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Interview with Jenifer Tull-Gauger, Karate Instructor, Author, and Illustrator

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Interview with Jenifer Tull-Gauger, Karate Instructor, Author, and Illustrator

Jenifer Tull-Gauger and her husband, Kirk Gauger, run East Valley Martial Arts in Mesa, Arizona. Tull-Gauger has also been writing and drawing since childhood. Her most recent book, The Two True Karate Kids: A Dojo Kun Character Book on Battling Dishonesty, was released December 1, 2019. I met Jenifer through folk dancing, and reconnected with her in November at the Tempe Book Festival. I’m thrilled that she consented to be interviewed for ARHtistic License.

ARHtistic License: Have you always lived in Arizona? What are the pros and cons of living in a desert area?

Jenifer Tull-Gauger: I grew up in southern California and our young family moved to Arizona over 22 years ago. Arizona has provided opportunities that California couldn’t. We love the people here, and are so happy to be here now. A huge perk is the weather most months out of the year. And for me, a huge drawback is gardening in an arid climate. I don’t like working with cactus, so I must contend with big water bills.

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AL: You and your husband have been practicing karate for twenty years. How do children benefit from karate training?

JTG: Karate is great for people of all ages, but children especially stand to benefit from karate training because it helps them form values, inner strength and the knowledge of their power, in their formative years. For our children, we have seen improvements in self-confidence, self-defense, respect, and character-building in addition to the fitness it provides.

AL: I know a dojo is a karate school, but what is dojo kun?

JTG: A kun is an oath, so the dojo kun is the oath of a traditional karate school. Our Dojo Kun lists our most important rules and values that we uphold. Each student is expected to work on using them in daily life – both in and outside of our classes. For me as an instructor, I teach people how to fight or harm others for self defense, and these rules teach them how not to fight, or at least how to have a moral code for the use of force. Our Dojo Kun is the traditional one created by Shungo “Tode” Sakugawa around 200 years ago. It is translated as: 1) Strive for a good moral character. 2) Keep an honest and sincere way. 3) Cultivate perseverance or a will for striving. 4) Develop a respectful attitude. 5) Restrain my physical abilities through spiritual attainment.

AL: You’ve been drawing since you were a child. What sort of art training have you had? What advice do you have for budding artists?

JTG: I took as many art classes as I could in junior high and high school. Other than that, I have practiced a lot on my own, including learning Sumi-e, Japanese brush painting, from a book. That was fun. My advice for budding artists is to just do it! Practice with different styles and media. Sketch as much as you can (or would like to) and regularly. Youtube is also a great source for techniques, ideas and inspiration.

Can-Do

AL: How is illustrating a book different from drawing pictures? What did you have to keep in mind as you created your accompanying illustrations? 

JTG: For me, the biggest difference (and thorn in my side) in illustrating a book is the editing process. In fine art, I create a piece and when it’s done, it’s done. In illustration, I receive feedback from my art editors and then make revisions to make sure the pictures are supporting the story I want to tell. With book illustration, there is also the use of left-to-right action and awareness of where the eye is led in order to encourage the turning of the page.

AL: Do you draw your illustrations by hand, or do you use graphic software? Tell us about your process.

JTG: I use a mostly traditional process, but with the help and support of technology. My process for the Dojo Kun Character book series is to do a rough layout sketch or book dummy, then create real-size pencil sketches. After input from my art editors, I go over the outlines in black ink. All of that is done by hand. Then I scan the line art into digital files, print it all out, and fill in the colors by hand with brush pens. After another round of editing thanks to other artists’ eyes, I’ll make additional edits. Then I layout the pictures and text in Microsoft Publisher before consideration of final adjustments. If images need more digital manipulation than Publisher allows (such as removing backgrounds or parts of pictures), I’ll use GIMP.

AL: How do you find time to write and work on illustrations?

JTG: It is tricky finding the time to do both. This tripped me up for years. Then I implemented two things that help me make this doable. One is prioritizing. I have one project at the top of my list that I work on regularly. I put most of my focus and energy into that project. (I’ll put things of secondary importance in my to-do list where I anticipate having a break in my primary project, such as when waiting on input from editors or “beta-readers.”) The second is I commit to working on my books daily, even if it’s only for a short block of time. And when my day allows, I spend more time. Using a to-do list helps. As did figuring out which one series of books I want to work on at this point and having one area of focus. It is true that my other stories, my poetry, and my personal journal writing are on the back burner as I’m focusing on my karate picture books at this time. But it’s worth it to see the progress of these Dojo Kun Character Books as they come into being.

Two True

AL: You’re a member of SCBWI and you have critique partners. How did that help you on your journey to publication?

JTG: Both of these have helped me immensely. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has helped with my professional development and with teaching me the nuts and bolts of the trade. Through them, I’ve also met people who have helped guide me on my path to publication. I have found a lot of moral support and help in both the SCBWI and my critique partners. Plus, it’s awesome and inspiring just to be around other creative types. Additionally, it is invaluable how good critique partners can help you “see” the writing and illustrations through other people’s eyes or from other perspectives.

AL: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

JTG: I’m a mix of both, and depending on the story, I may lean more toward plotting it out beforehand, or flying by the seat of my pants and making it up as I go along. I actually enjoy both. When left to my own devices, I will usually have a solid idea plotted out in my head of what I’m going to write. But I try to stay open to inspiration and go with the flow of creativity while writing. I did a longer work, a children’s chapter book for NANOWRIMO a couple years ago, and was amazed and delighted at how some parts of the story took twists and turns that I hadn’t expected when plotting it out. There were times that I was writing my characters into trouble and had no idea how they were going to get out of it.

AL: What was the most difficult part of writing your books? What is the most fun part of writing your books?

JTG: The most difficult part of writing my first book was the uncertainty of what to do with the story and when to do it. I actually had the idea and wrote the first draft years ago. After I took it to my writer’s support group for feedback, it sat, going nowhere, for years. (That is the purgatory where most of my stories and poems sit.) The most fun part of writing and illustrating my book is just overall the adventure of it all. Some of the high points of the adventure are getting lost in the creative process, and learning of new (or previously unknown) helpful resources such as the Biteable app which eases the process of book trailer creation. I enjoy meeting new people at writers’ events or even on social media. It’s fun to encourage other writers and artists to find that spark within them and follow where it leads. And I love bringing my art and writing to the table in karate training, as well as bringing the most important lessons of traditional karate out into the world to help children, even those who may not train, improve their lives for now and for their futures.

Jenifer Tull-Gauger reading to students

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

JTG: I like to read all types of children’s books. It’s important to keep up with the industry. I admire Tomie dePaola for continuing to support and encourage younger writer-illustrators in the SCBWI even though he doesn’t need to. And I admire many authors I have met who have helped and encouraged me, including Pat Curren who once won a Tomie dePaola DVD on the craft of picture books and gave it to me because she writes for teens. As far as my personal reading, I’m open to trying out any book from any author, but I will put it down if it doesn’t hook me within two pages. Dean Koontz is my favorite author to read.

AL: What is your favorite book about writing?

JTG: There are so many great books about writing! I would have to say my favorite is Natalie Goldberg’ Writing Down the Bones. It contains so much great advice and sharing of knowledge and writing experience. I also really like Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, which inspired me to get to know her better through her writing.

AL: Your book The Can-Do Karate Kid: A Dojo Kun Character Book on Defeating Laziness & Procrastination came out in May 2019, its companion coloring book came out in November 2019, and The Two True Karate Kids: A Dojo Kun Character Book on Battling Dishonesty came out in December 2019. What’s next?

JTG: My third Dojo Kun Character Book, about wrestling with quitting, is at the top of my writing and illustrating priority list. I’m also working on a companion coloring book to go along with the second book in the series. These will be released in the first half of 2020. And I’m looking forward to my book launch party for The Two True Karate Kids on February 15th, 2020. It will include a Karate with Your Dog Class!

Jenifer Tull-Gauger

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

JTG: Maybe not really laugh-out-loud funny for most people. But I enjoy a dry sense of humor, and I find many of the “little things” in life hilarious. My picture book adventure has so many little funny things like that. Such as a five-year-old calling both the snail and slug monster in my first book “snails” (he’s from Arizona). Or his mom giving Procrastination (the snail monster) a voice, “Don’t do it now, you can do it later.” Or the response from a teen “beta reader” when she saw that I made the adult female karate teacher bald. (She was not on board with this idea.) I got to see her face as I was there in person: priceless.

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

JTG: Hmm, I feel like I put all of these things out there in my weekly writer-illustrator and karate blogs. So this is a tricky question for me. But there is one thing that I may not get out there enough. I wish that all adults with elementary school aged kids in their lives knew I aim to make my books educational yet fun, character-building conversation starters with enough weirdness to make kids want to talk about them (and a can-do attitude, honesty, perseverance, etc.).

To learn more about Jenifer Tull-Gauger, check out her author website. And if you’ll be near Mesa, Arizona on February 15, you’re invited to the launch party for The Two True Karate Kids. Since the plot includes karate and the adoption of a dog, the book’s publication will be celebrated with a karate class that’s going to the dogs. The party will take place 9:45 a.m.—11:30 a.m. on Saturday February 15, 2020, outside East Valley Martial Arts, 1829 S. Horne, Suite 8, in Mesa. It will include book signings, a book reading, pictures with your dog and the author, and a Karate with your Dog Class. Participants in the class are invited to bring their dogs to go alongside them through a martial arts influenced obstacle course. Donations will be accepted for the Arizona Humane Society. Sounds like lots of fun, doesn’t it?

An Interview with Author Edward Hoornaert

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I became acquainted with Edward Hoornaert several years ago, when I was a participant in Weekend Writing Warriors, where authors post snippets of their works-in-progress for feedback. Hoornaert is a prolific author who earned the nickname Mr. Valentine for his romance novels (Mr. Valentine is also the title of a romance novel by Vicki Lewis Thompson which was inspired by Hoornaert), and then turned to science fiction. (See my reviews of Alien Contact for Idiots and Newborn on my Books Read page, #3 and #1 respectively under 2017. A review of Alien Contact for an Enhanced Nutcracker will be coming soon.)

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Edward Hoornaert against the backdrop of the Canadian Rockies, Ed’s “spirit’s home.”

I recently sent Ed some questions about his work, and these are his responses:

ARHtistic License: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Ed Hoornaert: I’m a plantser, or maybe a potter. Not Harry, unfortunately for me. [Andrea’s note: I call myself a plotser.]

My first ten or twelve novels (out of 20) were written ‘by the seat of my pants.’ However, I had too many failures that died around page 50 because I discovered there was no ‘there’ there. So now I write an outline, 5 to 10 pages long, of the first two-thirds of a book. Plotting further than that tends to be wasted because the book inevitably takes off in (slightly) new directions. I always have a vision of the ending, though.

Actually, I spend more time getting to know what makes my characters tick than I do on plotting. Come to think of it, in the best books you can’t really separate the characters from the plot; different characters would result in a different story. That’s what I aim for.

AL: How long does it take you to write a book?Farflung

EH: I drafted The Guardian Angel of Farflung Station in about three weeks. Then I spent more than twice that long rewriting and honing it before I submitted it to my small-press publisher. It remains one of my favorites because it came so quickly.

At the other end of the spectrum, The Trial of Tompa Lee, a sci fi novel that was my final book for a traditional publishing house, took about three years. Interestingly, the gestation period says nothing about the books’ quality. They’re both among the best I’ve written, based on reviews.

AL: What is your biggest writing challenge? 

EH: My biggest challenge is holding the world and my family at bay long enough to write. I’m still not comfortable with the selfish side of writing at home. It’s tricky, you know? I have a great marriage and family, and I want to keep it that way.

AL: Do you cut a lot from your drafts when you revise? 

EH: Back when I wrote by the seat of my pants, I had to cut a lot from my drafts, but now that I sort of plot my books, I almost always add rather that delete. My draft scenes are often sketchy, sometimes all dialogue, so I flesh them out and add sensory details. Until the last couple passes, that is, when I’m looking to trim clumsy or wordy passages. Then I aim to cut around 5% of my words.

TompaAL: Do you ever get stuck?

EH: Lordy, yes. Usually, there’s one of two reasons:

  • First, I didn’t plan out my idea or my characters well enough to know whether the conflict will sustain a book. Getting stuck like this is often fatal.
  • Second, I sometimes need time to pause to figure out what, exactly, should happen next and why it matters. These may be conflicts between plot (what the plot wants a character to do) and the character, who’s like an actor asking a director, “Why on Earth would I do something as silly as that, instead of this?” I need to dig deeper.

AL: You got your start writing romances for Harlequin Silhouette. Then you turned to sci fi and sci fi/romance and self-published. Why self-publishing?

EH: Actually, I got my start with Tab Books writing a couple of computer books for children before I went to Silhouette. After Silhouette, I published with Five Star Speculative Fiction, an imprint of another big publisher. For the record, some of what I write these days is put out by small presses.

I left the rat race in 2012, by which time I’d gotten the rights back to my sci fi novel. I brought it out as a self-published book that year, along with two sequels that make up The Trilogy of Tompa Lee. It’s impossible to sell the last two-thirds of a trilogy, and I couldn’t find any houses interested in reprinting the first book just to get the sequels. Self-publishing to the rescue! The second book in the trilogy has a 4.8+ rating out of 5, so some readers are glad I took the leap.

Self-pubbing is perfect for me. My career in technical writing had been perfect training. The technical issues of formatting and production were child’s play after software manuals, and being in a two- or three-person department had drummed into me the absolute necessity of going over and over a manuscript until I was sick of it, and then going over it some more.

AL: What, for you, have been the benefits of self-publishing? What are the benefits of traditional publishing?

EH: Main benefit of self-publishing—I don’t have to wait forever and ever; the wheels of large publishing houses grind very, very slowly.

The main benefits of traditional publishing were 1) money, because with the Harlequin behemoth behind me, I made decent shekels; and 2) I didn’t have to do any of my own marketing. I hate marketing.

AL:Your Harlequin books were written under a pen name: Judi Edwards. Why? Was it thought that men couldn’t write women’s fiction?

EH: No, I don’t think that was the reason. A fair number of romance novels back then were being written by men, such as Donald Maass (now a literary agent and author of some of the best books about writing available). I even heard rumors that up to 10% of romances were male-authored. The folks at Harlequin Enterprises — I actually wrote for Silhouette Books, a Harlequin subsidiary — knew that men could write romances women would read.

Although I wasn’t privy to their reasoning, I got the impression the powers-that-be were afraid some women wouldn’t buy a book if they knew a man had written it. Maybe they’re right. There is a bit of prejudice against men working in the genre.

AL: Alien Contact for an Enhanced Nutcracker has just come out. What’s up next?Nutcracker 6

EH: Nutcracker is the sixth book in my Alien Contact for Idiots series and the first new book in the series in a year; I took time off to write two books in my space-opera series. Although I haven’t decided for certain—an idea has to grow in my mind to the point it “takes over,” and whether that will happen is unpredictable—I’m probably going to take a hiatus from both series and work on a standalone book.

Several years ago, I drafted a manuscript about a colony of people forced to explore the relationship between madness and creativity. I’ve always thought the concept was dynamite, even if the execution was a popgun. I’m fifty-four pages into a rewrite, concentrating on changing and sharpening the character of my female lead. She was a bit boring because I didn’t understand what drove her. Assuming the book “takes over” it’ll be near-future science fiction with elements of romance. The working title is Never Seen a Purple Cow.

AL: What is something about you and your books that you’d like your readers to know?

EH: One of the tried-and-true paths to success these days is to publish a lot of books—every month or two if possible. The problem with this approach is that quantity takes precedence over quality, and I hate the idea of publishing a book that isn’t as good as I can possibly make it. I rushed one of my books, and I’ve regretted it ever since.

So I’d like readers to know that I’m old school. I rewrite and hone until a book is as engrossing as it can be. Quality over quantity!

Effing - Weekend writing warriors

Ed’s cat, affectionately known as Effing Feline, makes a weekly appearance on Ed’s website.

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.

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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 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.

CityScoundrels_layouts2

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.