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Posts Tagged ‘interview’

Interview with Karen Bass

Posted on October 11th, 2013 by pajamapress

Interview conducted by Aliya Stacey.

K.BassAward-winning author Karen Bass takes readers on a suspenseful historical adventure in her new novel Graffiti Knight. Set in post-World War II East Germany, the book explores the struggles of living during that time and the courage needed to defy those in power.

Karen took some time to answer a couple of questions about the process of researching this book, writing for a younger audience, and getting in touch with her inner adolescent.

What attracted you to post-World War II East Germany as a setting?

The simplest answer is that it was a truly awful place to live. It had a dystopian quality that appealed to me – the city in ruins, society in upheaval, the enemy in control. From a storyteller’s perspective, what’s not to love about that? Not to be glib, though. The fact that it was a time and place that really existed means I also was able to tell an exciting story and at the same time can reveal a part of history to younger readers that is likely unknown.

What is the biggest challenge about writing a story set in the past?

Writing historical stories and fantasies have a similar challenge in that you have to be very familiar with the society in which the story is set (world-building). So while it’s true I need to do a lot of research about the time and place, possibly more important is figuring out the attitudes of the people who lived in those times. Sometimes I hypothesize that if things were like this then people would act like that. Sometimes I come across writings from the time that show me more directly how people thought and acted.

What kind of research did you do for Graffiti Knight? Did you enjoy it?

GraffitiKnight_MedI read non-fiction books to learn about life in the Soviet Zone; they were heavy and grim. I’m not sure ‘enjoy’ is the right word for that part of my research, but it was fascinating. I did, however, travel to Leipzig in Germany to explore the city and its museum, and to interview a museum curator who answered pages of questions. That part of my research was fantastic. I also came home with some books full of pictures from during and after WWII, which I never would have found over here. Since those books were all in German it’s a good thing that pictures really do tell a thousand words. Discovering treasures like those books make the travel even more rewarding. (Note: my husband is advocating that I should write a book set in Fiji or somewhere similar so that we have to go there and do more research.)

Was there any part of this book that you struggled with or wanted to avoid writing? What was it and why?

I thoroughly enjoyed writing the first draft, as I often do. I love discovering the story as I write and fleshing it out. My struggles often come during revisions, making sure a character’s actions are true to his or her personality, deciding if that scene really adds to the story or is just taking up space. Editors are a huge help in this regard, and I’d never put a story out there without their input.

Is it awful that the more fraught a scene, the more I tend to enjoy writing it? Though it can be a struggle to make sure things don’t spill over into melodrama.

The horrible attack that Annaliese experienced did give me pause but I never seriously considered changing it, primarily because it was accurate historically. As I said earlier, it was a time of great trauma in many ways, and one of them was the way the Soviets treated the Germans, whether or not you think they deserved it. Maybe that’s one of the questions Graffiti Knight leaves readers with: should children be punished for the crimes of their elders?

What drew you to writing books for a younger audience?

My first novel involved a high school student on an exchange trip, so it quite naturally lent itself toward a teen audience. Writing that book made me realize I really enjoy creating stories for teens. Part of the allure is that it is an age of becoming. Young adults are just that; they are taking their first steps into full adulthood. It’s an exciting and sometimes confusing process, and all that undiscovered potential makes YA a cornucopia of story ideas. I also love to read YA and am constantly amazed by all the superb writing happening in the genre today.

As an adult, is it difficult to convey the realities of adolescence? How much do you draw from your own teenage experiences?

I actually think that as we age, most of us gain the ability to better understand other people’s points-of-view. If we let ourselves remember our teen years, then it’s not overly difficult to tap into those experiences to create common connections with modern teens. I’ve been on a kick lately, telling writers how important it is to be able to empathize. The key to writing for a particular group is empathy, seeing the world through their eyes. Readers, by the way, score higher on empathy scales – yet another reason to encourage young people to read.

That second question is loaded. Oddly, it’s one that I’m not usually asked by students when I do presentations. Some actual events from the teen years might make it into my stories, though I’m more likely to include isolated incidents that happened to others. That said, my own experiences do sometimes show up in my fiction, but in the form of emotional truths. Ways that I felt, struggles I had in understanding or in communicating my feelings, the elation or devastation I felt over some event.

The novel centres around Wilm’s need to speak out against social injustice. Do you think the young teens of today are as willing or motivated to do the same? Why or why not?

In North America, not many young people are facing the trauma and upheaval in society that Wilm faced, so it’s hard to draw comparisons. But here in Canada, Idle No More would be one example of young indigenous people stepping out to express their upset at the status quo. And there are other examples of young people fighting for things they believe in, such as unfair school rules, stopping bullying or drunk driving, and so on. Thankfully, in our society we can protest openly so teens don’t have to resort to the sneaky and illegal things Wilm did.

Ultimately, if young people feel as strongly as Wilm did, then they are just as likely to speak out. Teens have a very strong sense of justice, and when it’s tapped, they bring an energy to fore that leaves most adults in the dust. The biggest hurdle to overcome is that teens, like almost everyone, are so busy, so distracted, that getting them to pay attention to things that might be impacting them can be difficult. (But I think most of them are more aware of things than adults give them credit for.)

Learn more about Karen Bass at www.karenbass.ca

Interview with Stephanie McLellan

Posted on October 4th, 2013 by pajamapress

S.McLellan-2014Stephanie McLellan is back with a book about the youngest (smallest) monster sibling who gets himself into some big situations.Tweezle into Everything is currently available for purchase in Canada. This award-winning author was kind enough to answer some questions about the process of writing this book, rescuing baby animals, and nicknames. 

When you were writing Hoogie in the Middle, was it always your intention to write about another monster sibling?

Writing books about Tweezle and Pumpkin was Publisher Gail Winskill’s idea. Gail’s enthusiasm for Hoogie in the Middle was very exciting, and when Gail is passionate about an idea, anything is possible. It was Gail’s idea to illustrate the characters as monsters and I fell in love with Dean Griffiths’ illustrations right from the start. When Gail proposed the idea of two additional books, I was thrilled and started in on them right away. In fact, I’ve also written manuscripts about an only child (a friend of Hoogie’s) called Wyn, and also about identical twins (named Snips and Spins).

How was this writing experience different than/similar to Hoogie in the Middle?

Tweezle_CWriting Tweezle was an entirely different experience. The plot of Hoogie in the Middle was built around the middle child experience of feeling both too big and too small … isolated in between these opposites. My understanding of how Hoogie felt was crystalized by viewings of old home movies where I saw, with the distance of time, actual situations take place that demonstrated this. What I set out to do with Tweezle’s and Pumpkin’s stories was to identify and build on the core emotions at play for the youngest and the oldest. For the baby of the family, it seems to me that the issue is again built on colliding opposites … i.e. Tweezle is the littlest but he yearns to be big. A phrase repeated frequently by the real Tweezle (our son Tristan) when he was little was “I big”. Where many of the plot elements in Hoogie in the Middle are taken from real life, Tweezle’s story was wholly invented in my effort to play with the big/little opposition.

In this book, Tweezle helps a baby bird in need. Is this something you’ve experienced yourself? Is it something you want to draw attention to/feel passionate about?

It would be difficult not to feel passionate about helping little baby birds in distress, but the plot of Tweezle into Everything was wholly invented and not based on anything that happened in exactly that way in our family. That being said, we have certainly attempted rescue of various critters over the years: a baby rabbit our kids named Jack, baby mice and so on. The real life Tweezle (our now 17 year old son Tristan) actually did come home after a walk recently with an orphaned baby squirrel, cradled in a large, empty candy container he got from a store near where he found it. Fortunately, we have a wildlife expert who lives on the next street (nicknamed The Squirrel Lady) who was able to give us some advice. None of those situations had happy endings and we do have a few little graves in our back yard. So while Tweezle’s story is not based on a specific incident, the spirit of the story feels very much like our real life. I did want to make sure that the bird rescue in the story didn’t contradict what wildlife specialists would recommend and, thus, after mapping out the plot, I did some research to make sure Tweezle was doing the right thing.

What was your favourite part about writing Tweezle into Everything?

It was fun to shift the point of view to someone else within the family I created in Hoogie in the Middle. In the first book, of course, Hoogie was front and center. We knew how she was feeling, and Tweezle and Pumpkin were background characters for her to bounce off. With Tweezle into Everything, I got to shift the lens, pushing Hoogie back and Tweezle forward so now we could peek inside his head and see something surprising. I’m hoping readers find this fun too, especially now that they already know Hoogie and can apply their understanding of her to the way she acts towards Tweezle in this new story.

When you began writing this book, did you know what the ending would be?

When I started writing this book I didn’t even know what the beginning would be! Pumpkin’s story (although that manuscript is still to be edited) came much more easily. The arrival of a second child after the first has enjoyed the limelight for so many years (in our case, 3-1/2 years) is fairly traumatic for the eldest. There were many, many real life events I could draw on. By the time the third comes along, your whole household is just a zoo. Children outnumber the parents. You now have five personalities mixing, matching, colliding, jiving. It’s more difficult to separate the stories because you’re just one big happy mess together. With Tweezle, then, I didn’t find myself drawing on a specific event so much as my awareness that he was determined to be just as “big” and accomplished as anyone else in the family. I wanted to dream up a scenario where his actions would be misinterpreted by everyone because of their preconceptions about him (i.e. that he is the incapable “baby”), and then give him a chance to shatter those perceptions with his actions. (P.S. Tweezle/aka Tristan really did grow up to be big, currently towering over all of us at about 6’6”.)

Hoogie and Tweezle are nicknames for two of your own children. Do you have a nickname? Where did it come from?

I didn’t have a nickname myself, but you’re correct that each of our three children did. “Hoogie” is our middle child’s (Eryn’s) real nickname. I think it was my husband who came up with these funny little endearments, and he came to them honestly. There are ten kids in his family, and while they have pretty normal real names, I came to know them over the years by their nicknames: Honey Bear, Fiddler (Fidzie), McGeezie, Featherhead, Blackie, Chaino (Shmuggie), Cloddy and Miss Pretty. I’ve missed a couple, but you get the idea. Eryn was called, variously, Hoogie, Hoogs, The Hoogster and Mrs. Grumpbladder … the latter coming from a picture book we enjoyed when our kids were little called King Change-a-Lot by Babette Cole. The other names I used in the story (Tweezle for the baby boy and Pumpkin for Hoogie’s older sister) aren’t actually the real nicknames of our son (Tristan) and eldest daughter (Sarah). Because the text of Hoogie in the Middle is so sparse, I was conscious of the sound and melody of the language and wanted names that fit the cadence of the opening lines. This meant that I needed two-syllable names which had stress on the first syllable. Tweezle and Pumpkin are invented names. I’m not really sure where the name Tweezle came from although, in retrospect, it’s close to one of Tristan’s nicknames, Twister (or The Twister). The nickname Twister stemmed from Tristan’s third birthday which we held at a Go-Cart track with his many aunts and uncles. We set this up as the “Twister 3000 Race” complete with racing flags, trophies, etc. Mostly, though, we call him Shmoe (and where that name comes from I’ll never know). The older sister Pumpkin was originally called Munchkin when I submitted the story to Pajama Press. Publisher, Gail Winskill, and editor, Ann Featherstone, had me re-think that name given that “munchkin” sounded like the name of a youngest vs. an oldest. That made sense to me and Pumpkin seemed like a good replacement. Sarah’s real nickname, though, is Magoo (as in, “Sarah Magoo, we sure love you”). There were times she was also called “The Baby from L” (I’ll let you guess where that evolved from). And that’s probably more than you ever wanted to know about nicknames!

What is the best thing about writing for children?

There’s nothing I loved more than curling up with our kids and reading to them for hours on end. We have so many books in our household; so many favourites. The thing about the books we’ve read and re-read multiple times is that they’ve become part of our family history. When you think about a book you’ve shared, you generally remember not only the story itself, but also where you were when you read it and who you were with and what you felt at the time. When she was little, Eryn/Hoogie frequently wished for a special Time Machine that would allow her to rewind time, stop it, pause it … even fast forward and skip it the way you can do with a movie. We found that the books we shared together were a little like that. When Tristan (Tweezle) was little and I’d read him a worn out copy of an old favourite, Sarah (Pumpkin) and Eryn (Hoogie) would snuggle in to become part of the new reading of the book. We’d all get caught up in the story and all the time that had passed between then and our first reading evaporated for a minute. That’s what I love about being part of this industry and writing for children. I know how reading and sharing stories can change the way you feel, and make you feel like you’re part of something bigger. That’s what I want to do with my stories; be part of making family memories and be part of making people feel bigger than themselves.

Learn more about Stephanie at www.stephaniemclellan.com

Stephanie McLellan on the radio for Middle Child Day

Posted on August 23rd, 2013 by pajamapress

Did you know that Monday, August 12th was Middle Child Day? If you missed the occasion you can still celebrate by listening to some great middle child-themed radio.

Stephanie McLellan, author of Hoogie in the Middle, appeared on CBC’s  Metro Morning to talk about her book and about being a middle child. She was also interviewed on CBC’s Ontario Morning.

At Q107, Dominik Diamond, Ryan Parker, and Johnny Garbutt had a hilarious time reading Hoogie in the Middle and talking about it on the air.

And since every day is a good day to appreciate each other, why not show some love to a middle child in your life today? I’m sure they, like Hoogie, will feel “like the jelly in the middle of a donut…sweet.”

Alma Fullerton on Open Book Ontario

Posted on June 26th, 2013 by pajamapress

Alma Fullerton is an award-winning children’s author living in Midland, Ontario. Although she’s an accomplished visual artist, her newest book, Community Soup (Pajama Press), is the first book she’s illustrated herself. Directed towards children ages four to seven, Community Soup gives young Canadians a fun look at everyday life in a Kenyan village, including a mischievous herd of goats.

Today, Alma tells Open Book about why she writes for children and how she gets it all done.”

Click here to read the interview.

Video interview with Stephanie McLellan

Posted on June 14th, 2013 by pajamapress

Stephanie McLellan is the author of Hoogie in the Middle, published in May, 2013 by Pajama Press. In this interview she talks about writing, family, and being a middle child.

School Libraries in Canada interviews Sue MacLeod

Posted on June 6th, 2013 by pajamapress

In their current issue, School Libraries in Canada is exploring bringing the past into the future. How fitting, then, to interview Sue MacLeod, author of the time slip novel Namesake in which a library book does just that.

MacLeod explains how she came to write Namesake:

“It was actually Lady Jane Grey herself who compelled me. I read a book about her when I was ten or so, and she stayed with me. It occurred to me a long time ago – twenty years or more – that I wanted to write about her in a way that would link her story with that of a contemporary girl. So, a young adult time-slip novel emerged as a natural way to approach that.”

Click here to read the full interview.

Sylvia Gunnery interview in the Westman Journal

Posted on May 21st, 2013 by pajamapress

During her TD Canadian Children’s Book Week tour of Manitoba, Sylvia Gunnery (Emily For Real, 2012) had the opportunity to talk with Jordan Wasilka of the Westman Journal. The interview made the front page.

Here’s a sneak peek:

“‘The publishing industry is in a lot of trouble’ asserts the author, ‘but people still have faith in it. I think of Gail Winskill of Pajama Press – this company is three years old and she’s got terrific books on her list… there are people with big hearts and huge commitment and they’re doing it. They’re working so hard.'”

We regret that this link is no longer available.

Hoogie in the Middle Book Trailer

Posted on May 14th, 2013 by pajamapress

Hoogie in the Middle by Stephanie McLellan with illustrations by Dean Griffiths was released in Canada on May 1, 2013 (US publication forthcoming in August, 2013). Readers across the county are falling in love with the magenta middle monster who feels like the hole in the middle of a donut. But what is the real story behind Hoogie in the Middle? Click the link below to watch the trailer and find out.

Hoogie in the Middle Book Trailer

Sue MacLeod on Open Book Toronto

Posted on May 9th, 2013 by pajamapress

Don’t miss Open Book Toronto’s newest installment of “Five Things Literary.” Today, in honour of last week’s release of her debut novel Namesake, Sue MacLeod shares her favourite literary hotspots in the Eglinton West neighbourhood.

Check it out!

 

TD Canadian Children’s Book Week with Alma Fullerton and Sylvia Gunnery

Posted on May 6th, 2013 by pajamapress

Alma Fullerton

Two Pajama Press authors begin their TD Canadian Children’s Book Week tours today: Alma Fullerton in Alberta and Sylvia Gunnery in Manitoba. The Canadian Children’s Book Centre interviewed both of these wonderful authors before they left.

Click here to find out why Alma struggled to read as a child

Click here to find out what famous writer’s hometown Sylvia is excited to visit.

And then click here to learn more about the TD Canadian Children’s Book Week!

Sylvia Gunnery

Alma Fullerton is the author of two Pajama Press books: A Good Trade (2012) and the upcoming Community Soup (June 1, 2013). Her novels Libertad, Burn, Walking on Glass and In the Garage have earned her many awards.

Sylvia Gunnery is the author of Emily For Real (Pajama Press, 2012) and more than fifteen other novels for young people. A recipient of the Prime Minister’s Minister’s Teaching Award, she regularly gives presentations and writing workshops young people, inspiring them to write just as they have inspired her.