Monday, April 20, 2015

An Interview with Caroline Stellings

Author extraordinaire . . .

I became acquainted with Caroline Stellings through a review I wrote of her book, The Manager, an engrossing tale about boxing with quirky, captivating characters. You can read the review at The Children's Book Review HERE .  The Children's Book Review is an award winning, online, book review site endorsed last year by the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association.  
          The Manager, published by Cape Breton University Press in 2013, is a young adult novel that won the Hamilton Literary Award for Fiction.  Carolyn Stellings' middle-grade novel The Contest (published in the USA by Seventh Generation) won the ForeWord Book of the Year gold medal in 2010. Her teen mystery, The Scratch on the Ming Vase -- which I'm reading right now and loving -- was published by Second Story Press and was included in the Canadian Children's Book CenCentre's 2013 Spring edition of  Best Books for Kids and Teens . She also writes and illustrates picture books.

Humor and boxing . . .

Anne of Green Gables,
look out!

First in an exciting mystery
series . . .

It’s my pleasure to have this award-winning author as my interview guest today. I’ll get right to it:

EV: Have you always been interested in writing? When did you first get into it seriously?
CS: Well, it was nearly 20 years ago, and I was in a PhD program at McMaster University, but stumbled upon a book about the life of the famous illustrator from Vermont, Tasha Tudor. She, of course, has done numerous stories about her corgies, and I decided then and there to quit the academics and write books about my dogs, which have always been Schipperkes. These are little black sailing dogs from Belgium, and very smart. First, though, I had to learn how to do watercolors.

EV: You write both YA fiction and picture books. Do you favor one of them over the other, or do you enjoy them equally?
CS: I love the picture books because they feature animal characters, not only my Schipperkes, but I have also done a series of mice books, and recently, my book about a fortune-telling cat, Gypsy’s Fortune (published by Peanut Butter Press) was chosen as a Best Bet in Canada, one of the top ten picture books of the year. I think everyone liked the traditional fortune cookie sayings! Novels are more difficult, but I have enjoyed doing a mystery series because I am a big fan of Nancy Drew.

EV: Do you approach the two genres differently? If so, what are some special challenges of each?
CS: The biggest challenge with the picture books, for me, is the art. I was not lucky enough to be born with artistic talent; in fact, it took me years to learn to paint. With the novels, the challenges come at that stage when the publisher assigns an editor. She then goes over the book piece by piece, and there is a lot of re-writing to do. 
          With The Secret of the Golden Flowerthe second book in my Nicki Haddon mystery series, my wonderful editor really worked hard to get it right. Nicki, the main character, is a female Chinese James Bond, and anytime a book has a number of clues, etc. the editing can take almost as much time as writing the book in the first place.

EV: Do you have any favorites among the books you’ve written?
CS: My two Skippers books, Skippers at Cape Spear and Skippers Save the Stone because they are about my dogs.

EV: Can you describe your writing process? Do you plot ahead of time? Become haunted by a theme or idea? Start with a character and then see where that leads?
CS: It usually takes me a few months to decide on my next project. Those are the months when my house is the cleanest, because I find it easier to wash floors than face the blank page. Once an idea hits, then my house isn’t so clean, because I can’t tear myself away from the computer.
         I always seem to know what my ending will be, and then I sketch out a basic plot, and a few sentences for each chapter. This inevitably changes, of course, once the characters start developing minds of their own and bossing me around.
         Sometimes, a book requires research. With The Manager I had to learn about boxing. Even though the book is a comedy, and boxing is just in the background, I still had to know it, right down to the last jab.

EV: The research really showed. I felt the world of boxing come alive when I read it. What was your inspiration for The Manager?
CS: One hot summer night, when I couldn’t sleep, I watched a movie called The Station Agent starring Peter Dinklage, an achondroplastic dwarf, and a fantastic actor. I fell in love with him, and decided I had to write a YA novel with a dwarf character. I wound up with a female lead, but never stopped thinking about that film. Nothing much happens in that film, but thanks to the superb actors, it haunts you for a long time.

EV: What were some of your favorite books while growing up?
CS; The Wind in the Willows was my favorite illustrated book, and then Nancy Drew when I was a bit older. Later, of course, it was Tasha Tudor’s books, and Corgiville Fair is a masterpiece.

EV: What is the best piece of writing advice you ever received?
CS: I keep this piece of advice on a sticky note on the front of my computer at all times: SOMEONE MUST WANT SOMETHING ON EVERY PAGE. 

EV: Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
CS: 1.) Don’t invent a book, experience a book and then write it.  2.) Don’t tell the reader anything; make the reader feel everything instead.

EV: What are you working on now, or can you say?
CS: I am starting a western, set in 1857 Utah Territory. Because I must learn the time period, speech, clothing, etc. I am taking longer than usual with the preparatory stages, but enjoying it. And I hope to begin editing a novel I have written about Janis Joplin called Saskatoon Blues. She came to Canada just before she died in 1970 to ride the Festival Express, and when the musicians aboard the train ran out of liquor, they made an unscheduled stop in Saskatchewan. That is where my story begins!  There‘s only one problem with writing about Janis Joplin – she steals every scene she is in!

EV: Ah . . . Janis Joplin. I can believe she would. When oldies-but-goodies come on my car's radio, she outshines all the other singers the DJ plays.

Caroline. It’s been such a pleasure to learn more about you and your work. Thank you for sharing all this.

Thank you so much, Elizabeth!

EV: Readers can find more about Caroline Stellings and her books at:

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Student Art Show - At Last

          I promised pictures of my students' art exhibit, and here they finally are. The exhibit went up March 14th, and it's coming down tomorrow so that I can pass back the art pieces Thursday (our last class this year.) The art club is one of the great joys of my life, and I am especially grateful to the South Natomas Community Center on Truxel (Sacramento) for supporting these classes, and to University Art Store on J and 26th Streets for holding the exhibit this year. We had a little reception on the opening day (punch and cookies) and whole families turned out to see it. The students are normally 8-to-12-year-olds, but this year I had one 7-year-old and two 13-year-olds.    
          Enjoy: (I've only named the artists - all others are "sib", "sis", parent, etc.)

Danielle, Edgar & their father

Claire (center), mother & grandm.

Karla (center) with sib & friend

Yaritza (right) w. mother & sibs.

Antonio (2nd fr.  left) w. parents & sibs.

Kailee (right),  mother & sis

Maya (in red), Ella ( in pink), parents 

Brennan and mother

Angeline (center), parents, sibs,
and grandmother

Savannah (center), mother (right), and
Emily (left) 
Miranda and mother

Madison (2nd from right) and mother
(next to her), grandmother & sib.

Kiley and mother

Ian (left), sis, and father.
(Older sis, Kate, artist, was absent)
Erica (in red), Vanessa (in front of her),
mother (right) grandmother (left) and
youngest sister.
Kiley (left), Emma, (middle),
and Madison (right)

Alyssa and father

Reina (right) sisters and mother

And that's it -- for another year.
I hope you enjoyed
meeting them and
seeing their work.