Interview with Bethany Barton

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Can you tell me a little about yourself?

Sure! I’m a kid’s book author and illustrator, with a “day-job” in film & TV. (Because one career isn’t enough, so I decided to have 2? haha) I’ve been fortunate enough to have written and illustrated 5 picture books so far, as well as occasionally illustrating for other authors and commercial clients like Starbucks. 

I’m passionate about creating books that help kids address and discuss fear using superpowers like facts and humor. My 2015 book I’m Trying To Love Spiders won the 2016 Children’s Choice Award 3rd/4th Grade Book of The Year. And my 2017 book Give Bees A Chance was a SCIBA Award finalist, was listed in Scripps National Spelling Bee “Great Words, Great Works,” and was featured in the New York Times. 

But don’t let that stuff fool you—  I still pretty much I have no idea what I’m doing… ha! 

Can you tell me about your new book coming out?

Heck yes I can! My newest non-fiction picture book addresses a subject that terrifies kids (and adults) the world over: MATH! It’s called I’m Trying To Love Math, and it hits stores in July. It’s chock full of space aliens, electric guitars and cookies… you know, math stuff. 

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Do you actually hate math in real life?

You know, writing this book really changed my relationship with math. It all started as a joke with my agent. My husband is getting his masters in physics (!) and keeps writing giant, rambling equations on our sliding glass door with dry-erase markers. I joked that I should write “I’m Trying To Love Math” to understand what the heck he was writing, and then my editor (the talented and wonderfully patient Tracy Gates at Viking) LOVED the idea. In the course of the book, I had a mathematician/friend answering all my stupid questions and explaining concepts to me (a genius named Erich Patrick Enke) — and he was/is so in love with and excited about math that I started to love it as well!  Seriously! Math is so much more creative then I’d ever realized! Great teachers absolutely make the difference, and Erich was/is a fantastic one for how my brain works. 

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Did you always want to be a children's book writer and illustrator?

You know how Pete the Cat was walking down the street… and he just kept stepping in stuff… and then BAM - he had super sweet shoes? That’s basically my publishing career. 

I knew I wanted to be a working artist. I wanted to “Wake Up and Make Stuff” and then be able to trade that stuff I made for goods and services. I had stories to tell, and images to make, and thankfully I also had great mentors in my life. But I wasn’t particularly choosy about which field I ended up in, as long as I was creating things, telling stories, promoting honesty & empathy, and in doing so, was able to pay my bills.

It was actually my agent (big hugs to Stephen Barr at Writers House!) who found my art and stories on a blog I used to have and told me they could be children’s books. He saw it first, and I was overjoyed with the idea. 

It’s like Jim Henson said about working in the arts, “You have to be very very prepared… and very very flexible.” 

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How did you come up with your style of splotchy watercolor backgrounds?

Honestly, I made my first few books with all-white backgrounds because that’s what I find myself drawn to visually. My editor & art director wanted more color for Spiders, but just filling the background with a solid color seemed lifeless and not-in-the-same-world as the messy, gestural, energized artwork of the book. So I made a happy watercolor mess — a bunch of them, really— laid them into the background of the files, and VOILA!  I liked the tone it set; it seemed really happy and full of life.

Can you tell us about the process of creating your books? Do you write the stories and then sketch them out or do the images come to you first?

For me, since I’m making non-fiction books, it starts with research. LOTS of research. There’s so much competing information out there, so getting to the truth is important to me. Then I start typing and doodling. I draw with ink on paper, but I also draw digitally in Photoshop.

I make DOZENS of extra pages — with full-on text and illustration—  that don’t end up in my books. If I try to edit as I go I’ll overthink myself into stasis. So I just create, create, create.  Then I’ll go back and edit. My agent knows about this process, so if he doesn’t like an idea he’ll ask, “Is there something else you made for this part that ended up on the cutting room floor?” and usually there is. There’s probably a more time-saving process out there, but this one seems to work for me. 

Who is your favorite picture book illustrator and why?

Oh man, this changes all the time, there is just so much to love out here. But as of this moment? Everything Oliver Jeffers creates is inspired and filled with the most delicious layers. Kathryn Otoshi is able to evoke so much emotion within such a clean, simple, visual world… I really love what she’s doing. 

Where can we find you online?

www.bethanybarton.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bethanybarton/

NEW Daily Art Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bethanybartonart/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/awesomebARTon

Thanks so much for joining us, Bethany!!

Interview with Joshua David Bellin

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Joshua David Bellin has been writing novels since he was eight years old (though the first few were admittedly very short). A college teacher by day, he has published numerous works of fantasy and science fiction, including the two-part Survival Colony series (Survival Colony 9 and Scavenger of Souls), the deep-space adventure Freefall, and the short story collection Ten Tales of Terror and Terra. The Ecosystem series—Ecosystem, The Devouring Land, and House of Earth, House of Stone—is his latest foray into speculative fiction. In his free time, Josh likes to read, watch movies, and take long nature hikes with his kids. Oh, yeah, and he likes monsters. Really scary monsters.

Can you tell us about your new book?

House of Earth, House of Stone is the final book in the Ecosystem Trilogy, a series set on a future Earth in which the environment has mutated into a collective sentience called the Ecosystem. It doesn't like human beings very much (no big surprise), and it has forced the remnants of humankind to take shelter in small villages of stone that the Ecosystem can't penetrate. Only people with a psychic power known as the Sense, which enables them to read the Ecosystem's "mind," can survive in the wild, so Sensors are responsible for supplying everyone else with food, water, and fuel. My narrator, a seventeen-year-old Sensor named Sarah, holds a special grudge against the Ecosystem--because it killed her mother when Sarah was only two years old. When she hunts, she hunts not only for her people but for revenge. But during the course of the series, she discovers truths about the Ecosystem, about her society, and about herself that she never imagined.

What inspired you to write this series?

I've always loved fantasy fiction—I grew up reading Tolkien, Le Guin, and other classic writers—and I've always loved the natural world. But as I've gotten older, I've become aware of how much damage human beings have done to Nature, so my thought turned to the idea of telling a story in which Nature is conscious, intelligent—and angry. This gave me a perfect opportunity to tell a dramatic adventure story, full of mutated creatures and hairbreadth escapes, while also reflecting on our relationship to the natural world

Which character do you relate to the most?

I'd have to say I relate to Sarah, my narrator. She starts out the series angry at what the Ecosystem has done to her family and her people, but she grows to understand the world in ways that make her come to some hard realizations about herself. I feel as if I've undergone a similar growth path myself--from being upset about the state of the world to recognizing my own responsibility and, more important, acting to try to make a change.

I know you love monsters. Which one is your favorite?

There are so many monsters in the Ecosystem series, it's hard for me to choose! In each case, I took a present-day creature and twisted it in some way to make it more threatening. So, for example, snapping turtles become snatching turtles, which pull people into their shells and devour them there. But I love frogs, so I think I would say that my favorite creatures in the series are poison arrow frogs--which are similar to poison dart frogs, except they can spit their venom over fifty feet with the velocity of an arrow. My son helped me come up with this monster when he was younger, so that's another reason I like them.

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If you could meet any character from a book, who would it be?

Definitely Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings. The man is just too cool, too wise, and too awesome. If you go to my website, you'll see a picture of me in the homemade Gandalf costume I pull out of the closet every Halloween!


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Where can we find you online?

Website: https://joshuadavidbellin.blogspot.com/

Blog: https://theyaguy.blogspot.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joshuadavidbellin

Thanks for joining us, Josh!

And don’t forget to check out his newly completed Ecosystem trilogy!

Interview with Cathy Breisacher

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Can you tell me a little about yourself?

I grew up in Altoona, Pennsylvania, attended college at Penn State University and earned my Master’s Degree in School Counseling. I started my career as a high school guidance counselor at the Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School. After enjoying the counseling world for many years, I decided I wanted to devote more time to writing for children. So I obtained my Master in Library Science Degree, made a career switch and became an elementary school librarian. That move enabled me to immerse more of my time in the kid lit world, and now I have two picture books coming out this spring. I live with my husband in Hollidaysburg, and we enjoy traveling, especially to National Parks.

Can you tell me about your books coming out?

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Yes!
CAVEKID BIRTHDAY, illustrated by Roland Garrigue and published by Charlesbridge, will come out on March 5, 2019.  In the story, Caveboy and Cavegirl are best friends and do all kinds of cavekid activities together. They also share the same birthday! So, with their birthday approaching, each one decides to get something special for the other. They both have something valuable that they can take to Caveman’s Collectibles to trade, but when it’s time to exchange gifts, they are in for a big surprise. However, these Cavekids are resourceful, so they use their imagination and creativity to come up with a way to have a satisfying and very happy birthday.

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CHIP AND CURLY, illustrated by Joshua Heinsz and published by Sleeping Bear Press, will release on May 15, 2019. It is a story about two potatoes, Chip and Curly, who compete against each other in Spud City’s Annual sack race. Chip has his heart set on winning the Golden Bushel Award, but when Curly shows up with a spring in his step, Chip is worried. He practices and gains admiration from the other taters in town, but he wonders if he will be able to get this win in the bag or if his dreams of winning will be mashed.

Where did you get the ideas specifically for these books?

CAVEKID BIRTHDAY was initially inspired by a clipart picture of a caveboy and a cavegirl. I started thinking of a story that I could write using cavekids as my characters. At one point, I decided to mash the cavekids with Christmas, and I started writing. It didn’t take long before the idea of doing a twist on the Gift of the Magi popped into my head. I have always loved O. Henry’s story about the husband and wife who each take their most treasured possession and sell it to buy a perfect gift for the other one.  So I decided to take that premise and have it take place during prehistoric time with cavekids. After many rounds of revision, the Christmas theme changed to a Birthday, and the rest of the story flowed from there. I kept the Gift of the Magi theme, so each of the cavekids ends up trading something they value in order to get the perfect birthday present for their friend. But there is a twist in the end!

CHIP AND CURLY – THE GREAT POTATO RACE was inspired by an annual potato festival near my town.  Every fall in Ebensburg, PA, there is a Potato Festival with large crowds of people, delicious potato food, crafts and games. While at the Potato Festival one year, I felt inspired to write a book with potatoes as the characters. I wanted to have fun with this story and fill it with potato puns to make both adults and kids chuckle. I had a great time thinking of ways to add potato-related words and puns to the story.

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What is your all-time favorite picture book?

CREEPY CARROTS by Aaron Reynolds. It is told so well. It is fun, clever, imaginative…everything great storytelling should be. There are many books that tie for my second favorite picture book, but CREEPY CARROTS tops the chart. I also love SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE by Mac Barnett– the page turns are brilliant. MOTHER BRUCE by Ryan Higgins is hysterical. THREE NINJA PIGS by Corey Rosen Swartz shows rhyme at its best. THIS IS NOT MY HAT by Jon Klassen is another favorite, and I also adore all of Kelly DiPucchio’s books.

What is your favorite thing about writing?

I love coming up with a fun idea that I think will make readers smile and laugh. I let my mind think of silly things: What if a hippopotamus went to the moon? What if a bear gets a new haircut? What if a moose tries to play hide-and-seek? I think of something and ask myself: what if, what if, what if? My mind does this every day until something takes up residence in my brain and I can’t stop thinking about it. My favorite part of writing is when I get a complete draft written and then I can delve into revising. Revising is my favorite part of writing.

If you could be any book character, who would you be?

I’d probably pick Clementine by Sara Pennypacker or Ramona by Beverly Cleary for their spunk and imagination.   They both make me laugh. I also wouldn’t mind being Hermione Granger for her intelligence, bravery, and loyalty to her friends.

Where can we find you online?

You can find me online at the following places:

Twitter:  @CathyBreisacher

Facebook:  Cathy Breisacher

website:  www.cathybreisacher.com


Thanks so much for joining us, Cathy!!

Interview with Caroline Carlson

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Caroline Carlson is the author of many books for young readers, including The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy, The World’s Greatest Detective, and The Door at the End of the World, coming in April 2019. She earned an MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives with her family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found taking a long walk, baking cookies, or attempting to get lost in a good book.

 

Can you tell us a bit about your new book, The Door at the End of the World?

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Sure! It’s about a girl named Lucy who lives at the end of the world—the place where her world is connected by a magical door to the next world over. Lucy works as the Gatekeeper’s assistant, helping people who want to travel between the worlds by stamping their passports and making sure their paperwork is in order. It’s not a particularly exciting job, but Lucy knows she’s not the sort of person who’s meant to lead a particularly exciting life.

Then the Gatekeeper goes missing in another world, the door at the end of the world breaks, and Lucy is sure it’s all her fault. She sets out to fix the door and set things right. Without quite meaning to, she collects traveling companions along the way: a boy who might be a prince, a girl who might be a criminal, and a whole bunch of magical bees. And together, they discover that they’ve stumbled onto a dangerous plot that could put all eight of the connected worlds at risk. With the fabric of space and time falling down around their ears, they race through the worlds to stop the plot, find the villain, and rescue the Gatekeeper. Truthfully, it’s a lot more excitement than Lucy bargained for. She’s never had to save the world before—and now, somehow, she’s got to find a way to save eight of them.


There are eight worlds in The Door at the End of the World. Did you plan out each world before you started writing or did they come to you as you wrote?

I’m normally a meticulous planner, but nothing much about The Door at the End of the World was planned—especially not the other worlds! I was racing to get a draft down on paper, and I didn’t even have time to put together my usual outline; I had to sit down each morning in front of a blank page knowing very little about what would happen next. But that mix of excitement and sheer terror made the writing process a lot of fun.

When I first came up with the idea for the book, I didn’t actually intend to send the characters on a journey through lots of different worlds. (At one point there were twelve worlds, but I had to whittle the number down to keep it more manageable.) Creating one imaginary world for the story seemed like a lot of work as it was, and I wasn’t sure I would be able to pull off building seven more. But I realized pretty quickly that you can’t write a book about other worlds without actually sending your characters to explore those worlds for themselves! So I decided to take a bit of a worldbuilding shortcut by giving each world a particular characteristic it was famous for: its advanced technology, for example, or its maritime culture, or its vast number of cows. My characters do visit all eight worlds, but they only spend a lot of time in four of them—and one of those four is our own. It’s the first time any book of mine has been set even partially in the real world. Actually, I found that part of the book really tricky to write. When I’m writing about places I make up from scratch, I don’t have to worry about real-world inconveniences like the distance from New Zealand to Colorado, or how a group of otherworld travelers would be able to make it past TSA security screening at the airport.

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You have four novels published and one coming out in 2019. How are your books similar? How are they different?

My first three books—the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy—are fantasy adventures, my book The World’s Greatest Detective is a murder mystery for kids, and with The Door at the End of the World I’ve come back to fantasy, or at least to speculative fiction. It’s got a different sort of magical flavor from the Pirates trilogy. It’s also the first book I’ve written that’s not a riff on a well-known genre. My Pirates books play with the conventions of stories like Treasure Island, and The World’s Greatest Detective is a sendup of classic mysteries like the Sherlock Holmes stories, but The Door at the End of the World doesn’t play with the tropes of existing stories in that way. It’s something that’s entirely my own, and I’m really excited about that.

But I think all of my books are similar in lots of ways, too. All of them are adventure stories. All of them are mysteries in one way or another—I can’t resist a good plot twist or a revelation of a character’s secret identity. I try to give each one of my books a good dollop of humor. And I’m usually drawn to characters who are searching for their place in the world, trying to figure out where they belong, who they belong with, and what kind of person they want to be. I think a lot of my readers are grappling with those issues as well, so I hope they’re able to find a few kindred spirits in my books.

Are you as adventurous as the characters in your books?

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Not at all! I’ve never been a pirate on the high seas (I get seasick). I’ve never solved a murder (that sounds kind of dangerous). And I’ve never had to race through eight different worlds or repair the fabric of space and time, though I think I’d like to try that if I had the opportunity. But I’m generally a pretty cautious, rule-following sort of person. I’d make a terrible protagonist in an adventure story. I do like traveling, though, and trying new foods, and going on small everyday adventures in my neighborhood. I will occasionally get lost-on-purpose in the park near my house, as long as I’m reasonably sure I’ll be able to get myself found again.

What was your favorite book when you were ten?

I loved The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper. I still do. It’s got a brilliant mix of mythology, magic, adventure, and a sense of place so strong it will sweep you right out of your reading chair.

How can your fans find you?

I love hearing from readers! On the internet, you can find me on Facebook (facebook.com/carolinecarlsonbooks), Twitter (@carolinetc), Instagram (@carolinecarlsonbooks), and through my website, carolinecarlsonbooks.com. I love visiting schools and talking to readers, either in person or through a video chat service like Skype. If you’re a teacher or librarian, you can find out more about that on my website.



Thanks for joining us, Caroline! Be sure to check out her books!

Interview with Samantha Steiger Smith

I’m so excited to start a new feature of interviewing authors and illustrators on my blog! Today we welcome Sam Smith, a local Pittsburgh children’s book writer. Sam’s book, Cate’s Magic Garden, is about a little caterpillar that brings a garden back to life through the power of positive thinking and kind words.

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Can you tell us a little about yourself?

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I grew up in Randolph, NJ (about an hour outside of NYC) and went to college at the University of Virginia, where I earned my bachelor’s in English. I started my career in advertising in Baltimore, MD and then Capitol Hill, DC, working for several ad agencies as a media supervisor. Then I finally got brave and made the jump to copywriter; writing had been my passion since I was a little girl. I enjoyed working for an agency, but when I had the chance to strike out on my own, I did! I became a freelance writer in 2006, and in 2008, my husband and I and our 2-year-old son moved to Pittsburgh so my husband could follow his dream to work in his family’s business, a 117 year-old foundry in the heart of the city. We love the area, and I recently fulfilled another childhood dream, which was to publish a children’s book! I live with my husband, sons Sutter (12) and Graham (8) and kitten Penelope.


Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Yes! Pretty much since I was six and told my parents I wanted to be Robert Frost when I grew up. My dad gently told me that it might be a difficult living. I’m happy to report that writing can be a great and exciting profession these days, especially since you can work from anywhere! Funny story: when I was ten, I wrote a poem about a butterfly….and my book is about a very similar one—I did not remember this coincidence until very recently.

How did Cate come about?

CATE was not born the way children’s books usually are—she came about rather backwards. My step-sister, Megan, put me in touch with my now co-author, Betsy Coffeen. Betsy is a dedicated Childhelp Wings Advisor and wanted to create a fundraiser for the organization, which helps prevent child abuse. We started with a story about a bunch of kids on the playground and a bullying situation, since that aligned nicely with Childhelp’s mission, but the story just didn’t feel right yet. Then the garden idea just popped into my head. First, we explored a world where a grumpy group of bugs dug holes with their negativity, literally. But this theme started getting too dark for a children’s book. That’s when my publisher had a great idea that turned the book and the entire message around. She harnessed the power of positivity and kindness. And we made the connection that words change worlds, which is a very powerful and exciting message.

We were grateful to have Ginger Seehafer join our team and truly bring the story to life through her beautiful illustrations. And Rachel Eeva Smith helped create this inspiring book with her expert book design. Amy Cherrix of Two Hoots Press finally brought CATE’S MAGIC GARDEN out into the world, and she continues to be a huge champion of its message.

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Cate was published in connection with Childhelp. Can you tell us more about that?

Childhelp is an amazing organization, founded in 1959 by two actresses, Yvonne Fedderson and Sara O’Meara from the popular tv show, The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet. Since its inception, Childhelp has helped over 10 million victims of child abuse and neglect and is internationally renowned. Yvonne and Sara have both been honored by almost every president since Carter and were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize eight times, among other important recognitions. Their work is vitally important, and I’m honored to support them. A portion of proceeds from the book go to Childhelp.

Where can readers find you and your book?

Me? Probably in a library, at my computer or on the soccer field! But seriously, CATE and I have been fortunate enough to visit several Pittsburgh area schools to talk about the power of positivity and kindness. I’ve done a number of readings/signings at local bookstores, including Penguin Bookshop, Barnes & Noble, Riverstone Bookstore, Learning Express at the Galleria and Learning Express of Bakery Square. My books are also available at Malaprops in Asheville, NC; How To Live in Beach Haven, NJ; Cover to Cover in Columbus, OH and Book Soup in LA! You can find them online at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

Thanks for joining us, Sam! Be sure to check out her book!