Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Inside the Writer's Studio with Monika Schröder

Today for Inside the Writer’s Studio we have with us Monika Schroder, author of The Dog in the Wood, Saraswati’s Way, and the newly released My Brother’s Shadow. I was introduced to Monika by the irrepressible Kirsten Cappy, the brain behind Curious City. Shortly thereafter, Monika was working on a piece for Hunger Mountain about the writing of My Brother’s Shadow. It is an honor to have her with us today to dig into her process and her keen insights into human nature.

Welcome,  Monika. And let us all welcome My Brother’s Shadow to the shelves.

A bit about the book:

From the publisher, FSG

As World War I draws to a close in 1918, German citizens are starving and suffering under a repressive regime. Sixteen-year-old Moritz is torn. His father died in the war and his older brother still risks his life in the trenches, but his mother does not support the patriotic cause and attends subversive socialist meetings. While his mother participates in the revolution to sweep away the monarchy, Moritz falls in love with a Jewish girl who also is a socialist. When Moritz’s brother returns home a bitter, maimed war veteran, ready to blame Germany’s defeat on everything but the old order, Moritz must choose between his allegiance to his dangerously radicalized brother and those who usher in the new democracy.

And though out only one day, the reviews are in and they are outstanding!

“A good choice for sharing across the curriculum, this is a novel readers will want to discuss.” --Booklist

"In this nuanced and realistic work of historical fiction, Schröder (Saraswati’s Way) immerses readers in her setting with meticulous details and dynamic characters that contribute to a palpable sense of tension. Moritz’s intimate narration captures the conflicts, divided loyalties, and everyday horrors of the period." --Publishers Weekly

" 'War gives meaning to some men's lives. For other men, the experience of war extinguishes all meaning in life,' says a man who becomes Moritz's mentor; Schröder makes this sad and ever-timely lesson all too clear."--Kirkus Reviews

“The sorrow and the pity of World War I haunt every page of this unsparing coming-of-age story set in Berlin during the war’s final days. Monika Schröder skillfully sketches in the fractured political background of a disintegrating imperial Germany. She doesn’t miss a beat in her fast-paced first-person narrative as sixteen-year-old Moritz copes with his family’s misfortunes, finds his calling, and discovers love…This is a memorable and instructive novel.”—Russell Freedman, Newbery-award winning author of The War to End All Wars: World War I

Now on to the interview!

Monika, how do you stay inspired to face the dreaded blank page? Is it something you dread? Look forward to? Share a bit about your writing process.

I dread writing the first draft. I am not good at tapping into the “white heat” some writers describe that lets them write pages and pages of unedited text in one swoop. My “inner editor” is always on and I experience a constant struggle between the part of my brain that thinks about structure and function of a scene or a chapter and the part that just feels what needs to happen next. So probably like every writer I dread the blank page, but over time I have learned that sitting and staring is part of the process. When I talk to kids I tell them that one secret of writing is to just “keep your butt in the chair.” I don’t have a rule about minimum amount of pages per day, but I am very disciplined when it comes to just spending time in front of that page, be it empty or partially filled, and waiting until I can write the next sentence.

I much prefer revising to composing a first draft. Once there is something to shape it is easier to get into the flow.

Name a writer whose work and/or career you admire. And why do you admire them?

I like the books by Avi, since I enjoy the way he makes place and time come alive. And I also admire Jennifer Holm who writes always with a strong voice and has a gift of creating lively characters in historical fiction.

Theme can be seen as a dirty word but as writers I believe we all have something to say, something we want to share with the world. What is that something for you?

I think that one theme I have investigated in my writing is how war and political transitions affect regular people and children in particular.

I have always been interested in history. Germany, my home country, has started two World Wars in the last century. Both wars not only brought death and terror to large parts of Europe but also ended in defeat followed by fundamental changes of the political system. I have tried to imagine how regular people dealt with these changes. I find it fascinating that a German person born at the beginning of the 20th century could have experienced a monarchy, a failed democracy, a fascist dictatorship, a socialist totalitarian regime and then again a democracy, just within one life span. 

In my first novel, THE DOG IN THE WOOD, I wrote about the end of World War II and how people in a small village in east Germany experienced the arrival of the red Army. My new novel, MY BROTHER’S SHADOW, is set in 1918, another important transition time in German history. I tried to imagine what it might have been like for a young man who had grown up under the Kaiser to see the monarchy disappear and be confronted with socialist ideas and women’s emancipation. The defeat in the war led to a socialist revolution in Germany. The split between those who considered this a hopeful event and those who thought of it as treason foreshadowed the conflicts to come during the Weimar Republic.

What do you feel is your strength as a craftsperson? How do you turn your weaknesses into strengths?

I hope that my strength lies in pacing and characterization. I believe my weakness is voice. I hope to have tackled this weakness by writing MY BROTHER’S SHADOW in first person. The book I am currently working in is also told in first person. And I have another work-in-progress that I am trying to tell in two alternating voices.

How does “place” come through in your writing? How important is place in this current novel/picture book? Is it tied to a place you once lived or are familiar with or is it a new world entirely?

I think place is very important in my books. I have written two novels set in Germany and one set in contemporary India, and I hope that readers feel transported to those locations while reading the books.

MY BROTHER’S SHADOW is set in Berlin, my favorite city. I have lived in Berlin in the late 1980 and early 1990s and was always fascinated with the city’s history. When I wrote the book, which takes place in the year 1918, it was easy to imagine what Berlin looked like at the time. Also, there are a lot of photographs and even early film reels available to help an author see the setting.

Currently, I am working on a book set in the 1830s. The story starts in Boston and the character takes a boat to Calcutta. I have visited both cities but the historical time period requires a lot more research for me to depict it authentically.

How do you balance the internal and external arc in the story? Which comes to you first—the external action or what is emotionally at stake? How do you weave the two together? 

I seem to develop the external plot structure first. For THE DOG IN THE WOOD I had to slowly create a character that this story could happen to. Akash, the main character of SARASWATI’S WAY, was fleshed out in my mind early on and I knew that his internal journey would be connected to his relationship to his gods and how he defines fate. I knew the story’s arc would take him from his village to the train station in New Delhi, but I didn’t learn about the obstacles along his way until I wrote the book. 

When I started to write MY BROTHER’S SHADOW I knew it would be a story about disillusionment, about how the main character, Moritz, deals with the loss of what once was and adjusts to a completely new world. I knew that Moritz’s brother would return from the war and join the reactionary forces in Germany, opposing his mother’s involvement with the socialist movement. But the details of his journey and the emotional development that he went through I had to discover through the process.

Which literary character, yours or another author’s, do you most relate to? And why?
In my own work I can relate to Akash. He is a math wizard (I used to be very good in math), he has a burning desire to fulfill his dream and the stamina to pursue it, but he has to learn patience (I still haven’t learned to be patient).

Inspired by the Actors Studio, what sound do you love? What sound do you hate?

I love silence. When my husband and I spend the summers at our cabin in Northern 
Michigan I enjoy the absolute silence at night. Having lived in big, noisy cities for the last 15 years probably has made me crave silence even more. We have now left New Delhi, a noisy city of over 17 million, and moved to the mountains of North Carolina, where it is more silent.

But if you ask me about my least favorite ones I might name a few: I don’t like the sound of chain saws or loud machines but I also have some quirky dislikes: I don’t like hearing someone clipping his nails or cracking his knuckles or the sound of people jingling coins in their pockets. (I know this is weird.)

Be brave. Share a paragraph from a WIP. 
                As I passed the reverend’s room I noticed that the door stood ajar. I peeked inside and found his chamber empty. I gave the door a light push and it opened without the familiar squeak. The reverend must have fixed it himself as I noticed a dark oil stain around the hinges. I entered the room where the bag stood on the bed. Next to it a large map was spread out on the cover.  I recognized the almost triangular outline of India, as I had read about the country in Uncle Ezra’s magazine. On the left bottom of the map was written: “A New Map of Hindoostan by Major James Rennell, Surveyor General to the Honorable East India Company.” I stepped next to the bed to study the tiny names of cities and rivers. A circle was drawn in red pencil around a city in the northern part of the country. Leaning closer I tried to decipher the name. Dehly. I wondered if this was the location of the reverend’s brother’s mission.  Looking at the bag I contemplated a quick search for the heavy object that caused the clanging sound earlier but I didn’t dare to touch it. When I heard footsteps on the stairs I quickly hurried from the room. I had just reached the hallway when the reverend appeared on the landing, wearing his coat and hat. “You are still awake, Caleb?” he asked, eyeing me suspiciously.
                “I’m just about to go to bed,” I said, glad the loud banging of my heart was inaudible to him, and that I could slip into my room without another word.

In ode to Maebelle, the main character in my new book Truth with a Capital T, who keeps a book of little known facts about just about everything, please share a wacky piece of trivia that has stuck with you or please share a little known fact about YOU.
I only drink three kinds of beverages: water, red wine (preferably Merlot from South America) and high end second flush Darjeeling tea.

Thank you to Monika for being with us. I will always have water, red wine and Darjeeling tea on tap for you! 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Hunger Mountain, 2012 Submission Calls PLUS The Opening of The Writing Barn

It officially has only been fall for a few days (though the temps in Austin are still 100) but things have been busy on this end. The Writing Barn is soon to open and as YA and Children's Editor of Hunger Mountain, I wanted to let all readers know about our 2012 Submissions Needs.

Hunger Mountain Submissions Call
The Hunger Mountain Children’s & YA page continues to showcase the best and brightest in children’s literature, from new voices to award-winners. We spotlight industry issues as they happen and create a dialogue between writer, reader, librarian, parent, and all interested in kid-lit. 

 *We are also interested in sneak-peaks into new books coming out, deleted chapters from books, short stories, etc.* Hunger Mountain buys first world serial rights and upon publication, the rights revert back to the contributor.  For sneak-peaks, publisher and rights department approval is needed. 

For those interested in submitting, please visit the Hunger Mountain submissions page.

Jan-March 2012
The Mystery & Magic of Identity

Hunger Mountain is actively seeking submissions for the Winter 2012 issue The Mystery and Magic of Identity. We are looking for essays, fiction, poetry, non-fiction and humor that touch on the themes of identity—gender, sexual, ethnic, privilege, author branding, online identity, explorations of self, along with the mystery and magic of world building in fantasy and novels that deal with time travel. For picture books—identity issues as a child, sibling relationships, the magic of word choice, the mystery of the page turn etc.

April-June 2012
The Landscape of Literature
Hunger Mountain is actively seeking submissions for the Spring 2012 issue, The Landscape of Literature. We are looking for essays, fiction, poetry, non-fiction and humor touching on the importance of setting, place, regionally distinct pieces (Not just Southern), use of dialect, heritage—literary heritage as well as author’s heritage, where historical novels now fit, illustrators incorporating setting details in their work, setting as character,  from YA, MG and PB contributors.

Along with our features, each issue we would like to include one or two essays for our regular columns:

The Flipside—two authors various take on one issue.
This Writer’s Life—essays on and about the writer’s life.
INKlings—essays on and about the illustrator’s life and/or techniques.
In Response—an essay adding to or commenting on the conversation from the prior HM issue.
The Toolbox—craft based essays on a variety of topics.
What My Last Book Taught Me—A short essay on what the author’s last book taught them.
New Work—fiction, poetry, short stories, opening chapters of WIP, etc.

Do not miss the Art & Insanity of Creativity fall issue which will launch later this month.

Do not miss content from the Hunger Mountain C&YA Archives, some highlights include:
Young Adult and Children’s Literature


And in Writing Barn News!

A bit about the barn...
The Writing Barn, a writing retreat and book launch party space is available for rental in S. Austin. Operated by author Bethany Hegedus, The Writing Barn, which features floor to ceiling book shelves, cozy loft, large covered porch, free wifi, spacious bedroom with queen-sized-bed, half bath, and kitchenette, is a haven for all book lovers.  For more information visit: The Writing Barn (web site under construction) and/or email bahegedus at for rates and availability.

The Barn's FIRST Event... October 16th, 2-4 pm. 

Please join Jeff Crosby & Shelley Jackson to celebrate the release of their newest children's picture book, HARNESS HORSES, BUCKING BRONCOS & PIT PONIES: A HISTORY OF HORSE BREEDS!

Minis and Friends, a charitable organization that benefits disabled children, will be at the event with live miniature horses to pet. Original art from the book will be on display, prints will be for sale, and copies of HARNESS HORSES will be available for purchase and to get autographed. We'll also have snacks, horsey games and more!
This event is open to the public. The Writing Barn is located at 10202 Wommack Road in Austin. Parking will be available inside the property and overflow parking is available on Riddle Road and Wommack Road.
It's sure to be a fun event for horse lovers, book lovers, and art lovers of all ages!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Rembering 9/11

This year, maybe because of the 10th anniversary, maybe because of the floods and the fires and natural disasters, I sheltered myself of all images of 9/11, save the gorgeous New York Times magazine piece on the iron-working, sky-walking men who are working on the rebuild. 

Today, I share something I wrote on my bravebethany blog in 2005, four years after that day. That ten years have passed is mind boggling.

I am never quite sure what to do with myself on 9/11.

I was there--across the street in 1 WFC. I was sitting at my reception desk, about to sip my coffee, eat my yogurt from home and orange I bought from the vendor right in front of the WTC before crossing into the bridge that led into my building. I evacuated my floor, screaming when the first plane hit. (I was a fire searcher and the last one off the top floor of the 1WFC both times we evacuated.) I hit the staircase with the rest of the people in my building, and when no news came on the intercom system, my boss who was the fire warden and I got out of the stairwell so she could call downstairs. We were in a brokerage firm which had no cubicle or office dividers. It was one big, huge, open space.

I had friends working in the WTC. The one that was hit first. I went to the window. Was pulled to the window. I wish I hadn't have looked. I still wish I hadn't have looked.

With no news, and people jumping from the burning building, we thought it best to stay where we were. We went back upstairs--I worked on the 31st floor, in the elevator. I tried to call my parents in Georgia. I didn't get them. I got my aunt who saw it on the Today show. An airplane pilot had a heart attack, I was told. I wanted to believe it. My shaking hands wanted to believe it. I called my brother who had no idea why I was borderline hysterical, while he stood in line in a parking lot in Georgia at the DMV. I called an actor friend, so she could spread the word that I was ok. I woke her. She had no idea what was happening. Not long after the second plane roared over our building--so close it roared in our ears--it hit the WTC, the tower diagonal to us, across the street. I screamed. Threw down the phone and took to the staircase again.

This time, the staircase was silent. No one brought their coffee or morning bagel. Everyone, at least in their heart, knew we were under attack. There were whispers that there was a bomb in our building. I tried to recite my favorite prayer, "The Prayer for Protection" that strangely enough I say every time I am on a plane, before take off and landing. I could not remember the words. My body prayed them for me.

Out on the street, crowds stood and stared. I wouldn't look up. Couldn't look up.

My boss had had a premature baby that almost died. We were concerned with getting her home. Getting her home to her son. We headed for the ferry by the Wintergarden. So much glass. Glass everywhere. I kept my head down. Tripped over my feet. My legs carrying all my fear. We pushed on to one of the last ferries going across. People were standing in line for tickets. We weren't buying any. "They aren't charging us," I said.

Out on the water, I looked up. Two huge holes. Smoke, heavy smoke, billowing into the blue, blue sky.

Once we got to Hoboken, I got on a PATH train to Jersey City, where I was living. We sat and sat and sat on the train. I was mute. I didn't say a word. No one knew I had been there. Other people talked. I listened. I learned about the Pentagon. I worried about my friends at the UN. I looked at people's faces, memorizing them, but feeling, looking, I am sure, so blank. Just blank.

When the Path train came up, a tall thin man said, "They're gone. The towers are gone." I didn't believe him. I couldn't see the two buildings that were my touchstone. Since moving to NYC I lived in many apartments but I held only one job. The towers were my home. They were reminders of how far I had come. I looked at them every night from NJ thinking I work there. I moved from Georgia and I work there. There.

There was gone. 

For my old roommate Nicole, who lost her dad that day, and for all the other lives lost, for NYC, for our country, I offer this prayer.

The Prayer of Protection

The light of God surrounds us;
The love of God enfolds us;
The power of God protects us;
The presence of God watches over us;
Wherever we are, God is, and all is well. Amen.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Last of The Varying Shade of Shadow issue

This week the Varying Shade of Shadows issue comes to a close with the much anticipated, In Defense of YA, a round up of YA reader and writer voices that comment on the Wall Street Journal pieces by Megan Cox Gurdon that lit up the twittersphere with the creation of #YAsaves in June. By now, much has been written about in reaction to the question Darkness Too Visible? but here at Hunger Mountain we care not only what we writers think, we care about what the readers think. The teen readers. YA is after all for young adults. What they think matters. Thank you to the teens who took time out of their summer vacation plans to lend their voices, their intellect, and their wit to join with YA authors everywhere who tackle darkness, light, and everything in between.
 Our issue also closes with a sneak peak into the much anticipated historical novel Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, as well as a Toolbox piece, Searching for Truth in History’s Shadows: Finding the Characters in Jefferson’s Sons , also by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.

Congratulations are also in order for Hunger Mountain Young Adult & Children’s Assistant Editor E. Kristen Morse, who along with Miranda Kenneally, whose popular website DearTeenMe, will now be an anthology, with new and original content, forthcoming from Zest Books in 2012. Since coming on board here at Hunger Mountain Emily’s expertise and enthusiasm is much appreciated. We wish her and Dear Teen Me, the book, every success.

And don’t forget our next issue, The Art & Insanity of Creativity is coming soon. We are still accepting fiction submissions. Please see here, for guidelines.

Earlier content from The Varying Shade of Shadows issue. 

Our industry is not just about the writing but about the illustration as well, from books for the very young to teens and beyond. We at Hunger Mountain are thrilled to champion the illustration and ingenuity that goes on in our field by featuring three sneak-peeks into books that are soon to hit the shelves.  Award-winning illustrator Betsy Lewin offers a snapshot into creating The Little Bitty Bakery by Leslie Muir. This delectable treat will leave you wanting more…look for The Little Bitty Bakery to be released August 30th. Author/illustrator Don Tate takes us into his Austin studio with his piece Toot Toot Tootie Toot: an Illustrator Captures Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite, detailing his choices and art-in-progress for his October release.  And New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Leitich Smith in her piece, Going Graphic, details how she and illustrator Ming Doyle created the visual world for her characters to inhabit, in the eagerly awaited Tantalize: Kieren’s Story.  Fans of the gothic series will not be disappointed.

When, Along with her Characters, an Author Gets In Trouble by Ellen Levine, describes running into a wall of silence with her latest book, In Trouble.  The Monsters in Us All, by Dr. Ilsa J. Bick is a precursor to Hunger Mountain’s In Defense of YA.  We chose to spotlight Ilsa J. Bick’s thoughtful but cutting response  now as she not only disagrees with Megan Cox Gurdon—she also agrees, with certain points, that is. As always, please feel free to weigh in in the comments section of each piece.

For What My Last Book Taught Me, Monika Schröder advises us to Learn to Drive in the Dark as she takes a trip back to discover what her latest novel, My Brother’s Shadow, taught her as a writer.  Lastly, as all the world is a stage, we offer Jest A Minute, which pokes fun at all the dark/light publishing hullabaloo, with a list of Ten Classics Revamped to Capitalize on the Dark  YA Trend (created by none other than moi) and a second list–of Ten New Titles to Please All by author and humorist K. A. Holt.  Read, respond, enjoy!

Also check out This Writer’s Life: The Politics of Story by Neesha Meminger author of Shine, Coconut Moon and Jazz in Love. Neesha explores and argues, with great clarity, how writing fiction is and always will be a political act. In our Industry Insider we host a Q & A with Anita Silvey, author, children’s literature scholar and the creator of the popular Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac.  We also add to our growing list of new fiction with Quarry, a short story by Kevin Waltman that captures the delight and danger in a trip to a forbidden place.

Don’t miss a timely FlipSide, The Light and the Dark of It, highlighting Jennifer Ziegler’s Let There Be Light and Clare Dunkle’s On the Dark Side. Both authors had their pieces well in the works before the June 4th Wall Street Journal article by Meghan Cox Gurdon asked the question: Is Darkness Too Visible?.  Also be sure to check out new fiction: Stone Field, a re-imagining of Wuthering Heights, by Christy Lenzi;  Starcatcher, a unique fantasy by Penny Blublaugh author of Blood & FlowersMonsters, a surprising and raw read by Jennifer Hubbard;  The Proposal, fiction by Lindsey Lane that dives deep into the hiddenness of our human natures and our desires to be both safe and loved.

You can also read earlier features: an exploration of self and sisterhood by Janet Gurtler in Embracing Shadows;  also  In the Half-Light, an essay detailing the shadowy subconscious that aided Hunger Mountain Sneak Peek author Joe Lunievicz in creating his debut novel, Open Wounds (WestSide Books, 2011); the wickedly smart investigation into the use of elision by Janet Fox in The Shadowy Landscape of Dreams Where Reader and Writer Meet. Our Industry Insider Column offers an interview with Elena Mechlin and Joan Slattery in New Faces at Pippin Properties. Be sure to check out the instructive Toolbox piece, Where the Teens Are: 5 Ways to Freshen Up YA Fiction’s Favorite Places from Deborah Halverson, author of the newly released, Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies, and the In Response essay to the Passion for the Picture Book special feature by the outstanding author Liz Garton Scanlon.

So, please stop back often.  Read, respond, share your thoughts, delight in the darkness and luxuriate in the light. They both offer respite and reward. Go ahead, see for yourselves.

Bethany Hegedus, Editor

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Inside the Writer's Studio with Tommy Greenwald

It is my pleasure to welcome funny man Tommy Greenwald to Inside the Writer’s Studio today. Tommy, a life-long reader, who as his day job creates ads for Broadway (Not a bad day job. There is a fun pic of him and Kelsey Grammar and teen heartthrob Corbin Blue on his website—go here to check it out!) of course has three boys who would give their lives NOT to be readers. Hence, Charlie Joe Jackson’s (His three son’s names? Charlie, Joe, and Jackson, of course.) Guide To Not Reading was born. Though the title may be tongue and cheek Charlie Joe Jackson’s plight is not.  From the publisher (Roaringbrook): 

Charlie Joe Jackson may be the most reluctant reader ever born. And so far, he’s managed to get through life without ever reading an entire book from cover to cover. But now that he’s in middle school, avoiding reading isn’t as easy as it used to be. And when his friend Timmy McGibney decides that he’s tired of covering for him, Charlie Joe finds himself resorting to desperate measures to keep his perfect record intact. 

Know any reluctant readers out there? Then, this book is for them. Take my word—and the word of these accolades—they won’t be reluctant for long. 

“In author Tommy Greenwald’s raucous debut…this comedy of comeuppance shows its true colors, and, irony of ironies, is impossible to put down!” --Disney's Family Fun

 “This is a fun, fast-moving look at middle-school life through the eyes of a kid who would rather clean his room than pick up a book. Reluctant readers will be pleased.” --SLJ

"Kids who do peruse the book will enjoy Charlie Joe’s chuckleworthy tips on keeping reading at bay, even if they take exception to his list of “helpful oxymorons: 1. good book, 2. happy reader, 3. important author, 4. nice library, 5. favorite bookstore.” --BCCB

"Charlie Joe’s insider knowledge of the inner machinations of middle-school cliques will make younger readers smile in anticipation, and his direct address to readers makes make him feel like an older buddy showing the way…Slackers everywhere have a new, likable hero in Charlie Joe Jackson.” -- Kirkus Reviews

"Hilarious...This debut is filled with passages that beg to be shared...With its subversive humor and contemporary details drawn straight from kids’ worlds, this clever title should attract a wide following.” --Booklist, STARRED review

Thank you Tommy for being with us today. Let the laughs begin! On to the interview.

Is there a story behind Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading that you wish to share? (Ie: the ah-ha or lightning moment where the story inspiration struck)

I have three sons, Charlie, Joe and Jack. (Charlie Joe Jackson? Get it?) They’re teenagers now, but when they were middle-schoolers they hated to read. HATED it. They would rather stare at the wall than read. I could never get them to read a book. So one day on my train commute, I had the idea to write a book about a boy who hates to read. The first draft was a picture book, called THE BOY WHO HATED READING. I sent it to my friend Michele Rubin, who’s an agent at Writers’ House. She loved the idea but thought I should turn it into a middle-grade novel. I hit on the idea of Charlie Joe Jackson, and that was that.

How do you stay inspired to face the dreaded blank page? Is it something you dread? Look forward to? Share a bit about your writing process.

I always dread writing. But I guess I dread not writing more. The guilt kills me. I’ve been a professional copywriter and creative director for twenty years, so I’m good with creating stuff that lasts about 30 seconds. I also wrote a couple of screenplays that were optioned, and one musical called JOHN & JEN that ran off-Broadway and still gets produced around the country. So even though I do have a few legit writing credentials, the act of writing itself is always a challenge for me. I’m lazy, and would rather be reading the paper or a book or watching TV. I will say that attacking Charlie Joe was a bit different, though, because once I found his voice, I really enjoyed becoming him. I actually looked forward to writing, which was definitely a first for me. As for the actual writing process, I commute from Connecticut to New York, which is about an hour train ride each way, so I do a lot of writing on the train. On weekends I’ll go to Barnes and Noble, grab a frozen lemonade from the café and start writing.

Theme can be seen as a dirty word but as writers I believe we all have something to say, something we want to share with the world. What is that something for you?

Sometimes I think I should write something deeper and more meaningful, and my musical was much more intense, but I think it turns out that as a children’s book writer my job is to be funny, entertaining and hopefully write characters that kids can relate to. Charlie Joe Jackson is a kid who’s smart but a bit lazy, and would rather spend his energy figuring out how to get out of doing work, rather than doing the work itself. It’s a sport for him, which will be expanded upon later in the series. (Right now we’re hoping for at least three or four books in the Charlie Joe Jackson series.) So I guess what I want to share with the world is that part of letting kids be kids is letting them do a bit of scheming and conniving – it’s a great way for them to use their imaginations, and can be just as much a harbinger of future success as straight A’s.

Is there anything that you are afraid/worried/concerned of tackling in your work? Genre-wise? Audience-wise? Topic-wise?

Not really. CHARLIE JOE JACKSON’S GUIDE TO NOT READING has obvious appeal to reluctant readers, especially boy reluctant readers, but I’m hopeful that everyone – boys, girls, readers and non-readers alike – will find something to enjoy in his adventures.

What were some of the challenges you encountered when working on this novel/picture book? How did you overcome those challenges?

Well, when your main character is someone who hates to read, you get a little nervous about biting the hand that feeds you. Would any publisher publish a book in which the goal of the main character is to help everyone else avoid books? Would the booksellers be mad? How about the librarians? But then I realized, this is who Charlie Joe Jackson is. While encouraging other kids how to avoid reading, he’s actually getting kids who hate books to read a book! So I decided to embrace Charlie Joe’s subversiveness all the way.

How important is voice in your work? How does “voice” come to you?

Voice is everything. I haven’t had any formal training as any kind of writer, much less as a children’s book writer, so the only thing I really feel confident tackling is trying to write the way a middle-grade boy might speak. If I can nail that, than hopefully things like character, plot and pacing will fall in line. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t – but if you can get the voice right, the other things are a lot easier, believe me. I think I got the voice of Charlie Joe by raising three boys. There are definitely parts of Charlie, Joe and Jack in Charlie Joe Jackson.

I once heard Deb Caletti say when asked how her life has changed since becoming a published author that she feels she is living the life she is meant to live. How has your life changed since you became a published author? Has it? What lessons have you learned that you’d care to share since becoming published?

Well, my book has just come out so my life hasn’t really changed much in any external ways. You can bet I’m hoping to supplement my income with a few bucks from Charlie Joe, which would sure help put three kids through college! But enough about that… internally, I do feel great about being published, for sure, but I also feel a lot of pressure. Writing the next books in the Charlie Joe Jackson series will be a daunting task, not because it will take forever, but because whenever I start again, I have a deep flash of insecurity. Will it be as good as the last one? Will I be a one-book wonder? Can I do it again? It can get to you if you let it. And also, with my full-time job, trying to churn out book after book is freakin’ tiring. I think I’m more tired than I’ve ever been in my life.

Writers love books; we love reading. What book do you turn to over and over again and why do you love it?

I’m not one who reads books over and over again. Too many new books to read. And becoming a writer has really cut into my reading, believe it or not. But there are certain authors I turn to over and over again, knowing that they’ll deliver the goods: Carl Hiaasen, Curtis Sittenfeld, Thomas Hardy come to mind.

Which character of yours do you hope your readers most relate to? And why?

Well, for the boys it’s definitely Charlie Joe Jackson, because he’s my main guy, and if readers don’t relate to him, I’m sunk! But hopefully his sense of humor, creativity and inherent laziness will appeal to the typical middle-school male. As for girls, I’m hoping Katie Friedman jumps out as someone whose intelligence and warmth make her the type of girl other girls would want to be friends with.
Inspired by the Actor’s  Studio, what sound do you love? What sound do you hate?

I love white noise at night to help me sleep. But I HATE the sound of the alarm clock in the morning.

Describe your main characters favorite meal? And why do they love it?

Charlie Joe Jackson is definitely a cheeseburger, fries and shake kind of kid. And also, sugary cereal for any occasion!

Be brave. Share a paragraph from a WIP. 

Here is the very beginning of the next book in the series, CHARLIE JOE JACKSON’S GUIDE TO EXTRA CREDIT.

How I ended up trying out for the school play is actually a pretty funny story.
Because if you know anything about me at all, you know I’m not exactly a
‘school play’ kind of guy.
In fact, I’m the exact opposite of a ‘school play’ kind of guy.
Which made the fact that I was standing there on the stage of our middle school auditorium, singing a song about paper towels, all the more ridiculous.

In ode to Maebelle, the main character in my latest novel Truth with a Capital T, who keeps a book of little known facts about just about everything, please share a wacky piece of trivia that has stuck with you or please share a little known fact about YOU.

In my professional life I’m known as Tom Greenwald. But my family and friends outside of work have called me Tommy all my life. So when I became an author, I decided that since it was a very personal project, my name should reflect that. Thus, Tommy Greenwald.

Check out the book trailer.

 Thanks Tommy for being here! And, please comment and list your top tip for NOT reading to win an ARC of Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading. TWO winners will be drawn on October 3rd.