questions: Tilia Klebenov Jacobs

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JacobsT_PortraitSimple_19

“As the music started he and I realized we knew each other: he was one of my former students from a medium-security prison.”

Tilia Klebenov Jacobs is the author of Wrong Place, Wrong Time and the recently launched, Second Helpings at the Serve You Right Cafe. She tells us about an ex-con who turns out to be a great dancer, her admiration (which I share) for JK Rowling’s skill as plot-builder, and her frustration (again, which I share) with POV pedants.

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

A couple of years ago, my husband and I went swing dancing at a place we hadn’t visited before. As I circulated around the room, a gentleman came up and asked me if I’d like to dance. I said yes, but as the music started he and I realized we knew each other: he was one of my former students from a medium-security prison.

I had been thinking of putting together the book that eventually became Second Helpings at the Serve You Right Café, but I didn’t have a main character. After talking to my former student—who, I should mention, turned out to be a very good dancer—I started thinking about what his life might be like. He seemed to be alone, which meant to me that he was probably looking for someone, since most of us are; and I suddenly thought, “At what point in the dating process do you tell the person that you’re out on parole?” Thus was born Emet First, nice guy with a dark past, baker extraordinaire, and parolee about to go on his first date in a decade. 

  1. 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 not sure it counts as obscure, since it’s by Shakespeare, but my first choice would be King John. It’s never read and virtually never performed, to the point where its uncelebrated status is a gag in the play The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). My husband and I caught King John at the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario a few years ago, and it was fabulous: riotously funny in places, heartrending in others. It’s a gem of a play that has no audience.

After the performance, a few of the actors invited us to join them for dinner. While we were eating, I asked one of them why such a marvelous play is so little known. His answer was both fascinating and depressing: King John isn’t one of the half-dozen Shakespeare plays that are routinely taught in school, so there’s no built-in audience; therefore, it’s almost never performed; therefore no one knows about it; therefore it’s not taught in school. It was a real lesson in what makes a book or play live or die.

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

I would love to sit down with JK Rowling and ask her how she plots her books. She is a genius at dropping invisible hints that become wildly important three hundred pages later, when you suddenly realize you had the information you needed all along. Anyone who’s read the Harry Potter series knows what I mean. For example, and I promise no spoilers, a snitch in Harry’s first Quidditch match in Book One becomes a crucial plot point six very fat books later; and yet the plotline it supports never feels contrived. That’s the real beauty of Rowling’s writing: it always feels very natural.

No one plots better than JK Rowling. Her books are one of the joys in my life. 

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

Recently I received an email from a reviewer who had just finished reading my first book, Wrong Place, Wrong Time, which is a hostage drama. She said, “You’ve written a spectacular book there and on this one topic I would know. Many years ago I was kidnapped, and I was wonderfully pleased to see you get it right when you wrote about the effects of such an occurrence on the victim. I love that you didn’t over-blow it; it was real and heartrending. I don’t think I’ve read, in all these years, such an accurate mystery about what the victim feels like afterwards.”

Her words almost brought me to tears. While I was writing the book I did a lot of research and soul-searching to try to imagine what life would be like for Tsara, my main character, after her ordeal. To know that I got it right to this extent—I was stunned, and so very grateful that the reviewer took the time to share her story and her praise with me.

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

One very well-known author who also teaches workshops has insisted to me that one must never change point of view (POV) within a scene. In other words, if Sarah is talking to Rebecca, one must never, never shift from Sarah’s perspective to Rebecca’s and then (God forbid) back again. Apparently this is a rookie mistake that shows that the writer has lost control of her narrative, and it will give readers disorientation bordering on vertigo. Some readers claim to agree.

This axiom is very popular right now among authors and publishers, and there’s only one problem with it: great writers change point of view mid-scene all the time. John Grisham, JK Rowling, PG Wodehouse, AA Milne, Robert B Parker, Virginia Woolf, Stieg Larsson, Joshua Doder, and innumerable others do it. Ray Bradbury sometimes changes point of view within a single sentence. It’s a great technique and a very natural way to tell a story.

As for readers who claim to be befuddled by such things, they have just announced that they lack the intellectual chops to read Winnie-the-Pooh.

For more information about Tilia Klebenov Jacobs and her books:

Visit her online at www.tiliaklebenovjacobs.com

Join her on Facebook.

 

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