Category Archives: Interviews

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with Dana Carey, Assistant Editor, Wendy Lamb Books

Today we welcome Dana Carey, Assistant Editor at Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, to share an inside look at the book editing and publishing process. I had the pleasure of working with Dana on my middle grade novel, The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days.

Q: Welcome, Dana! So to start, what is your background? How did you arrive at Wendy Lamb Books?

A: I had a meandering journey to children’s publishing. After graduating college and doing trademark research for a year, I spent eight years in editorial at a professional nursing journal. Nurses are some fantastic and strong people! But I had this dream to work in children’s publishing that didn’t go away. So I took a big leap and went to school for an MS in Publishing at NYU. And I was extremely lucky to get an internship and then a position with Wendy Lamb Books.

tumblr_inline_mub7exSlaa1s70xgvQ: Tell us about a typical day.

A. What I love most about editorial is that there really isn’t a typical day! The many hats that you get to wear keeps an editor on his or her toes; it’s both exhilarating and challenging. A typical day for me could involve delving into a manuscript and writing notes (either for something under contract or a new submission), putting together jacket copy, researching comp (comparative or similar) titles during acquisition, pulling sales reports, starting a P&L (Profit and Loss) statement, writing copy for sales sheets, preparing for a presentation, sending out finished books or edited passes (drafts), talking with agents, authors, copy editing, design, subrights…just to name a few. Ha!

Q: Can you take us through the steps a book undergoes, from acquisitions to a final book?

A: When a manuscript is acquired it is usually assigned to a future span (a “span” is a book selling season in publishing-speak), which means the actual editing probably won’t start right away. When you do start editing, the author spends several months going back and forth with manuscript revisions using feedback from the editor in the form of a letter and marked manuscript pages and often a phone call to talk about the revisions. When that is done, the manuscript is sent on to copy editing. The author will review all of the copy editor’s changes and weigh in where appropriate. This is a helpful stage not only to clarify language and style if needed but also because the copy editor at this point has fresh eyes and can spot anything that was missed during editing.

Then the copy edited manuscript is sent to a compositor who will set the copy into the type of a book, which is very exciting because the manuscript is starting to look like an actual book! The proofreader will also provide a fresh set of eyes and pick up any small things that may have been missed previously. This is usually the last time an author will see the text before publication. But fear not, many people are still looking at these passes. And then finally you get a finished book.

Q: What grabs you in a manuscript when you’re reading? What tugs at your heart?

A: The first thing that grabs me in a manuscript is the voice. If the voice is unique, lyrical, authentic, and age-appropriate, you’ve caught my interest. The second thing that grabs me is the character. I love seeing a character who is basically a good kid and has this good quality challenged in some way, which often creates a deeper sense of tension and personal conflict.

IMG_5498The types of stories that pull me in are: heartwarming, funny, philosophical/psychological (what does it mean to be human, what does it mean to be a kid/teen now or at a point in history), adventure/journey stories…and who isn’t a sucker for a great Bildungsroman? I’m especially drawn to stories about kids who are struggling to belong, or are struggling with something they can’t change about themselves, such as race or sexuality. I’d also love to see more diversity in the traditional gender roles in children’s books.

Q: Is there a particular book you’ve worked on that you’re especially proud of?

A: This is a really tough question! I imagine it’s like asking a parent to choose their favorite child! But if I had to choose, I’ve loved working with Wendy on our two series of illustrated chapter books: ZIGZAG KIDS by Patricia Reilly Giff, illustrated by Alastair Bright, and CALVIN COCONUT by Graham Salisbury, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers.

zig_zag_1Since there is less space as in a text-only middle grade book, the author has to be especially efficient at creating scenes and establishing characters. The process of the manuscript and art evolving independently and then coming together is a magical process.

More recently, I’ve loved working with Wendy on WE ARE ALL MADE OF MOLECULES by Susin Nielsen, coming May 2015. It’s laugh-out-loud funny (really!). It’s told from two perspectives, a boy named Stewart who is a genius but socially awkward (but working on it!) and Ashley, a girl who is not a genius academically (and not working on it!) but is well aware of her high position on the social ladder at school. When their parents decide to move in together, what happens next is hilarious, tender, dramatic, and heartwarming.

Q: What are some common mistakes or faults you see in manuscripts?

A: I often see submissions from new writers with too much description, in particular too much detail of physical movements or of telling the reader rather than showing. The reader can infer a lot, not everything needs to be spelled out explicitly. Also, it’s common to see kid characters who sound too old or too young for their age. And sometimes new authors will focus on small conflicts rather than having an overarching theme or plot for the main character.

Q: What advice would you give to writers?

A: Keep reading. Read your favorites to remind yourself why you love children’s books. Read new books so you know the market. And read outside of children’s books sometimes, you never know where you may find inspiration.

Q: And finally, what do you like to do in your spare time, when you’re not hard at work editing the next bestseller?

A: My favorite things to do outside of work are walking my dog, Charlie, taking care of my cats, Willie and Gracie, and either attending or teaching a yoga class.

Thank you so much, Dana, for sharing your insights with us!

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