Monday, July 8, 2019

Author Interview and Giveaway: IN THE WOODS by Carrie Jones and Steven E. Wedel

I'm happy to post my interview with the amazing author and person, Carrie Jones.  Her latest, IN THE WOODS, written with co-author, Steven Wedel, publishes with Tor Teen on July 16th! Carrie and I chat about everything from her latest book, writing for different age ranges and her wonderful rescue dogs. I will be giving away a hardcover copy of IN THE WOODS to one lucky winner! 

New York Times bestselling author Carrie Jones teams up with acclaimed cowriter Steven Wedel in the supernatural mystery, In the Woods…

It should have been just another quiet night on the farm when Logan witnessed the attack, but it wasn’t.
Something unexplainable. 
Something deadly.

Something is in the woods. 
Hundreds of miles away, Chrystal’s plans for summer in Manhattan are abruptly upended when her dad reads tabloid coverage of some kind of grisly incident in Oklahoma. When they arrive to investigate, they find a witness: a surprisingly good-looking farm boy.
As townsfolk start disappearing and the attacks get ever closer, Logan and Chrystal will have to find out the truth about whatever’s hiding in the woods…before they become targets themselves.

1. You've written for all different age ranges, from picture books to middle grade to young adult. What have been the challenges of moving from one to another? Is there any age range you gravitate most toward?

Anyone who has met me in real life pretty much knows that my natural voice is young adult, so I gravitate towards that the most and then middle grade. Really, even my actual speaking voice sounds much younger than I am.

Also it sounds dorky. Can dorky be an age range?

I love trying out new genres and new age ranges, mostly because I am so easily bored and I like challenges.

The hardest part is trying not to disappoint readers who expect to read a YA contemporary that’s literary fiction about epilepsy and social justice and they end up with a middle-grade fantasy story with flying pig cars. I hate disappointing people.

The only other hard thing is that sometimes people who aren’t familiar with kids and teen fiction don’t realize that you can write it without being a teen.

I received the Maine Literary Award one time. It was supposed to be all big and glamorous. There was a ceremony. People did not wear socks with sandals at the ceremony.

I was all, “Yes! Made it! Finally glamourous!”

And when I got my award, the governor’s wife said into the microphone, “Congratulations, Carrie! And what high school do you go to?”

Because I’m so incredibly cool and full of social grace I blurted, “No. No… I’m old. I’m really old.”

So there’s this aspect of expectations and not wanting to disappoint people that is the hardest part for me. Someday, I’ll be glam though. Someday.

2. Likewise, you've written in a range of different genres. How do you switch between them so easily? Which has been your favorite?

My favorite genre to write in is actually fantasy or creative nonfiction or poems. I know! Weird, right?

I used to write a lot of columns and editorials when I was a newspaper editor and I miss that. I started out as a poet. I miss that, too, because I like the truthful aspect of those forms, the way you can play with words and white space to pull things out and make them more magical and poignant.

Why do I like fantasy?  I just really love magic, the possibilities that open up when you see things beyond reality. When I was a kid, I had a rough time sometimes. I saw a lot of death. I was hurt a few times. And fantasy novels were beautiful ways of escaping, of hoping, of trying to feel like good guys could sometimes win against the most impossible odds. A girl can travel across time to rescue her dad. A hobbit could survive a dragon. How amazing is that? Fantasy gave me hope. Hope kept me surviving. For that, I’ll always love fantasy and always try to write it.

3.  What was it like working with your co-author, Stephen E. Wedel, on this book? 

It was so much fun writing with Steve. We sent chapters back and forth via email and we’d always be waiting completely impatiently for the other person’s chapter. It was like waiting for the person you’re crushing on to finally text you back and you know that they’re writing it, but it hasn’t arrived yet?

That’s what it was like.

A vlogger once thought this meant that Steve and I like-liked each other. IT IS NOT WHAT THAT MEANS! It just means it was an awesome way to write a story and waiting for those new chapters and the surprises and twists that might happen was like waiting to open a really awesome birthday present.

The slight improvisational aspect and lack of complete control was really freeing and collaborative. Steve and I think in really different ways about a lot of things, so working with him was expansive. It helped me think beyond myself, my characters, and my vision and made me more flexible in the creation of story.

4. Living in Maine seems to be an important topic to you! How do you bring that into your writing?

I am very much a Maine writer. Maine is this amazing, beautiful place. I live on an island with little baby mountains and tourists who flock here in the summer. Then in the winter, it’s super cold and stark and beautiful in an entirely different way. That setting and the barren, cold trees and wind tends to be something that I plague my characters with, like poor Zara in the NEED series. I like seeing how different characters react to that environment, the raw beauty of it, the force of it.

I think it’s because I am not a cold-weather person. I whine a lot in real life. That whining comes through in my books.

Basically, I need to move to Jamaica so that can start informing my writing more. I couldn’t make a Kickstarter for that, could I? Kidding! Kidding.

5. You do lots of promotional work for your books, even making videos! What have you learned from this process that you'd like to share with other writers?

Ha! I don’t even think of it as promotional work. I just think of it as different ways of creating. I think if I went about things going, “Oh, let’s promote this book,” I would never ever do it. Straight promotion is really hard for me. It’s just not my skillset.

I can publicize and write and market about nonprofits like Rotary International or ShelterBox constantly, but promoting myself is so much harder.

If I think of writing a blog post or making a dorky video as a way of helping other people, making them laugh, or giving them a writing tip? It’s so much better then. That makes it easier than saying, “Here! Buy my book!”

I think that’s what I’ve learned.

Promotion is boring for me. Creation is fun. If you’re like me, think of things as creating.

I’ve also learned that I can’t be an author who talks about how awesome I am. That feels really inauthentic, mostly because I am not all that awesome as a human. So, instead I like to communicate with other people, hear their stories, and listen to that instead of promoting mine.

That’s not the best promotion advice, but it’s okay life advice, maybe?

Life is about connections. Writing is about communication. All of that? It’s a two-way discourse. It’s not supposed to only be about the author. It’s supposed to be about the reader, too.

6. You also work as a writing coach and offer manuscript critiques. How has this helped you in your own writing?

It’s given me great empathy for my agent and editors. I think every story that I help with, helps me become a better writer, but also feel closer to the writing community.

It’s so much easier to understand how to help other authors in their journeys than to realize your own flaws, and fears, and issues. When I feel badly about myself, it helps to be able to look at the writers whose journeys I’ve been a part of. So it helps a lot emotionally. I love seeing people succeed and get agents and get their books on the shelves.

I think it’s also helping me really start to hone in on the most important thing for writers (other than plot and character and all that), which is what is it that I want to say to this world? What is it that I believe and feel? How does that come into the stories that I write? How do I do that better?

By helping others learn to make their strongest stories, it helps me make stronger stories, too.

7. You've been known to make art to go with your books. That must be such a fun process! Tell us a bit more about how that happens--do you usually make the art first, or start writing the book first? How do the two mediums inform each other?

I get images stuck in my head. Sometimes those images can come out with words. Sometimes those images come out with paint. So, the process changes a lot. It changes almost every week. The art and the writing inspire each other.

When I get stuck in a story, I head to the basement (YES! I KNOW! It sounds so dire and scary) and I paint. That helps me get unstuck and helps me understand the themes and emotions that are trying to play themselves out with words. I sometimes get very frustrated with words. I know! I know! That’s not a cool thing for a writer to admit.

8. What's the biggest piece of advice you'd give to a writer hoping to write a YA thriller in the vein of IN THE WOODS?

Find Steve Wedel?

But, if you can’t find Steve, find the things you’re scared of, think of how you’d try to survive those scary situations. Think of how to make people turn the page. Think of how to make people care whether or not your character does survive.

Try to make the readers know that things are wrong, but not know exactly how things are wrong or how they will end up. Don’t be afraid to be intense. Don’t be afraid to be different.

A lot of thrillers and horror novels have a very precise tone. From the first word, you know you’re reading something scary. Steve and I wanted to play with that and make the tone lighter and less typical. We’ll see if that choice works for the readers, but there is a lot to explore within the thriller genre. Don’t be afraid to explore it.

9. How did you tackle the thriller and horror elements of IN THE WOODS? What is your process like for writing the scarier scenes?

Oh! I think I just answered that. I imagine horrible possibilities. I write them. I think, “What if?” I think, “What would terrify me? Make that happen.” I think, “What would have terrified my mom? Make that happen.”

To be fair, everything terrified my mom. She was so afraid of birds that she couldn’t watch cartoons with birds in them.

10. You have a podcast, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE! Has that been a tough medium for you to break into as a writer? Tell us a bit about your podcast and what you hope to accomplish through it.

I don’t think of the podcast as a quirky improv act. I grew up in Bedford, New Hamsphire with Sarah Silverman and Seth and Josh Myers. I’d see Adam Sandler at the mall of New Hampshire. My distant relative was Jack Benny. My family stands by death beds and makes jokes. This is just what we do. We improvise our way through life. We’re weird and quirky and I grew up being heavily influenced by a lot of weird and quirky theater people along with truck drivers and carpenters and the occasional drug dealer.

So, DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE is a natural extension of what my life is like. Goofy. Earnest. Occasionally inappropriate, which is hard because I’m a kids book writer.

I’m always gasping out, “I can’t say this! It’s inappropriate!”

I don’t worry about the podcast actually doing well, which would probably make it be less authentic and more stilted.

There are a ton of podcasts that are literary and focused and intellectual. We aren’t those podcasts.

Ours is just fun to do. We have a random thought that’s usually created in the car or in bed. Then we have a writing tip and a dog tip for life. There’s been 90,000 downloads so far, which I think it okay? I’m not sure. It’s just a lot of fun. Sadly, we’ve been talking about poop and underwear a lot lately. And yes, I do relate it back to writing, I promise. Yes, even when it’s about poop or underwear.

Art, podcasting, trying different genres and age levels, are all about learning, having fun, and exploring things, but especially about being brave.

When I was a kid I slurred my s’s a lot and went to speech therapy, but I could never completely fix it. A teacher told me that I’d never accomplish anything, be loved, get a job, get into college, or be taken seriously because of my voice, because of my sloppy s sounds. So, podcasting and speaking at Rotary International gatherings and vlogging are all really hard because those predicted negative outcomes resonate inside of many of us for so long.

You hear them over and over:

Nobody will take you seriously because of your s’s.
Nobody will ever love you because of your s’s.

But they become motivating forces sometimes, too. Wanting to prove that teacher wrong forces me to be braver. For a long time, I couldn’t listen to the podcast because every time I heard my voice, I thought, “Nobody will ever take me seriously. Everyone will laugh. Nobody will love me anymore.”

Then I cuss those voices out and journey on

11. And speaking of which...tell us more about your adorable dogs! I bet they make great writing partners!

Sparty and Gabby are two rescues dogs with ridiculously different personalities. Sparty was found roaming the streets of Alabama and is part lab and he’s food-focused and rarely barks. All cats and birds and bugs love him. It’s wild. Bees hitch rides on his back when we walk through Acadia National Park. We’ll go camping and he’ll be passed out on the site and a bird will be hopping all around him. I’ve seen them jump on his paw. Our cat, Marsie, is absolutely obsessed with him. He’s slightly embarrassed by the attention when we’re looking, but if he thinks nobody’s watching? It’s totally cuddle time.

Gabby is fluffy and was abused and malnourished and spent her first year chained to a tree, so she didn’t develop correctly and is actually small for her breed, which is a Great Pyrrenes. She loves to bark and she loves hard. I mean, this dog is all about cuddles and protecting you. She hops around like a bunny when her people come home and she hates all things white. She doesn’t trust any man who has a certain energy, which is usually sort of a cocaine-vibe. Is that too much information? I have no filter. Gabby doesn’t either.

I love them too much. They tweet motivational thoughts every week day. Sometimes Marsie helps. They also are really good at being emotionally supportive of s-slurring writers who use Maine as a setting in their stories. 

Carrie Jones with Wet HairCarrie Jones is the The New York Times bestseller author of the Need series, Time Stoppers series, Flying series, Girl, Hero, Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend, and Love (and other uses for duct tape). She is also the coauthor, with Steve Wedel, of After Obsession and In the Woods. She also writes picture books about unconventional spies. Her books have been published all around the world, been bestsellers in France, and have received numerous awards. Carrie lives in Bar Harbor, Maine and launched the Bar Harbor Kids Book Festival, and is active in Rotary International as the Public Image Coordinator for much of Canada and a lot of the UnitedStates. She’s also part of the Rotary Campaign against Human Trafficking. 
A former newspaper reporter, police dispatcher, city councilor, gymnastics coach, and volunteer firefighter, Carrie has won numerous press awards for newspaper writing and photography.

She is a big fan of rescue animals and currently has three, Spartacus, Gabby, and Marsie.

You can follow Carrie on Twitter and go to her website and blog here
You can pre-order IN THE WOODS here or at your local bookstore!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Author Interview and Giveaway: POLAR BEAR ISLAND by Lindsay Bonilla

I'm happy to post my interview with the wonderful Lindsay Bonilla, author of POLAR BEAR ISLAND which just came out with Sterling on October 2nd! Below Lindsay and I talk growing up an avid reader, her inspiration for the book, and why she's drawn to writing picture books among other things. I will also be giving away one signed hard copy of POLAR BEAR ISLAND to one lucky winner!

“Welcome to Polar Bear Island. NO OTHERS ALLOWED!” Parker is the mayor of this peaceful, predictable island, and he wants to keep it just the way it is. But Kirby, a penguin, thinks the place is paradise, and she wants to stay. Parker says no, but the other polar bears love Kirby —and soon they’re begging Parker to let Kirby (and her family) move in. Will Parker agree . . . and make the island fun for EVERYONE? With its gentle message of inclusivity, this playful and lighthearted story will delight children.

"The text is accessible and good fun to read aloud. A good bedtime read."--Kirkus Reviews

You were an avid reader AND writer as a kid. What sorts of things did you like to read and write about? 
I think my first love was reading about animals. I got the Ranger Rick magazines as a kid and was fascinated by them. Growing up, I had two dogs, Bernie and Wickett, who were the main characters in many of my early stories. I also created many different animal kingdoms based on some of the animal facts I learned. I still have the notebook with all of those writings and drawings. 

Where did you get the initial idea for POLAR BEAR ISLAND?
I think it was building for awhile, but there was one day in particular that my husband, Estith, a Colombian immigrant, came home from work very frustrated. A supervisor on a job he was managing had avoided speaking with him because of his accent. He felt both disrespected and hurt.

A few years prior to that some other Colombian friends were walking through a store parking lot when a random person yelled at them, “Go back to Mexico! We don't want you here.” Of course that was an ignorant comment on more than a couple of levels, but the fact that someone would just shout at two wonderful people who were going about their business, not bothering anybody, was upsetting to me on so many levels.

I think I really started to pay attention to the negative attitudes toward immigrants right out of college. That's when I'd taught English as a Second Language classes to a group of seasonal laborers from Mexico. At the completion of the class, they told me and the co-teacher that some of their best times in the US were in our class because we treated them like people.

So I think it was a slow build with tons of other incidents along the way that kept pushing me to tell this story. But the pivotal moment was that day with my husband. That's when I finally said, “I want to tell a story that paints a different picture of immigration, one that children can connect to.” I honestly don't remember how it came to feature polar bears and penguins, but I think maybe the grumpy polar bear was the first thing that came to mind. 

The art style for POLAR BEAR ISLAND is so much fun! What were your first thoughts when you saw it? 
I loved it! I'd gotten to see some examples of Cinta's work before she began working on POLAR BEAR ISLAND, and I knew whatever she did was going to be amazing. But when I saw her sketches for the first time I was ecstatic. I felt like she really nailed the characters, especially Parker – and I loved the way she gave each of the penguins such unique personalities with her special touches. 

What has been your favorite part of the publishing process so far?
Lately I've been posting on Twitter about how picture books aren't created in a vacuum. There's a whole team of people involved in putting a book together, and I'd say it's this collaborative aspect of publishing that I love the most.

I adore the whole editorial process. Working with someone else who is just as passionate about your story as you are is a gift. I love going back over my manuscript and pinpointing the additions, changes, and improvements that came about thanks to my editor, agent, and critique partners.

That is followed closely by seeing the illustrations for the first time. That is quite a thrill too!

What draws you to write picture books? What do you think is the most difficult part of writing for this age range? 
Probably the fact that I still feel like a kid.  No matter how old I get, I feel like I haven't grown up. Sure, I have adult responsibilities, etc, but the things I loved as a child -- to create, imagine, act things out – it's all the same. I love that anything is possible in picture books – talking animals, kids who can do/be anything. That's the kind of world I want to live in – one full of possibility – so it's fun helping to create that.

As a parent, I also see the impact that reading books together has on children. It's not just about the book, it's about the relationship that is created when you read together. To be part of creating an experience that strengthens relationships between parents and children, teachers and students, etc – it's just an amazing thing.

I think the most difficult part of writing for kids is making sure that I'm giving my young readers enough credit. It's tempting to try to wrap up every story with a nice, neat moral, but that's not necessary or desirable. Kids are astute. They can understand and appreciate nuance, sometimes with greater clarity than adults, if we let them. My four year old has blown me away with some of his observations in the books we've read – so I want to be sure that my writing leaves room for children to draw their own conclusions about a story. 

Tell us about your work with National Storytelling Network! 
The National Storytelling Network is an amazing organization advancing all forms of storytelling in our communities. I don't work for them directly, but I am a member, and as a professional storyteller, I owe a lot to them in their commitment to keep the art of storytelling going strong. Through their conferences, I have met and learned from some amazing storytellers. The storytelling community is very similar to the kidlit community – tight-knit, giving and very warm and encouraging.

I do an interactive style of storytelling that incorporates my background in theatre and creative drama and that gets the audience to participate both vocally and kinesthetically. I focus on telling multicultural folktales because I love introducing people of all ages to other cultures through folklore. I also love the way that folktales, which have been passed down for generations, still resonate so deeply with listeners of all ages today.
How has being an actor shaped your writing? 
Probably one of the biggest ways is that when I'm writing I tend to think in dialogue. When you're reading a play, all you have is the dialogue, with only a few other sparse details to help you create the world of the characters.  I tend to visualize my stories playing out in my mind, as if my characters were in a stage play. I can see and hear their voices quite clearly. In college and beyond, I wrote a lot of dramatic sketches.  I also wrote two screenplays which were turned into films under the direction of a friend who is an indie filmmaker friend.  These experience so writing dialogue is probably one of the easiest/most enjoyable parts of writing for me.

Are there any certain plays you’ve been in that inspired certain books?
I don't know that any plays I've been in have inspired particular books directly. I actually haven't done any stage acting for about ten years now. I moved over to the world of storytelling not long after I got married. As much as I love the stage, storytelling gives me more flexibility so that I can be home most nights and weekends with my family.

Being immersed in folklore and fairy tales has definitely inspired some of my stories. I think that all great art inspires my creative process. Sometimes I'll see a play, hear a song or read a book and think to myself, I want to create something that makes readers feel the same way I'm feeling now, or that strikes that same chord or theme from a different angle. That happens quite a lot actually.

You’ve traveled quite a bit! What have your travels taught you, and how have they helped your writing? 
Yes, I LOVE to travel. I could probably write a book about all that I've learned, but one of the biggest lessons I've learned is that there are many different ways of doing things. We all grow up in a particular culture that influences the way we do things and how we see the world. Culture is such a powerful shaping force in our lives, but we don't realize it. We think that our way of doing something is THE way of doing it. Then we travel or become friends with people from other places and realize that's not the case.

For example, when I moved to Spain, I was shocked that people didn't eat dinner until 10pm. My first inclination was to think, “What!? Dinnertime should be between 5 and 7pm. 10Pm is just WRONG!” I had the same reaction to the siesta. How could all of the businesses in the city of Madrid shut down for 3 hours right in the middle of the day at precisely the time I needed to do my shopping? Again, everything in me said, “This is wrong!”

But in time I came to appreciate that these things weren't wrong –  just DIFFERENT. In fact, I've come to love some of the aspects of other cultures that I've experienced and wish we could incorporate some of them into our way of doing things here.

I think all of my travel experiences have given my writing a more global perspective. In fact, I'm sure I'd never have written POLAR BEAR ISLAND if not for my time living in Spain. (That's actually where I met my husband!) Additionally, I think my travels have taught me to be more open-minded and humble, and I try to bring both of those postures into my writing process.

Lindsay Bonilla performs interactive folktales for her company, World of Difference Ltd., and teaches children about foreign countries and cultures. She lives in North Canton, OH, with her husband, sons, and rescue dog. 

You can pick up a copy at AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieBound, Target and your local bookstore! A discussion guide and activity kit are available here!

You can follow Lindsay on Twitter and go to her website!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Author Interview and Giveaway: A TOUCH OF GOLD by Annie Sullivan

I'm thrilled to put up my interview with the wonderful and talented Annie Sullivan whose debut YA fantasy A TOUCH OF GOLD debuted today with Blink/HarperCollins! A TOUCH OF GOLD has been featured in USA Today’s Happy Ever After, The Nerd Daily, Hypable,  B&N’s 50 Most Anticipated YA Fantasy Novels of 2018, and 19 Most Anticipated YA Debuts of 2018 (July to December) among others. Below Annie and I discuss her debut, inspiration, her promo tips for authors and much more. I'm also doing a giveaway. One lucky winner will receive a signed hardcover of A TOUCH OF GOLD and a tote!

King Midas once had the ability to turn all he touched into gold. But after his gift—or curse—almost killed his daughter, Midas relinquished The Touch forever. Ten years later, Princess Kora still bears the consequences of her father’s wish: her skin shines golden, rumors follow her everywhere she goes, and she harbors secret powers that are getting harder to hide.

Kora spends her days locked in the palace, concealed behind gloves and veils, trying to ignore the stares and gossip of courtiers. It isn’t until a charming young duke arrives that Kora realizes there may be someone out there who doesn’t fear her or her curse. But their courtship is disrupted when a thief steals precious items from the kingdom, leaving the treasury depleted and King Midas vulnerable. Thanks to her unique ability to sense gold, Kora is the only one who can track the thief down. As she sails off on her quest, Kora learns that not everything is what it seems—not thieves, not pirates, and not even curses. She quickly discovers that gold—and the power it brings—is more dangerous than she’d ever believed.
Midas learned his lesson at a price. What will Kora’s journey cost?
From author Annie Sullivan comes A Touch of Gold, the untold story of the daughter King Midas turned to gold, perfect for fans of Cinder and The Wrath and the Dawn.

"A dazzling retelling full of adventure with a dash of betrayal, A Touch of Gold will grab your heart and not let go." --Brenda Drake, New York Times bestselling author

"...a diverting addition to the genre." --Booklist

A TOUCH OF GOLD has such a unique premise! Where did you get the initial idea for this book, and what led you to tell the story from the perspective of King Midas’s daughter? 
I came up with the idea for A TOUCH OF GOLD after watching the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. There’s all that cursed gold, which led me to thinking about King Midas. But I like to write strong female characters, so I focused on King Midas’s daughter because I knew she had to have a story to tell after being turned to gold as a child.
The cover for A TOUCH OF GOLD is so beautiful! What was your reaction when you first saw it? 
It’s amazing! I couldn’t believe it when I first saw it. I love the burst of gold at the top and the hand holding the rose. Basically, I love everything about it!  

What draws you to writing fantasy and fairytales? 
Growing up, my mom read me countless fairytales, and I watched every Disney Princess movie I could find. But when it came to writing my own stories, I didn’t want to write about princesses who have to be saved all the time. I wanted to create a new generation of fairytales that today’s readers could relate to. 

You’ve traveled a lot! Where have you been that’s had the most influence on your writing? Was there anywhere in particular that inspired parts of A TOUCH OF GOLD? 
I love traveling, and I think bits of it find its way into all my stories. I’ve been a few cruises, and many of the scenes that take place on the ship are inspired by that. I’ve also been to Greece, so I kept those memories in the back of my mind as inspiration when I created the fantasy world in A TOUCH OF GOLD. 

What has been the most exciting part of your path to seeing A TOUCH OF GOLD published? 
Honestly, all of it is exciting. From getting the call that I had a deal to see the advanced copy of the book to seeing the final copy. I think I’m also really looking forward to seeing the book on store shelves!

 What was your favorite scene to write and why? 
There’s a scene where Kora, the cursed daughter of King Midas, and her cousin face off against some mythical creatures, and they really have to save the day. It’s all up to them. The whole scene shows how powerful they are and shows Kora that maybe things she thought were flaws about herself aren’t really flaws after all.
I bet you had to do some pretty hefty research for A TOUCH OF GOLD! What was the most interesting thing you learned? 
I did a lot of research into Greek mythology. Just learning about the personalities and attributes of the gods was pretty inspiring. 

You’ve done a ton of promotional work for A TOUCH OF GOLD. What advice would you give to other authors looking to branch out in that area? 
I could write a whole book about all the marketing that I did! I think I had a lot of success gaining followers by doing giveaways on Twitter and Instagram. I chose books with audiences similar to mine and tried to give signed copies of books away where I could to draw in a bigger audience. This requires planning ahead if you’re going to an author signing so you can buy an extra copy just to give away.
Who were some of your favorite teen authors growing up? Who do you love to read now? Growing up I loved Madeline L-Engle, Robin McKinley, Shannon Hale, and Meg Cabot. Some of my recent favorite authors include Marissa Meyer, Elly Blake, Mary E. Pearson, and Stephanie Garber.
What’s the best part for you of being part of the YA author community? 
The YA writing community is so supportive. I don’t know of any other job where people are so willing to support each other by reading, blurbing, and promoting each others work. It feels like a big family, and I love that! 

Can we have a sneak peek of what projects you have in the works? 
Well, hopefully A TOUCH OF GOLD will have a sequel, so get ready for that! But I’m also working on a few new fairytale and fantasy retellings that I think readers are really going to love. Stay tuned! 

Annie Sullivan is a Young Adult author from Indianapolis, Indiana. Her work has been featured in Curly Red Stories and Punchnels, and her novel, Goldilocks, won the Luminis Books Award at the 2013 Midwest Writers Workshop. She loves fairytales, everything Jane Austen, and traveling and exploring new cultures. When she’s not off on her own adventures, she’s teaching classes at the Indiana Writers Center and working as the Copy Specialist at John Wiley and Sons, Inc. publishing company, having also worked there in Editorial and Publicity roles. 

You can pick up a copy at AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieBound, Target and your local bookstore!

You can follow Annie on InstagramTwitter and go to her website!

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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Illustrator Interview and Giveaway: Colleen Kong-Savage

I'm beyond excited to post my interview with the amazing Colleen-Kong Savage, illustrator extraordinaire, today along with a giveaway of her debut THE TURTLE SHIP (a hardcover signed by both the author and illustrator!) which came out with Lee & Low this month to great reviews, including a starred review from School Library Journal!

Long ago in Korea, a young boy named Sun-sin spent his days playing with his pet turtle Gobugi and dreaming of sailing around the world. As a poor villager, though, his dream to travel seemed impossible. Then one day, the king's court announced a contest to find the best design for a new battleship to defend the land from invaders. The winner would sail the ocean with the royal navy.

Determined to win, Sun-sin attempts to build an indestructible battleship with a few found items. Each attempt fails miserably against the powerful sea, and with it Sun-sin s dream also sinks to the bottom. Turning to Gobugi for comfort, Sun-sin notices how his pet turtle is small but mighty, slow but steady, and impossible to sink. Suddenly, Sun-sin has a great idea.

Loosely based on the true story of Admiral Yi Sun-sin and his Turtle Ship, this delightful tale by debut author Helena Ku Rhee and debut illustrator Colleen Kong-Savage introduce young readers to a fascinating episode in Korean history and naval engineering.

“Kong-Savage’s collage illustrations bring the story to life through almost 3-D imagery and are beautiful to look at…A great mix of myth and history for most picture book collections.” —School Library Journal starred review

“The splendor of Kong-Savage’s paper collages adds to the storytelling with rich overlapping compositions and patterns.  This debut packs a double punch modeling the experimental process while spotlighting an intriguing historical figure and his warcraft. —Kirkus Reviews

“…Kong-Savage’s striking, precise paper-collage scenes are equally effective in conveying the sweeping drama of ocean views and the personality and warmth in close-ups of Gobugi’s small, green face. An afterword about the story’s historical roots closes this engaging tale with a strong STEM focus from two debut creators.” –Publishers Weekly

Could you tell us about your previous illustration work?
In my other illustration life I make pictures and do graphic design for small businesses and nonprofits. I help create their visual brand to communicate their personality and what they’re about. I also have design a collection of cards called Konga Line. One day it will be a greeting card empire, but for now it’s distributed through Greeting Card Universe. 

What made you want to work with kids books?
Who wouldn’t want to work with kids books? You draw characters that make you grin as you go along. You play with a colorful palette. If you work in mediums that you can touch, people won’t consider you outdated. Nobody considers you old-fashioned for holding a pencil instead of a stylus.
What was your favorite illustrated book growing up?
The Monster at the End of this Book: Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover! written by Sesame Street writer/producer Jon Stone, illustrated by Michael Smollin. It’s brilliant, and Grover is indeed lovable. 

Who are some of your favorite illustrators? Who do you look to for inspiration?
Two of my favorite illustrators are Robin Rosenthal ( and Mikela Provost ( I follow them on social media. Robin’s characters are such characters—some take themselves very seriously and have no idea how hilarious they are. Mikela’s images are also often funny, and very sweet. Her paintings are beautiful and warm. I’m also a fan of Lane Smith—I love his humor, and there’s always so much texture in his illustrations, no matter how complex or simple. Emily Gravett—again, I am charmed by characters—and Shaun Tan, I love them both for their mastery in drawing. Jane Ray for her color. Paul Zelinsky for being a chameleon, always experimenting with styles. And of course, Ezra Jack Keats for his beautiful collage/painting style, for color, for his sweet characters, and because his pictures just make me feel good inside.
What initially drew you to THE TURTLE SHIP?
I was drawn because the editor said, “It’s a historical fiction, so it involves research,” which made the assignment sound like a lot of work (and it was), but now I had an excuse to learn about a whole new culture in 16th century Korea. What did they wear? Where did they live? What does the palace look like? What’s the story behind the turtle ship? Who is this Admiral Yi Sunsin? Why is he such a hero? I’d go to the art museum and call it work. I’d watch a blockbuster Korean movie and call it work. Surf the internet… Creating the world in which this story existed was like assembling a puzzle.
Could you talk a bit about the process you went through illustrating THE TURTLE SHIP?
Half the process was revision: drawing, rethinking, redrawing with feedback from the art director. I did four rounds of pencil sketches for almost every spread. Final illustrations were done in collage, which made a mess of my apartment (paper bits everywhere), and now color was in the mix. So after sending Lee & Low home scans of “final” illustrations, more edits were requested and made before I delivered final artwork to the office to be professionally scanned. Upon delivery, I spread all the collages across the conference table, and folks in the office stopped by to oo and ah—it was so gratifying… And after I received the professional scans of the original artwork, another round and a half of edits done in Photoshop. 

Was THE TURTLE SHIP different from your usual illustration process?
Yes. Usually when I illustrate for clients, they say, “Great!” My clients usually aren’t art people—that’s why they hire me and trust my judgement. With a picture book art director and editor, it’s a different story. I had a lot of freedom, but each time I came back to them, they would point me in a slightly different direction to strengthen the story or consider the reader. 

What was it like working with your art director and Lee & Low?
Awesome! This was my first picture book assignment, so I learned a ton. I learned how much processing goes on before settling on a final image. I learned simple rules, like illustrate all motion going from left to right to match the flow of the pages, or let the reader see the character’s face as much as possible because that is how readers connect best. And with repeated prodding, I learned just how complex in detail I can make my art. I’d get pages of notes, and feedback was always clear. If I disagreed with a call, the art director and editor always heard me out and sometimes even agreed with me. The process was a dialog. 

What was the most challenging part of illustrating THE TURTLE SHIP for you?
The most challenging part was trying not to go blind as I cut out all the tiny details. My eyes got tired easily. I finally got a magnifying lamp. Before that, I would literally not be able to see what I was cutting. I was looking at a blur in my fingers as I snipped the paper, hoping it was coming out right.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ll take away from the process?
Biggest lesson: just when you think you’re pretty darn good at what you do, you’ll discover there’s a whole lot more to learn.
What would you say to others who aspire to illustrate books for children?
The process of breaking into the industry is a marathon, so be prepared. It can take years, even if you are a fantastic illustrator. There is so much noise, so much talent, and I think publishers are hesitant to take chances with new artists because they have no idea how easy or difficult you will be to work with. You need to put in the hours. Always be building up your chops because the competition is fierce, always be looking at what’s out there in picture books and through social media. Keep sending out your work. The amount of your success directly correlates with the amount of rejection you can tolerate (illustrator David Gordon taught me that). Join SCBWI, go to their conferences to gather information, feed your spirit, meet fellow artists/writers, and be a part of a community. This is a tough climb with some jagged rocks. Connections you make with fellow creatives will keep you going.

Any fun facts about you?
I fall asleep a lot when I sketch, particularly when I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m struggling with the composition. Brain goes on strike and shuts down. Somewhat inconvenient.

Colleen Kong-Savage is a full-time illustrator and graphic artist. When she first moved to New York City, Kong-Savage worked at an art supply store, where she spent half her paycheck on decorative papers. For this debut picture book, she spent countless hours researching the clothes, living conditions, and landscape of the Joseon Dynasty, and then finding the right paper for each item. The papers used in this book come from around the world, including Korea where traditional paper is handmade from mulberry bark. Kong-Savage lives in New York City.

You can pick up a copy at AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieBound, Lee & LowTarget and your local bookstore!

You can follow Colleen on InstagramTwitter and go to her website!

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