Vera Brosgol is the creator of Anya’s Ghost, a young adult graphic novel about Anya, a teenage girl who wants nothing more than to be normal. When Anya falls down a well and meets the ghost of a girl who died a century ago, she quickly discovers that her new friend can help her with her social life and her schoolwork. As is always the case, this friendship is more complicated than she initially realizes.

Vera was kind enough to answer seven questions for me for the SBBT.

Why did you choose to create Anya’s Ghost in black and white?

I honestly didn’t think it needed color. Full-color can really add a lot to a story especially when it takes place in an interesting location or fantastic world, but for this particular one I feel like it would’ve been superfluous. The monochromatic palette served the mood of the story, I think. And it would’ve made the coloring take twice as long.

In addition to creating comics and graphic novels, you are a professional animator. In Anya’s Ghost and the art on your website, you create a sense of movement in still images. How do the skills required for comics and animation overlap?

I’m actually a story artist rather than an animator, though I went to school for animation.  [K: My bad!]  In college I learned that the part of the process I enjoyed the most was the storyboarding part, so that’s what I went into. I didn’t have the patience for animating! I think animation made me a much faster and more flexible artist – when you have to do thousands of drawings you can’t fuss with them too much. It also taught me how to be efficient in communicating with a drawing. I started focusing less on making a pretty picture and more on telling some kind of story with it. That definitely carried over into my illustration and comics work. I feel like the same part of my brain gets used for storyboarding and comics.

Like you, Anya came to America at the age of 5. A lot of Anya’s concerns over her appearance and behavior are magnified by the fact that she comes from a Russian family. How do you think having this extra level of being different affects common teenage concerns?

It’s just one more thing making life difficult. Anything that makes you in any way different from everyone else makes you a target, and when your skin is bad and your clothes are fitting weird you don’t want to pile anything else on top of that. I didn’t have a hard time about being Russian but I was constantly aware that my home life didn’t exactly match that of my friends, and a part of me definitely wished it did. Of course it depends on where you live. I went to a high school in Brooklyn where there was a huge immigrant population and being from another country didn’t cause problems – at most it just dictated what group you’d be friends with.

While Anya’s worries are common to most teenagers, Anya’s Ghost adds a supernatural element to issues of friendship and peer pressure. What do you think is powerful about using the supernatural to tell this kind of story?

Part of the reason I added the paranormal element to the story was to make it more fun for me! Regular old school drama is all well and good but I don’t really get excited unless there’s something weird or creepy going on. And Emily served as a way to reflect all of Anya’s bad traits back at her, so that she could get a good honest look at herself. That would’ve been possible to do with a non-ghost character but it made sense for me to do that with someone who literally didn’t have a life of their own.

On your website, you feature fan art for other works such as Scott Pilgrim and The Hunger Games. Who are some of your favorite artists and writers? What about their work inspires you?

I’m a big fan of Fred Moore and Earl Oliver Hurst, both of whom drew lovely lady illustrations. Jillian Tamaki is one of my favorite modern illustrators – I love her embroidered Penguin covers and her amazing ink work. There’s a Czech illustrator named Stepan Zavrel who did the most amazing watercolors – I’d love to get some of that looseness into my own work. And I’m friends with some phenomenal artists – Jon Klassen, Chris Turnham, Steve Wolfhard, Emily Carroll… so I am constantly inspired by them. Writer-wise, I really like Haruki Murakami’s books. Before that I read Dracula and Geek Love. Right now I’m working through the Song of Ice & Fire books. I usually want to draw a picture to go along with whatever I’m reading just to get it out of my head!

A lot of your art, such as your collaborative Tumblr blog Draw this dress! and your many circus-themed pieces, draws on vintage imagery. What is it about these images from the past that appeals to you?

I love fashion. I wanted to be a fashion designer when I was little (as well as an animator and a children’s book illustrator and probably a vet or something). Though really I think what I meant was costume design – I love anything that tells a story and clothes can absolutely do that. Vintage clothes tell you about the kind of person who wore them, what their life was like, what was going on in the world at the time… it’s really easy and fun to insert a character into them, which is what Draw This Dress is all about. Modern fashion can be a lot of fun too but there’s definitely more variety if you’re borrowing from the past.

When you were in high school, you created the webcomic Return to Sender. What did you learn from this experience that has helped you in your career?

Haha! I kind of learned what not to do. I did that comic before school and the whole thing was a very fussily-drawn, poorly-planned experiment. I generally knew where the story was going but putting it up online one page at a time was not the best way to do tell it – once a page was up it was up, there was no going back and reworking things to improve the story. Maybe for a comic strip that would’ve been okay but I was essentially trying to make a graphic novel. It reached a point where it had gotten sloppy and I got too busy with school to deal with fixing it so I just stopped. I’m much more careful with plotting now and try to think of a book as a whole, rather than a series of installments. And I stopped using those darn Micron pens!

Thanks, Vera!

The blog tour for The Secret Journeys of Jack London: The Wild kicks off today with an interview with the authors over at Bildungsroman.

The Secret Journeys of Jack London Blog Tour
For the next two weeks, authors Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon will be traveling through the blogs of YA/kidlit bloggers who are also teachers, librarians, and/or adventurers. Each tour stop will offer an exclusive piece of art from Greg Ruth, whose stunning illustrations give life to the characters, locations, and beasts throughout the book. Follow the tour:

Monday, February 28th
Little Willow at Bildungsroman

Tuesday, March 1st
Kiba Rika (Kimberly Hirsh) of Lectitans

Wednesday, March 2nd
Kim Baccellia from Si, Se Puede! and Young Adults Book Central

Thursday, March 3rd
Melissa Walker, author of Small Town Sinners

Friday, March 4th
Justin from Little Shop of Stories

Monday, March 7th
Rebecca’s Book Blog

Tuesday, March 8th & Wednesday, March 9th
Martha Brockenbrough, author of Things That Make Us [Sic]

Help spread the word about this exciting new series. Download the electronic press kit for THE SECRET JOURNEYS OF JACK LONDON.

Jo Knowles is a writer of many dimensions. She does freelance work, a large part of which is for educational use, teaches at Simmons College, and helped an incarcerated woman achieve her dream of becoming a published writer. Her first novel, Lessons from a Dead Girl, was published in October 2007, and her next, Jumping Off Swings, will be released on August 11 of this year.

Jo was kind enough to answer some questions for me as part of the Summer Blog Blast Tour.

In Lessons from a Dead Girl, Laine’s sister Christi and Leah’s sister Brooke are usually present, though not featured prominently. In your bio on your website you say that your sister read to you and that even now when you read your sister’s voice is often the one you hear. How has having a sister influenced your writing?

Growing up, my sister influenced me in lots of ways. She did everything first, and I followed. I remember when she went to college and took a creative writing class, she’d call me at home and read her stories to me and I would think: Someday, I want to write like that. I wish my sister would take up writing again because I know she would be a star.

One of the most important scenes in Lessons from a Dead Girl features Laine and Leah teaming up in a horse show. How did your own experience with having horses and a pony as a child influence this scene?

Well, like Lucky, my own pony, Smoky, was ornery, old, small and sort of embarrassing. But he was mine and I adored him. He was so tiny he fit in the front of my friend’s horse trailer where you’re supposed to store the hay and stuff, so even though I’d give him a bath and get him all pretty, he’d end up a dusty mess by the time we got to the various 4-H shows we went to.

Like Laine, I felt pretty out of place at those shows among all the fancy horses, but I also felt a little pride in being there, too. It felt good to mix things up. And I was grateful to my friend’s parents for letting my pony hitch a ride in their trailer. But unlike Laine, I got to keep the ribbons I won. 🙂

In earlier interviews at Cynsations and Debbi Michiko Florence’s blog, you talk about the timeline for publication of Lessons from a Dead Girl. How does that compare with the timeline for the publication of your second book, Jumping Off Swings?

Well, once again it’s a fairly long timeline, because at some point I stopped submitting SWINGS to work on other projects. There were certain pieces of the story that just weren’t working, and I really needed to set it aside for a long time before I could look at it with fresh eyes to figure out what the problems were. Ellie’s chapters were originally written in free-verse, and I don’t think that worked so well. I also totally re-worked Caleb’s mom and Josh’s dad, thanks to my editor’s suggestions. Sometimes, hard as it is, you just can’t rush the process. Or at least I’ve learned that’s true for me.

In addition to writing fiction, you are also a freelance non-fiction writer. What is the most interesting thing you’ve had to write about as a freelancer? What is the hardest?

I wrote a nonfiction book for teens about Huntington’s Disease and that was by far the most interesting project I’ve worked on. Part of the assignment was to write about a famous person who had the disease, so I read Elizabeth Partridge’s biography of Woody Guthrie (This Land Was Made for You and Me), which was amazing. As far as the hardest thing, I’d say writing about chronic illness or potentially fatal diseases. Knowing that your readers are probably going to be people who’ve just found out they or a loved one has the disease can put a lot of pressure on you to get it right and to be positive, but realistic. You want to make sure your words motivate your readers to take care of themselves, but you also don’t want to scare or depress them. For the most part, I really enjoy learning new things with each project, and also knowing that hopefully the work is going to help people.

You’ve said in interviews that you are more of a "pantser": you finish the first draft of a book before outlining it. How does this compare to your process for writing non-fiction?

It’s almost the exact opposite, actually. Most of the time, I receive a “research report” from the marketing team, listing the key points they want me to cover, so I usually use this list to form an outline. With writing nonfiction on a very short deadline, I can’t afford the luxury of going down dead ends. I have to be as efficient as possible. So, I start with a page by page outline, organize my research and dig in.

You have kept a LiveJournal since 2004. How has that affected your experience as a professional writer?

Oh, in so many wonderful ways. I’ve met TONS of friends through LJ. Many I’ve gone on to meet in person. There is a wonderful writers’ community in LJ that has helped me during what seem like countless ups and downs over the past five years. When I moved to Vermont five years ago, I left many close friends and a strong writing community. Then, two months after we moved, my brother died. I was already feeling quite isolated, so add to that the extreme grief I was suffering and the isolation became almost unbearable . I finally decided to start an LJ account in hopes that it would help me keep in touch with the small handful of friends I knew who had accounts. As I made more connections, I felt a new community growing up around me. Even though it’s “virtual” I’ve met enough of my online friends in person to know they are all real and wonderful, nurturing people.

You try to read a book a week and recommend that aspiring authors do the same. How do you decide which books to read? What are your sources for book recommendations?

Well, my friends’ books are my first priority, so I always try to keep up with those. But I also like to read books that are getting lots of buzz, so I can stay in the loop. 🙂 I love my agent’s taste as well, so whenever he says he likes a book, I try to get right on it. My to-be-read pile is always overflowing, which is fine by me. I know a lot of people who read a book a day, but I’m a slow reader. 🙂

Thanks so much for the interview, Jo!

Today’s SBBT schedule:
Barbara O’Connor at Mother Reader
James Kennedy at Fuse Number 8
Maggie Stiefvater at Writing & Ruminating
Rosemary Clement-Moore at Bildungsroman
Jo Knowles at lectitans
Melissa Wyatt at Chasing Ray

Don’t forget the Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Boys!

I met Amber Benson once.  It was in February 2001, at a Buffy the Vampire Slayer Posting Board Party.  She was talking to a friend of mine, and thinking she must have been one of the regular posters whom I knew and seeing her in profile, I walked right up to her and put my arm around her shoulders as though we’d known each other since the dawn of time.

Then I realized who she was, and was pretty much in awe that she hadn’t thrown my arm off her shoulder and been all, “We’ve never met.  Please don’t touch me.”  Because that’s probably what I would have done, had I been in her situation.  Instead, she engaged me in a very pleasant conversation.

Amber Benson is both lovely and multi-talented, and thanks to Little Willow of Bildungsroman, she agreed to be one of my interviewees for the Summer Blog Blast Tour this year.  While Amber is best-known (among my friends, anyway) for playing Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she has many other credits to her name, including authoring two novels with Christopher Golden (Ghosts of Albion: Accursed and Ghosts of Albion: Astray) and her first solo novel, Death’s Daughter, published this year.

For more information about Amber, visit The Essence of Amber.  For more information about Death’s Daughter, visit the book’s website.

My interviews almost always run exactly seven questions, so here are the seven Amber was kind enough to answer for me:

You have written for several media: film, comic books, theatre, online animation, and novels.  What is your favorite thing about each medium?

I love writing plays because they are all about dialogue (one of my fav things ever) and imagination.  If you have talented actors, they can take you anywhere without ever leaving the confines of a plain, black stage.   Comic books and animated/live action film have a similar draw for me.  You work heavily with dialogue, but then you also get to describe all the great action/set pieces that your characters get to play around in/with.  Prose is the most challenging thing for me.  It incorporates all of the stuff in the other mediums, but then it also adds the element of getting inside the inner monologue of your character/s.  For me, writing novels is a real balancing act, but a very rewarding one, too!

How does your experience as an actress inform your writing process?

I think being an actor makes me more aware of character and dialogue.  That’s the stuff I’m drawn to as an actor and I think it only informs my writing and makes it better.

Much of your writing has been in genres related to the supernatural.  What about that type of story appeals to you?

A good story is a good story, whether you’re reading Dostoevsky or Heinlein.  Still, the thing I have always liked about fantasy/scifi is that you can tell a story without preaching or getting up on a soapbox.  You can deal with very topical subject matter, but throw it into an alternate world and no one gets offended.  It’s really freeing.  [For more on this subject, see my interview with Sonja Foust; she feels the same way Amber does.]

Your first solo novel, Death’s Daughter, was released recently.  How did writing this alone differ from working with Christopher Golden on the Ghosts of Albion novels?

Writing by myself was really scary at first because I didn’t have anyone to fall back on if I got stuck with a scene or a charcter’s motivation, but as I got further into the writing process, it got much less daunting.  Writing with Chris is awesome – and a lot of fun.  He really taught me all I know about writing prose.  Actually, I feel like I went to Chris Golden’s: Writing 101.  He enjoyes the written word and imparted that joy to me!

The Ghosts of Albion novels are Victorian horror, with a sort of Gothic feel to the prose and a distinct voice that fits in with that time period.  Death’s Daughter is a very modern novel with a more chick-lit feel.  What was it like to make that change?

I love writing in different voices.  If I was writing in the same world/voice for more than a few books without any relief, I would get horribly bored.  Mixing things up genre and voice/world wise keeps things fresh and interesting for me.

What are your favorite books, comic books, or graphic novels?

Graphic novel: Blankets by Craig Thompson
Comic book: Sock Monkey by Tony Millionaire
Novel: The Idiot by Dostoevsky

So, you’re an actress, singer, director, producer, and writer.  What do you think you’ll do next?

I am working on a middle grade book book called “The New Newbridge Academy” and I just co-directed a film with Adam Busch called “Drones”.  I am trying to stay as busy as possible and never have vacation! J/K!  🙂

Thank you Amber so much for this interview!

Stay tuned here at lectitans, as I’ll be reviewing all three of Amber’s novels over the next few weeks.

Today’s SBBT Schedule:
Maya Ganesan at Miss Erin
Amber Benson at lectitans
Carolyn Hennesy at Bildungsroman
Jo Knowles at Hip Writer Mama
Sherri Winston at Finding Wonderland

Don’t forget the Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Boys!

If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to my feed so you will get my other interview posts.

Author Dia Calhoun took the time to answer some questions for the Winter Blog Blast Tour. 

All of your books have plots that seem intensely personal: Aria of the Sea takes its inspiration from your difficult choice of pursuing a career as a dancer; Avielle of Rhia deals with your own despair in the face of terrorism; the Firegold series is inspired by your in-laws’ orchard and your interest in uniting the creative self and the practical self; and, most personal of all, The Phoenix Dance addresses the issue of mental illness, bipolar illness in particular. Do you find writing therapeutic? How does writing help you make sense of your every day life?
 
What a good insight! I think my writing does come out of things that I am trying to sort through in my own life. For example, in White Midnight I explore a Rose’s intense desire and dream to own land that she has a spiritual relationship with, land that she loves. I have this same desire. I think the best writing comes out of passion, something that inspires intense feelings in the author, and that often comes from personal emotional experience. My characters are also able to work things through in ways that I cannot, and become who I wish I could be. Rose does come to own her own land. And take Avielle, in Avielle of Rhia, for instance. By the end of the book she has acquired the “Magnificent Heart.” She has one shining magnificent moment where she no longer hates and fears the terrorists. Instead, she wishes for their hearts to be opened. I wish I could have a moment like that. And through Avielle, I can. My characters let me live life in a transformative way.
 
 While your books are personal, they also have universal themes and have been called “classic.” How do you think fantasy settings affect authors’ and readers’ interactions with universal themes such as choosing a calling, dealing with fear, and struggling to find one’s own place in the world?
 
This is difficult to answer. All I can say is I think that the more intensely personal and particular you become in your writing, the more universal you become. The universal is found through the particular. Fantasy, because it so often speaks through archetypes, shoots to the heart of what is universal. Take dealing with fear, for example. Fantasy can conjure up the vast and powerful darkness lurking in all of us through such particulars as magic objects, evil wizards, dread powers, and horrible landscapes. All of these are doorways to the subconscious mind where the deepest fear–and the deepest understanding–lurks. Fantasy brings the inner world out into the light, where we can then examine it with understanding and compassion, and then gain new insight into ourselves and our world.
 
In your school visits, you teach students how to write fantasy. What about the fantasy genre appeals to you especially?
 
 Fantasy opens vistas in my spirit. I feel that fantasy speaks directly to my subconscious mind, where images and connections are born. It takes me deep inside myself as a writer. I love venturing into unknown lands. And I love the relationship between magic and the spirit. In all my books, magic is the ultimate source of the hero’s true knowledge about herself. The magic calls, reveals, and finally, illuminates.
 
  When you make your school visits, you take your “Fantasy Toolbox” with you and utilize physical objects to help students create stories. Would you talk a bit about the kind of exercise you might do, and why you use the physical objects rather than just using words?
 
 In my middle school visits, I teach a fantasy writing workshop where kids learn about the elements of a fantasy story. Kids love the “Fantasy Toolbox.” The props inside help me to illustrate my points. For instance, I put on a villain’s hat when I am talking about the role of the villain. I wear a cape when I talk about the role of the hero. And I throw a stuffed dragon into the room when I talk about obstacles. This is really a form of theater, and the props keep the kids interested. They are always wondering what is going to come out of the toolbox next. This is so much fun for me and the kids.
 
 
What is the best part of visiting schools? Do you have any anecdotes about particularly memorable school visits?
 
The best part of visiting schools is that I actually get to see and interact with my readers. Writing is such a solitary pursuit. I love seeing the kids, feeling their energy, hearing their questions. And it is great for kids to get to see a real author and realize that an author is just an ordinary person like them. This helps them to understand that they can be writers, too.
Once, as I was leaving a school after a visit, a boy ran up to me and asked me to sign his baseball! I felt as if I had truly arrived! I’ll never forget that.
 
 
What kind of books do you enjoy reading?
 
I read all kinds of books. Lots of middle grade and YA. Fantasy, contemporary, historical. Some recent books that I have loved are SOLD by Patricia McCormick, THE FIRST PART LAST by Angela Johnson, THE THIEF by Megan Whelan Turner, SAINT IGGY by K.L. Going, DRAGON’S KEEP by Janet Lee Carey, and ON POINTE by Lorie Ann Grover. I am just starting GIRL OVERBOARD by Justina Chen Headley.
 
 
You are a founding member of readergirlz. Why is it important for girls and young women to see strong female characters in the books they read?
 
 In these days when women still earn less than men, when being a size one is the standard for beauty, when women are still under-represented in many fields, it is critical for girls to read about strong female characters. They need to see that girls and women can be powerful, as forces for change, especially. In books, girls can start out timid and become brave; the reader can see them transforming and transform along with them. That is why we—the readergirlz divas/authors Janet Lee Carey, Lorie Ann Grover, Justina Chen Headley, and me—have made it the mission of readergirlz to promote strong female characters.
 
Thanks so much for the interview!        

Back this summer when we did Recommendations from Under the Radar, I wrote about Kerry Madden’s Maggie Valley trilogy. Kerry was kind enough to answer some questions for me for the Winter Blog Blast Tour. Here’s the interview!
 
You write in several modes: essayist, fiction author, playwright, journalist.  Are there any techniques that you use consistently, regardless of what you’re writing?
 
I think voice is a huge part of how I get started or I’ll think of an opening line. In Gentle’s Holler, however, it was action – I knew I wanted to open with a girl in the red maple tree and a new baby sleeping in a drawer. With my essays, it’s usually something that I have to write because it’s timely. I recently wrote an essay about my annoying neighbor with barking dogs who shouts, “It’s a free country” as an excuse for bad behavior. I began that essay with: “IT’S 1 A.M., AND THE DOGS next door are barking again.” But with a play, it’s always a line of dialogue…After 9/11 my father declared, “Just because Osama Bin Laden rides a camel doesn’t mean I have to, by God!” And that line opened my play “Chattanooga Flamenco.”
 
You moved a lot as a kid.  Do you think this has had a particiular influence on your writing?  If so, how?
 
Absolutely. I was very shy, tall, and awkward, and I listened hard to the way kids talked so I could attempt to fit in a tiny bit. On each moving day, (when I refused to get into the car) my father informed me that I would forget the town and all the people I knew – I disagreed. And out of pure defiance, I vowed not to forget, and in each new football town, I poured my heart out in letters to friends left behind, blasting pitiful music so the rest of the family could feel the suffering eminating from my room. (What a pill I was!) My mom always got us a library card in each new place and she would say, “You’re so tough! You’ll make new friends, Kerry Elizabeth! I know it!” She was a born cheerleader, and I was the sullen daughter. 
 
On your website, you talk a lot about how it is important for children to tell their own stories.  Why is this especially important to you?  What benefits do you think children get from telling stories?
 
I had a fourth grader teacher who told me I was a good writer. Typically, teachers told me “Aren’t you big and tall?” “Good night, what a tomboy!” “Don’t you listen well at church like a good girl!” When this teacher said I was a good writer, it meant something. It mattered. So it’s something I try to give back to kids to let them know that they have stories inside them too. I also tell them about Eddie, a short boy in my sixth grade class who humiliated me on a regular basis – and a tiny bit of Eddie went into my first novel, OFFSIDES. Not long ago, Eddie read OFFSIDES and wrote to me to apologize. So I tell the kids that stories they are living now will feed their books down the road – whether they are love, revenge or adventure stories. The kids seem to like this…
 
What about Maggie Valley drew you to set Gentle’s Holler, Louisiana’s Song, and Jessie’s Mountain there?
 
I love the Smoky Mountains. We were flat broke when I was writing GENTLE’S HOLLER, and I wanted to spend time in my head in a place that was beautiful. I had no idea I would get to write two more Maggie Valley stories. It’s an area I know well having lived in North Carolina and East Tennessee, and I love the people. I also tried imagine my husband growing up with twelve siblings. All of that fed into Maggie Valley settings…then I found out that Ghost Town in the Sky opened the year I wanted to set my novel, so it was perfect to have Emmett, the big brother, long to run off and be a gunslinger at Ghost Town.
 
You do a lot of school visits.  What is the best part of visiting schools?  Do you have any anecdotes about particularly memorable school visits?
 
There are so many stories. Last week, I did a school visit at Sewanee Elementary in Sewanee, Tennessee, and a first grader was fascinated by my husband having 12 siblings. He shouted, “12! 12! That’s 7 plus 5. That’s so many! Did you hear that? Seven sisters? Five brothers? What the heck?” He slapped his forehead, and the teacher had to calm him down. He was so funny. An older boy (8th grade in Waynesvillve, NC) couldn’t believe I’d let him write about bass fishing. He’d been forced to attend my workshop, and warned me, “Lady, I am not a ‘rider!'” (writer) Then he wrote a great piece about fishing, nightcrawers, and bragging. I try to help them see that they can write about what they know and love – what matters to them.
 
Livy Two’s voice is very true to that of a precocious child.  It doesn’t sound like an adult’s attempt to sound like a kid.  How do you preserve that child’s voice in your writing?
 
Her voice was just in me…I was a kid who kept her mouth shut in public, but I would get passionate in my own home, driving everyone crazy. I also keep scraps of a journal in my character’s voice and this helps me find the rhythm and language. And in Jessie’s Mountain, Livy Two is older so she’s changed from the first two books, and this happened naturally. I couldn’t keep her ten when she was thirteen – a huge difference in a girl’s life.
 
When you were a senior in college at the University of Tennessee, you pretended that year in Knoxville was a year abroad.  Do you still pretend now?  What kinds of things do you pretend?
 
I do pretend…last week, I drove the backroads of Alabama with my husband, and we stopped to pick black-eyed susans and hackberry branches to give to one of my favorite authors, Mary Ward Brown, who wrote: IT WASN’T ALL DANCING and TONGUES OF FLAME. I picked the flowers and stared out at the fields of cotton blossoms – a train roared in the distance. I felt like it could have been 1930 or 1950. There is a timelessness out in the country, and I imagined Truman Capote or Harper Lee in the backseat of some old Ford as kids driving the same back roads in a car full of relatives. When my daughter, Norah, (now 8) and I stayed for a few weeks in the Smoky Mountains, I watched her play, chasing lightning bugs, listening for the family of groundhogs who lived under the cabin…It felt like the rest of the world was so far away, so I tried imagine what it would be like to be a woman raising kids in a mountain holler…I love getting away from my day-to-day adult life. I’ve been so lucky to have my own three children who love to dress up, bicker, play, cause trouble, and love…I want my stories to have love and hope. Another favorite writer of mine, Kathryn Tucker Windham, said she was raised on the four L’s: “Listening, learning, laughing, and loving.” I hope I give a little of that to the kids in my workshops.
Thanks for the interview, Kerry! You can visit Kerry’s website at www.kerrymadden.com.
 

The Summer Blog Blast Tour continues here at

 with Kazu Kibuishi.  

Kazu is the creator of the online comics “Copper” and “Clive & Cabbage,” the graphic novel Daisy Kutter: the Last Train, and the editor of the Flight anthology series.

I’ll have a review of Daisy Kutter later this week.

And now, the interview!

Both in the back of the Daisy Kutter trade paperback and on your website you include glimpses into your comic-creation process.  What goals do you have in providing this look behind the scenes?  What kind of response to this unique perspective have you received from fans?

I didn’t have any specific goals in mind but I did get a lot of people asking about the process, so I decided I should include some of that stuff in the book.  If it does help others get better or faster at drawing comics or inspire them to get started, then great!   It can only help the rest of us in the comics industry. 

In Daisy Kutter, you seamlessly integrate an Old West setting with futuristic technology.  Why did you choose to put these two elements together?

I just love drawing robots and creatures.  When I decided to work on Daisy Kutter, I knew it would be a western, but the idea of not being able to draw robots and creatures saddened me, so I just incorporated them into her world.

The Daisy Kutter TPB has the number 1 on its spine.  Do you have plans for more stories featuring Daisy?

Yes.  I even have at least two stories in mind.  I’m just not sure when I’ll be able to tackle them.  She’s a wonderful character, though.  I love writing and drawing her adventures.

On your blog you mention that Flight was born at the Alternative Press Expo.  Would you give us more insight into how that happened?

The first year I attended the show, my friends and I didn’t have very much to sell at our table.  We decided that we should put something together for the next year.  It was supposed to be a small, black and white book, but as soon as the wheels started turning, the project just got bigger and bigger.  The next year we showed up, but without an actual book. We set up a booth at the show with the intention of pitching the project to various publishers.  Luckily,  Erik Larsen from Image Comics saw us there and said he would publish it immediately.

Daisy Kutter was picked as one of 2005’s ALA Best Books for Young Adults and Flight Vol. 3 was a finalist for the Cybils awards.  What were your intended audiences for these books?

It’s hard to say who the intended audience was for Daisy Kutter.  I think I was trying to do something different than what I was known for, which was mostly very kid-friendly material.  However, no matter how cool or edgy I try to be, my comics usually tend to be considered kids’ material anyway.  As for Flight 3, I leave the book in the hands of the artists, so the intended audience covers a broad range of people.  I only have control of choosing the artists and putting the material together when it’s done.  I do, however, encourage the artists to make the material appropriate for all ages.

Your new graphic novel, Amulet, is set in a fantasy setting.  How is the world-building for this story different than what you have had to do for your other work?

Since Daisy Kutter was all about someone reconciling their differences with their past, I didn’t give much thought to the world in which Daisy lived.  All of the focus was on the emotional journey of the character and the world only worked to service the themes and mood of the story.  While this is true to a certain extent for Amulet, once the fantasy stuff started kicking in, I realized I needed to take the world-building much more seriously.  In fact, I began to realize most fantasy literature was comprised almost entirely of world-building, especially when writing about children.  Young characters tend to have very little in the way of emotional conflict, since they’re so new to the world, so I needed the fantasy world to provide most of the conflict for me to work with.  Alledia, the world in which the kids travel to, became a living, breathing character in the book.

There has been much discussion among librarians, educators, and children’s literature experts about how graphic novels can be an integral part of reaching reluctant readers.  How do you think webcomics can play a part in this process?  What are some webcomics you would recommend for younger readers?

Hmm, I actually think webcomics wouldn’t be all that effective in getting reluctant readers to begin reading.  Chances are, if the kid is online looking for a webcomic, they’re already reading plenty of information.  However, if one were to print the webcomics in book form, then I can see how they could help.  The web is a wonderful place to get comics started, and offers the artists a chance to gain confidence and a readership to keep them going.  That said, I do recommend Ben Hatke’s “Zita the Spacegirl” and Kean Soo’s Jellaby, both of which are among the best comics for younger readers being produced today.

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Thanks for joining me, Kazu!

Eager for more?  You can read Kazu’s other Summer Blog Blast Tour at Finding Wonderland.

The Summer Blog Blast Tour begins here at

 with Dana Reinhardt.

Dana is the author of two novels for young adults: A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life and Harmless.  

In Brief Chapter, Simone, the adopted child of an ACLU attorney and a political cartoonist, meets her birth mother, Rivka, for the first time.  The things she learns in her encounters with Rivka challenge her concepts of belief and family.

In Harmless, three girls are caught at a party when they shouldn’t be.  Their lie to explain their whereabouts balloons, resulting in the arrest of an innocent man and their town and school rallying around them.  Emma, Anna, and Mariah learn that a lie that may seem harmless can do a lot of damage.

I’ll have reviews of these two books later this week.  

And now, the interview!

You mention in your bio on your website that you worked as a reader for a young adult line at a mass-market paperback house. How has this experience influenced your writing career?
 
That was a long time ago… so much has happened in my professional life since then, but it did teach me very clearly what a good book was not.  

In A Brief Chapter In My Impossible Life, Simone’s mother is a lawyer for the ACLU and Simone helps her with her work. Did your law school experience help you with writing these parts of the book? How?

 
My background in law probably had a much bigger influence on my writing than working for the publishing house did. For one thing, it helped me hone in on what I issues I felt passionate about. But also, building a legal case is nothing more than compelling story telling. You arrange the facts in the way that sets forth your argument and generates sympathy for your side of things. Whether it’s a judge, jury or a reader, your task us the same– make that person care about your characters and feel invested in the outcome.
 
Simone’s birth mother, Rivka, was a Hasidic Jew. Brief Chapter contains a lot of information about Hasidism and Judaism more generally. Did you have to do any research for this part of the book? How did you gain knowledge about these faith traditions?
 
Well, I’m Jewish so I had a basic knowledge of Judaism going in. My husband is a rabbi school drop out, so what I didn’t know, he often did. We have a library filled with books on every conceivable Jewish topic from history to religion. But still, there were things beyond his expertise and beyond what I could find in our library, and for that I turned to friends or friends of friends to answer more specific questions of life among the Hasidim. I was also lucky to have a copy editor who is an Orthodox Jew.
 
In Brief Chapter, Simone is an adopted child and struggles to reconcile her love of her adoptive family with her feelings about her birth family.  How did you prepare to write about this struggle?
 
I don’t think I did anything to prepare for this part of the story other than to fully know and understand my characters by the time they came to confront these emotional landmines, and with this knowledge, I sort of sat back and let them work through these challenges in a way that seemed natural to who they are. I know that sounds terribly hokey, but it’s true nonetheless.
 
 Harmless is told by three narrators, with their perspectives alternating. How did you plan the story? Did you know early on which narrator would reveal each part of the story?
 
I didn’t plan out who would reveal what part of the story, I just let them take turns talking and kept the narrative moving forward rather than having them go back and give their exact version of the events someone else had described. I think different perspectives on the truth can be revealed in ways other than repeating different versions of the exact same events. I had ideas going in about what role each girl would play in the lie, and how each would deal with the pressure of keeping secrets, and none of these ideas panned out. They each went in directions I hadn’t anticipated.
  
The main characters in Harmless attend a small, private day school. Why did you choose this setting instead of a public school or larger private school?
 
I wanted to tell a story about good kids doing something bad. I wanted the main characters to be the kinds of kids people tend to assume are immune to making such enormous mistakes. I wanted to show that kids in private day schools don’t have all the answers.
I also wanted these girls to feel they had a lot at stake in perpetuating lies, and sometimes a smaller, more insulated environment creates a sort of pressure cooker where it’s easy to lose perspective on what really matters.
 
What is your favorite genre of books to read? How has that influenced your writing?
 
I don’t have a favorite genre, I just like books that are well written and have a good story and say something honest. I like books that are complicated and unexpected. I like to feel like the characters are alive while I’m lost in the story.  I aim to do all these things when I write.
I’m not saying I accomplish these things, I’m just saying this is what I aim for.
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Thanks for joining me, Dana!  

Eager for more?  You can find Dana at Interactive Reader on Wednesday and at Bildungsroman on Friday.

In Sonja Foust’s debut short story, “Love in Shadow,” a tomboyish fairy named Shadow realizes she loves her boss, Lon.  Five years ago, Lon’s wife was killed by a band of gypsy fairies.  Shadow feels immense guilt for what her people did, and has trouble reconciling her guilt and her love.  (Read the full-length review.)  NOTE: “Love in Shadow” is an adult romance, with content that would earn it a movie rating of PG.  Language and sexuality are both less intense than in many YA novels, such as Holly Black’s Tithe.  I would be comfortable recommending this story to any reader age 14 or up, and mature readers younger than that.

Sonja recently joined me for my very first author interview here at

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What’s the first story you remember ever writing?

I think I’ve been writing stories since I learned how to write. To me, it always seemed like a practical application of that whole writing thing. Probably the earliest things I wrote were these epic poems in iambic pentameter (before I had any idea what iambic pentameter was) all about our Barbies. My sister and my two brothers and I would set them all up in the living room and write a long 30-verse or so poem about what they all were doing and then perform it for my parents or whatever other victims might have been around. My mom STILL thinks it’s hilarious and she’ll tell anyone who will listen all about her children’s elaborate playtime.

Why did you decide to make the fairies in “Love in Shadow” wingless?

Originally, there were no fairies in “Love In Shadow.” In fact, “Love In Shadow” was a futuristic sci-fi at its birth. That wasn’t working for the story, so I put it in a historical setting. As I’m lazy and don’t like being historically accurate, I eventually decided it would be a fantasy instead. Since it was a fantasy, Shadow had to be a fairy, duh. (I don’t know exactly why. She just did.) But I didn’t want to do the same-old same-old fairy thing, and I needed another device to add conflict in the story, so the wingless gypsy fairy seemed like the way to go.

Shadow is a fish-out-of-water in two ways: she’s a fairy among humans and a tomboyish woman in “proper society.”  Would you describe a time when you felt out of place?

Um, how about most of my life? Seriously though, I’ve had quite a lot of experience feeling out of place. I won’t even mention the hell that was middle school, because I’m pretty sure middle school just sucks for everyone.

Right after middle school, the summer before my freshman year of high school, my family moved from one coast (California) to another (North Carolina). The culture shock was something, especially for a socially inept 14-year-old. But I decided that 9th grade was my opportunity for a fresh start, and that idea was my life preserver.  I held onto it with all my might. When I’d come home after a tough day feeling like I’d never ever make any friends, I’d remind myself that this was my new beginning and I could be whoever I wanted to be and I would be that person again tomorrow. It was tough that first year, but eventually I found a lovely group of friends and began to feel like I had a place again. The last two or three years of high school were awesome because of those great friends. I made a lot of happy memories in those years.

Having a place is wonderful, but the lesson I learned was that sometimes it’s GOOD to be out of place, because then you get to make a new and better place for yourself.

Let’s play Casting Director.  If “Love in Shadow” were being made into a movie, what actress would you cast as Shadow?  Who would you want to play Lon?

Hands down, no question, Julia Roberts would be Shadow. I’ve had her in mind since the very beginning. She’s one of my favorite actresses, and she does “spitfire” so well.

Lon’s a toughie though. There aren’t a whole lot of “tall, dark, and handsome” types in Hollywood right at the moment. Colin Farrell might be a good match, if he could manage not to be so smarmy for a while. 

The whole time I was reading “Love in Shadow” I imagined Nathan Fillion as Lon.

Nathan Fillion would indeed make a good Lon. Good call.

The prejudice Lon’s relatives have against fairies is similar to many prejudices apparent in the modern world.  How do you think fantasy settings affect authors’ and readers’ interactions with universal themes like prejudice?

I think fantasy is a great way to explore touchy issues in our society. One of my favorite examples of this is Star Trek: The Next Generation. That series touched on so many modern issues like sexism (including GLBT issues), abortion, racism, war, and capitalism, and since they did it in a fantasy setting, they could get away with saying a lot of things no one else would say. Some episodes were VERY thinly veiled allegories for current events. The fantasy setting gives a little bit of distance from the actual situations and lets you think about the issues themselves without all the baggage from the specifics. It’s a great vehicle for expanding your universe to include ideas you might not have thought of if they hadn’t been presented in such a clean, unattached way.

Can you tell us more about your other works?

Both Lying Eyes and Home are “finished” manuscripts. Both need quite a bit of editing before I send them on their next set of rounds to editors.

Lying Eyes is a story I wrote last year about a student learning to use her psychic abilities, with the help of a local (super sexy) police officer. It’s a romantic suspense, which is my all-time favorite genre to read AND write. I’m working on tightening up the characters’ motivations to make them more believable and to ratchet up the tension.

Home is actually the first full-length manuscript I ever completed. It’s about a pair of high school sweethearts who find their lives colliding again in their early thirties. I’m fascinated by reunion stories, probably because I feel like I’ve changed so much since my younger years, and I wonder how my old friends who haven’t seen me in a long time would feel about me now. The manuscript needs a fairly major rewrite which will affect plot points, so it’ll be a while before it sees the light of day again!

Writing is so much about editing, and that’s something I’m learning the hard way. “Love In Shadow” sat in my unfinished manuscript drawer for years before I gained the right set of skills to turn it into something publishable. I hope it won’t take years for these other two manuscripts, but I’m beginning to accept the fact that editing is a LONG process!

My next story, which isn’t up on my website yet because I haven’t written a blurb for it yet, is an 11,000 word short story, tentatively called “In a Cat’s Eye.” It’s a paranormal romantic suspense set in my old home town of Redlands, California and it involves a sexy shape-shifting were-cougar. I’m going to start pitching it around to some editors this week, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that it will get picked up and into the pipeline really soon! Keep checking my website for details.

Do you feel like your degree in English prepared you to be a romance writer?  If so, how?

My knee-jerk response is, “Ha!” I had to overcome a lot of English-degree-induced prejudices about the romance genre in order to become a romance READER, let alone a romance writer. For some reason, English professors as a whole seem to think that anything with a happy ending does not count as literature. In fact, they claim, anything with a happy ending turns the reader’s brain into a silly, sentimental pile of mush. Well, I’m here to tell you it’s not true. My brain is significantly less mush-like since I started reading romance novels because, oh my, I’ve discovered that I actually ENJOY reading again! So hooray for romance novels and boo for uppity types who scoff at the romance genre as a whole.

That said, my English degree DID give me a base of knowledge that has been most helpful in my writing. It’s hard to be deep and meaningful if you’ve missed some of the classics like Homer and cummings and Hemingway and Shakespeare and, yes, even the Bible.

Plus, now I can claim that I am actually using my degree, unlike so many liberal arts survivors.

What are some of your favorite books?

Oh my goodness, there are so many. If you’re looking for a tear-jerker (and I mean soul-clenching sobs tear-jerker), go with The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. If, like me, you can only handle about one of those tear-jerkers every year or so and you’ve hit your quota, anything by Sabrina Jeffries is a sure-fire winner. My most recent favorite of hers is Only a Duke Will Do, but when her next one comes out, that one will probably be my new favorite because I fall in love with all of her books as soon as I read them. If you’re looking for a good, old-fashioned, whodunit suspense with a heavy dose of romance, try Carnal Innocence by Nora Roberts. The one and only Nora is my favorite suspense writer, but then, she does EVERYTHING really well.

Your birthday is coming up in just two weeks.  How will you celebrate your first birthday as a published author?

Wow, thanks for remembering! I’m going to be 26 this year. I’m sure I will spend a great deal of my day marveling at how lucky I am to be doing what I love to do (WRITING!) at such a young age. Sure, I’ve got a long way to go– someday, I want this writing thing to be a full time gig– but I’m on my way and I feel so blessed!

Sonja adds:

I love hearing from people, so if you have questions about me, my stories, the publishing world, or writing in general, please feel free to drop me an email at sonja@sonjafoust.com and be sure to check out my blog (blog.sonjafoust.com) and website (www.sonjafoust.com ). Both are updated frequently with all the latest news and a lot of silly, fun stuff too.