Tag Archives: Author Interview

Video Conferencing: Authors at Your Fingertips

Author S A Larsen

You’ve just finished reading a fantastic book with your class. The kids are engaged and the story is the topic of conversation. Go beyond the traditional project or book report and transport the author to your doorstep.

The Digital Age:
We live in a digital age, and fortunately for our schools, many authors are available to video conference. Location and time differences are no longer a deterrent. Many authors list video conferencing information on their websites. An internet search can also help you find available authors. Some authors charge a fee and some don’t. Chat with your author to see what terms can be reached. Link To Mixed-Up File Authors

If your school doesn’t have a budget for author presentations, be creative:

  • Take book orders from the students. Many authors are happy to sell and ship personally signed copies.
  • Ask the PTO to purchase class sets for the grade levels.
  • Offer to post  a review of the book on strategic websites.
  • Feature the book in the school newspaper or on the school website.
  • Post the book and video conference snippets on the school Facebook page.
  • Display the author’s name and book title on the school billboard.
  • Invite your local newspaper columnist to cover the class video chat.

Have fun and don’t be afraid to use your imagination!

Annabelle Fisher, author of The Secret Destiny of Pixie Piper, Skypes with a class of readers

So, you’ve booked the author. Now what?

Ask the author:
First, ask the author what they offer. Some will talk about their book and the background it took to write it. But, if it’s a science author, they may have a favorite demonstration to share. If it’s a picture book illustrator, they may draw the character for the kids. If it’s a fantasy author, they may demonstrate how to create imagery through descriptive writing from a new world.

Does the author request questions before the video conference? This helps the author give informed and well-thought-out answers. Poll your students. What do they want to know? Was there a fascinating section of the book they wanted to know more about? What about behind-the-scene events? Why did the author create a certain character? Did the author use traits from real people? Were any of the events in the book part of the author’s life? Were there unanswered questions in the story line? Help students focus their questions so they pull out unique elements of the author’s work. This is the benefit of video conferencing. You have the author’s ear! When conference day comes, let the students take turns asking the questions.

Student Created Games

Do students have something to share with the author? 

Did they create a skit? Did they write an alternative ending to the story or insert a chapter in-between? Did they write a quiz show or create a game that targets details from the book? Did they create trading cards of the different events and characters? Or perhaps your students would like to dress in character and the author has to guess the character’s identity.

Using Google Maps with author interview:
Also, consider things like Google maps. Students have the ability to bookmark a location on the world-wide map with their own information and facts. This is a great option for historical novels or any story that travels. Consider having students interview the author about the different locations and the importance of each site. Besides being a great project where students research and enter information on the world-wide map, people from around the globe get instant access to the information your students have entered. Extend the project by collaborating with other classes (from anywhere in the world) and build a map together.

Before you read:
Think forward. Invite the author beforehand to share background information and tidbits before you start reading. Why did they write this book? Did they face challenges? Does the story relate to their own life or the life of someone else? Who or what influenced them? Meaningful introductory conversations set the stage for an engaging beginning.

Authors love sharing and the age of video conferencing has opened up a new set of doors.

7 Free Books to Celebrate 7 Years – Happy MUFiversary!

WARNING: This post is going to contain a lot of 7s, which have been underlined for your convenience. Keep in mind that 7 is a lucky number. If you don’t believe me, here’s the evidence:

This post includes free books for 7 lucky winners.

See. I told you 7 was a lucky number.

Anyway, if you haven’t glanced at your calendar today, please note that it’s June 7th, 2017. That happens to be exactly 7 years after MUF’s very first blog post blasted its way across the internet. Clearly, this is cause for celebration!

After 7 seconds of exhaustive research (I asked both of my dogs), I determined that this is the only 7th MUFiversary ever celebrated in the combined history of Earth and the other 7 planets in our solar system. I had to make it memorable. Epic even.

But how exactly does a guy go about epically celebrating a 7th MUFiversary?

I begged people for stuff.

The results of my begging now become your reward as MUF turns the entire month of June into an extended 7th MUFiversary Giveaway Party. For the next four weeks, MUF will hold a major weekly giveaway of free middle-grade books. And today we’re going to kick things off by taking SIGNED books from 7 different middle-grade authors and giving you a chance to be 1 of 7 lucky winners.

Here are the 7 giveaways for this week, along with a bit of 1-question-each (7 total!) Q&A fun with the 7 authors.


The Secret Destiny of Pixie Piper by Annabelle Fisher1)      Let’s start with double-the-fun thanks to TWO books by MUF’s Annabelle Fisher (www.annabellefisher.com): THE SECRET DESTINY OF PIXIE PIPER and its brand-new sequel PIXIE PIPER AND THE MATTER OF THE BATTER. (Yep. One of the 7 lucky winners will get signed copies of both books!) Poetry whiz kid, Pixie discovers she’s a descendant of Mother Goose and that her rhymes have special powers. But to join the Goose Family and protect their legacy, she must be “braver than brave” and “truer than true”!

Question: What animal did you most enjoy writing about in a book and why?

Annabelle: Writing about Pixie’s goose, Destiny, was a lot of fun. Since Destiny first appears as an egg that Pixie finds in the woods, I got to go through the process of hatching a gosling in a homemade incubator, along with my character. I did a lot of research about pet geese and their humans. They have lots of personality! Pixie and her gosling have an amazing bond. It made me want to get a pet goose!


My Year of Epic Rock by Andrea Pyros2)      Another MUF author, Andrea Pyros (www.instagram.com/drelet), is giving away MY YEAR OF EPIC ROCK, which—due to its title—absolutely had to be a part of our epic MUFiversary. When Nina’s BFF dumps her for a cooler new girl, Nina’s got to find a new crew. With the help of the other allergy kids at the peanut-free table, Nina might not just survive seventh grade, but figure out how to rock it!

Question: What’s the BEST writing advice you’ve ever received?

Andrea: For me, the best writing advice was to read as much as possible. I know it’s nothing earth-shattering, but when we’re all so busy, and there are so many things to grab our attention (ahem, cough, cough, Facebook, I’m looking at you), sitting down with a book in the genre you want to write in can be an amazing learning experience—and a great motivator!


3)      MUF’s Jennifer Swanson (www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com) has us covered with some nonfiction: ZOOLOGY: COOL WOMEN WHO WORK WITH ANIMALS. Love to work with animals? Zoology: Cool Women Who Work With Animals introduces readers to three women in the field of zoology who are making an impact and inspiring the next generation of zoologists.

Question: What is the strangest fact you’ve learned while researching your nonfiction book?

Jennifer: The most interesting fact I learned in researching this book is that the very first female zoologist was Pythias of Assos, who was the wife of Aristotle. She helped him to create his encyclopedia of animals.


Greetings from Witness Protection by Jake Burt4)      Jake Burt (www.JBurtBooks.com) has a debut middle-grade novel I’ve already added to my own Goodreads to-read list: GREETINGS FROM WITNESS PROTECTION. Nicki Demere, an orphan and pickpocket, is recruited by the Witness Protection program to join a family on the run from the nation’s most dangerous criminals.

Question: How do you select the names of your characters?

Jake: I’m a fan of names with hidden meanings, so I name my characters with little Easter eggs that reveal or complicate their personalities. For example, the main character of Greetings is Nicki Demere. She’s a first-rate pickpocket, and “to nick” something is slang for stealing. “Demere” is a play off the Latin verb meaning “to subtract” or “to disappear.” Nicki was doubly fun to name because I got to do it twice; when she enters Witness Protection, she gets to pick her own new name. . . .


The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla5)      Sally J. Pla (www.sallyjpla.com) offers us THE SOMEDAY BIRDS, a copy of which happens to be sitting on my nightstand at this very moment. Charlie, a 12-yr-old bird-loving boy who hates change, takes us along on a raw, funny, poignant cross-country journey to see his injured father—and to find a mysterious bird guru.

Question: How are you like your main character?

Sally: I am also autistic, although if you met me, you might not guess it. I have grown out of a lot of my challenges. I have a much easier time of things than Charlie does in the book. When I was a kid, however, I felt many of the feelings Charlie feels while dealing with the world.


The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City by Jodi Kendall6)      Jodi Kendall (www.jodikendall.com) is giving away a signed ARC of THE UNLIKELY STORY OF A PIG IN THE CITY plus some bonus swag to brighten someone’s day. 11-year-old Josie makes it her mission to save the piglet named Hamlet that her brother brings home from college, as she and Hamlet each struggle to find their place in a crowded, chaotic family.

Question: What’s one event from your life that you’ve never worked into a story but you’d like to?

Jodi: Once, on a wildlife expedition for work, I tracked wild elephants through the rainforest in Malaysia. I’d love to write more about my past animal adventures in future books!


Mrs. Smith's Spy School for Girls by Beth McMullen7)      We’ll cap off this week’s giveaways with yet another MUF-member contribution, this time courtesy of Beth McMullen (www.bethmcmullenbooks.com). Some lucky soul is going to receive a signed ARC of Beth’s debut novel, MRS. SMITH’S SPY SCHOOL FOR GIRLS. Abby Hunter arrives at boarding school just to discover it’s a secret training facility for kid spies. And now that her mother has gone missing, they want to use her as bait.

Question: What is the weirdest place you’ve had a good idea for a book?

Beth: On the checkout line at Target. I had to excuse myself so I could write the idea down before it disappeared out of my head forever. The young woman behind the counter thought I was insane. And probably she was right.


Want to be one of the 7 lucky winners? There are 7 different ways to earn entries! You can leave a comment below, follow MUF on Twitter, share about the giveaway on FB, and more. Give yourself loads of opportunities to win by earning all 7 different types of entries. The giveaway closes at midnight (ET) on Monday, June 12th. Be sure to check back on Thursday, June 15th, for our next MUFiversary giveaway! (Eligible only to U.S. addresses.)

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The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts: An Interview with Avi

As a big fan of other novels by Avi like Crispin: The Cross of Lead and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, I was thrilled to get to read an advance copy of The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts and interview Avi. If you’re devoted to middle grade historical fiction, action, and adventure, you’ll definitely want to read this one!

About the Book

In The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts, a young boy wakes to find his father missing and his house flooded by a recent storm. It’s 1724 in the seaside town of Melcombe Regis, England, and Oliver is alone with no money and no food. His father has left behind a barely legible, waterlogged note stating that he’s gone to London, where Oliver’s sister, Charity, is in some kind of trouble.

Exploring damage to the town in the storm’s aftermath, Oliver discovers a shipwreck on the beach. Removing anything from a wrecked ship is a hanging offense, but Oliver finds money that could save him from being sent to the ghastly children’s poorhouse, and he can’t resist temptation. When his crime is discovered, Oliver flees, following his father’s trail. His journey is full of cruel orphan masters, corrupt magistrates, and conniving thieves—but when he finally reaches his destination, Oliver finds that London might be the most dangerous place of all.

The Interview

All the reviews, which have been glowing and star-studded, compare this story to those of Charles Dickens. Are the wonderful similarities they note intentional? Is your book an homage to Dickens?

Thanks for your kind words about The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts. I am a reader and admirer of Dickens, but I think this book is cast more in the light of those great 18th century literary lights, Fielding, Defoe, Sterne, Smollett, et al.

My real homage to Dickens is to be found in Traitors’ Gate. It is full of references to Dickens and his life. Indeed, my hero there is named John Huffam, which is taken from Dickens’ extended name.

Oliver is a fantastic character. He’s pugnacious and funny and brave. There’s so much to love about him. Where are the points of intersection between Oliver and a contemporary twelve year old? Where do they diverge?

Young people today, as in the 18th century, lived and still live in a world created, and usually controlled by adults. Not necessarily a bad thing, and often a necessary thing.  That said, the young will often chaff under the restrictions, both physical and psychological of the adult world. Keenly aware of what is fair and unfair, they are the ones who should sit on the Supreme Court.

As I was reading your book, I was struck by the very tricksy way you use language. Here’s a bit from the first page:

On November 12, 1724, I, Oliver Cromwell Pitts, lay asleep in my small room at the top of our three-story house, when, at about six in the morning, I was shocked into full wakefulness by horrible sounds: roaring, wailing, and screeching. Confounded by such forceful clamors, I was too frightened to shift from my bed.

You manage to start with action but also language that feels appropriate for the 1700s. Can you tell us how you chose language that evoked the time period but was still accessible to young readers?

I have a great love of language and words. I enjoy browsing through dictionaries. (Short chapters!) English, the only language (alas) I know, has a huge and wonderfully rich vocabulary that has evolved over centuries. All of it is available to the writer.  (And language invention is welcome.) I love using old, but understandable words in a historical context. Indeed, when writing historical fiction one of the key challenges is giving the language itself a sense of the past. I think of the Unabridged Oxford Dictionary as my writing partner.

One of my favorite things about this book is how funny it is. As I read, I started marking particularly funny lines, and by the end, I had a ton of tagged pages. Here’s one of my favorites:

I am of the belief that when two adults exchange a meaningful look in the presence of a child, there is little doubt that the adults will have nothing pleasing to say to that child.

Oliver is both astute and funny in this passage. And what about the horrible Mr. Probert (who gets what he deserves if you ask me!), who says:

An authority has written: The sooner poor children are put to laborious, painful work, the more patiently they will submit to it forever.

And of course, in this description of Oliver’s father:

A stiff-rumped clink-clank.

I could go on quoting you to yourself for a long time, but instead, can you tell us about the role of humor in this book? Dickens wasn’t very funny. How did you work in the laughs and still end up with a book that feels Dickensian?

Funny is serious work. In this book, what is humorous comes out of Oliver’s character, who is often alone, and keenly observant. But it also derives from the historical style of the 18th century, which can be comical and satirical. Writers of that day looked upon the world with amusement, affection, and skepticism, as did our own Benjamin Franklin.

The poorhouse where Oliver ends up is pretty awful, and Oliver’s escape from it is pretty marvelous. Were there really places like that for children in the 1700s?

The poorhouse is based on research I did, even to the daily food allowance.  I also came upon an image of a punishment basket. The moment I saw it I knew I wanted to use it.

I know there is a ton of research behind this book. Were there any delicious factual tidbits that would have loved to work in to the pages but didn’t have room for?

As for what I left out, there is a whole library about British prisons, Newgate in particular, that could have been included. I somewhat regret that I did not use more of that.

We at the Mixed-Up Files are obsessed with middle grade literature. Why are you drawn to writing for this age group? What do you think characterizes middle grade and makes it distinct from young adult or adult books with young protagonists like those by Dickens?

I love the way middle-graders read. They are passionate readers, who can engage fully with the experiences depicted in a story. They embrace character and plot with enthusiasm. They care about what happens. They can be articulate about what they read, too, but not in a pedantic fashion. “It’s good.” “It’s bad.” “I loved it.” I hated it.”

“It was boring.” “It was exciting.” All cool.

They approach reading with both hands and an open heart.

I once had a letter from a middle-schooler which began, “I read your book, and it was boring at first. But by page two it got really good.”

I loved that.

They also like puns.

For the reader who adores The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts, which one of your other books should he or she read while waiting for the next installment?

Those who enjoy The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts might like the above mentioned, Traitors’ Gate, and also, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Crispin, Beyond the Western Sea, Catch You Later, Traitor—all adventures stories with historical settings, all character driven.

I know more books are in the works. Any hints about what dreadful fate will next befall our noble hero?

As for Oliver’s fate, he has been sentenced to be shipped to the American colonies and sold into slavery for a period of seven years. I am writing the book now, and he is not enjoying the experience.  Freedom calls, but an iron collar round his neck is not easy to get off. And where is his sister?  I’m not one of those writers who always knows the endings.  So, I’m working as fast as I can because I too want to know what happens.

About the Author

Avi is the author of many books for young readers including Catch You Later, Traitor, the Newbery Medal novel Crispin: The Cross of Lead, and the Newbery Honor books The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and Nothing But the Truth. He lives in Colorado. For more information, visit www.avi-writer.com.