Saturday, June 25, 2016

Q&A with Piet Grobler

Piet Grobler is the illustrator of the children's book Who is King?: Ten Magical Stories from Africa, a winner of the 2016 Children's Africana Book Awards. He has illustrated many other books, including The Great Tug of War and Aesop's Fables. He grew up in South Africa and lives in the U.K., where he teaches at the University of Worcester.

Q: How did you end up working on the illustrations for Who Is King?

A: I have made previous books with Beverley Naidoo and our ways of working and understanding of Africa (We are both ex-South Africans living in England) resulted in books that we and our publisher were happy with. So Janetta Otter-Barry, the publisher, approached me to illustrate Who is King?.

Q: Have you used a similar style in illustrating Beverley Naidoo’s other books?

A: No. With The Great Tug of War, a chapter book, there were only black and white fairly realistic line-drawings. In Aesop's Fables, I used watercolour and ink drawings in thin line.

Who is King? was illustrated in watercolour and ink drawings as well, but I used a dip pen that resulted in bolder line work, and to the water colour I also added colouring pencil. I consciously made the colours quite vibrant.

I think in terms of visual language (this is a better choice of word than style) Who is King? and Aesop's Fables are in some respects also similar. In both cases I made use of caricature with more of a "folk" feeling rather than mainstream or generic approach.

Q: You've had a career that included serving as a minister and working as a graphic designer. How did you decide to go into the field of children's book illustrations?

A: I already started to illustrate my first picture books when I was still a church minister. I have always, since I was a child, been very fond of drawings and stories. It was then a natural progression to illustrate more and more, while I was a graphic designer too.

Q: You also teach illustration. What are some of the most important things you tell your students?

A: Draw every day!

Know your strengths so you can depend on them to better your work and know your weaknesses so you can work harder on those areas of your work.

Be curious: read, travel, listen to music, meet people so that you are aware of the world in which you are working as an illustrator.

Everything has potential meaning: be conscious that your decisions (in terms of medium or visual language) could influence the meaning your audience will attach to your work.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am working on two books: One is titled Antonia - a book about a rather flamboyant bird, for my Dutch publisher Lemniscaat. The second is a Chinese folk tale about a chicken and an earthworm for CCPPG, a Chinese publisher.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I cannot wait for the summer break! I have the sun in my blood and England can be soooo wet and cool. I am off to Portugal and then to South Africa for the summer. I think I need the sun and warm colours to inspire my illustrations.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Friday, June 24, 2016

Q&A with Janet B. Taylor

Janet B. Taylor is the author of the new young adult novel Into the Dim. She has written for CBS's fan site and interviewed authors for the Historical Novel Society.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Into the Dim, and for your main character, Hope?

A: [I thought,] “I’d like to see what would happen if you took a modern teenager and thrust them into the Middle Ages, and see how they would deal with it."

As far as Hope goes, I had her in mind for a long time. I adore all those awesome kick-ass heroines in literature nowadays.

But...most of us are not sword or martial art experts, trained since birth to be killers. Many of us at that age were awkward and socially inept. Hope is all that, plus a big old bunch of phobias.

The only thing she has going for her is her brain, and I think that's probably true for most of us, don't you? 

Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing, or did you make many changes as you went along?

A: I first wrote Dim as a total pantser! I had no idea what I was doing, and had no idea how it would end. So most of it was as much as surprise to me as it is to the readers--ha! 

Having said that--I will never, ever do that again! It nearly killed me. So for Book II, I did a lot of planning! 

Q: Which writers have influenced you?

A: Diana Gabaldon, of course. She's the undisputed queen of time travel and I will be forever grateful to her for the lovely endorsement.

And a lot of other hisfic authors like Sharon Kay Penman, Elizabeth Chadwick, Kate Quinn.

And then there are the major YA authors like Susanne Collins, J.K. Rowling, Lois Duncan, Madeleine L'Engle. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I just finished the final edits on the second book in The Dim Series! So excited about this one! Hope and the gang are on the move again, and this time it's to a brand-new place and time period. It was a lot of fun researching this era, and I can't wait for the title and cover reveal, which is coming up soon! 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Just that I am so, so grateful to all the amazing readers out there who've read Into The Dim, and Tweeted or emailed or Facebooked me to tell me how much they loved it! That means the world to authors.  It makes all the hard work worthwhile!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Q&A with Drema Hall Berkheimer

Q: You write of the book, “Begun as a legacy to my progeny, Running on Red Dog Road ended as a tribute to their forebears…” Did you know exactly what you would write about when you first started the book, or did you make many changes along the way?

A: Yes, of course I knew exactly what I would write. After all, Running on Red Dog Road and Other Perils of an Appalachian Childhood is memoir, and who better than I to know how to write my own story. 

That is a big fat lie. I didn't have a clue where this was going when I began to write stories of my Appalachian childhood for my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 

I've heard it said that when you want something, all the universe conspires to help you get it. I found that to be profoundly true.

Although I dawdled and dragged my heels and whined to anyone who would listen, I was compelled to finish my book. It took me six years, the universe poking and prodding me all the way. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. And it was the best.

Q: You write, “I was unprepared for the emotional physical spiritual toll this writing could and did exact.” What was the writing process like as you relived your childhood memories?

A: It nearly killed me. I was someone who never cried, not even at funerals. Now I was a big bawl-baby. I couldn't figure out why. I'd had a happy childhood surrounded by quirky kith and kin, with gypsies, moonshiners, snake handlers, faith healers, and hobos dropping in to play character roles in the story of my life.

Then the reason for the tears came to me--sometimes you don't know what you have until you lose it. This, then, is a book of atonement. But it is also a book of joy. Readers tell me it made them laugh and cry. I hope so. It made me laugh and cry too.

Q: Did you keep a journal as a child, and did you conduct much research to write the book?

A: I didn't keep a journal as a child but I wrote poetry and essays, mostly nonfiction, many of which I still have.

I started my first and only journal while I was writing the book. I called it Outta My Head. It was a great journal, full of witty observations, to-die-for quotes, and lofty philosophical ideas. One day, I mused, someone will dig it out of a musty trunk and publish it, revealing my true genius to the world.

Meanwhile, my real writing, the book writing, had dried up, become bloodless as old roadkill. Then it occurred to me I was spending more time writing about writing than I was writing.

Could it be the journal I was so invested in was simply the self indulgent rambling of a writer who had discovered yet another way not to finish her book? I read it again. The answer was a sobering yes. I gave up journaling. 

I believed the book would be best served if my memories as a child were left unaltered, so I made a conscious choice not to do much research. Still, I think I got most things right, and friends who grew up with me say I did.

Q: What do your family members think of the memoir?

A: This memoir was written for my family--dead or living or yet to be born. I wanted to pay tribute to the West Virginia kin I wrote about, all gone on before me, and I wanted the ones who came after them to know they came from coal. 

I wanted them to feel the Appalachian DNA rushing through their veins. I wanted them to hear the twang of the voices and see the glory of the hills and hollers. And I wanted them to see it through my eyes. Of course, that wasn't possible, so I did my imperfect best with words.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: A book that covers the same time and place and people, so it is a companion book rather than a sequel. The title is Still Running on Red Dog Road, More Appalachian Stories I Meant to Tell You.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I probably should define what red dog is, because it explains the title: When mining companies burned piles of trash coal, the heat turned it red and pink and lavender. Trucks dumped loads of that sharp-edged rock on our dirt road. We called it red dog. Grandma told me not to be running on that red dog road. But I do.

Deborah, thank you for providing this great opportunity to share my writing experience with your readers. And thanks to my wonderful writer friend Kathleen Rodgers for recommending my book.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Q&A with Margaret Dilloway

Q: Sisters of Heart and Snow follows women in two different time periods. How did you come up with the idea for the book and for its structure?

A: My mother was from a samurai family so I knew I wanted to write something along those lines.  I looked up "samurai women" and found Tomoe Gozen, who lived in the 12th century, and wanted to write about her. She was a female captain, said to be the best archer in Japan, an incredible swordswoman, and stunningly beautiful.

Q: You've written that your own family history connects with that of your historical protagonist, Tomoe Gozen. What more can you tell us about that?

A: Tomoe fought for the Minamoto clan. My mother's family line became an offshoot of the Minamoto clan in the 15th century. 

Q: The relationship among sisters is important to the novel. Why did that interest you as a topic, and why did you write Rachel's sections in first person and her sister Drew's in third person?

A: Sisters of heart is a term for two women who are so close they're like sisters. In real life, Tomoe was Yamabuki's lady-in-waiting, and they would have been very close.

I wanted the historical to inform the contemporary but not be exactly parallel. So I have two contemporary sisters who used to be close but are not any longer in the parallel story. 

I wrote Rachel in first person and Drew in third because it came the most naturally.

Q: You also include the issue of mail-order brides. Why did you focus on that topic, and how did you research it?

A: When I lived in Hawaii, someone told me about a lady who was a mail order bride, a young woman who married an older man.

There's always a lot of judgment about these women, and they're generally viewed as little better than prostitutes; but the reality is that this situation works for some. Unless you can wave a magic wand and change the economics and cultural realities of the places where these women come from, you shouldn't judge.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I'm working primarily on my new children's series, Momotaro, published by Disney-Hyperion. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

June 22

June 22, 1898: Erich Maria Remarque born.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Q&A with Sarah McCoy

Sarah McCoy is the author most recently of the novel The Mapmaker's Children. Her other books include The Baker's Daughter and The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Real Simple and The Millions. She has taught writing at Old Dominion University and the University of Texas at El Paso.

Q: Why did you decide to pair the stories of Sarah Brown, daughter of the 19th century abolitionist John Brown, and Eden Anderson, a fictional modern-day woman?

A: I’m spellbound by this interplay—by the impact of Sarah Brown on us, the contemporary Eden Andersons of today….Sarah Brown and Eden Anderson mirror each other in so many subtle ways. The beauty of their interwoven story is how readers interpret their reflection….

They differ in the way each of us differs from our neighbor, our sister, our friend, even the closest person to us. Because our life recipes are composed of different ingredients, in a different timing, and influenced by external and internal components that we might not transparently see.

Q: How did you research the book, and was there anything that particularly surprised you in the course of your research?

A: I chronicled my city by city research in the Author’s Note at the back of the book…. I didn’t set out to follow [Sarah Brown] for character crafting purposes. I was simply desperate to find more information! None of which was available on the Internet or digitally by museums in each location (Massachusetts, West Virginia, California). …

I bought the one remaining pamphlet with facts on Sarah Brown from the Saratoga Historical Museum. Titled The Californias: After Harper’s Ferry: California Refuge for John Brown’s Family, it is 90 percent about the rest of the Brown family with a few pages on Sarah Brown….

I try not to anticipate where the story is going so every bit of research is a fresh ah-ha! moment. It makes the writing of the novel as much of an adventure as I hope it is for readers. 

From the beginning, the smuggling doll was a favorite historical discovery. I was first introduced to this Civil War artifact at the Confederacy Museum in Richmond, Virginia.

There was an exhibit on the theorized use of children’s toys and dolls to smuggle contraband across Civil War lines. The “Nina” doll was on display, and I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

Such a beautiful, childhood memento put to a covert, dangerous mission and now, simply regarded as creepy—creepy good to a storyteller. 

Another favorite surprise was the Underground Railroad colors, symbols, and code talk. Such an intricate system of striking images.

I was captivated by art’s mighty force of salvation, hope, faith, and guidance to escaped slaves and abolitionists of the time; but also a great reminder to the modern world of its power to catalyze change today.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: What I can share is that I’m pushing out of my comfort zone in [my] next novel by giving over entirely to the historical voices. There’s a dual narrative, yes, but from a real-life man and woman.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A:  I’m moving! My gypsy ways have me piling up my chuckwagon and heading out of El Paso to the Windy City of Chicago. A 1,500 mile change of scenery.

My husband (Doc B, as he’s affectionately known on Facebook and Twitter) has taken an orthopedic sports position at the hospital there. So off we go!  

I’m curious to see how the new landscape will affect my characters and writing. I’ve never lived in the North. It’s going to be an adventure.

Thanks for having me on your blog, Deborah! When we chat books again, I’ll have traded in my sun parasol for an umbrella.

Readers can connect with me on Twitter, on my Facebook Fan Page, on Goodreads, or via my website

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

June 21

June 21, 1905: Jean-Paul Sartre born.