Category Archives: Interviews

Gail Nall Interview and Giveaway

Gail Nall head shotI’m thrilled to welcome Gail Nall to the Mixed-Up Files! Gail lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her family and more cats than necessary. She once drove a Zamboni, has camped in the snow in June, and almost got trampled in Paris. Gail’s middle grade debut, BREAKING THE ICE (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster), is available now. She is also the co-author of the upcoming YOU’RE INVITED with Jen Malone (Aladdin/S&S, May 19, 2015), and the author of the upcoming YA novel, EXIT STAGE LEFT (HarperTeen Impulse, Summer 2015). She’s represented by literary agent Julia A. Weber.

Thank you for joining us at the Mixed-Up Files, Gail. Breaking the Ice really helped me experience what life would be like as a competitive ice skater. How did you learn so much about ice skating?

I lived it! :) I started skating at age three, and while I was never really competitive the way Kaitlin is, I took lessons and went to local competitions for years and years. I pretty much lived at the rink as a preteen and young teenager. I still skate, and even teach kids in the beginner classes once a week. My three-year-old just got her first pair of skates, so I think I’ll be at the rink for many years to come!

Since you’re spending so much time in the rink, I have a feeling we’ll see more ice skating stories from you in the future. :)  Do you remember the moment when you were first inspired to write Breaking the Ice? How long did it take from idea to publication?

I grew up figure skating, and I really wanted to write a book set in that world. One day, while watching a skater receive horrible scores at a competition, I wondered what would happen if she showed how she really felt. So that’s how the idea for BREAKING THE ICE was born! I think I started writing it in January 2011 . . . so almost exactly four years from idea to publication. It was the third manuscript I’d written.

I love Kaitlin’s spunk! Is she (or any other character) based on a real person, and what helped you create such a believable, multi-dimensional character?

Kaitlin is completely made up. Although I think, as authors, we all put at least a little of ourselves into our characters, so there are a few small parts of Kaitlin that are definitely me. But mostly, I had to think my way through how a girl who’s very reserved would act after she finally breaks through that wall she’s built around herself. Would she try to backpedal? Definitely. But would she also find herself jumping into situations she might not have tried before? Probably. And then how would all of that affect her skating?

Can you share a writing exercise with our readers?

My favorite writing trick is one that helps with preparation and (ideally) keeps you from wasting time once you’ve jumped into your writing session. It’s pretty simple too – you take ten minutes and simply freewrite your way through your next scene or chapter. Basically, you ask yourself what you want to happen next and write it down. No dialogue (unless you think of something crazy clever that you don’t want to forget), no thinking about structure or using interesting language or following writing rules. It’s more like this: Kaitlin gets of the ice. She’s really nervous about getting her scores. Her coach thinks she did well. Then the scores go up and – oops! – not so good. Kaitlin’s stunned. Then she gets mad. And then… Then, when you sit down to write, you’ve got something of an outline. This works especially well for pantsers and semi-pantsers (like me!). 

Ooh, I love this idea! I’ve jotted down notes like that before spending a timed hour of fast-paced writing with friends (we call it a word war). I never thought to do it before each writing session, and can’t wait to try it. Thanks for sharing that great exercise! 

What are some of your favorite middle grade books?

My all-time favorite is the Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I must’ve read each of those a hundred times growing up. Anne of Green Gables is another classic favorite. The All-Of-A-Kind-Family books by Sydney Taylor made me want to be a Jewish kid in New York at the turn-of-the-century. And then, of course, I adored contemporary series such as The Baby-sitters Club and Sleepover Friends.

I’ve been lucky enough to read some amazing ARCs of upcoming 2015 middle grade books. A few of the many I love include The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart (heart-breaking and beautiful), Dr. Critchlore’s School for Minions by Sheila Grau (funny with great world-building), My Near-Death Adventures (99% True!) by Alison DeCamp (a humorous historical – hilarious!), and Monstrous by MarcyKate Connolly (exciting and such a fascinating concept). Lots of great MG coming out this year!

Wow, what a fantastic list. I especially can’t wait to dive into the 2015 books. It’s always great to know which books to keep an eye out for! I’d love to know more about your upcoming books, and what it’s like to work with a co-author.

Up first, in May, is You’re Invited, which I co-wrote with Jen Malone. There will be a sequel in February 2016, which we’re working on now. The books are about four girls who live in a North Carolina beach town and start a party planning business. The parties never turn out exactly the way the girls plan, but they rely on each other to get through and make each one a success. We’ve had so much fun writing together! We were friends and critique partners before we started this project, so we knew we had similar writing styles. It’s great to have someone else pushing you to write better and better, and it doesn’t hurt to know that someone is waiting on you to finish that chapter already! We’ve just meshed so well on this, and I hope that’s evident in the books.

Later this summer, my debut young adult novel, EXIT STAGE LEFT, will be out through HarperTeen Impulse. I’m really excited about this one, because it’s a book I’ve been working on for a long time, and it has a really special place in my heart. It’s about a teenage girl whose entire life and future is theater, but when she loses a pivotal role to her best friend, she decides to reinvent herself. It’s light and funny, and I hope readers love it as much as I do!

Congrats on your debut novel, Gail. And thank you so much for visiting the Mixed-Up Files. I loved learning more about you, Breaking the Ice, and your upcoming novels. 

You can find out more about Gail on her website, Twitter, or on Facebook. Enter using the Rafflecopter widget below, and one lucky winner will receive a signed copy of Breaking the Ice. The winner will be announced on Thursday, January 29. Good luck!

*You must live in the United States or Canada to enter the giveaway.

Gail Nall - Breaking The Ice

Kaitlin has always dreamed of being a champion figure skater, and she’s given up a lot to pursue her passion. But after she has a totally uncharacteristic tantrum at a major competition, she’s dropped by her coach and her prestigious skating club. When no other club will have her, she’s forced to join the ridiculed and run-down Fallton Club, jokingly referred to as the “Fall Down Club.” At first Kaitlin thinks this is a complete disaster, but after meeting some of the other skaters—including a boy who happens to have the most perfect hair she’s ever seen—she realizes it might not actually be so bad.

Yet learning a whole new program right before regionals is a huge challenge, and when she realizes that all the other area skaters target Fallton for pranks, she begins to wonder if joining the Fall Down Club has any upsides.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s TwitterFacebook, or blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.

Interview with Brianna DuMont, Author of Famous Phonies

We’re pleased to welcome debut author Brianna DuMont to the Mixed-Up Files today. She’s the author of a new middle grade nonfiction book, Famous Phonies — Legends, Fakes, and Frauds Who Changed History.

Q: Welcome, Brianna, and congrats on your debut book. Can you tell us what it’s about?

A: Thank you! It’s been a life-changing journey to learn the ups and downs of publishing professionally. As for Famous Phonies, if I had to distill it down, I would say that the book is about teaching kids how fun and strange history can be. While I love to learn about things like kings and queens and important wars, history is so much more than that. I wanted to write a series that showed kids the quirky underbelly of history. Famous Phonies, the first book in the series, details the “lives” of twelve people who changed history despite the fact that they never existed. Some literally never existed, like Homer. Some were legends whose myth had come to overshadow and obscure the truth of the real person, like Confucius. And some were hoaxes and fakes that tricked people for hundreds of years. I didn’t want it to be a dry textbook either. I wanted the voice to match the material, so I worked hard to make the stories funny. Being able to poke fun at famous people was just a bonus.

Q: How did you come up with this idea? untitled (2)

A: I studied Art History and Classical Archaeology in college and got my second degree in Classics. Ancient history has always been my favorite thing to study. While translating Homer’s Iliad one day for fun (yes, I consider that fun!), I started thinking how it’s too bad most people learn that Homer is a real guy in a bed sheet who sat down and penned two of the greatest stories in Western literature — the Odyssey and the Iliad. He’s not. The idea snowballed from there. Immediately, I came up with three or four other people who never existed. Eventually through more research, I realized there were many people we learn about in history who never existed or were totally different from what we were taught.

Q: Tell us about your research process. How did you find out these behind-the-scenes details about famous historical figures?

A: Luckily, I live right next to Loyola University in Chicago. I pop over there a few days a week to snoop around their stacks and pretend I’m still a student. They have a great collection of scholarly books and articles. And, when picking out a movie, I typically gravitate toward documentaries, so I find a lot of interesting tidbits and trivia that way as well, which I can follow up with more research. It’s mostly a lot of tracking down and cross-referencing. I’d say I spend ninety percent of my time researching and only ten percent writing.

Q: Can you share with us one of the interesting tidbits from the book?

A: One of my favorite characters is Prester John, the imaginary king who inspired Europe to launch crusades and explorations in order to track him down. More than likely, he was one of history’s biggest hoaxes. A bishop made him up in the 12th century, but for hundreds of years, kings and popes were obsessed with finding him because they believed he was rich beyond their wildest dreams, held the secret to immortal life, and would help them reclaim the Holy Land. Also, interestingly, Pythagoras had nothing to do with math.

Q: What are you working on next? Is this book going to be part of a series? 7772WebReady

A: I’m under contract for one more book in this series with potentially two more after that. The second book is Fugitives Who Changed History. The manuscript is due in February, with a planned release of January 2016. In addition, I’m always working on side projects — novels, fantasy, historical fiction, maybe a little sci-fi.

Q: What is your writing routine?

A: I’m big on routines and schedules. Every Sunday night I write down a list of what I want to accomplish for the week. Then every morning, I work on nonfiction, take a coffee break, and leave the afternoon for novels if I feel I’ve gotten enough done on my history books. I take frequent dance and jump-around-like-crazy breaks. My cats love and hate that I’m home all day. They have no opportunity to jump on the counters and sniff for crumbs. Some days I spend the whole morning at Loyola researching then come home in the afternoon to write about what I discovered. I love what I do, so I don’t mind working all day.

Q: You’re a big history buff, obviously! Were you always interested in history, even as a kid?

A: Yes. In fourth grade, my parents moved us to Germany for six months. There, we got to travel to many of Europe’s castles, museums, and historical sites. I think that really ignited my love of history and travel. Getting to see where Marie Antoinette was beheaded is pretty life-changing for a nine year old. I could imagine in exquisite detail what she would have felt like walking to her doom (or so I thought at the time).

Q: Growing up, you were the oldest of three. You credit being the oldest with helping you become a creative person. Tell us about that.

A: When it was rainy or when none of the neighbor kids could play, it was up to me, the big sister, to come up with something to do. I invented many games in our basement to occupy the younger two, which usually involved Indiana Jones adventures, playing pioneers on the frontier, or spinning a globe to choose a new country to pretend to visit. I’d make us look up the country in my Dad’s encyclopedias and give reports. Also, I was the biggest, for a while. (Now I’m the shortest.) And I was naturally bossy, so my rules were golden. I wanted to be the one to make up the games, and I hated to sit still or be ladylike.

Q: What do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?

A: I love to read nonfiction! Of course, I always love learning new stuff about the world, people, and history, but I also enjoy a good, old fantasy. My favorite authors are J.K. Rowling, Katherine Kurtz, and Rick Riordan. indexBut my childhood hero will always be Laura Ingalls Wilder — Little House in the Big Woods was the first book I ever read alone.

Q: Fill in the blanks: I’m really awesome at___. I’m embarrassed to admit I can’t___. If I had the chance, I’d like to___.

A: I’m really awesome at cooking obscure, snooty French food. Chicken liver mousse, anyone? I’m embarrassed to admit I can’t tie my shoelaces with the one loop method. I’m a bunny ear believer! If I had the chance, I’d like to travel back in time and see what happened to the Lost Colony: Roanoke.

Thanks, Brianna, for visiting! Teachers and librarians can download a guide to Famous Phonies on Brianna’s website at briannadumont.com. It’s Common Core aligned, and free.

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of two middle grade novels, The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days, and Calli Be Gold, both from Wendy Lamb Books. Visit her at micheleweberhurwitz.com.

 

 

Interview with Author Donna Gephart — and a Giveaway for Teachers and Librarians!

I’d like to welcome one of my favorite middle grade authors and one I am happy to call my friend:  DONNA GEPHART!

2934511Donna Gephart’s first novel, AS IF BEING 12-3/4 ISN’T BAD ENOUGH,MY MOTHER IS RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT! won the prestigious Sid Fleischman Humor Award.  Her second novel, HOW TO SURVIVE MIDDLE SCHOOL, received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal and landed on these state reading lists:  Texas, New York, Louisiana and Illinois.  Donna’s new book, OLIVIA BEAN, TRIVIA QUEEN, about a girl determined to get on the TV quiz show Jeopardy!, received a starred review from Kirkus!
 
 

Donna’s books are hilariously funny. They make people laugh. They make people cry. They touch your heart.  Her first three books are all fabulous:

                     

I am thrilled to be able to share her latest book with you. It’s called

Death by Toilet Paper! 

Fans of How to Survive Middle School will welcome the adventures of a contest-crazed seventh grader who uses his wits and way with words in hopes of winning a big cash prize to help his family avoid eviction.
 
Benjamin is about to lose a whole lot more than good toilet paper. But even with his flair for clever slogans, will he be able to win a cash prize large enough to keep a promise he made to his dad before he died?

 

“Gephart’s generous view of humanity’s basic goodness shines through, and she leavens her characters’ difficult situation with plenty of humor. . . Readers can’t help but enjoy this heartening book about hanging in there.”–Kirkus Reviews

“Ben is a character kids will root for, and he’s surrounded by family and friends who help him see things will be okay, a message that may comfort readers facing similar circumstances.”–Publisher’s Weekly 

Here’s where we find out the genius behind the creation:

Donna, tell us about your latest book. Was it fun to write?

Locating facts about toilets and toilet paper that head each chapter was fascinating and fun.  Did you know the first stall in a public bathroom is the least used, therefore, the cleanest?  I got to study books like, Sarah Albee’s Poop Happened!:  A History of the World from the Bottom Up and call it research.

 

 Your books are hilariously funny, but they also have a thread of real-life, and you cover difficult topics at times, such as divorce, separation and even death. Why do you feel the need to do this?

I love reading books that make me care enough to cry . . . and laugh.  That’s my aim when I create books – humor and heartbreak — so my work can also serve as an emotional roadmap for readers.  In Death by Toilet Paper, Ben Epstein figures out how to navigate the impossible stages grief and ultimately move forward with hope.

 

Where do you get your ideas?

Trader Joe’s.  Seriously, I LOVE that store.  When Trader Joe’s is closed, though, I get my ideas from paying attention to unusual names, hobbies, jobs, conversations and stories.  Podcasts, like This American Life, are great ways to get my mind thinking of story ideas.  Reading the Sunday newspaper usually gets me thinking as well.

 

What is your writing process? Do you have a set time to write every day? 

Every day . . . except when life gets in the way, which it sometimes does.  Most days, I exercise outside then make a big cup of hot tea before I begin writing.  I use the Pomodoro Method, which is a program of set times for work and breaks.  I found a free Pomodoro timer online, and it has increased my productivity and kept me off the Internet while writing.

 

Why did you decide to become an author? 

When I was ten and bored, I wrote a story about a horse, although I knew NOTHING about horses.  My mom read my story and made a big fuss.  That’s when I decided I’d be a writer.

But the drive to write probably hatched years earlier in the children’s section of the Northeast Regional Library in Philadelphia.  That place was a life-changer for me in the best possible way.  I was lonely and bored and found excellent company on the shelves.  A Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes resonated with me back then . . . and still.

Can you name one teacher that inspired you to write or had an affect on your life? 

Heck yeah!  My 10th grade teacher, Myra Durlofsky, inspired me with her creativity and energy.  She was a great role model.  I put her in a couple of my novels, and I still keep in touch with her!

Also reconnected last year with my childhood librarian, Miss Irene.  I walked into the main library in Philadelphia with my niece and there she was – Miss Irene – looking very much like I remembered her thirty-five years before.  That was a happy reunion!

 

  Donna speaks at elementary and middle schools, book festivals, libraries and conferences, including the S.C.B.W.I. National Conference, the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, F.A.M.E., the Conference on Children’s Literature, etc. She also does Skype visits to connect with schools across the U. S. and internationally. 
 

You do Skype visits for your books, what does that entail?

I LOVE doing Skype visits.  They’re so much fun.  After my interactive presentation with lots of show-and-tell, students ask questions.  And I ask them questions about their favorite books and authors.

 

How do you interact with the students during a Skype visit?

Sometimes, I do a Jeopardy!-style quiz with the students, which gets them totally engaged.  I ask questions and have them guess the outcomes as I tell stories.  There’s no substitute for in person school visits, of course, but Skype visits come close and they are good for the environment – no travel involved.  (Also, I may or may not wear bunny slippers during Skype visits.)  http://skypeanauthor.wikifoundry.com/page/Donna+Gephart

 

What is your favorite part about being an author? 

The creative responses to my books that I receive from both educators and young readers.  I’ve gotten freshly baked lemon squares, paintings, drawings and sculptures of characters and book covers, student-created videos, etc.  And I treasure the letters and emails I get telling me how my story resonated for a particular reader.  The connections I make with readers are what I really value.

If I could tell the lonely, bored girl choosing books from the shelves at the Northeast Regional Library that she would someday grow up to have a literary life, filled with reading, writing and people passionate about literature, I think she’d be quite pleased.

 

Anything else that you’d like to add:

For funny videos, word games, trivia, reading/activity guides, writing advice, etc., check out my site:  www.donnagephart.com.

Thanks for joining us Donna and giving us a peek into your creative process. :)

Donna has graciously donated a very special PRIZE !!

An  educator/librarian prize pack — a signed book, reading/activity guide and a couple dozen bookmarks

To enter, simply leave a comment below. In the spirit of the Donna’s latest book  let us know your funny encounter with toilet paper OR how you would  use a bunch of money you won in contest!  You have until December 10th to enter.