Category Archives: Interview

An Interview with Quilter Stephanie Finnell

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An Interview with Quilter Stephanie Finnell

Meet Stephanie Finnell, the blogger, sewer, crocheter, and quilter behind the Katy Trail Creations blog and Etsy shop. I’ve followed her blog for years and recently reached out and asked if I could interviw her for ARHtistic License. Here are her responses:

ARHtistic License: You care for pre schoolers in your home. How do you find time to quilt?
Stephanie Finnell: I’ve been caring for children ages newborn through 11 years for over 25 years and have learned to utilize naptime pretty efficiently lol. Otherwise there are evenings and weekends.

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AL: How did you get started quilting?
SF: I have sewn nearly all my life. My earliest recollection is making a toy ‘snake’ with scraps with my grandmother Inez on her treadle sewing machine. I took sewing in 4-H with my mother as the project leader and after I married, I bought my first machine. The quilting part came along after my daughters were born and I wanted to try using up a bunch of scraps. I’d made quite a good amount of dresses for my daughters and used them on a crazy quilt. I don’t have a photo of it (guess that should be a priority).

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AL: Do you prefer traditional quilt designs, or do you like contemporary designs as well? What is your favorite kind of quilt to make?
SF: I do have a love for traditional but I really admire the contemporary quilts I’ve seen online. My favorite ones lately are from old Kansas City Star patterns. I’ve collected a few books that feature these and love trying them out. Some turn out great, others not so much lol.

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AL: Are there any particular quilt designers you admire?
SF: I think I need to give credit to Fons and Porter for their influence with PBS as well as other tv quilters (Alex Anderson, Ricky Tims, Eleanor Burns, Sharlene Jorgenson) for jumpstarting my interest as well as giving all the wonderful instruction. There aren’t many quilters in my family and none that I’ve actually sewn with. I am slightly partial to Fons and Porter as they hale from my grandma’s birthplace in Iowa.

finnell 1

AL: You do a lot of hand quilting. Do you ever quilt by machine? Do you stitch-in-the-ditch or do you do free motion quilting? What kind of sewing machine do you use?
SF: I’m glad you asked. I definitely use machine when I can’t take as much time in completing a quilt. I like using the walking foot so more line quilting or serpentine styles when using a machine. There’s also tying when really pinched for time. I own a Bernina 1080(a real workhorse) and an Esante but use the Bernina most. I have also used embroidery with the Esante on a couple quilts. It worked really well on a cathedral window quilt.

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AL: What are your favorite colors for quilting?
SF: I think red and white quilts really are my favorite. (This has reminded me of a UFO-stack of red & white blocks downstairs lol.) Also blue and white. But as you can see in my completed photos, I’m a lover of all color combinations.

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AL: What is your fabric-shopping strategy?
SF: Usually sales and a need for specific colors to match.

AL: Do you usually have a particular quilt in mind when you go to the fabric store, or do you buy whatever strikes your fancy?
SF: When readying for the A to Z Challenge I’ve got a color scheme in mind.

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AL: What is your stash like?
SF: It is pretty large with much of it in tubs. I am fortunate to have a designated space but as I’m working on projects, they overflow into my recliner for ease of access. Recently a local fabric store closed due to the owner passing and my mother and I had to restrain ourselves with all the fabric available. It was still a bit more than we could do and we both spent a significant amount but all fabric lovers justify their purchases and seem to have enabling spouses lol.

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AL: What kind of batting do you like?
SF: All cotton, low loft. Much easier for hand stitching.

AL: What are you working on right now?
SF: Another eBay find. It’s a wedding ring-ish type but it is has a square border all around. Someone used Precious Moments fabric on it in the rings and will make some little girl an adorable keepsake I hope.

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AL: How do decide what kind of quilt to make?
SF: I often try to decide how many fabrics I want to use, So for a red and white, the options are fewer in block pattern choices. Other times, I just use up my scraps so they aren’t continuing to pile up.

AL: What is the hardest part of quilting?
SF: Finding enough time. If I had to do it for a living though, I’m sure I wouldn’t enjoy it as much.

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AL: What has helped you the most on your quilting journey?
SF: Working at home gives me more time than most people, I think. Out of sight, out of mind in so many hobbies and being here it’s pretty much always in my line of vision.

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AL: Do you have any funny quilting stories?
SF: Well recently, my daughter who really does know better wanted a quilt by 1 pm the same day. I agreed only if I had her assistance in cutting and tying. It was the quickest quilt in history I think! Lol Glad we spent that time on it together though. Warmed my heart 😊

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AL: What else you would like readers to know about your quilts?
SF: I just hope they bring someone joy. That’s a quilter’s ultimate goal.

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Stephanie Finnell with her husband.

Interview with Author Kathie McMahon

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Interview with Author Kathie McMahon

Meet Kathie McMahon, a retired teacher, musician, and author. Her new chapter book, Mortimer and Me, is releasing this Saturday, September 28, 2019, at 10 am at the rehearsal studio of East Valley Children’s Theatre, 4501 E. Main St., Mesa, Arizona, on the southeast corner of Greenfield and Main. If you’ll be in the Greater Phoenix area, you’re invited to come!

ARHtistic License: Your chapter book, Mortimer and Me, is for ages 6-9. What’s it about?

Kathie McMahon: Eight-year-old Jimmy is the new kid in school and he’s already been labeled a troublemaker. After his first attempt to make a friend turns disastrous, the only one who seems to care about Jimmy is Mortimer – a big ole clumsy moose that wanders into town causing problems of his own. Jimmy and Mortimer face one setback after another, including a run-in with a couple of bullies and an escape by the class pet. The soccer game between the teachers and third graders might be the opportunity Jimmy is searching for. Maybe he and Mortimer can finally prove to everyone that they belong.

AL: How did you come up with the idea?

KM:My dad used to tell me bedtime stories about Mortimer and all the trouble he would get into. Each night was a different catastrophe. I can still hear my dad’s low voice saying, “Mortimer? Go help someone else!” Dad’s Mortimer was a donkey, however, not a moose. But one summer, my husband and I were on an Alaskan cruise. We saw a moose standing by the train tracks, and then in town we came upon a gift shop called “Mortimer and Company,” with a huge picture of a moose in sunglasses. All those stories came flooding back and a new Mortimer was born.

Mortimer and me

AL: You taught elementary school for years, and you’ve written musicals for East Valley Children’s Theater. How does writing novels differ from writing musicals? How are they similar?

KM: I taught elementary band and general music for twelve years and then decided to move into the regular classroom, where I taught fourth, fifth, and sixth grades for 20 years until I retired in 2005. When I taught music, I always did school musicals by published playwrights. Once I started in the regular classroom, I found myself wanting to teach the social studies and science curriculum in a different way. So I created musicals that aligned with the curriculum and performed one every year. After taking a sabbatical to hone my composition skills, I started writing music for community theatre, specifically East Valley Children’s Theatre, for which I’ve won four AriZoni Awards for Original Musical Composition. When I started writing novels after I retired, I found writing dialogue to be the easiest because of my playwriting experience. What I found the most challenging was the narrative, the descriptions needed around the dialogue. I’ve been working on that a lot, but you’ll still find my novels to be very dialogue-driven.

AL: Are your musicals available to other groups for performance?

KM: My school musicals are self-published. I’m currently revising those and will be adding accompaniment tracks. I hope to have them on my website soon. I’ve had one musical, The Floating Princess, published by Pioneer Drama. C. Lynn Johnson is the playwright and I did the music and lyrics.

AL: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

KM: I’ve always been a pantser, that is until I wrote my first YA novel. I finished the first draft and it is a mess! The plot and characters took quite the twist and turn in the process, to the point where I’m not sure how it even all lines up. So going back and revising it is going to be a real chore. I swore I would outline from now on! I’ve already outlined book two of the Mortimer series, and I think it’s going to be much easier to write. I will still have my moments of “pantsing,” I’m sure, because I always want to let the characters take me in a direction I hadn’t thought of before. So I suppose I will strive for a balance of both in the end.

mortimer book

AL: How long did it take to write Mortimer and Me?

KM: Oh my, it’s been quite the process – you wouldn’t think writing a chapter book would take so long! When I first started writing, I was actually teaching the writing process to my sixth graders as they navigated through how to write a story to be published. So I came up with Mortimer and used him as an example. The story evolved, and initially I planned for it to be a picture book with an original song. I imagined a toddler listening to the story and then learning a simple song about Mortimer. When I pitched it to a publisher, she suggested making it into a chapter book and introducing a boy character. So Jimmy and Mortimer’s relationship was born. I also found my writing voice in middle grade, the age group I had taught for 32 years. I put Mortimer and Me on the back burner while I worked on some other projects. Eventually I came back to it and decided to self-publish it as a chapter book series. It’s been quite the ride!

AL: What kind of research did you do for Mortimer and Me?

KM: Well, I researched moose, of course! Living in Arizona, we don’t see any here! I wanted Mortimer to have the characteristics of a moose, but some human traits as well. I think every child has fantasies about having a certain kind of animal as a friend. So while I’m not suggesting anyone go up to a moose in the wild and try to pet it, I found many examples of moose wandering into towns every now and then. I found out that they normally don’t attack humans unless provoked. I also visited Wisconsin to get a feel for life there, and to research my ancestors who emigrated there from England. You can find out interesting facts about moose on my website, and if you’re interested in my ancestors from England, you’ll have to wait for my YA novel, once I finally revise it!

AL: What was it like working with illustrator Tom Tate?

KM: Tom and I have been friends for many years. He’s been an illustrator most of his life and recently finished his own project, Tales of the Mythlewild, which he wrote and illustrated. We met through SCBWI and were part of the same critique group. Mortimer and Me is the first book he’s illustrated for someone else, something I talked him into because he had already critiqued the story. I hope this leads to other opportunities for him, because he is extremely talented! Since he already knew the story, he nailed Mortimer on the first try. Jimmy took a little longer because he doesn’t often draw contemporary kids. But in my mind, Jimmy was my younger brother. I was able to send Tom some childhood pictures of him. After that, the other characters came easily, and he added some nice touches for the front matter and chapter headings.

AL: What types of books do you like to read? What authors do you admire?

KM: Like every other author, I’ve been reading my whole life, so this is a tough one. I grew up with the Nancy Drew series and Little House on the Prairie. As a teacher, I liked to read historical fiction to my classes so they could learn historical facts in an interesting way. That genre has always been one of my personal favorites, along with science fiction – even though science is probably my weakest curriculum area! As a writer, I really relate to the writing styles of Richard Peck, Jerry Spinelli, Gary Schmidt, Gordon Korman, Sally J. Pla, Linda Mullaly Hunt, and Natalie Lloyd.

AL: What is your favorite book about writing?

KM: I’ll admit I haven’t read a lot of books about writing, but right now I’m reading It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again by Juila Cameron, who also wrote The Artist’s Way. Excellent advice in both books!

AL: What is the most difficult part of writing a book? What is the most fun part of writing a book?

KM: Writing a book is much more difficult than I ever imagined! I never had a writing course in school, other than what writing I had to do in AP English classes and two years on the high school newspaper staff. So there was so much to learn! I attended every workshop, conference, and webinar I could and just became a sponge that soaked up as much advice as possible. Then putting all that into a story was challenging! But that’s also the fun part. Taking an idea and watching it grow is exciting. I know I’ve hit a soft spot when I read an excerpt to my husband and he gets tears in his eyes. Or when I re-read something I’ve just written and I laugh out loud. Writing can be frustrating, but so rewarding at the same time!

Kathie

AL: Why did you decide to self-publish? You’ve created your own imprint, Pearl White Books, named in honor of your grandmother. How did you do that? Do you have plans to publish books by other authors under that imprint?

KM: I have spent the last ten years querying and submitting three different projects to agents and editors. I’ve received some very positive feedback, as well as discouraging ones. I have many friends who have gone both the traditional and self-publishing route. I finally decided that what I really want to be is what is called a “hybrid” author – meaning I would like to do both. I thought Mortimer and Me would be a good place to start. I developed a website and social media platform and hope to build a fan base for this series that might lead to some agents willing to represent me. I used Kindle Direct Publishing through Amazon, which I found to be very professional and extremely helpful through the process. They allowed me to start my own imprint, Pearl White Books, in honor of my maternal grandmother. And yes, that really is her name! Funny, but I never really thought about her name before. Obviously, her parents didn’t know she’d marry someone named White when they named her Pearl. She was my inspiration and role model. She always knew the perfect gift to buy for birthdays and Christmas, and for me, that was usually books and music. She’s been gone for many years now, but I couldn’t think of a better name for my imprint. Right now, I’m just using it for my own books, but you never know what the future will bring!

AL: Mortimer and Me is book one of a series. What’s in store for the second installment?

KM: Like I mentioned before, it’s already outlined! The title is Mortimer and Me: The Bigfoot Mystery. Jimmy and Mortimer go camping and find a huge footprint that they can’t decide if it’s human or animal. So they decide to find out what it is . . .

AL: What is something about your books or about yourself that you wish your readers knew?

KM: Probably the biggest challenge any author faces is what story to tell. I struggled with this a lot when I started out. “Write what you know” turned into “Write what you can find out about” which is now “Write the story only you can tell.” As a retired teacher who likes to travel a lot, I wasn’t sure “my story” would be interesting enough that anyone would want to read! Journaling helps a lot when you’re trying to create ideas, and I found that I have a lot to say! You’ll find that my stories have a lot of heart and usually center on family, specifically relationships with grandparents. I’m the grandmother of five, so I can relate to that. My husband and I have traveled a lot since we retired, so you’ll also find that flavor in my stories. Plus, I love doing research, so even if I haven’t been there, I can travel there virtually. There are universal themes that all kids can relate to: friendships, relationships, belonging, family. Those things constitute the heart of my stories, and I hope there are those who can relate to them as well.

An Interview with Quilter Frances Arnold

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An Interview with Quilter Frances Arnold

Frances Arnold is a quilter, blogger, instructor, speaker, world traveler, and accountant. She recently answered questions about her quilting for ARHtistic License.

Why quilts? What is it about quilt-making that captivates you?
FA: That is a great question and, honestly, I don’t know why I ended up with quilting. I come from a long line of Texas quilters and my Mom made quilts when I was growing up, but they were all large quilts, done entirely by hand, and each took a year to make. This didn’t appeal to me at all!! But what she did teach me was that handmade items were special and were to be cherished. Instead of quilting, I tried knitting, crocheting and needlepoint, then transitioned to crewel embroidery and finally counted cross-stitch. When I was 28, one of my friends from church was teaching quilting and I took her class. Her quilting was different…she did small projects that could be finished in a reasonable amount of time and even used the sewing machine at times. Once I started, I was hooked and haven’t really looked back since then. After 35 years of quilting, I LOVE the feel of the fabrics, the precision of the piecing and the texture of the quilting.

Casa Amarella

“Casa Amarella” (2009) – 19×23 – This quilt was based on a photo from Porto, Portugal

You’re an accountant. How do you make time for quilting?
FA: When my first child was born 34 years ago, my husband and I decided that we would do our best to keep me at home with our kids. Over the years, I developed my accounting practice, just a few clients in the early years and a more substantial practice now. I work out of my home which allows me a lot of flexibility. In the past year, I have been planning my time using “block scheduling” which means that I set certain time aside for being in the studio. It has definitely helped my creativity.

Complements under the Canopy

“Complements Under the Canopy” (2012) – 40×40 – The guild challenge was “Complementary colors” and the inspiration was from photos taken at the Xishuabana Tropical Botanical Garden in Southern China.

Do you ever use commercial patterns, or do you always design your own?
FA: Like most quilters, I started out picking 3 fabrics (a light, a medium and a dark) and working straight from a published pattern. As time went on, I thought “what would happen if I made this one change”, and then another change and before I knew it I was making quilts almost entirely from my original designs. Although I sometimes use commercial patterns now, my preference is to design my own.

Blue Light Special

“Blue Light Special” (2014) – 42×45 – This was based on a photo taken inside the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. The inspiration came from a “six-pointed star” challenge in my local guild. The thought was triggered when the instructions talked about this type of star being prevalent in the Islamic religion.

Where do you get your inspiration?
FA: EVERYWHERE!!! I am always taking photos of things that remind me of quilts and even have my husband looking as well. He often sends me photos of things that he sees!!

Flower Pots, Flower Pots

“Flower Pots, Flower Pots” (2012 ) – 86×105 – This was the second quilt that my Mom and I worked on together. She did the appliqué and I put the top together and the machine quilting. It is one of my favorite quilts!!

What’s your favorite kind of quilt to make?
FA: This is a hard question because I like so many different types of quilts. In the last 10 years I have made a number of quilts based on inspirations from overseas trips that my husband and I have taken. He often works overseas for extended periods of time and I accompany him as often as I can. Since 2017 we have spent 64 weeks overseas, making 20 trips to 11 different countries, including Italy, Portugal, Austria, Colombia, Australia, China, India and Nepal.
But, on the other hand, I LOVE finding a fun pattern and making a good old scrap quilt. I find them relaxing to make and a good distraction when I am “stuck” on something that needs more designing and thinking!!

Mother Daughter Flower Garden

“Mother, Daughter Flower Garden” (2009) – 90×108 – This was the first quilt that my Mom and I made together. She had made tons of appliqué flower blocks but was planning to just throw a sashing between them and call the top finished. I told her that the beautiful blocks deserved more, so ended up finishing the top and doing the quilting.

What are your favorite colors?
FA: I would say that I don’t have a favorite color, but my stash would say differently as it is overflowing with jewel tones. More than a particular color, I am drawn to bright fabrics…dull tones just don’t do it for me!

Peacock Pavillion

“Peacock Pavilion” (2008) – 35×40 – While visiting the Mysore Palace in India, I was enamored with a stained glass peacock window. Since no photos were allowed, I sketched a rendition and immediately came home and designed this quilt.

Do you quilt by hand or on a sewing machine?
FA: Most of my work is done by machine but I am trying to add some hand appliqué back in…mainly to give me something to do at night while sitting with my husband.

Rainbow Pineapples

“Rainbow Pineapples” (2017) – 78×100 – made using Gyleen Fitzgerald’s pineapple ruler and started during a guild retreat. This quilt was juried into the International Quilt Festival (Houston) in 2018.

What sewing machine do you use? What do you like about it?
FA: I have a Juki 2200 QVP Mini, which is a straight stitch machine. It is a true workhorse and I love it!! It moves easily between piecing and machine quilting and has all the features that I ever need. IF I need to do a zig-zag stitch, I move back to my previous machine, a Viking Lily. It too was a great machine, but I wanted something with a little more harp space that would make machine quilting easier.

Pueblo Nation

“Pueblo Nation” (2014) – 42×44 – This quilt was part of our guild’s “Nation” challenge. The design was based on photos that we took while visiting the pueblos in Taos, New Mexico.

What is your fabric-shopping strategy? Do you usually have a particular quilt in mind when you go to the fabric store, or do you buy whatever strikes your fancy?
FA: I wish that I could call it a strategy, but mostly it is a matter of attraction and opportunity. Many of my quilts are made without purchasing any fabric but sometimes I go out looking for that one special fabric.

Escala Azule

“Escala Azule” (2009) – 18×23 – Also from Porto, Portugal, this quilt is a reminder of the LONG set of stairs that I climbed after learning that the “sky lift” wasn’t working.

How many unfinished projects do you have right now? (Is that an unfair question?)
FA: Personally, I don’t have tons of unfinished projects…the oldest one is based on train passengers in the London Underground. It has been a UFO for almost 10 years!!! Having said that, my Mom passed away in 2017 and left me EIGHT of her UFO’s!! Right now, I am trying to figure out exactly which ones I want to finish and which I want to donate to my guild charity group. [Note: click on the smaller photos below to enlarge and read the captions.]

You’re a guild member. How has that affected your journey as a quilter?
FA: Being a member of a local guild has been instrumental in the growth of my art. Many of my closest friends are from my guild and all have inspired me and encouraged me to keep pushing onward. The programs and workshops have helped me to look at new techniques and to think about quilting in different ways. I think that every quilter should be in a guild!

Whose quilt designs do you admire?
FA: There are too many to name. I am truly enamored with the free motion machine quilting that is being done now, particularly in the modern quilt genre. I am inspired every time I thumb thru the newest magazine, check out the latest websites, or observe the “show and tell” at our guild meetings.

You travel around the southeast giving presentations to quilters. What especially do you like to teach/talk about?
FA: My favorite guild talk is “Viewing the World Thru Quilt Colored Glasses” where I mix travel photos with the quilts that they inspired. When I first started giving this talk, I spent more time talking about the travel side, but now I have so many quilts made from these inspirations that I keep having to cut more and more of the travel photos out.
I also have talks about using photographs in quilts (Out of the Scrapbook and onto the quilt), and about making quilts the size that you want (Size Matters). I am currently in the process of developing another talk about use of color in quilts.
I also enjoy teaching “Beginning Machine Quilting” workshops, trying to convince participants that they are capable of quilting their own quilts…even BIG ones.

The Tiles of San Giovani

“The Tiles of San Giovani” (2018) – 46×46 – After visiting the Church of San Giovani in Rome and taking 97 photos of the tile floors, this was the quilt that was born.

Is there anything else you would like readers to know about your quilts?
FA: My quilts are definitely an extension of my life and the creativity involved is what keeps me sane!! My goal for 2019 and 2020 is to “up my quilting game” by improving both the technical side of my quilts as well as their creative aspects. So far, I am truly enjoying this journey!!

Frances Arnold

Frances Arnold

 

An Interview with Vesna Taneva-Miller

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An Interview with Vesna Taneva-Miller

Meet Vesna Taneva-Miller, folk dancer, quilter, painter, jewelry maker, crocheter and crafter. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing her for years, since she dances with the Phoenix International Folk Dancers, but I didn’t know how talented she is in the arts until another dancer told me she saw a rope bowl made by Vesna featured in Phoenix Magazine. (Click this link and scroll down. It’s in the Textiles and Home Décor section.)

You are a wife, the mother of two children, and you work for Alaska Airlines. How do you find time for your art?

I don’t always find time, and I am not always a perfect mother and wife.  It’s not like I have dinner ready, dishes done, laundry folded and put away and now it’s time for art.  Sometimes none of those things are done, but I am at my table creating because that’s what I need to do at that time.  It’s really give and take and you put time and effort into the things that matter.

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You’re active in many media: drawing, painting, jewelry making, sewing, crochet—have I missed any? What is your favorite way to make art?

Ah gosh, I don’t have a favorite.  I go through cycles, so I have times when doing watercolors is my favorite.  A few months later sewing is my favorite and so on.  Sometimes I am a bit jealous at artist that focus on one media and get really good at it.  I am not a master at anything, I just like to try everything.

What inspires you to create?

Many things.  Nature for sure. Places, experiences, feelings. Other artists.

Vesna Taneva-Miller; art; Zentangle

Zentangle gems

Do you have your own dedicated workspace for making art?

I am lucky that I do.  It’s an addition to the back of our house that was already there when we bought it.  It didn’t initially have a/c but we added a window unit.  It’s always in a state of disarray, a total mess, much like the rest of my home.

Do you have a theme or an underlying message in your art?

I love bright colors.  For me it represents life and playfulness, easygoingness, peace, comfort.

Vesna Taneva-Miller; art; jewelry

Snowflake pins

Some of your art is sold through Art-o-mat. Tell me how that works.

Art-o-mat is a community of artist that sell small pieces of original and affordable art at $5 in vending machines that formerly were cigarette vending machines.  I first saw it at the Vision Gallery – downtown Chandler, AZ.  They have one.  I bought a few pieces of art and was hooked and wanted to be a part of it.  Each piece is handmade, so therefore an original.  It’s the size of a box of cigarettes and it’s like a surprise machine for adults.  You put in a coin, you choose an artist represented by a small plaque and possibly what you may be getting, but each piece is different so you never know what you get until you get it.

Vesna Taneva-Miller; crocheted pumpkins

Crocheted pumpkins

You teach for Skillshare. Did you have to shoot your own videos? Is it difficult to give instruction in front of a camera?  

I’ve only done a couple of classes for Skillshare.  [ARHtistic License says: Don’t sell yourself short–I counted six!] I keep breaking my own promise of doing more.  Yes I have to film the videos myself.  Luckily my husband edits them for me, although that’s a struggle for me because I am so uncomfortable with asking for help or asking someone to do something for me.  I do find it difficult to talk in front of the camera with no one standing behind it.  Filming my hands making stuff is much easier for me.

Vesna Taneva-Miller; art; jewelry

Cardboard earrings

What is one of your most favorite pieces that you’ve created, and why?

I am not sure if I have a favorite piece.  I have a lot of fond memories making small art quilts.  Jewelry – necklaces made with fabric.  Doodling mandalas with watercolors.

What is it about creating art that gives you the most satisfaction?

It’s like entering another dimension where you don’t have to worry about whatever is happening in real life.  It’s like an escape.  A coping mechanism.

Vesna Taneva-Miller; art

Cactus from Vesna’s art journal

What challenges have you encountered in your art, and how have you overcome them?

I need to stop comparing myself with others.  It’s a challenge.  It’s really hard in a society of social media where everyone shares their best, mostly.  I have to remind myself that I am me and they are they.  That I just have to keep doing my thing.

What is the best creative advice you’ve ever been given?

Tell your story.  Share your process.  Blog.  Of course I have not been consistent in doing all of these.

Who is your favorite artist?

I have a few: Colette Copeland, Kathy Cano-Murillo, Alisa Burke, Sharon Nullmeyer, Cassie Stephens.

Vesna Taneva-Miller; sewing; crafts

Easter bunnies

What is a project you’re looking forward to making?

One day, hahaha, I’d like to have my home in a perfect state, decorated, custom upholstered, cool murals…….one day, one day.  I ask myself why not today and go crazy at the size of the project.

You love to travel, and your job helps make that possible. Where are some of the places you are planning to go in the future? If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you make your home?

I’d like to go to Iceland.  Also I’ve never been to Montana.  I am not sure that I know where I’d like to make home.  I’ve lived in a few places that I am conflicted.  Each place has part in my heart as home.  So I am not sure for now.

You’re from Macedonia. How did you end up in the United States? Given the current political climate, do you experience discrimination?

I came to the US when I was 16 as an exchange student.  This was in the mid 1990s.  I’ve never felt bluntly discriminated, although I have felt alone and different and that I don’t always belong, or don’t know how to relate even though by now I understand both my culture and this culture very well.  But I am not sure if that’s just a personal issue or discrimination.

An Interview with Author Victoria Thompson

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An Interview with Author Victoria Thompson

Victoria Thompson is the popular author of twenty-two romance novels, the historical Gaslight Mystery series (twenty-two books and counting), and the Counterfeit Lady novels (Book 3 coming out soon).

I have to brag that I’ve know Vicki since 1982. When my second child was born, she was my La Leche League leader. Soon afterward, she started a Bible study group for young mothers, and she was instrumental in leading me back to the Lord.

She was also the first person I’d ever known to actually have a book published.

Vicki graciously agreed to be interviewed for ARHtistic License.

What was your undergraduate major?

VT: English/Secondary Education; I like to say I’m a retired teacher—I taught one year and retired!  This was in a public Middle School in 1970.

You teach writing popular fiction in the Masters program at Seton Hill University. How did that come about?

VT: I was invited to teach in the program when it was just getting started in 2000.  A writer friend recommended me.

I’ve heard your books characterized as “cozy” mysteries. What constitutes a cozy?

VT: A “cozy” or traditional mystery is defined as a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community. That doesn’t mean a small town, necessarily, although many traditional mysteries are set in small towns.  It just means the group of suspects are members of a small social community, i.e. friends, family members, members of a church or club, etc.

Murder on Pleasant Avenue

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

VT: Yes. My process is actually somewhere in the middle. I come up with my victim and the cast of suspects before I start writing, but I have no idea who the killer is or what exactly will happen, so I just wing it from there.

Why historical fiction?

VT: I love history and I love exploring how human nature has not really changed ever. The technology is different, but people are not. They are still concerned about the same things now as they were a hundred years ago. I have tried writing contemporary novels, but they just never quite click, for some reason. I think I just have a naturally historical voice and sensibility.

How do you do your research?

VT: I have three sets of bookshelves full of reference books in my office that I consult, but it’s also very easy to use Google for things as well. I don’t even have to get out of my chair! Google will often lead me to a specific reference book and if it’s not available any other way, I’ll get it from the library or inter-library loan.

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How long does it take you to write a book?

VT: Around 6 months, including research and “thinking.”

What is the most fun part of writing a book?

VT: Getting to that point in the book where you realize you’ve got all the clues in place, you know who the killer is and why they did it and all you have to do is write it up so others can read it. For me, this usually happens around 2/3-3/4 of the way through the manuscript.

Who is your agent, and how did you connect?

VT: My agent is Nancy Yost. We have been together about 25 years (neither of us remembers exactly when she took me on).  She was originally my editor for two books I wrote for Avon.  I had just hired a new agent when she told me she was leaving Avon to become an agent.  Two years later, I fired that agent and went with Nancy.

Victoria Thompson photo

Victoria Thompson

What is something about your books or about yourself that you wish your readers knew?

VT: I have very little control over the cover art (I do get to approve it or suggest changes), and no control at all over when or how often the books are published and how much they cost. Also, I’d love to write 12 books a year, to keep my fans happy, but that’s physically impossible.

 

An Interview with Author Sara Fujimura

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An Interview with Author Sara Fujimura

Sara Fujimura is the talented author of Tanabata Wish (2017), Breathe (2018), and Every Reason We Shouldn’t (releasing March 3, 2020). You can learn more about her on her website. Fujimura recently answered questions for ARHtistic License.

 

You’re a white woman married to a Asian man. Your family celebrates your dual heritage. You’ve written about raising bicultural children, and characters in two of your books are biracial. This is obviously an issue close to your heart. Has your family experienced prejudice? What advice do you give to other biracial families?

Tanabata Wish

SF: Toshi and I have been married for 26 years now though we’ve been friends since I was seventeen. We have two college-aged kids, one son and one daughter. We spend about a month each summer in a very rural part of Gifu Prefecture with their Japanese grandparents. My first YA book, TANABATA WISH, is not an autobiography, but my long-time friends can pick out the true parts based on my annual summer missives from Japan via Facebook. I’ve been writing about bicultural life for a long time. First as magazine articles and later as young adult books. I have a large number of biracial and/or bicultural teens and young adults in my life, so it only makes sense that my work reflects the group of now college-aged kids you will see in my living room playing videogames on any given Saturday night. I have been reading YA books for twenty years, and there has never been a shortage of YA books in my house, yet we lost both of my children (especially my son) to anime, manga, and Japanese TV because they didn’t see themselves represented very often. Seriously, werewolves are easier to find in YA books than Asian or biracial Asian guys as the main character. Within the last few years, that has begun to change, so I hope we won’t lose another generation of boys. Yes, we have felt prejudice both here and in Japan. All I can suggest is keep pushing against the stereotypes and speaking up for your kids. Also, try to find books and other forms of media that your kids can see themselves in.

Breathe

What sort of research did you need to do for your historical novel, Breathe?

SF: Tons and tons and tons. TANABATA WISH was relatively easy because it came out of my real life and many of the experiences my family has had. BREATHE is set in Philadelphia against the great Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. My degree is in Public Health Education, and deadly diseases have always been my jam. Most of the medical details (especially the grossest parts) came directly from first person accounts from that time period. But that was only the tip of the research iceberg. I read newspaper articles, women’s fashion magazines from the time, listened to popular songs from 1918, watched the original 1918 TARZAN OF THE APES silent movie, looked through historical photos from the women’s suffrage movement, ate a lot of vintage candy in the name of research, and spent a good chunk of time in Philadelphia in all the major settings of BREATHE. I didn’t want to write a textbook but know that even what might look like a throwaway line has a purpose. If you want to dive deeper and go behind the scenes of BREATHE, you can go to my blog at: https://saraffujimura.com/blog. Are you a science teacher, history teacher, or homeschooler? I have high school-level curriculum tie-ins to BREATHE created by local high school teachers on the blog too.

 Your soon-to-be-released book, Every Reason We Shouldn’t, is about ice skating. Is that a sport that you’ve participated in?Every Reason We Shouldn't

SF: EVERY REASON WE SHOULDN’T is about perfectionism and the high cost that comes with being number one. I like to say that it is like THE CUTTING EDGE meets YURI ON ICE. At sixteen, Olivia is a washed-up Olympic-level pairs figure skater trying to figure out how to be a normal teen. Jonah, 15, is chasing his Olympic dream: To be the next Apolo Ohno. Jonah simultaneously needles Olivia, inspires her, and reignites her flame. I do own a pair of ice skates, but I am much better at roller skating (which is why there is also roller derby in this book). Just like my other books, I have other people who are much more knowledgeable about different topics look over my work. No spoilers but Olivia and Jonah’s signature move came directly from my beta reader who was a competitive skater. What I had originally would have been fine, but Katie’s knowledge took it to the next level.

Where does your inspiration come from?

SF: Real life. Even for BREATHE. I pull strings from real places, people, conversations, and experiences and weave them into new stories. For EVERY REASON WE SHOULDN’T, I actually had Jonah’s character down first even though Olivia ended up telling the story. Jonah was very much inspired by reading Apolo Ohno’s autobiography, specifically the part about when he was a teenager. I have two one-in-a-million girls like Olivia in my life who I’ve watched blossom into young women. There are a lot of super talented teens out there, but I wanted to write about an amped up version of what a lot of talented teens go through. Just because you are the star at your local dance studio doesn’t guarantee that you’ll dance on Broadway. ERWS is about gifted teens at a crossroad when pure talent is no longer enough. Do you quit? Do you keep going?

Why do you write for young adults?

SF: I love to read and write YA for the same reason: The sense of hope. Though the path might be difficult, anything is still possible. Also, the sense of newness and how the world begins to open up in your late teens as you break away from your family.

Do you have an agent? Who is your agent, and how did you connect?

SF: I do! Rebecca Angus of Golden Wheat Literary Agency hearted my ERWS pitch during Pitch Wars on Twitter. I signed with her in early January 2018, and she sold ERWS to Tor Teen by the end of March. That said, know that it took me almost twenty years of querying multiple books and enough rejection letters to wallpaper my living room to get to that point.

Sara Fujimura Headshot

Sara Fujimura

What’s up next?

SF: I have two projects I’m actively working on now. One is a screenplay, and the other will be my second contracted book with Tor Teen. I’m still in the beginning stages of both and have endless hours of research ahead of me still (which I kinda love). That’s all I can say right now.

Do you have a funny story about any of your books or about the writing process?

SF: The first time I went to Philadelphia to do research for BREATHE, Philly gave me the worst case of influenza that I have ever had. Being a writer, I took copious notes and wove them into the opening chapters of BREATHE.

What is something about your books or about yourself that you wish your readers knew?

SF: If you go to the local anime cons, you will often see me as my alter ego, The Obento Lady. I sell cute bento boxes and all the things to make your lunch fun and artistic (Bunny-shaped hard-boiled egg mold, anyone?). I made bento for my kids from the time they were 4 and 6 until they finished high school. You can imagine how many plastic baggies didn’t go into the landfill because of that. Sometimes my lunches were fabulous and artistic. Sometimes they were meh, but we still called it a win for Mother Earth. If you see me at events (book or anime), show me your lunch. I am happy to give it a makeover.

Interview with Author Ryan Dalton

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Ryan Dalton is the author of three YA novels, the Time Shift trilogy: The Year of Lightning (2016), The Black Tempest (2017), and The Genesis Flame (2018). He recently agreed to answer questions for ARHtistic License.

You appeared at Phoenix Fan Fusion this year. (Cool!)
RD-Yes, I was the moderator team manager for a number of years, and it was a great team to work with. When I got my first book deal and started moving in that direction, they were so nice and welcomed me back as an author guest, so I’ve been coming back as an author for a few years now. I’ll come back every year for as many years as they’d like to have me.
You’re a trained singer! 
RD-I really enjoy music. It’s actually a huge part of my writing process. Putting together a story project’s soundtrack is a big milestone and really helps me start nailing the tone. I often come up with entire scenes just based on hearing an inspiring piece at the right time. I took vocal training for fun, never really intending for it to be profession, but continue to love singing whenever I can.
Do you ever do karaoke? What’s your go-to song? What style do you like best? Show tunes? Pop? Jazz?
RD-Yes, I love to sing. My training was centered around stage and show tunes, so I have a special love for those. My favorite character to sing is probably Javert from Les Miserables. When I karaoke, though, it depends on the mood. Sometimes I’ll go with a blues tone like from Kenny Wayne Shepherd, or I’ll go with Shinedown to really rock out. Other times I want something lighter and I’ll sing something like The Fray. If I’m feeling nostalgic, I’ll usually rock “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds. If I’m in more of a classical mood, I’ll go toward something from Josh Groban or a song from Phantom. Jason Mraz’s music is great for vocal warmups. Kind of like writing, my musical interests are many and varied.
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Your books have a lot going on: teenage twin protagonists, villains from the ancient past, villains from the future. How would you characterize your books? Science fiction? Thrillers?
RD-Yeah, I threw many things that I love into these books, so they’re sci-fi but with other influences woven throughout. Lightning is a mystery, Tempest is a fantasy, and Genesis is a war epic, but they’re all sci-fi and they have common thematic and stylistic threads that bind them together. They each have scary moments, funny moments, hopefully touching moments, and I wanted the team dynamic to shine through everything else. The characters were always what mattered most to me. I’ve never wanted to write just one thing, and I suppose this series really demonstrates that.
You’ve written screenplays. (Did you write anything I might have seen?) Have you ever thought about adapting your novels for the big screen?
RD-I love writing scripts. Plotting and dialogue are strengths of mine, and the script format really plays to those strengths, so it’s super fun whenever I get to write one. Most of what I wrote were short format for little films that didn’t end up getting made, so I wouldn’t say my screenplay experience is illustrious or anything, haha. Working with Legible Scrawl, a collective of writers and actors, I’ve also written some fan scripts for live table reads. I’ve often been told my writing style is very cinematic, so I think the Time Shift Trilogy would lend itself well to screen adaptation, though probably more like a Netflix limited series than a film trilogy. [ARHtistic License: Netflix, are you reading this???] If someone ever wanted to make them, I would totally be down for it, and I would definitely ask to take first crack at the scripts. Then it would be awesome to collaborate with, and learn from, a more experienced screenwriter on subsequent drafts.
If the Time Shift trilogy became movies, who would you like to portray Malcolm and Valentine?
RD-I typically cast all of my characters, which makes it easier for me to envision them and describe how they move, how they speak, etc. Since I started writing this series nearly a decade ago, the people I envisioned would have definitely aged out of these teenage roles now. However, at the time I created them, I envisioned Danielle Panabaker as Valentine and Emile Hirsch as Malcolm.
How do you go about mapping out your stories?
RD-I’m a heavy outliner. I typically start with a story concept and build that into a loose collection of ideas. When that feels like it’s grown into something I want to pursue, I brainstorm and let my mind wander through possibilities of where the story might go, what the world might be like, what kind of characters we could end up following. I write those ideas down, and when I get enough of them, I start organizing them into a timeline. That’s when the concepts and the flow of the story start to solidify and move toward what they’re ultimately going to become. The world and the characters grow in tandem with one another and the individual plot and character development points start coming into focus and arranging into a logical order. Once I have a solid timeline, my next outline is a close-up snapshot of each major plot point, which includes a supporting outline dedicated to character arcs. When that’s done, I’m usually ready to start writing, but the outlining isn’t quite done. At that point, I do a beat-by-beat outline of between one and three chapters at a time, often including dialogue. When that’s done, I’ll go back and write those one to three chapters. If anything about my plan ends up changing as I write those chapters, I make sure those changes reflect in the higher-level outlines before diving into the details and writing the next chapters. I imagine this all sounds super overwhelming from the outside, but it feels like a natural part of my process. I write my best and most confident work when I know where the story is going. At the same time, I’m always open to better ideas if they present themselves while I’m writing (and this happens surprisingly often, considering how much I outline, haha).
Do you ever do school visits? What are your presentations like?
RD-I love doing school and library visits, they’re so much fun. It’s great getting to meet young readers and encourage their love of books from an early age. As for what I talk about, I generally leave it up to teachers or librarians what they want the students to learn. I can talk in general about what it’s like to write and be an author, or if it’s a group that wants to dive deeper, I can talk about any number of specific aspects of the writing craft. Sometimes I’ll make the visit a workshop, using audience suggestions to create and outline a brand new story right there in the room, and then breaking down the writing techniques I used to turn their suggestions into a story. I always leave room at the end for questions so the students can ask anything they want, and that’s my favorite part. Never know what they’re going to say!
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What is your day job?
RD-Being an author is my day job. 🙂 That’s one of the reasons I moved out here to Missouri. At the end of 2017, I was finally at a point where I could leave the corporate world behind and dive head-first into writing as a career. Leaving the big city for a while made the transition easier financially. I could not be happier with the change, and I sympathize with all aspiring authors that still struggle with a day job they find unfulfilling. For over a decade I worked a corporate career that paid well but didn’t offer much in the way of satisfaction. At least, not the kind of satisfaction I was looking for. I remember when I turned in my notice, my boss (who was always very supportive of my writing, which was super refreshing) wished me well and said that it had always been obvious where my heart really was. I should send that guy a book, haha.
What types of books do you like to read? Which authors do you admire?
RD-I try to read books from just about every genre. Whatever genre an author writes, they can always learn good writing lessons from other genres, and I think it’s fun to mix the styles. My all-time favorite book is The Count of Monte Cristo, and my second favorite is The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway. I’m a huge fan of Abigail Johnson and Tom Leveen’s contemporary YA books. After Zero by Christina Collins and The Zanna Function by Daniel Wheatley are my most recent MG favorites. James Islington’s The Shadow of What Was Lost brought some interesting ideas into adult fantasy, and Brandon Sanderson’s new sci-fi Skyward is one of the biggest thrill rides I’ve read in quite a while.
What is the most difficult part of writing a book? What is the most fun part of writing a book?
RD-For me, the toughest parts are the in-between moments. When I finish a first draft, I take a 2-4 week break from the book, which allows me to come back to it with fresh eyes for the next draft. Waiting is really hard. 🙂 So I use that time to occupy myself with other ideas I’ve been toying with. Then, when the book is ready for beta readers after a few drafts, it’s pure agony to send them the story and wait for their feedback. I’m typically pretty confident in my writing, but every stray self-doubt and insecurity rises up when I’m waiting to hear if they liked it. The most fun parts are the initial stages of development when bursts of inspiration help me build a story or a character, and the points where characters are finally face to face and talking to each other. That’s when they start to reveal who they are, and it’s a thrill when they become real people.
What sort of research did you have to do for your Time Shift books? Do you have a science background?
RD-I’m a science geek with no formal scientific training. 🙂 I would describe my trilogy as science fantasy since it involves time manipulation, but I still wanted to use actual science as a foundation where I could. I studied how lightning and other weather patterns work, since they play a heavy thematic part in all three books. I read about basic quantum theory, what we know and don’t know about gravity, and the general theory of relativity. These books were a great excuse to read up on things I was interested in anyway.
How do you go about world building?
RD-I typically start with the story concept. As that’s developing, I start thinking about what kind of world would need to exist for this story to happen. How far away from our world does it need to be? What’s the same, what’s different, and how big are those differences? For example, the Time Shift Trilogy’s world is quite similar to ours in many ways. It’s not until the big stuff happens that we realize there’s much more going on under the surface. My next projects are similar in that way – the worlds share many commonalities with ours, but they’re skewed enough to accommodate the fantastic elements. I’m toying with ideas for future projects that will require more complete construction of new worlds, and it’s been daunting but also really fun and rewarding to create the pieces of those worlds and put them together.
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Do you have an agent? Who is your agent, and how did you connect?
RD-Last year I signed with Tricia Skinner of Fuse Literary. She is made of pure awesome. We get along amazingly well, and she continues proving herself to be the perfect partner for me. We connected through the querying process. I always wanted an agent, and although I ended up selling the Time Shift Trilogy on my own, I knew I’d go back to querying. Last year I wrote Remember Me, Archie, a middle grade about a boy whose grandfather is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, so the boy creates shared fantasy worlds for them to have adventures, as an attempt to bring back in his grandfather’s memories. After The Year of Lightning got so many agent rejections, it was refreshing for Archie to receive a few offers of representation, and Tricia immediately stood out to me. She’s everything I hoped for in a partner.
You’ve written comedy. Do you have a funny story about any of your books or about the writing process?
RD-I mostly like to write in public places like coffee shops (cliche, I know, but they’re awesome). However, I’ve learned the hard way not to write the intense scenes in public because I make faces and emote along with what’s happening. Fight scene? Angry faces, flinching at particularly hard hits, rocking out to heavy music. Sad scene? Sad faces, sniffling, teary eyes, all while sipping a festive coffee drink as college students work on their homework around me. I got enough weird looks that I now save those scenes for night writing at home. Also, I have one true story that I want to incorporate into a book somehow. A number of family members have read my books, and many them are book geeks, so I end up getting insightful feedback from them. I have one relative, though, who would otherwise never read the kind of books I write. This is not a problem for me at all, but they insisted on reading the books. I imagine this was to be supportive, which is super nice, but they’re reading the books very slowly because they aren’t all that interested, and now whenever we meet, I get to hear about how the books aren’t their thing. I continue imploring them, “Please stop reading the books, you’re clearly not enjoying them.” But they insist on soldiering forward. So while the support is appreciated, I’d rather they just move on and read what they like and then we don’t have to talk about this anymore, haha.