Author Archives: Debbi Michiko Florence

About Debbi Michiko Florence

Author of children's books. Coming in May 2017, JASMINE TOGUCHI, chapter book series (FSG).

Throwback Thursday: Justina Chen


Welcome to Throwback Thursday Interviews. These are interviews I conducted with favorite authors over the years, when I used to post them on my web site. I’ll be resurrecting the interviews here in hopes of introducing you to new authors. Who knows? Maybe you’ll discover a new favorite author!

First up is Justina Chen. Her newest release is


A Blind Spot for Boys by Justina Chen (Little Brown/2014)

“Chen created the kind of vivid characters and strong emotion that featured so prominently in North of Beautiful, along with unexpected moments of action and danger, and descriptions that make the Andean setting come to life.”—Publishers Weekly

Here is my 2009 interview with Justina Chen featuring her YA novel North of Beautiful.


In your YA novel, North of Beautiful, Terra’s story is about her journey of self-discovery – in learning to accept herself and others, rather than trying to escape what makes her uncomfortable. I think that many of us have a natural tendency to do this – to avoid things that are out of our comfort zone. How did you get into Terra’s head? What things make you uncomfortable and how do you overcome your fears?

It was easy to get into Terra’s head because in many ways, it’s my head! So many things make me uncomfortable—finances and balancing my checkbook, for one. I love to travel, but the logistics of getting from place to place sometimes scare me. Living in China without any hard cash scared me. So did not speaking the language and knowing people were making fun of me. BUT. Like Jacob’s mother in North of Beautiful says, I don’t want fear to stop me from having an experience I want to have. So I’ve learned to throw myself into whatever it is that I want to try. And then remember, bumps are part of the journey. That’s how we learn. And we need to be scared at least a little bit to keep us growing. And humble.

How did this story come to you? And what challenges did you face in writing this rich and layered story?

Like so many of my stories, the inspiration for this story came through a chance conversation. I had just finished speaking at a middle school and I recognized one of the boys there. He was Mr. Cool on campus: athletic, good-looking, witty. And he has a portwine stain on his face. A couple of days later, I bumped into his mom and I was telling her what a great job she had done parenting him because he didn’t let his birthmark get in his way. She looked at me and said, “That’s because he’s a boy.” That got me thinking: what would it be like for a girl to be under constant scrutiny? What if she had a father who put a premium on physical perfection and her birthmark was a personal affront to him? With Terra, I was able to tackle the whole notion of beauty, a topic that’s been at the forefront of my mind as a mother, woman, and writer! When did size 00 become the figure we are all supposed to attain?

Fitting in everything I wanted to say—exploring the notion of True Beauty fully—within the confines of a novel was challenging to say the least.

Terra struggles between feeling abandoned by her brothers and feeling loyal to her mother, all while resenting her father. How hard was it for you to dig into all these characters and get to know them? What do you do as a writer to get to know your characters?

Writing any scene with Terra’s father was really difficult for me emotionally. I’ve been around too many controlling men. One of my teen readers was the impetus for tackling a story with an emotionally abusive relationship. She approached me after one of my readings and commiserated about how she, too, had been afraid of going after her dreams. Her father belittled her ambitions. I knew I had to write this story for girls who have been knocked down by Those Who Think They Know Better (but don’t).

I love Jacob – the Goth Chinese boy who unnerves Terra with his straight-forward honesty. He might be my favorite in this book. Was he based on anyone you know?

My editor’s first words to me when she finished NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL: I am in love with Jacob.

Jacob is based on two dear friends of mine. One is my best friend from college who was always there for me—as steady as a friend could be. And the other a man I met years ago when I was working on another novel. Totally irreverent and adventurous. And then, of course, there was a whole bunch of fantasizing (I mean, harnessing of my imagination) to create the gestalt of Jacob, black fingernails and all.


Note: If you love great characters, emotional depth, and romance, I highly recommend North of Beautiful. It was one of my favorite reads that year. I’m definitely going to check out her newest novel!


To learn more about Justina, her books, and her causes, check out her web site.


It’s a Seashell Day by Dianne Ochiltree


Looking for a perfect summer read picture book? Look no more!



It’s A Seashell Day by Dianne Ochiltree is a story about a child and mom spending a day at the beach, searching for shells and other treasures. The bright collage-like illustrations by Elliot Kreloff are a joyful companion to the rhyme that rises and crests like waves on the shore. A perfect beach read for parent and child.


Dianne Ochiltree is also the author of the picture book It’s A Firefly Night. Read both together! Read my spotlight interview with her for It’s A Firefly Night.

For more about Dianne and her books, check out her web site.

Happy summer!

Welcome to the Spotlight Jody Feldman and The Gollywhopper Games: Friend or Foe


I am very happy to shine the spotlight on Jody Feldman and book 3 of The Gollywhopper Games. If you or a reader you know are a fan of puzzles, this is the book to read! Stayed tuned below for a chance to win a copy!

9780062211286_p0_v1_s260x420The Gollywhopper Games: Friend or Foe by Jody Feldman

(Greenwillow Books/2015)

In book 3 of The Gollywhopper Games series, contestants are chosen for the third Games. All Zane wants is to play for his middle school football team, but a concussion has benched him at least for the season if not indefinitely. When he is chosen as a contestant for the third Gollywhopper Games, he’s intrigued but not as enthusiastic as other contestants might be. But his sharp mind and ability to figure out strategy makes him a strong contender in the games- run by the Golly Games Company, full of puzzles and games and one winner who walks away with a million dollar prize. Zane finds new enthusiasm for the game, his competitive streak comes out, and yet, at the same time forms an unlikely alliance and friendship with competitor Elijah, a brainy boy. In this book full of fun puzzles to solve, readers will cheer for Zane (and maybe Elijah, too) as the games get under way.

Spotlight on Jody:

This is book 3 of the Gollywhopper Games. What fun! Did you envision more than one book when you wrote the first one? How did book 3 come about and what were the particular challenges to writing a “follow up” story?

A person can dream, right? When you get an idea and put those first words on paper, you’re—or at least I am—a combination of starry-eyed dreamer and pessimistic realist. From the beginning, I thought I had a great premise for The Gollywhopper Games, and hey!, how awesome if this one book led to more! But I’d never written anything that long before. And how do you write something sort of complicated? And if I actually get through this first draft, wouldn’t that be an accomplishment in itself? But here I am, putting so much time into this, and what if it stinks? And while I was questioning and doubting, the energy that spurred me to write and rewrite and rewrite ad nauseam partially came from the daydreams that A). The book would get published; B). People would discover it, and; C). Readers would clamor for more. I consider myself so fortunate that  A, B, and C came true. This little stand-alone demanded more adventures.

And then.
And then when I got the green light to write books 2 and 3, well, have you ever truly seen a deer in headlights? I didn’t look in the mirror, and maybe I didn’t show it, but inside, oh no!, how can I escape? What did I get myself into? And wait! Look what I got myself into! Then came bouts of internal fist pumping, high leaping, happy dancing (and, yes, some external bouts of the above, except maybe the high leaping which I’m pretty much physically incapable of doing).

When I finally realized that, unlike most follow-up books, I couldn’t have the same cast of characters—that the Gollywhopper Games, themselves, were the focal point here—things began to fall into place. I knew these next two books would be more like seasons 2 & 3 of a reality TV show. And yet, I didn’t want each to exist on an island; I wanted something that would tie the stories together. The problem? I hadn’t planted those seemingly random bits that series authors often include and build on in subsequent books. I needed to play on something that didn’t exist before the first Gollywhopper Games (the fictional games themselves). That turned out to be extreme buzz and skyrocketing profits for the sponsor company. So I used the fact that great success often breeds great jealousy to connect the follow-up books to the first.

Zane, the main character, totally loves football. It’s because he’s out of commission that he’s drawn to the games once he knows he’ll be a contestant. How did Zane come about?

Before I answer, I especially need to address those of you non-football people. READ ON! Here’s what I tell kids all the time. Zane may love football and his whole world may center around the sport, but I’m actually writing about passion. What’s yours? Cooking? Dance? Sewing? Pets? Music? Art? I thought it would be fascinating to see how things would play out if I had a character with a real passion, and one not tied to the Games.

I happen to love football and have loved it since I was three years old and became mesmerized by the oil derricks on the Houston Oilers helmets. (I’ll spare you the full story for now.) The skills required of a smart, able football player partially match the skill set necessary for success in the Gollywhopper Games. And so, Zane was born.

Readers who love puzzles will absolutely adore this book, although one doesn’t have to solve or even love puzzles to get sucked into this story. There’s a mystery involving possible sabotage, and friendships and competitors form as the games commence. (Come to think of it, in this day and age of reality TV and competition shows, this would make such a cool movie!) Tell us a little about coming up with the puzzles for this book. Was it challenging? Did you enjoy it? What kind of puzzles do you like?

I’m not sure what I started loving first: football or a good mental challenge. I’d always been fascinated with riddles. And I was one of those weird kids who secretly looked forward to workbook pages. No, I did not appreciate the drudgery of regurgitating answers. I was always hopeful the particular assignment that day might include the occasional pages of puzzle-style learning.

Thanks to my love for all means of brainteasers, word puzzles, and yes, occasional math challenges, it was like I’ve been training all my life to write puzzles. Sometimes, puzzles just come to me like a bolt from the blue. Other times, I need to work at creating them. Every time, however, I take care to craft puzzles with my characters in mind. Because these characters are skilled enough to advance far in the Games, it follows that they need the intelligence, resources, cleverness, and/or background to solve many of the challenges they face. And so, the puzzles I choose and the characters I develop have a sort of interdependent relationship.

As for a Gollywhopper Games movie? Let’s figure out how to turn that daydream into reality. Thanks, Debbi!

Jody Feldman, the award-winning author of The Gollywhopper Games series and The Seventh Level (both from HarperCollins/Greenwillow), never knew she always wanted to be a writer when she grew up. If you’d cornered her as a kid, she’d have mentioned doctor or teacher, but that was just an answer. Her passions ran more toward treasure hunter, codebreaker, movie director, or inventor, but her practical side couldn’t imagine how to get there.

Her path to writing meandered through the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a short career in advertising. She wrote a lot about shoes. And then a lot more.

A lifelong resident of St. Louis, Jody likes to travel, cook, watch football, and solve crossword-type puzzles. And she loves knowing she can explore any dream, career or adventure with the characters in her books.

For more about Jody and her books, check out her web site, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter!

For a chance to win a copy of this book, for yourself, a friend or child, or a library/school, just follow the directions below! Good luck!

1. Comment on this post. And for fun tell me what your favorite kind of puzzle is. I’m not much of a puzzle person (I’m impatient and get easily frustrated) – but I do like those puzzle video games like Tetris.

2. Comment by Saturday June 27th by midnight EST. A winner will be drawn at random and announced here on Tuesday, June 30th.

3. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

Thank you and good luck!



Jerry Spinelli -Reboot


I just learned that Little, Brown plans to release a special edition of Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, in honor of its 25th anniversary. Has it really been 25 years? Wow!b22FM1jniFuAtyu8gCpAO3jj6GbDrotaGnBtiXjuVM4

I cannot wait to get my hands on this special edition with an introduction by author Katherine Applegate. I have long loved this book, and its author.



Jerry Spinelli and me, New York SCBWI conference, winter 2005

In honor of Maniac Magee’s 25th anniversary, I’m reposting a fun interview that I conducted back in 2010. Enjoy!

What was your first published title and what was it about?

SPACE STATION SEVENTH GRADE. Fractured life of a thirteen-year-old boy.

How long did your journey take to publication and what were some significant events along the way?

SPACE STATION was the fifth book I wrote. The first four nobody wanted. Somewhere along the line I stopped being so precious about every word and began writing faster. The faster I wrote the better I got. Those four failures were my training ground.

Were there bleak days when you felt that you’d never get published?  How did you deal with that?

A quarter of a century passed from the time I decided to be a writer till my first novel was published. How did I deal with it? I noticed that the morning after each devastating rejection–I could have papered my apartment with the slips–a funny thing happened: the sun came up. The world took no notice. Why should I? I kept writing.

Who/what were your sources of inspiration along the way?  How did it/ he/she/they help you the most?

Eileen was my biggest booster. vid. STARGIRL

What was the best thing about getting your first book published?

Having readers.

What was the hardest thing?

Stop celebrating.

How have you changed from your first published book to now? (note: “now” was in 2010)

If I’ve changed it’s probably evident only to others. I’m still the same to me.

Bit of wisdom to share: (a recommended book on craft, a favorite book, advice, warning)

Book: WALKING ON ALLIGATORS by Susan Shaughnessy

Advice: Write what you care about.

(Interview conducted on 3/3/10)



And The Winner Is…


Thanks to everyone for stopping by to welcome debut author Sarah McGuire to the spotlight.


It’s too late to enter to win a copy of this clever re-telling of The Brave Little Tailor, but you can definitely check out her interview and buy your own copy. It’s worth it!

Using a random number generator, the winner of a copy of Valiant by Sarah McGuire is:

Carl Scott! You’re on a roll! Let me know if your mailing address remains the same and I’ll get your prize to you ASAP!

Stay tuned for another interview and give-away in the very near future!

Happy reading!

Welcome to the Spotlight Sarah McGuire and Valiant!


I’m very happy to welcome debut author Sarah McGuire to the spotlight. I had the pleasure of meeting Sarah at a writing retreat in Vermont. When she read from her manuscript, I had a very strong feeling she’d get it published – and she got an agent and a sale soon after! So thrilling! It is with great joy that I introduce her and her debut novel:

9781606845523_p0_v3_s260x420Valiant by Sarah McGuire (EgmontUSA/2015)

Stayed tuned below for a chance to win this adventurous retelling with a twist of The Brave Little Tailor!

Saville is the daughter of a talented, yet arrogant, tailor. She hates that her father loves bolts of cloth more than her and she despises sewing, though she is gifted at it. When her father falls ill after they arrive at a new town, Saville disguises herself as a lad, as the Tailor’s apprentice, in order to feed them. She endears herself to the King and sews his clothes, but when giants and a cruel duke threaten the kingdom, Saville uses her wits and becomes a loved champion. Her secret is soon discovered, that she is a she and not a he, which does not make the people of the kingdom happy. Will she be able to save those she loves?

Spotlight on Sarah McGuire:

What was the spark of inspiration that led you to craft this retelling of The Brave Little Tailor? What were the joys and challenges of writing this story?

I was flipping through Grimm’s for a fairy tale to retell for a whole novel workshop. The Brave Little Tailor is towards the beginning of my collection of Grimm’s, and I remember thinking how I didn’t like that story and how would you change it to retell it anyway? And there was some sort of flash when I realized that the tailor could be a girl. I couldn’t get the story out of my mind after that– I kept wondering who this girl might be. Then I started telling myself that if I wrote this story, I wouldn’t have stupid giants.

And then I realized I’d spent a lot of time thinking about how I’d write this retelling if I decided to write it. Which meant, of course, that I needed to write it. :)

The joys? Chasing those aspects of the story that most intrigued me- this determined girl and these wondrous giants that besieged a city carved out of a cliff. There are many days where you slog through your draft, but on its best days, writing a novel is a joyful adventure into new territory.

The challenges? Getting the giants just-so, trying to capture a sense of what it what it would be like to stand beside one, setting up and weaving all the threads of the story so that everything made sense by the end. And the showdown! Don’t get me started about the showdown. There were so many characters to have in one place. I rewrote that scene a million times.

Saville is such a full and vibrant character – clever and brave, stubborn to a fault, and so full of love. I adore her and her relationships, particularly the one with Will, the young homeless boy she takes in. How did this relationship come about and how did you develop it?

I love this question! I originally created Will because the only reason that Saville would challenge two giants would be if someone was in danger. So I suppose (I’m trying to remember exactly how I found this dear boy…) I just knew he needed to be someone you couldn’t help but love. And when I found him, he became this carrier for all these moments I’d had nannying or teaching or just with my own sisters and brother. The scenes between Will and Saville were, hands down, some of the easiest and most fun to write.

Saville hates to sew, but she’s obviously very good at it. Do you have a talent that you don’t particularly embrace? If not, how about sharing with us a rare talent? (Can you whistle with a mouthful of crackers perhaps?)

I don’t feel I have so many different talents that I can afford to dismiss one– I need all the help I can get! As far as rare talents, how about the ability to make weird associations between math concepts I need to teach and random things in real life? For instance, I use Luwak coffee as an example of a composition of functions.*

*For the curious, in a composition of functions, a value, a variable, or a combination of both, is “run” through several functions. To get Luwak coffee, you have to run coffee beans through . . . well, you have to run those beans through several things as well.

Thank you, Sarah!

Sarah McGuire loves fairy tales and considers them the best way to step outside of everyday life. They’re the easiest way, at least: her attempt at seven to reach Narnia through her parents’ closet failed. She lives within sight of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, where she teaches high school creative writing and math classes with very interesting word problems. Valiant is her first novel.

McGuire, blog hop

For more about Sarah and her books: Check out her web site, follow her on Twitter, read her blog, and cruise on over to Goodreads.

For a chance to win a copy of this book, for yourself, a friend or child, or a library/school, just follow the directions below! Good luck!

1. Comment on this post. And for fun tell me about a “rare talent” you have. Of course now I have stumped myself. How about, I can write on a chalkboard/whiteboard with either hand.

2. Comment by midnight EST, May 2. A winner will be drawn at random and announced here on Tuesday, May 5.

3. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

Good luck and happy reading!




And The Winner Is…


Thanks for stopping by to help shine the Spotlight on debut YA novelist Sarah Tomp and


If you missed the interview you can read it here.

And now for the winner of a copy of My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp! I used a random number generator and the winner is (drumroll please)…

Cindy! Congratulations! Please email me at just kid ink at yahoo dot com (no spaces) with your mailing address and I’ll make sure your prize is on its way ASAP!

Thanks again for stopping by and stay tuned for another Spotlight!

Happy Reading!