Category Archives: coffee break tuesday

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)



Coffee Break Tuesday with Jody Feldman


Hello! Please grab your favorite mug and fill it with your favorite hot beverage and join me in welcoming author, Jody Feldman!

Jody is the author of two fun adventurous middle grade novels, The Gollywhopper Games and The Seventh Level (HarperColins). I’m thrilled to be able to sit down with her (even if only virtually) to chat about her writing career!

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

It wasn’t until one day about ten years ago. I was this-close to getting my first acceptance letter, or so the rejections said. But during my walk that day, in a moment of clarity, I came to understand how much I wanted to do this. That’s when I amped up my game, became more open to the revision process and ultimately succeeded. I’m glad I stuck with it because, for me, writing for kids is the Best. Job. Ever.

What was the first book you wrote what was it about? (Not necessarily the first book you got published.)

The first book that got published was a work-for-hire, a gig that came from my freelance advertising days. Too bad I didn’t get royalties because A Golfer’s Night Before Christmas is still in print. Before that came a whole slew of picture books, but I’m not sure which one came first; maybe an easy reader called Grandma Waffles. After my picture book phase, I tried a chapter book which I would like to revisit one day. I believe Mrs. Oddbody Up the Street still has a lot of merit but I just didn’t know how to write back then. And then there was my first middle grade, originally titled Gilbert and the Gollywhopper Games.

What was your journey to publication like?

Ha! You and I have talked about this a lot, Debbi. It was long. Very long. From that first picture book submission to children’s book publication? 20 years and a huge learning curve. I’m still learning.

What is your most recently published book or upcoming book? What is it about?

The Gollywhopper Games wasn’t supposed to be a series, but sometimes funny things happen in this life. And so number two in the concept, Gollywhopper Games: Game On will be followed by Gollywhopper Games: (Subtitle To Be Determined). Game On centers around a contestant named Cameron who’s certain he doesn’t have what it takes to win. (His brother Spencer does.) And yet, Cameron’s the one competing. For those who still love the old contestants, never fear. They will make cameos.

How have you changed from when you first started out as a (pre-published) writer to now?

Of course I’m wiser about the industry. But I’d rather talk about what’s surprised me recently in my own writing process. I’ve suddenly noticed I’m much more aware of the ideas I’m accepting into first drafts. I hear my editors’ and agent’s voices as I type. Is there enough conflict? Are the stakes high enough? What does your character really want? Is that the best way to show it? Can you explain this scene a little better? You need to know that, but do we?

It may take away a bit of spontaneity, but it compensates by delivering so much more clarity so much more quickly.

Favorite book from childhood?

There was this one teen book (they didn’t call them YA yet) which was a favorite of mine when I was about thirteen. It was some angsty love story whose title I’ve yet to remember. I checked it out of the library five consecutive times that summer. As for books I can remember: Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown and anything by Agatha Christie. (Do you see a theme?) Picture books, Dr. Seuss. Oh, and when our third grade teacher read us the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books, yes!

A favorite book you recently read?

I rarely pick up non-fiction, but when it won all sorts of 2013 ALA awards, I was drawn to BOMB: The Race to Build–And Steal–The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin. It has it all: spies, geniuses, drama, intrigue, ticking clocks. You can’t make this stuff up.

A bit of wisdom to share:

I’ve been asked a lot about writer’s block lately. Honestly? I refuse to recognize there’s such a thing. Sure, I may get stuck. Sure, I may not know where the story should turn next. Sure, I can feel somewhat stale at times. None of those, however, need to stop me from writing. I can always, at least, write one new sentence. It may not be good sentence, it may not be a sentence of any value, but the one after that might be. The one after that might be perfect.

So what do I write in that sentence?  That’s when I ask my character–or a random, imaginary person–a question. Tell me about some object you saw on your way home from school. How do you feel about waffles? What are you holding? That sort of thing. This gets them talking and gets me typing. Usually that will put me back on track. If it doesn’t, I go take a walk which somehow, magically, produces new ideas for me.

For fun – something not a lot of people know about you:

I cook a lot, and I’m not afraid of cooking for crowds. This weekend, for example, though not a crowd, I’m cooking for ten. On the menu: triple cream cheese with mango chutney, Jarlsberg cheese spread, salmon rillettes, beef tenderloin with horseradish cream and cilantro chimmichurri, chicken and spinach canneloni, grilled vegetables, salad with homemade balsamic vinaigrette, fruit, carrot cake, and fudge pie with real whipped cream.

MMMMmmm! Wish I were sitting at that table! Thanks for stopping by, Jody! I’m looking forward to reading the next Gollywhopper Games book!

Jody Feldman, the award-winning author of The Gollywhopper Games series and The Seventh Level (all, HarperCollins/Greenwillow) may have enjoyed working as a treasure hunter, a codebreaker, a movie director, an artist and an inventor. But one thing she loves about writing–she can explore all those occupations and adventures with the characters in her books.A lifelong resident of St. Louis, Jody likes to travel, cook, watch football, and solve crossword-type puzzles. Oh, and she watches way too much TV.

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

Coffee Break Tuesday with Kimberly Sabatini


Please grab a cup of coffee (or tea if you prefer) and join me in welcoming author Kimberly Sabatini to Coffee Break Tuesday!  Kimberly is the author of the YA novel Touching the Surface.

9781442440029_p0_v1_s260x420Touching the Surface by Kimberly Sabatini (Simon Pulse/2012)

Teen Elliot (her name this time) finds herself at the Obmil (afterlife) for the third time. This time she knows she must Delve truly and deeply to discover why she’s not able to move on – there might be consequences. Elliot learns the truth about her life on Earth as she struggles to figure out why her best friend no longer wants to be with her. She’s also torn between brothers Trevor and Oliver. In this unique story about the afterlife, readers will be mesmerized by Sabatini’s Obmil.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. In elementary school I decided that since everyone called me Kim or Kimmie–if I ever got published I would have Kimberly as my author name. My agent and editor got a kick out of that story when they asked what I wanted printed on my book. But wanting to be a writer and deciding to be a writer came at two different times in my life. The want came from the moment I could put a pencil to paper and funnel things out of my brain onto paper. It has always felt good to me, but in my high school years, I let insecurity get the better of me. It took way too long, but the decision to become a writer didn’t happen until June of 2007 when I attended my first SCBWI Conference. For two years prior (after the death of my dad) I dabbled with the idea, but that first conference, listening to the likes of Laurie Halse Anderson and KL Going cinched it for me. I decided it was time to make my dreams a reality.

What was the first book you wrote what was it about? (Not necessarily the first book you got published.)

Touching The Surface is my very first book and I feel very lucky that it made it all the way to the bookshelves.

Experience the afterlife in this lyrical, paranormal debut novel that will send your heart soaring.When Elliot finds herself dead for the third time, she knows she must have messed up, big-time. She doesn’t remember how she landed in the afterlife again, but she knows this is her last chance to get things right.

Elliot just wants to move on, but first she will be forced to face her past and delve into the painful memories she’d rather keep buried. Memories of people she’s hurt, people she’s betrayed…and people she’s killed.

As she pieces together the secrets and mistakes of her past, Elliot must find a way to earn the forgiveness of the person she’s hurt most, and reveal the truth about herself to the two boys she loves…even if it means losing them both forever.

What was your journey to publication like?

I began writing TOUCHING THE SURFACE immediately after that SCBWI conference in 2007 and I signed with my agent Michelle Wolfson of Wolfson Literary in December of 201. She then sold it to Anica Rissi at Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster in February 2011. Along the way 33 agents passed on my book, but I’m very glad they did because Michelle is the PERFECT agent for me and she found me the most amazing editor I could have ever dreamed of.

What is your most recently published book or upcoming book? What is it about?

I’m currently revising my second YA novel THE OPPOSITE OF GRAVITY and I’m hoping to sell it when it’s ready. It’s a contemporary novel involving dance, the Broadway musical Wicked and the need to defy—what we know to be true–in order to find the truth.

How have you changed from when you first started out as a (pre-published) writer to now?

I no longer write alone. Now there is a cast of characters that sneak into my office to sit on my shoulder while I write. There’s an agent, an editor, a publishing house, reviewers and readers to name a few. And while I’m grateful for all the good stuff they’ve brought to my table, I still have to be careful to spend enough time alone in my own imaginary dream world, to capture the novel that needs to be written before it is revised.

Favorite book from childhood?

THE GIVER by Lois Lowry–It felt so good to realize that there was another person in the world who thought about the same kinds of things that I did.

A favorite book you recently read?

I am currently blown away by the talent of Laini Taylor in both THE DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE and DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT. I love these books! Her world building, character development and lyrical writing push me to be a better writer.

A bit of wisdom to share (about the creative process/journey):

I believe that the best thing you can do is envision positive things for yourself and your writing. Visualize success and then give yourself a lifetime to get to your destination. I decided that writing was something that I loved, with or without publication, so I could bide my time until I got good enough to catch up with my dream. I once read that when you tell the universe that you want things, the universe give you WANT. That made sense to me, and I changed the way I project my goals. Now I picture them the way I expect them to be instead of how I want them to be. And I dream big–most people never expected me to get this far and surprising them is an amazing feeling. I want to keep doing that for the rest of my life. :o)

For fun – something not a lot of people know about you:

My husband was stationed overseas in the military when we first got married, so I lived in Augsburg Germany for 4 years and got to travel all over, seeing places like Italy, England, Amsterdam, France, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Monaco and Egypt. It was pretty amazing. Now that my kids are getting a little older I can’t wait to take them to some of the places I loved.

Kimberly Sabatini is a former Special Education Teacher who is now a stay-at-home mom and a part-time dance instructor for three and four year olds. She lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband and three boys. Kimberly writes Young Adult fiction and is represented by Michelle Wolfson of Wolfson Literary Agency. TOUCHING THE SURFACE is her debut novel. (Simon Pulse – Simon & Schuster, October 30, 2012)

For more about Kimberly, check out her web site, connect with her on Facebook, or  follow her on Twitter.

Coffee Break Tuesday with Kelly Ramsdell Fineman


Welcome back to Coffee Break Tuesday where I sit down with fabulous authors to talk about writing! Please grab a mug of coffee (or tea) and join  us. Today, I have the pleasure of chatting with Kelly Ramsdell Fineman. Her picture book At the Boardwalk is a fun romp with vivid sensory descriptions of strolling down the boardwalk.

9781589254312_p0_v1_s260x420At The Boardwalk by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman (illustrations by Mónica Armiño)

Welcome, Kelly! I’m so happy to have you here! When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

This is one of those “that depends” sort of answers. When I was a kid and a teen, I wrote all the time – poetry and prose – and I loved it, but I never figured I was “good enough” to be a writer. I made a conscious decision to be a writer in 2002, after I’d left work due to disability.

What was the first book you wrote? What was it about? (Not necessarily the first book you got published.)

The first book I wrote was a picture book, and it had just over 1,000 words in it. It was called Eric’s Missing Library Book. It was, as you might expect, about a boy named Eric, who couldn’t locate his library book.

What was your journey to publication like?

My journey was composed of small victories and lots and lots of in-between time. In 2005, I sold a poem entitled “Lawnmowers” to a small press called Blooming Tree Press. It was included in their 2006 anthology, Summer Shorts. I’ve placed other individual children’s poems in poetry books for children as well (not all of which are anthologies – one is an instructional text). Because I write poetry for the grown-up market as well as for children, I’ve had some success with a variety of journals as well.

All along, I was writing picture books and submitting them for consideration by publishers, garnering lots of nice comments and relationships along the way. Then a couple of years ago, I got an email from an editor at Tiger Tales Press. Turns out that the publisher had come across my blog somehow, and asked the editor to find out if I had any picture book manuscripts that might work for them. A long look at what they publish informed me that I did not, in fact, have a picture book already written that might be their cup of tea, but I did have a short poem called “At the Boardwalk” that might be expanded into a picture book. Lo and behold, I was right!

What is your most recently published book or upcoming book? What is it about?

My most recently published book is, in fact, At the Boardwalk, which is a picture book about the pleasures of a day spent on a boardwalk. I was exceedingly lucky that Tiger Tales selected the Spanish illustrator, Mónica Armiño, for the book – her use of light is spectacular, and she really captured the iconic imagery of an American boardwalk to perfection.

I also have poems in two recent anthologies: National Geographic’s Book of Animal Poetry, edited by J. Patrick Lewis, and Dare to Dream . . . Change the World, edited by Jill Corcoran.

How have you changed from when you first started out as a (pre-published) writer to now?

Most of my changes have been in my personal life, I suppose, which is not particularly interesting from a writerly perspective. Except maybe it is in a way – I found that when I was unhappy with my personal life, I was far more diligent about spending time writing, which offered an escape. Not just the escape of working in a fictional place, but the actual, physical escape of sitting and writing, whether at home or (usually) elsewhere. Now that I’ve got an exceedingly happy personal life, I’m not nearly as driven to run away from it, and it’s been an interesting challenge to develop a new writing schedule.

On a more writerly tack, when I first started, I was very excited about every single thing I wrote, and very emotionally invested in having other people like it, too. Waiting was awful. Rejections were like being thrown into the Pit of Despair. Nowadays, I am much more zen about the process. I’m accustomed to not receiving immediate feedback from editors, and I am well aware that a “no thanks” doesn’t mean “this sucks” or “you suck” or any such thing. It means, at heart, “thank you, but the answer is no.” There are lots of benign reasons for a “no”, after all. Could be they have a similar title out (or in the works already). Could be that the marketing folks don’t think the story will sell, or that someone has a lemur phobia and doesn’t want to handle any books that mention them. So while hearing a “no thanks” is not optimal, I no longer take it personally, which puts me in a much better place.

Favorite book from childhood?

I suck at picking favorites, but one of my very favorite children’s books was Mandy, by Julie Andrews Edwards, in large part because I owned my own copy.

A favorite book you recently read?

The Center of Everything, by Linda Urban. It’s gobsmackingly good, and I firmly believe it ought to win the Newbery. I’ve been lucky to read it in several different drafts, including the final. It comes out in March.

A bit of wisdom to share (about the creative process/journey):

It’s all good. Really and truly. The ups, the downs, the days when you can’t seem to focus enough to write a word, the days when hours have flown by and you realize you forgot to eat lunch or feed the cat, acceptances, rejections – all of it contributes to the journey, and all of it helps you become a better writer over time.

There will be fallow times, when you really can’t seem to get any writing done, but those are necessary to allow the soil of your imagination to regenerate. That’s when it’s time to fill the well – to experience the other things in life that nourish you, whether it’s reading or going somewhere (a trip, a museum) or doing something physical, or something new and different. After those fallow times, there are invariably fertile times, when the work really clicks. It’s okay to honor the cycle.

For fun – something not a lot of people know about you:

I was once on stage with Penn and Teller during one of their magic shows. Despite being right there and watching very closely, I couldn’t see how the trick was done.

Kelly Ramsdell Fineman is an author and award-winning poet. Her first picture book, At the Boardwalk, illustrated by Mónica Armiño, came out in March of 2012 from Tiger Tales Books. Other children’s poems have appeared in Dare to Dream . . . Change the World, ed. by Jill Corcoran (2012), National Geographic’s Book of Animal Poetry, ed. by J. Patrick Lewis (2012), Write Your Own Poetry by Laura Purdie Salas (2008), and Summer Shorts: A Short Story Collection, ed. by Madeline Smoot (2006) and in Highlights for Children magazine.

Kelly’s poems for adults has appeared in the anthologies Breaking Waves: An Anthology to Benefit the Gulf Coast, ed. by Tiffany Trent and Phyllis Irene Radford (2010), Mountain Magic: Spellbinding Tales of Appalachia, ed. by Brian J. Hatcher (2010), and in The Omnibus of Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter, ed. by Matthew Delman (2012), as well as in journals.

For more about Kelly, check out her blog, find her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.

Coffee Break Tuesday with Barbara O’Connor


Welcome to Coffee Break Tuesday, where I sit down with fabulous authors and discuss their writing. Please grab a mug of coffee (or tea) and join us!

Today I’m having coffee with Barbara O’Connor! I’ve long been a fan of her books – and thoroughly enjoyed reading her newest MG book, On The Road to Mr. Mineo’s.

photo-12 copy 2

When a one-legged pigeon named Sherman neglects to return to his roost with the other homing pigeons, Mr. Mineo frets and worries. In the meantime, other members of the town of Meadville, SC spot the pigeon – from Stella who wishes she could have a dog, to mean ol’ Levi and his scabby-kneed germ-infested friends, to Mutt who is known to be the town liar – and thus starts the “great pigeon hunt.” Who will find Sherman first?

Welcome, Barbara! When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always loved to write. As a child, I wrote poems and stories. I wrote my first book when I was 12. It was 76 handwritten pages long. The only problem with it is that I never finished it. In fact, here is the last sentence: “Well, be careful and….” Yep. Stopped writing smack dab in the middle of the sentence. Go figure.

What was the first book you wrote what was it about? (Not necessarily the first book you got published.)

I wrote a very blah and trite book called Surf’s Up, Nicki Weaver that amassed thousands of rejections. (Well, maybe not thousands, but a lot.)

For the record, my first published book was a biography called Mammolina: A Story About Maria Montessori. I started my writing career writing biographies.

What was your journey to publication like?

I lived in Los Angeles many years ago and decided to take a class in writing for children at UCLA. I got totally hooked. I floundered around with some ho-hum manuscripts for a while, collecting my share of rejections. After moving back East, I started toying around writing biographies for children. After a few false starts, I managed to sell my first biography to Carolrhoda. I went on to publish five more biographies with them.

But my heart was still with fiction. I had written a middle grade book called Beethoven in Paradise. A friend of mine published with Scholastic and offered to send it to her editor. That editor liked it but eventually passed on it. She did, however, offer to connect me with an agent, Barbara Markowitz. She sold that manuscript to Frances Foster at FSG. I’ve been with Barbara and Frances for over 18 years now. I just wrapped up my 10th novel with my amazing team.

What is your most recently published book or upcoming book?

My middle grade novel, On the Road to Mr. Mineo’s, came out in October.

There are EIGHT points of view in that book. It damn near killed me.

How have you changed from when you first started out as a (pre-published) writer to now?

I know that I’m more critical of my writing now. I also tend to self-censor more than I used to because I’m more aware of reviews and adult reaction to my work than I used to be. I don’t write with the same “freedom” that I did before I was published. There’s a country-western song that goes “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.” Ha! I sometimes feel that way.

But the flip side is that I’ve set high expectations for myself. I’m more confident with my writing voice and I have pretty good instincts about when I’ve strayed from it. I’ve also developed a writing style that works for me and that comes a little easier as the years (and books) go by.

Favorite book from childhood?

Trixie Belden all the way.

A favorite book you recently read?

I recently reread Saraswati’s Way by Monika Schroeder. Having spent many years in India (the story’s setting), Schroeder nails the setting and seamlessly weaves the culture into a fast-paced story. I also just finished an arc of Linda Urban’s new book (The Center of Everything). I adore her writing voice and style.

A bit of wisdom to share:

Your writing process should be one that works for you. Just because it works for someone else doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Some people have to write every day, some don’t. Some people plow ahead without polishing along the way, some don’t. Some people outline, some don’t.

Secondly, listen to your instincts. If something in your work is niggling at you, pay attention to it. Maybe you’ve forced something. Maybe you’ve forgotten your voice. Maybe you’re trying to ignore a problem thinking no one else will notice. Pay attention to those things.

For fun – something not a lot of people know about you:

I have no sense of smell. This can be very inconvenient when your stove is on fire, but there are other times when it comes in quite handy.

Barbara O’Connor is the author of award-winning novels for children, including How to Steal a Dog, The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis, and The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester. Drawing on her South Carolina roots, Barbara’s books are known for their strong Southern settings and quirky characters. In addition to six Parents Choice Awards and five state children’s book awards, Barbara’s distinctions include School Library Journal Best Books, Kirkus Best Books, Bank Street College Best Books, and ALA Notables. She has had books nominated for awards in thirty-eight states. Barbara is a popular visiting author at schools and a frequent speaker at conferences around the country.

To learn more about Barbara and her books, check out her web site, or follow her on Twitter!