Dear fellow bloggers,
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Dear fellow bloggers,
Monday, March 28, 2011
Today I am pleased to have Lori Mortensen - www.lorimortensen.com - as a guest interviewee. A prolific and award-winning author who writes in a variety of genres for children, Lori Mortensen is also an instructor for The Institute of Children’s Literature.
Q: I loved the pictures you took while writing In the Trees, Honeybees. Was that your first time taking pictures for a book you wrote?
A: Thanks! Yes, that was the first time I’d taken photos for a writing project. Luckily, I’d taken photography classes in high school and college so I was confident I’d get something. The question was—what? It was thrilling to creep around the bee hives and see what I’d discover. I felt like Sherlock Holmes, except instead of holding a magnifying glass, I had a camera.
Q: In an article you wrote for Dawn Publications, you told how researching and writing a book about honeybees led you to discovering how interesting the bumblebees were in Fort Bragg. Have you started a book about bumblebees yet?
A: No, I haven’t, but that doesn’t mean I won’t down the road. To me, what’s exciting about writing is following wherever my curiosity takes me. Lately, I’ve been writing a lot of fiction. (In fact, I’ve got two rhyming picture books coming out Fall 2012. “Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg” with Clarion, and “Over the Moon,” with HarperCollins.) When I’ve finished this current stint of fiction, I’ll return to nonfiction again.
Q: Tina Vasquez wrote a wonderful review of Come See the Earth Turn: The Story of Leon Foucault in her blog, The Children’s Book Review. Since so much historical research as well as scientific explanation was involved, how long did it take for you to write this book?
A: Writing is always a lengthy process, and it’s especially true for nonfiction. This particular project took about two years. Once Tricycle (now Random House) bought it, it took another year to reach publication.
Q: What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A: As with most biographies written for children, one of the most challenging aspects is finding so much wonderful information and only being able to use a small portion of it in the finished product. Because of the limited word count, I must be very selective. In the end, I believe only the best remains. For this particular book, it was also challenging to take complex scientific ideas and explain them simply and clearly. A good example of this is the passage about the lathe. My editor and I went back and forth about the wording of this important passage.
Q: In the “about the author” bio for Come See the Earth Turn: The Story of Leon Foucault (via Powell’s Books), you mention your early exposure to the thrill of discovery from your chemist father’s experiments. Did he have a special lab at home? Or were these “kitchen” experiments he did?
A: Both. While my father often used equipment such as Bunsen burners, graduated cylinders, and test tubes in his garage “lab,” his experiments also found their way into the household—much to my mother’s dismay! Although she always supported my father’s investigative nature, she wasn’t a fan of weeds simmering on her stovetop or discovering—the hard way—that he’d disconnected the water hose to the washing machine for one of his experiments. Water went everywhere—lol
Q. While reading an ICL interview (March, 2009), I was surprised to learn that you didn’t have an agent. Is this still true?
A: Happily, no. I’ve got a wonderful agent, Kendra Marcus, with Bookstop Literary Agency.
Q: You’ve written a number of biographies for children -- Harriet Tubman: Hero of the Underground Railroad, Marie Curie: Prize-Winning Scientist, and George Washington Carver, Teacher, Scientist, and Inventor, to name a few. What sparks your interest in writing about a particular individual, as opposed, say, about someone else?
A: Yes, I love writing biographies. Interestingly, an editor at Picture Window Books asked me to write those books, so at first, I knew little about them. But when I delved into the research, I discovered each of them were fascinating, extraordinary people. As I found each nugget of information, I couldn’t wait to put it in the book for young readers to discover as well. For example, Marie Curie’s research exposed her to so much radiation, her notebooks are still radioactive today. (Who knew!?) George Washington Carver never accepted money for all of his work with peanuts. He felt God hadn’t charged him for the knowledge, so he wouldn’t either. (Extraordinary!) One of my favorite “finds” was a line written below Amelia Earhart’s yearbook picture—“the girl in brown who walks alone.” All of these tidbits, so small, but so telling. When I’m fascinated by a subject, I believe my readers will be too.
Q: In nonfiction, do you prefer historical subjects or scientific subjects? Or is your interest about fifty-fifty?
A: I don’t have a preference. I go wherever my curiosity takes me. In Foucault’s case it was both since he was historical and scientific.
Q: It seems you write everything, really: fiction, nonfiction, poems. Have you ever considered writing a poetry collection?
A: I have, but I haven’t put anything together yet. But who knows? I might down the road.
Q: In the Monsters, Mysterious Encounters, and Innovator Series, did KidHaven Press choose the subjects, or were they your choices?
A: An editor at KidHaven gave me a choice of titles and I selected what I thought were the most interesting.
Q: What do you think about leprechauns or basilisks? Any historical phenomena that might have inspired the folklore?
A: They’re fascinating subjects, aren’t they? The purpose of these series was to offer readers both sides of the coin so they could see the pros and cons of each position themselves. I think these particular books do a great job of that and encourage the readers to really think about the possibilities.
Q: You wear many writing-related hats! You also are an instructor for The Institute of Children’s Literature. How did you start teaching for them? And how much time to you spend wearing that particular hat?
A: I’ve been an instructor for The Institute of Children’s Literature since 2006. My work there is particular satisfying because I was once a student many years ago. Today, I spent about one day a week responding to student work.
Q: You have said you don’t illustrate your books. How did you start writing for the Stone Arch Graphic Novel series, and who illustrates those books?
A: Stone Arch Books is part of Capstone Press, which includes Picture Window Books. So as I worked with editors there, I also got opportunities to work with other editors on other projects. Rémy Simard illustrated my particular graphic novel books.
Q: In the Trees, Honeybees, won no less than seven awards. Come See the Earth Turn won a Mom’s Choice Award Honoring Excellence. Harriet Tubman: Hero of the Underground Railroad won a Bank Street College of Education's Best Children's Book of the Year Award in 2008. Has winning awards affected your approach to writing?
A: Winning an award is always nice, but it doesn’t influence my writing. Awards are elusive, so I write because I love what I’m writing about, not because of how it may be noticed or rewarded later on.
Q: Do publishers approach you now to write for them? Or do you simply shop around for an engaging subject to write about and then look for a publisher?
A: Yes to both. Sometimes editors contact me to work on certain projects. Other times, I work on my own projects and send them out through my agent.
Q: From interviews I’ve read, you seem a disciplined writer. Does writing get easier for you as you go along? Or is it always a new challenge?
A: I wish it did get easier—lol! What gets easier after all this time is that I’ll come up with something. I’m always amazed how I can start with a very ordinary idea (or let’s face — an awful idea!), and then through the process of revision, it turns into something wonderful. (At least that’s what I think when I’m done with it.)
Q: You’ve mentioned you belong to three writing groups. Are they for different genres? Any of them online? How often do they meet?
A: Two of them are online and are composed of wonderful writing friends I’ve made over the years. And yes, it’s very helpful for the group to be focused on the same genre—essential really. The other one is my local SCBWI group that meets every other month.
Q: What is the most important tip you would give a new writer?
A: Read the genre what you want to write and don’t give up. Persistence is what counts in the end.
Q: You’ve said you were interested in dancing, and taught dance education. Was this ballet? Tap? Did you ever perform professionally?
A: I began dancing in high school, and then earned my Bachelor Degree in Professional Dance at BYU with an emphasis on modern and jazz.. While I never joined an independent dance company, I toured with BYU and taught at high schools and community centers.
Q: Do you have any hobbies (outside of reading) that you turn to in order to “fill the well” and renew your creativity?
A: Lately, I’ve been making my own Greek yogurt, whole wheat bread, and sewing some clothes. I’ve found that getting away from the computer is just as important as sticking with it when I’m working on a project. Getting away puts everything into perspective.
Thank you for such a generous interview, Lori!
Come See the Earth Turn: The Story of Leon Foucault -- published through Random House/Tricycle Press 2010 In the Trees, Honey Bees! -- published by Dawn Publications, 2009
To learn more about Lori’s books, visit her website: www.lorimortensen.com
(Her personal contact information is also on her website.)
Friday, March 25, 2011
Thirteen-year-old Piper Davis’s brother, Hank, leaves for boot camp, to see the world via the Navy. Their older sister is in college. Their father is a pastor in the part of Seattle called Japantown. Piper’s biggest worries are whether her father will let her wear Tangee lipstick, and whether her crush on Bud will be returned. Despite Reverend Davis’s church activities, Piper is semi-oblivious to her neighborhood’s biases toward the Japanese.
Then Pearl Harbor is bombed. America enters the war. Japanese communities are evacuated. Families are sent to camps. When the families in Seattle’s Japantown are sent to the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Eden, Idaho, Piper’s father gets government permission to follow his congregation and remain their pastor at the new center.
Piper’s diary entries from 1941 to 1943 reflect her growing maturity. Worries for Hank’s safety in the Pacific mingle with her moral outrage at the treatment of Japanese families. With her camera, Piper becomes a witnesses to their steady dignity in the face of injustice. Tragedies and triumphs interweave throughout this book. Like Piper’s camera, Larson captures a shameful episode in our nation’s history.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Varadan
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
When I started writing seriously, I thought of myself as a short story writer and sometime poetess. I belonged to writing groups that mostly critiqued short stories and flash fictions, and I even got some of my work published. I was still teaching at the time, so many of my stories, for obvious reasons, took place in summer settings -- a lot of hot August afternoons and warm July mornings. Then I took a year's sabbatical to see if I really did want to retire early in order to write. Ah, it was wonderful to have a whole year in which to write! For one thing, at last a story could take place in, say, February or October.
Friday, March 18, 2011
I have mentioned before on this blog that I review Children's, Tweens, and YA books for Sacramento Book Review.
By Graeme Base
Abrams Books For Young Readers, $19.95, 46 pages
Wilbur’s favorite tale is the one of the Golden Snail who was made captive by a Grand Enchanter before being banished to the Ends of the Earth. There the Golden Snail awaits a new master who can sail to the site and utter a magic spell. Wilbur decides he is just that person. Off he sails on his little boat, with his mother’s reminder to wear his hat.
But Wilbur has a kind nature. On the way to the Ends of the Earth, kind deeds slow him down from his quest. He suspects he’s not much of a Grand Enchanter after all. When he encounters the Dreadful Doldrums and the Slithering Sea and the Maze of Madness, he discovers those kind deeds have not been wasted. Further surprises await him at the Ends of the Earth, where he finds the Golden Snail is not quite the snail he expected.
Graeme Base’s text flows. His illustrations are magical. It is easy to suspend disbelief as Wilbur encounters fantastical creatures on his voyage. It is easy to believe Wilbur’s discovery of what makes him really special.
Monday, March 14, 2011
I have read all of the thirteen tales in Edgar Allen Poe's Tales of Mystery and Terror. The first tale, The Sphinx, had somewhat of an O. Henry ending. The narrator was terrified by something that merely turned out to be an exotic insect seen at an odd perspective that magnified it. But most of the tales do, indeed, deal with terror and horror.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
In response to a February 28th post on Carrie Keeps Typing , according to The Illinois Libary Project of 1941, March is the month to read the books you've always meant to read. So Carrie suggested readers pick a book they've always meant to read and read it this month. I actually picked an author: Edgar Allan Poe. I have a slender volume of his stories, Tales of Mystery and Terror (including The Fall of the House of Usher0, and a slender volume of his poems, The Raven and Other Favorite Poems.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
I have been busy going through manuscripts that have been sitting in the filing cabinet too long while I wrote on my WIP. They called to me, accusing me of neglect and abandonment, to the point that my WIP said, "Oh, all right, go take care of them, I'll still be here when you get back."