Archive for the ‘Author Interview’ Category

Q&A: Rick Bass On All the Land to Hold Us

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

123Today, we welcome award-winning author and environmental activist, Rick Bass, to our blog to talk about his book, All the Land to Hold Us. Born in Fort Worth, Texas, United States, Rick Bass worked for several years as a Petroleum geologist before starting his career as a writer. He received several awards including General Electric Younger Writers Award, a Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award, a PEN/Nelson Algren Award Special Citation for fiction, and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. His writing has also appeared in several periodicals including Esquire, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, New York Times Sunday Magazine, and many others. Moreover, he has been a contributing editor to On Earth, Big Sky Journal, Sports Afield, Audubon and many more. Rick has been living in Yaak Valley of northwestern Montana with his wife and two children for over 20 years.

In this interview with Rick Bass, we will get to know about the authors that influenced him to become a writer, his upcoming books along with his message for readers about preserving nature.

Let’s get started by asking how and when did you think of taking up writing us your career? When you were young and having the budding desire to be writer, which author(s) you think influenced you the most?

I came to writing when I lived in Mississippi in the 1980s, where I worked as an oil and gas geologist for a small independent company. On my lunch breaks I would visit the fantastic independent bookstores there—Lemuria, in Jackson, and, on weekends, Square Books, in Oxford—where the store owners would recommend great books to me. I’d had a couple of undergraduate classes in literature at Utah State (from the great Tom Lyon and Moyle Rice), where I studied wildlife science and geology—but the bookstores really continued stoking a passion for literature, simply through their keen recommendations, and old school hand-selling.

Writers they suggested were the great short story writers of the 1980s—Joy Williams, Amy Hempel, Ann Beattie, Lorrie Moore, Richard Ford, Annie Proulx, Tobias Wolf, Raymond Carver, Barry Hannah, Tom McGuane, Susan Minot, Alice Munro, James Salter—really, there is no end to the influences from that era—and writers like Barry Lopez and William Kittredge, and so many of the Western writers, and the Southern writers—O’Connor, Welty, Faulkner—John Graves and Good-Bye To A River—and Chekhov and Tolstoy. Lots of poetry—W.S. Merwin, Mary Oliver, Jane Kenyon, Gary Snyder, Pattiann Rogers, Billy Collins, Charles Wright…There’s nothing like a great bookstore! I’ve also been fortunate to work with great editors, among them Carol Houck Smith, Gordon Lish, Tom Jenks, Harry Foster, Camille Hykes, Rust Hills, Michael Curtis, Jennifer Sahn, and Nicole Angeloro.

You have been writing in fiction, creative nonfiction, and journalism categories, which form of writing, you enjoy the most?

Fiction is far and away the most challenging for me, and for that, the most gratifying when it succeeds, though also of course the most excruciating when it does not yet reach the level you want it to. Fortunately, there is no limit on the amount of drafts you get to do, in that attempt to get it right.

You have been acclaimed as “One of this country’s most All the land to hold usintelligent and sensitive short story writers” by New York Times. How does it feel?

Sometimes I wonder what they mean by that—what they are seeing. It would be rude and ungenerous to argue. I suspect they may be talking about a different kind of intelligence than the sort we are most used to thinking of.

Teaching or writing, what do you like the most?

The latter! Though the former is extremely gratifying, particularly as I grow older. It’s nice to pass on one’s values.

If you have to pick top 5 best books written by you and from some other authors what would they be?

I wouldn’t say “best” but some of my durable favorites include Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings, Larry Brown’s Joe, Robert Penn Warren’s All The King’s Men, Terry Tempest Williams’ Refuge, Doug Peacock’s Grizzly Years, and Jim Harrison’s Legends Of The Fall. That’s five, right?

Is there any fiction work which you read and wish if you had written that?

I don’t mean to sound boring, but no, not that I can think of. There are books that blow the top of my mind away, but maybe I’m too much of a lightweight to want to be that person who wrote it. Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain, Annie Dillard’s Teaching A Stone To Talk, Peter Matthiessen’s In The Spirit Of Crazy Horse, John Berger’s To The Wedding—I would much rather read their books, or anyone’s, than write them.

It’s been almost a year now for the book All the Land to Hold Us being published. Can you throw some light on the response you got from your readers and fans for this novel?

A lot of my readers have said it’s their favorite book. And folks like Marie, and like the elephant, a lot.

Our readers would be very much interested in knowing about the storyline and characters of this novel, can you please throw some light on it.

That’s a tough one. It took 16 years and tens of thousands of pages of drafts. To boil it down is almost impossible for me. The influence of landscape and history, the nature of desire and yearning in human (and other) species, the luminosity of the brief condition of life…I don’t know quite how to answer this. It’s a big novel. McGuane says Shakespeare said all literature is about loss or the recognition of loss—though the other side of that same coin is of course the celebration of what is in the here-and-now. It’s safe to say that landscape and its influence on the nature of human imagination is a theme that inhabits much of the novel.

What are you currently working on? Is there anything to be published in near future?

Two big projects: a New & Selected story collection, to be published in 2016, and a big nonfiction project. Eating My Heroes, in which I travel around the world visiting my literary heroes, preparing a nice meal for them in their kitchen and telling them thank you in person: thanking them for their influence on me as a writer, and often for their support, when I was a younger writer. I take my youngest daughter with me to meet them, and sometimes one of my best fiction or nonfiction writing students, to introduce the generation before me to the writers of a generation or more older than me. To help resuscitate gratitude and mentorship. It’s an amazing journey. The writers—my heroes—have all been so generous. I want to celebrate them while they are living. And I find that even mid-career—especially mid-career—I still have much to learn from them. That book will probably be out in 2017.

Can you please let us all know a few best lines from All the Land to Hold Us?

None really come to mind—I worked hard on every sentence in the novel, beginning back in 1997 or 1998. Ideally I’d be able to open a page and point to any sentence and say, “I like that one.” That’s the goal, anyway! Scanning through it, though, I open to page 84, and find one that makes me laugh, not for its precision—it’s windy, for sure—but for its ambition and enthusiasm. It’s probably a pretty typical sentence, indicative of my tendency to want it all:

“She knew the love of her family and of the community, and then, as a young woman in the first year of courtship, she had known the love of a hardworking young man, Max Omo, whom she married at the end of that same first year, with the wedding held late in the breezy springtime, out in the orchards, while the blossoms blew loose from the trees, flashing through the sky like the scales of fish and catching in the hair of the wedding guests.”

Since you are so close to nature and environment do you want to give any message to your readers about preserving nature?

You bet! Get involved with groups—it’s vital, these days, to be part of larger movements. Global warming is obviously a game changer for the life of every living creature—groups such as are doing tremendous work—but please support small local grassroots groups, who work at the community and watershed level, as well. I’m affiliated with one such group, the Yaak Valley Forest Council ( They do heroic work, seeking to protect the last roadless areas on the public lands in northwest Montana’s Yaak Valley, and would love your support!

Thank you so much, Rick, for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us today. Wish you good luck for your upcoming projects.

An Interview with Edward Kelsey Moore on His Debut Novel, “The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat”

Monday, August 18th, 2014

Guest Author: Edward Kelsey Moore

ed moore by Laura Hamm photo 2 hi res - Copy It’s no wonder that Edward Kelsey’s Moore debut, The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat, has been well-received by critics and readers. It’s an extremely terrific and intriguing story of three powerful women and their deep friendship. Published in more than eight languages, this debut novel was also praised by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal. Moreover, the novel has also been optioned for the film adaptation, in association of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Edward Kelsey Moore resides and writes in Chicago, where he has also enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a cellist. He has contributed to several literary magazines, including African American Review, Indiana Review, and Inkwell. Today, we are pleased to feature an interview with Edward Kelsey Moore. In this interview, we will get behind-the-scenes look at how much work went into making The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat, such an amazing novel and who inspires him to write this book, and many other interesting questions. Here are the excerpts:

First of all, congratulations to you for being in the list of NY Times bestselling authors, and winning the 2014 “First Novelist Award” by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA). What does it mean to you?

Thank you. I never imagined that I would have a book on the NYTimes Bestseller list. And I was especially thrilled by the award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.  Like many authors, I spent many hours in libraries during my childhood, and the librarians I met growing up introduced me to books that changed my life. It was a real honor to know that librarians thought highly of my novel. There is really no way for writers to know if their work will be embraced or ignored by readers. So the success of The Supremes At Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat has been a wonderful surprise.

Your debut novel, “The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat” embraces the lives of three devoted allies in small-town Indiana. How did you first get the idea for this book? What was the inspiration? Is there anything in your book based on real life experiences, or is it all fiction?

The first idea for the novel came from a conversation I had with a friend a few years ago. While we both had great fathers who provided strong male role models for us, we each felt that the bravest person we knew was a woman. That made me think about how courageous men and courageous women are often judged very differently. The same trait that is praised in a man is often criticized in a woman. I imagined what life might be like for a woman who had no fear at all. What kind of friendships, love relationships, and life would she have? That fearless woman I wondered about became Odette, the main character of the book.

The characters and events in the book are all fictional, but I did draw upon my own life from time to time. The relationships between the women in my novel are based upon my memories of how the women in my family interacted with each other and with their friends. The best storytellers I knew as a child were women and I was definitely influenced by them.

Can you tell us a little about your journey to publication, and perhaps the most memorable part of that journey?

I began writing short stories about twelve years ago. Several of my stories were published in literary magazines and I later put them together in a collection. I quickly learned that agents and publishers were not interested in story collections from unknown writers. The agents who were nice enough to respond to me all said that I should write a novel, so I gave it a try. My first attempt was a terrible mystery novel that no one will ever see. Then I wrote The Supremes

I submitted the novel to several agents and each of them rejected it. After each rejection, I revised the book and tried to make it better.  When my current agent read it, he was very enthusiastic and he found the right publisher for it very quickly.

My favorite moment of my writing career is walking from my home to put zczcmy first completed story in the mailbox. I had spent many years starting writing projects and not finishing them, so I was incredibly proud of myself that day. I think of that moment as the official start of my writing career.  Even with all of the wonderful things that have happened since the publication of The Supremes, that walk to the corner mailbox with my first story in my hand is still the most memorable experience.

How did you come up with such an attention grabbing title?

I borrowed the title from a short story that I wrote about a woman sharing gossip with her friends in a diner. I used some of that story in the novel and the title came along with it. To be honest, when I was writing the book I assumed that the title would change eventually. I always felt that I would find a better title for it one day, but I never thought of one.

What is the central theme of the book?

I think it is a book about friendship and how friendships, especially very long-lasting ones, are as important in shaping our lives as any other relationships we might have. 

The book has been highly successful and released in several other countries. How does it feel to know that your work will be read around the world?

The positive reception to the book outside of the United States has been very exciting. The best part of it has been that people have written me from all around the world telling me that characters from this fictional small-town community are just like members of their families. It is a reminder that people really are the same everywhere.

How has your life changed since the book came out?

My life has changed in so many ways that it’s hard to describe how different my life is now. The main change is that I now see myself as a writer. For many years, I thought of myself as a musician with a writing hobby. After the book came out, I began to see myself as a writer who also happened to be a musician. That was a major psychological shift and I’m still getting used to it. 

Your book came out a couple of months ago and it’s been getting really good reviews. What has been the best criticism given to you as an author?

I have read very few of the reviews. The only reviews I’ve read have been the ones that have been sent directly to me in letters and emails. I listened carefully to criticism during the revision process and I used that criticism to make the work better. But after the writing was finished, I didn’t look at reviews. I feel that if I allow myself to be happy about the good reviews, I also have to feel bad about the negative reviews. So I ignore all of them.

What did you hope to educate readers on or achieve by writing The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat?

My goal is more to entertain than to educate. But I am pleased that many readers have come away from reading the book with images of black people, especially black women, that are different from the very limited and often stereotypical images that are so common in American culture.

What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?

Because I am very extroverted and I tend to be the last person to leave a party, people might be surprised to know that I am happiest when I’m alone in my garden. I’m not an especially good gardener, but I love it. Also, I think people might be surprised to learn that, even though I have worked as a classical musician for many years, I always listen to folk music when I am writing, never classical. Folk music is so direct and emotional that it puts me in the perfect frame of mind for writing. 

Do you read in your spare time? What’s your favorite genre to read? 

I read all the time. I don’t really have a favorite genre. What I read depends upon my mood. I enjoy comic writing when I am stressed out. I enjoy mysteries when I’m traveling. When I am writing a lot, I try to read books with denser and more descriptive language because it reminds me of new ways to depict the world.

Can you tell us about what you are working on currently? What books can we look forward to seeing from you in the next year or two?

I am currently writing a book that continues the story of The Supremes At Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat. I hope to finish it within the next few months. After that, I would like to return to working on a play that I began some time ago. I’ve also outlined a novel about two suburban American families—one black, one white—in the 1970s that I’m eager to begin writing.

Any parting words of wisdom for aspiring authors?

Read as many good books as you can. And never give up. If you keep with a project until the end, fantastic things can happen.

Thank you so much for such a wonderful interview.

For more info about Edward Kelsey Moore, Kindly visit his website:

Author Interview: Cynthia Leitich Smith On Her “Tantalize and Feral Series”

Friday, August 1st, 2014

cynthiaToday we are honored to have Cynthia Leitich Smith, a New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestselling author of the “Tantalize and Feral series at printsasia. Cynthia has authored several books for Children and YA readers, including, the latest Feral Trilogy, a spin-off of her Tantalize series. Her award-winning children books are ‘Jingle Dancer’, ‘Indian Shoes, and ‘Rain Is Not My Indian Name. Writer’s Digest named her website as one of the top 10 Writer Sites on the Internet. Moreover, her fabulous website was listed as an ALA Great Website for kids. 

Cynthia currently resides in Austin, Texas with her writer husband Greg Leitich Smith, and four cats. During the interview we discussed about Tantalize series and its follow-up Feral trilogy, why she was inspired to write this follow-up, why she chose fantasy genre, challenges she faced in writing, and a few fun questions. Have a look:

Cynthia! We’re very excited to interview you today. How about you start things off by telling us a bit about yourself?

Thank you! I’m excited to talk to y’all, too!

Me? I’m a realistic and fantastical children’s-YA writer, a sometimes writing teacher, a treadmill desk writer, a Wonder Woman and classic “Star Wars” fan, a devotee of iced tea, a recovering legal scholar, a kidlitosphere blogger, a journalist longing for happy news, and a proud Austinite often in the company of playful tabby cats.

Why write fiction? Did you read fiction as you were growing up? Also, did you ever attempt any other genres?

My real preoccupation is Story. I love how it connects, defines and redefines us. I’m fascinated by how we’re each the heroes of our own lives and well aware of how easy that is to forget.

Growing up, I was an avid reader. My favorite novel from childhood was The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, but I largely exhausted the children’s section of my local public library. I also read superhero and horror comics, my dad’s James Bond and Tarzan novels, my mom’s paperback romances, the dictionary, and every volume of the Britannica Junior Encyclopedia.

Tantalize series is your first upper YA gothic fiction. What  inspired you to write this? And how did you come up with the title of your series?

The Tantalize series is largely set around a fictional Italian cosplay restaurant named Sanguini’s. The idea is that the staff and customers dress up as fantastical creatures-all pretend, just in fun. But occasionally the “real” fantastical wanders into the kitchen or dining room.

As a teen, I worked as a waitress for a Mexican restaurant and then the restaurant of an athletic club, so I had that real-life experience to bring to the stories. Moreover, it’s always fascinated me how restaurants are like other worlds within this one. Think about it: You have thematic menus, décor, costuming. Occasionally, someone bursts into song. There’s magic in that.

The series name is taken from a quote in book one and harkens to both the sensual allure of the Gothic and the offerings described on the menu.

Feral Trilogy is a spin-off, or companion piece, to your earlier The Tantalize series. Why did you decide to write this Sequel? Would you recommend your audience to read the books in order?

Reader mail largely inspired the spin-off Feral trilogy. The Tantalize series had featured a smart, dashing hero named Kieren Morales (a hybrid werewolf) as well as a couple of his shifter buddies (a wereopossum named Clyde and werearmadillo named Travis) who became quirky fan favorites.

My audience became intrigued by the hints of a multi-species, naturally born shape-shifter community and wanted more, more, more exploration of their lives.

Which of the characters from, “The Tantalize series” was your favorite to write?

I’m a sucker for secondary characters, comic relief characters. I love my protagonists, and there’s a lot of me in them. But it’s fun to stretch, too. I greatly enjoyed writing Chef Nora, who’s sort of a combination of various self-possessed elder women I’ve known. I’ve already mentioned Clyde and Travis, but definitely Aimee-a Geek girl/Goth girl/hippie girl-was charming enough that she was promoted to protagonist in the Feral books.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing? What comes easily? Do you feel like there are any unique challenges in writing for a young adult audience?

I’m tempted to say continuity, but it’s not typical to write nine books set in the same universe. That would strain anyone’s brain.

It’s sometimes hard for me to focus in such a way that it all translates on the page. I tend toward huge casts and complex plots-ambitious stories. Then again, that works really well for a certain kind of reader who may be underserved.

The biggest challenge in writing for YAs is circumventing (some of) the grown-ups.

Feral Nights

Did you face any rejection before getting your first novel published and if so, how you dealt with it?

Yes, but truthfully, my path to publication was a short one. The projects that weren’t strong enough didn’t sell (thank heavens), and those that were did. But basically, what I want is an editor with a passion, a vision, and the willingness to push me until I’ve exhausted every last drop of blood.

Are there any hidden message in the both series that you want the reader to know about?

There’s a nod to a previous realistic short story I published, “A Real Live Blond Cherokee and His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate.” It revolves around a fictional costume store called “All the World’s a Stage” and in the Tantalize-Feral universe, I placed it just a few storefronts north of Sanguini’s.

You are a writer, teacher and speaker. You must have a manic schedule, how do you organize your time? Also, do you set yourself a word limit for each book?

Yes, I do. My typical (non-travel) day involves hitting the computer, first thing, to handle business correspondence, blogging, and social networking. The business of being an author.

Then I wheel away the desk, speed up the treadmill, and crank the incline for an hour while listening mostly to 1980s power ballads and YouTube performances by the cast of “Glee.” Two-to-three days a week, I also lift weights-using dumb bells and an exercise ball while watching re-runs of “What Not to Wear.”

The afternoon is for creative or teaching time, depending on what’s on the agenda (or due or overdue).

In the early evening, I sometimes continue working, juggling as needed, but I’m trying to play more-spending quality time with my friends. We’re fond of talking shop, craft and the writer’s life at local restaurants, mostly Tex-Mex.

9 Jan 2014How much background detail do you generate for the world in which you write, and how much did you fabricate for your own story purpose.

It’s more of a universe than a world, as scenes also take place in heaven and hell. I put a great deal of thought into the social-political-cultural underpinnings on all fronts, taking a long view (back to the Ice Age) and a fairly international approach. Not all of that appears on the page. Some of it is only hinted at-a brushstroke here or there-but it all adds depth and texture.

Diabolical is the fourth and final installment of The Tantalize Series. Did the series turn out the way that you expected or did the narrative surprise you along the way?

A fire breathing dragon, chariots of sword-wielding arch angels, infanticide by Lucifer himself?

Um, it may have taken a life of its own.

Can you share any information with us about your next and final installment in Feral Trilogy?

Feral Pride will bring to a head the tensions between shifters and humans, even as the greedy, media-savvy yet secretive yeti-like species manipulating them both comes closer than ever to public exposure. Also, there’s a giant, egomaniacal snake, cool classic cars, and prom.

Now, some fun questions –

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

The ability to walk in platform wedges.

As a child, were you a dreamer?

Still am.

What distracts you easily when you’re writing?

Interview queries.

Favorite time of day?

It used to be between midnight and four a.m. Now, I’m not sure. I’m evolving.

Favorite food?

No-sugar-added frozen fudge pops. And kung pao shrimp over brown rice. And cheese.

Thank you so much for this interview! Do you have any final words?

Thank YOU!

To know more about Cynthia, please visit her website:

An Interview with Ellen Meister, Author of Farewell, Dorothy Parker

Friday, April 25th, 2014

Ellen Meister author photo low resYou must be familiar with Farewell, Dorothy Parker’s writer Ellen Meister. How can you not be? She is such a nice person, a brilliant and thoughtful author, blogger and creative writing professor at Hofstra University School of Continuing Education. Ellen has written four novels: Farewell, Dorothy Parker, The Other Life, The Smart One, and Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA, including several essays and short stories. Currently, she is working on her fifth novel, tentatively titled Dorothy Parker Is Dead and Living in the Algonquin.

In this interview with us, Ellen talks about Farewell, Dorothy Parker, its popularity and the experiences she have had while writing this book.

You’ve been a Dorothy Parker fan since your teen years.  How were you first introduced to her work?

In high school, I read about the Algonquin Round Table–the group of wits who met daily for lunch during the 1920s–and was struck by the irreverence of Dorothy Parker’s quips. I simply had to know more about the woman who said things like “It serves me right for putting all my eggs in one bastard” (after terminating an unwanted pregnancy) and “Ducking for apples–change one letter and it’s the story of my life.” I was young enough to think that my generation invented sass, so it was a revelation, and I simply had to know more. I picked up a copy of “The Portable Dorothy Parker” and have been hooked ever since.

At that age, what about her voice appealed to you?

Once I got over the fact that people actually enjoyed sex in the 1920s (did I mention that I was young?), I was bowled over by Dorothy Parker’s pithy but profound insights into heartbreak. It all felt so fresh and so personal.

Why did you want to bring Dorothy Parker to life in a novel?

At the risk of sounding hallucinatory, there’s a part of me that has always carried Dorothy Parker around on my shoulder, wondering what she would make of the modern world. Now that I’ve written the book, I’m amazed that it took me so long to come up with the idea for it.

In FAREWELL, DOROTHY PARKER, movie critic Violet is better at expressing and defending herself in her film reviews than in real life.  Can you relate?

Absolutely. It’s always been easier for me to find my real voice on paper. The page cannot judge me.

Your Dorothy Parker Facebook page

<> has over 100,000 followers, and more every day. 

Are you surprised by its popularity?

I always suspected there were legions of Dorothy Parker fans out there, and finding so many of them has been a singular joy. Best of all, the page has become a community–a place where smart, literate people can connect to enjoy a national treasure.

Parker left her entire estate to Martin Luther King, Jr., though the two never met.  What was their connection?

Throughout her life, Dorothy Parker had a profound commitment to fighting injustice, so it was natural that the civil rights movement would capture her heart.

What do you think was Parker’s proudest moment in her long career?

In 1927, Dorothy Parker was arrested for protesting the conviction of Sacco and Vanzetti, Italian immigrant anarchists who were accused of murder and received an egregiously unfair trial.  (The judge in the case had been quoted as saying, “I’m gonna get those anarchist bastards good and proper.”) Though the protest was unsuccessful and the men were executed, I believe Parker took more pride in her efforts to save them than in any writing success.Farewell DP paperback cover

Were you surprised by anything you found in researching this book?

I was surprised that so many of the quotes attributed to Dorothy Parker have little or no evidence to support that she was the actual source.

You have said that capturing Parker’s language “nearly wiped me out.”What was most difficult about it?

Her language was so precise and her wit so razor sharp that I had to excise half of the funniest lines and rewrite the other half a hundred times. It increased my appreciation of her immeasurably!

If Dorothy Parker tweeted you today, what do you think she’d say?

Since I was careful to cast Mrs. Parker in a full light–portraying not just her acerbic wit, but her devotion to fighting injustice and her big, beautiful damaged heart–she would probably tweet: *Don’t believe a word of it.*

What is your favorite Dorothy Parker quote?

Probably, “”If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

What’s it like to visit the legendary Algonquin Hotel, Parker’s favorite haunt? 

For me, connecting to the rich history of the Algonquin is almost magical. As soon as I enter, I experience a rumble of joy that’s like a bass beat I feel all over.

Parker and her Algonquin Round Table cronies were the epitome of the roaring twenties zeitgeist.  What do you think is driving the resurgent interest in the 1920s?

In our stressful political and economic climate, it’s natural to be nostalgic about the era. From here, the 1920s look like one big party–cool and young and free–innocent of the darkness about to descend on the nation in the form of The Great Depression and later, World War II.

Dorothy Parker died forty-five years ago, yet people continue to be fascinated by her.  How do you explain her longevity?

She had a timeless genius. Humor so rarely holds up through the decades, but hers does. It’s a testament to her talent and vision that her wit seems as fresh and funny now as it did almost a century ago.

You teach creative writing at Hofstra University Continuing Education. What’s your best advice for aspiring writers?

Don’t be in such a rush to get published; give yourself time to hone your craft and find your voice. It’s a long process. And read, read, read.

Ellen, thank you so much for this wonderful interview.

If you would like to know more about Ellen, visit her website at

Bugged: How Insects Changed History: An Interview With Children’s Book Author Sarah Albee

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Sarah Albee 1Sarah Albee is a well-known author of bestselling Sesame Street and Big Bag books. She has authored a myriad of books for young readers, three of which have been New York Times bestsellers. Before starting her career as a full-time Children’s book writer, Sarah had done a lot of jobs including babysitter, waitress, secretary, newspaper cartoonist, textbook illustrator, semi-pro basket ball player and many more. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, this talented author and editor is now living in Connecticut with her husband and three kids. Today, Sarah talks about her journey as an author, her life and all about her latest, “Bugged: How Insects Changed History” in her interview with us.

Sherry: Sarah, welcome and thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. I’m thrilled to put you in the spotlight.

Sarah: Thanks, Sherry!

Sherry:  Can you share a little about your upcoming book, “Bugged: How Insects Changed History” and what inspired you to write this?

Sarah: I love to write about history from unusual perspectives. In this case, I was interested in the role insects have played, for better or worse, in our history. Insects have helped create empires (silk, red dye) and have toppled others (Alexander the Great, Napoleon). They’ve also killed more soldiers in wars than guns have (typhus is transmitted by the louse, malaria by the mosquito). My inspiration to write it is part of my mission as a children’s book writer: to get kids to see how fascinating history can be.

Sherry: What research was required for this book?

Sarah: I read a lot of science-oriented books and articles in addition to buggedhistory. I interviewed experts on infectious disease. It was challenging to distill down a lot of complex concepts having to do with epidemiology, entomology, pathology, immunology–into language kids would understand. As a children’s book writer, you never want to “talk down” to kids, but it’s important to write with clarity—and it has to be compelling and entertaining, too.

Sherry: Before starting your career as a full time children’s book author, you were a newspaper cartoonist and a semi-professional basketball player (as much as I know). So, when did you decide to become a writer and what’s it like writing a book?

Sarah: Yes I’ve had a lot of fun jobs in my life, but I always wanted to write stories. Growing up, my sister and I wrote a lot of storybooks together—she wrote the text and I illustrated them. And I’ve always loved basketball—my husband is a coach and my oldest son plays in college—but writing for kids is the best job ever. I got my start writing for kids at Sesame Street, where I worked for nine years.

Sherry: Can you talk about your interest in beginning readers?

Sarah: Starting my career at Sesame Street gave me a wonderful grounding in the preschool mind. I’m glad my first books were for the youngest kids. What Sesame Street taught me is that very young children can still be smart and engaged and appreciative of humor—they’re just younger versions of who they will become. So as a writer it’s a challenge to appeal to them at whatever developmental stage they’re at, but never to condescend to them. I began to branch into writing for older kids after I stopped working there full time and became a freelancer. I think perhaps as my own kids grew older, I became more and more fascinated with writing for older age groups. Nowadays my favorite age group to write for is middle grade—8 to 14.

Sherry: I’ve noticed that you choose a different name for your writing, why have you chosen to write under a pseudonym?

Sarah: When I was at Sesame Street, I was an editor. But from time to time a colleague would ask me to write a book for which she was the editor—as writer, I played a very different role. It was our boss’s rule that we take a pseudonym when we wrote books on staff, and now I understand her reasoning. You really are a different person as a writer than as an editor.

 After I became a freelancer, I kept writing under my Sesame Street pseudonym (Constance Allen), and when I wrote for other properties, like SpongeBob and Blue’s Clues and Dora, I wrote under other, different pseudonyms.

Nowadays I write for middle grade series. Sometimes two or more writers will write under one pseudonym, so the perception is that the series is by one person. For instance, Carolyn Keene, the writer of the Nancy Drew series, was a fictional person. Several writers wrote the series.

My general rule is that I use my own name for books that are completely mine. But if I’m writing for a character I did not create, I use a pen name.

Sherry: I’ve seen a few of your books were illustrated by the fantastic Robert Leighton. How is it for a writer to see what an artist makes of your words and story?

Sarah: Robert did a wonderful job lightening up much of the text portions of Bugged. There’s a lot of death and disease and grisly details in the book, and his cartoons helped tremendously keeping the tone upbeat and not too depressing!

Sherry: What is the secret to keeping children informed as well as entertained?

Sarah: As a nonfiction writer, I feel a real obligation to keep my books interesting as well as informative. If they’re also funny, then I feel I’ve done my job even better. Many kids think they don’t like history, because they’re reading dull textbooks in social studies or history class. I want to show them how history is full of drama, excitement, and compelling stories. And whereas textbooks have a tendency to sum up, compartmentalize, and sound like the “last word” on what happened in the past, my goal is to show kids that many historical figures had complex personalities, and that there are multiple perspectives on past events.

Sherry: It’s really very exciting to see three of your books appear on the New York Times Bestseller list. How do you feel about it?

Sarah: Of course it’s wonderful and exciting—but honestly, what makes me happiest is hearing directly from kids that they read and liked my books. Part of why I love writing for middle graders is that they choose to pick up my books on their own—whether buying them or checking them out at the library—so in that sense I’ve “earned” my sales figures. I hope that makes sense.

Sherry: What are you working on at the moment?

Sarah: I have a book coming out next year with National Geographic Kids about the history of crazy fashions—corsets, hoop skirts, bound feet, lead makeup—and why people wore what they did. I’m in the picture-research stage right now, which I absolutely love! It’s going to be a beautiful book—Nat Geo has the best design team ever!

Sherry: Any advice for young people who want to be writers?

Sarah: The best advice I have is to read. Read as much and as widely as you can. It’s the absolute best way to learn the craft.

Thank you so much for your time Sarah and for such wonderful answers.

If you would like to find out more about Sarah Albee and her books, have a look at her website Also, you can get the copies of Sarah Elbee’s books here.

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