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Christy Catherine Marshall

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August 20, 2010

It’s taken me a while to write this post, as I’ve tried to process everything I learned and experienced at Hutchmoot a couple of weeks ago in Nashville. If you’re not familiar with The Rabbit Room, you’re probably wondering what in the world I’m talking about.

The Rabbit Room is a group blog founded by musician/writer Andrew Peterson, composed of like-minded souls who share a common interest in art, film, books, and music as expressions of the Christian faith. After three years of online fellowship, the group decided to congregate in the flesh in Nashville; hence the “hutch” of rabbit roomers holding a “moot” or meeting.

My husband and I decided to attend together, since his brother and a couple of old friends would also be there. And since the date coincided with our 16th wedding anniversary, we thought we’d spend a day at the conference, then a day hiking outdoors, celebrating our marriage.

I signed up quickly (with a little encouragement from Lanier), checking it off my to-do list back in early May, but then I began to feel guilty once I read the news that “the hutch was full” after only a few days. The conference organizers decided to limit the attendees to around 100 people, due to space limitations and to foster a more intimate fellowship. There were people from around the world writing in dismay that they’d wanted to come, but now couldn’t.

Why me? I wanted to know. Why did God open the door for me to go when others couldn’t?

As the date neared, I had major second thoughts. It was the weekend right after my son started a new high school — how could we just skip out of town during his major life transition? My other kids were in the midst of needing me to shop for new fall shoes and other last-minute supplies. Plus, we’d be missing their school orientation as well.

“Maybe we should stay home,” I told my husband at least 20 times.

“No, let’s go,” he said. “You need a break. The kids will be fine.” We’re surrounded by doting grandparents, so childcare wasn’t a problem.

So we went, with me agonizing the whole way there that I’d snagged someone else more worthy’s spot. A serious Rabbit Room contributor, instead of me, who skims posts while taking a break from washing dishes and folding clothes.

I thought maybe I could hide in the back shadows, scribbling a few notes, hoping no one would ask me any questions. There was a reading list, and I never got around to any of the books, save the few I’d read years ago. What if there’s a discussion session? I worried. I’m not in the same league with these people. I wore a black sweater and black skirt, all the better for disappearing into quiet corners.

But here came the surprise.

The Hutch was full of incredibly NICE people.

Everyone I talked to was so interesting, and some were like me, mostly lovers of great literature without any significant works of our own. I met a lady from Texas, who confessed she “blogged a little” now and then, while raising and schooling her children. I got to tell Father Thomas McKenzie how much I enjoy his One-Minute movie reviews, and how I took our kids to see three movies this summer based on his reviews.

I met both Peterson brothers: Andrew and Pete, who put this event together. Andrew kindly signed his two Wingfeather Saga books for my son, including North! Or Be Eaten, which won the Christy award back in June. That assuaged my mother-guilt, since I’d be bringing something home.

We attended sessions discussing the works of C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Flannery O’Conner, and Annie Dillard. We listened to Walt Wangerin, Jr, author of The Book of the Dun Cow, give an awe-inspiring Saturday evening keynote address. The Church of the Redeemer, where the conference met, was a gorgeous building, with a sanctuary full of light streaming in through stained glass windows. Every wall displayed unique pieces of artwork. The quiet, candlelit rooms helped me feel less anxious.

I found myself having a great time! I shopped in the Rabbit Room store and picked up two handmade coffee mugs and a stack of beloved new and used books. And the food … the food was out of this world, catered by artist/chef Evie Coates, who made every dish both beautiful and tasty.

We missed a couple of the concerts, and instead of returning for more great teaching and fellowship on Sunday, we headed for the hills of Tennessee, hiking along the waterfalls of Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park. The sound of rushing water felt like God speaking to me, reminding me how awesome is His love for each of us. Even if we don’t consider ourselves worthy.

More than anything, Hutchmoot helped me have a greater definition of what it means to be a Christian Artist. Pastor Russ Ramsey shared with us a quote from Annie Dillard, who says in The Writing Life: “There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by.”

I am living the Good Life now. My art may be nothing more than arranging blueberries on top of steaming oatmeal eaten by children who are dashing off to school … but for me, that’s a display of my love, and it’s what I’ve created. I can collect great works of literature and hand them to young growing minds who will outlive me, and will carry the words of these masters into the next century.

That’s what I brought home from the Hutchmoot fellowship.

If you’d like to read what others who were there have to say about it, check out the Hutchmoot Hub.

August 17, 2010

Over the summer, while browsing through my Auburn University alumni magazine, I was surprised to learn that all 4,000 incoming freshmen are being encouraged to read a book together: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.

Wow. That’s a major book club, don’t you think?

It’s part of the Common Book program that more than 100 universities are starting to participate in. This reminds me of our own community’s Big Read last spring, when we all read To Kill a Mockingbird together. Can you see how a bookish person likes me gets excited about these types of programs?

So, I had Three Cups of Tea on my mind all summer, wondering what’s so great about it that an entire university would be reading it together. Sure, it was a #1 New Times Bestseller for months, but just because it’s selling millions of copies doesn’t mean I’m going to fall in love with it.

But I did. Oh … there is something rich between the covers of this book that reached the core of me. It’s changed the way I view the world. I hope you’ll get a chance to read it, if you haven’t yet. Especially if you’re a woman. Read it, and you’ll understand.

The story begins with Greg Mortenson’s failure to climb the K2 mountain in Pakistan, the second highest mountain in the world. He almost froze to death one night when the porter carrying his heavy backpacks disappeared far ahead. Greg wandered around lost for a while, and ended up in a village called Korphe.

While staying in this village a while to recover his strength, he was overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of the people. There were children everywhere, and when he asked the elders where these kids go to school, he got some sad looks.

He discovered dozens of children huddled together in the freezing cold scribbling their math equations into the dirt with sticks. From this point on, he vowed that he would someday return to this village and build them a school.

The book is a page turner. He goes from one hard time to another — living out of his car trying to scrape together his own meager living and keep his dream alive. He writes 300 letters on a rented typewriter until some kind soul shows him how to use the “cut and paste” option on a computer, and then he sends out 280 more. At last he finds a person willing to back him up financially so he can build that first school, Dr. Jean Hoerni.

The rest of the book recounts the trials and adventures Mortenson encounters as he builds that first school in Korphe — which leads to launching a whole organization, Central Asia Institute, dedicated to promoting world peace through education. He builds not only schools, but also relationships with people in the war-torn regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

As you’re reading, you suddenly get the big picture that schools lead to educated minds who are less likely to be recruited by terrorists, and who are less likely to strap bombs to themselves and blow things up.

You realize books lead to peace. And so Mortenson’s mission becomes your own.

There’s now a Young Reader’s edition, which has full-color pictures and a simplified text. I think this would be a fantastic book for teachers or parents to read out loud. Students can also participate in the Pennies for Peace program.

The title of the book comes from the way in which the people in central Asia conduct business. Mortenson’s mentor, Haji Ali, teaches him:

The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die.

If you have a few minutes, I encourage you to watch this short interview with Greg Mortenson. You’ll be amazed. I can definitely understand why an entire campus will be reading and discussing this book together, and who knows how many new dreams will be launched from this shared experience.

(I’ve heard the story continues, with the 2009 published sequel, Stones into Schools.)

All photos are complements of Central Asia Institute.

August 16, 2010

I’ve written about this before, but I thought I’d periodically update you on overseas teaching jobs. It’s a topic I feel passionate about, and I’m praying there’s a young 20-something woman out there who might discover my post and find a calling in teaching overseas. It’s one of the best things I ever did for myself.

I’d also like to remind mothers of teenagers there’s a huge world out there, and if their kids work hard, they can see it! I tell my kids this all the time, reminding them they’ll need a good education and work skills in order to have the means to travel.

According to Joy Jobs, there are nearly 5,000 overseas teaching vacancies right now. Recruitment for the 2011-12 school year has already begun, as it takes a while for a teacher to tie up loose ends and move overseas.

These jobs do not require raising financial support; the teachers are paid by the school. I know there are many opportunities for young men and women to go into missions, but most of the time, they require raising support.

I received information today about the following jobs. If reading through this list fascinates you (as it does me!), please contact Joy Jobs. There’s a process where you submit your resume and find out how recruitment works.



Málaga, Spain

Tutoring Center in Málaga city is looking for full-time and
part-time Native English Teachers. We are seeking motivated and
well-organized applicants with comprehensive communication


– Bachelor’s degree: Education, Languages or related field.
(TEFL and other certificates are valuable).
– Only residents in Málaga or nearby.
– Availability from Monday to Saturday (9:00 – 21:00).
– Previous experience will be valued
– Computer skills: Intermediate (Microsoft Office package,
Proficient in Internet and E-mail)
– Work permit for non EU citizens.
– Candidate needs to be flexible, a fast learner, high spirits,
open minded, and optimistic.
– Fluent in Spanish


Negotiable, depending on the candidate skills and

Apply today!

St. Vincent & The Grenadines – Carribean

A Primary School Teacher is wanted for a 10 pupil English company
primary school (Pelican School) on a beautiful small Caribbean
island – Canouan.

It is a wonderful experience for someone seeking an adventure,
looking to enrich their career and life experiences and wanting
to make a difference.

• The successful applicant should have experience teaching at
all levels and must demonstrate commitment to equality and
• Having varied teaching experiences, teaching science and
social studies, and also having some knowledge of distance
learning techniques would be an asset.
• He/she will be required to work together with 2 other staff,
teach a class of mixed aged pupils, bring a fresh approach to
this small school of very high potentials and great resources.

Minimum Qualifications:
• A first degree or 5 years teaching experience
• Educational training relevant to your home territory
• A passion for teaching
• Vision and enthusiasm

Families and couples welcome.
We offer accommodation, flights and an attractive salary

Deadline: 10 October, 2010

Unsuitable applications will not be acknowledged


MEF International School – Istanbul

For August 2010, this is an urgent vacancy:

•MS/HS Chemistry/Science

Come live in glorious and historic Istanbul, the 2010 European
Capital and work at an IB World School!
Deadline: 1 September (unless post remains vacant after this


Shelton English Training Centre is one of the prestigious quality
English centers. It has been well-established from the high
reputation of Technology Transferring & Education Development
Ltd., Co founded in 1997. The company has been well-known in the
education and training industry over the past 13 years.

Initially starting business in Hanoi-the capital of Vietnam,
Shelton English Training Centre has been expanding the business
wise to other Northern provinces of Vietnam such as Hai Phong,
Quang Ninh. We are seeking for experienced English native
speaking teachers from England, Australia, America, Ireland,
Canada, etc.

Shelton English Training Centre offers a highly competitive
financial and benefits package to teachers, which is based on
qualifications and experience

If you are serious in teaching and fun loving children then this
is a great opportunity. What are you waiting for, come and join

Abu Dhabi – United Arab Emirates

•Math Teacher Advisor/Curriculum Support Specialist for a boys
middle school in Abu Dhabi!
Be a part of Educational Reform in exciting Abu Dhabi! Assist
the local staff in the implementation of a new curriculum, new
teaching and learning methodologies, and make a difference!

The right candidate will have 5 years relevant teaching
experience and

· Hold a teaching qualification of at least graduate level
· Experienced in curriculum management and development
· Experienced in the use and analysis of performance data
· Sound understanding of innovations in teaching and learning.
· Proven commitment to quality
· Evidence of an ability to understand the ethos of partnering
and of delivering in that environment.
· Excellent English communication skills (both oral and
· Competent in the use of IT and willing to develop these
· Respectful and sensitive to local culture and heritage

Government Schools in Malaysia

* English Teaching Professionals as English Language Trainer

From contract period 2011 to 2013 – 3 years

– for primary students
– to enhance the local teachers teaching
competency via co-facilitation and training
– to start in end 2010.

Excellent Benefits and rewards to the right candidate. Malaysia
is a fantastic palce to live.

Application Deadline: 28 October 2010

Kingdom of Bahrain

•English Teachers Required Urgently!

Two experienced English teachers (5-10 years) required to teach
English at middle and high school levels leading to GCSE diploma
in a private school in Bahrain:current strength (300 students)
Knowledge of GCSE curriculum would be an added advantage. Masters
degree preferred but not essential but ability to work in a
highly diverse environment with different nationalities is key to
success. Potential joining date is September 1, 2010 and
therefore speed is of essence. Attractive tax free salary, free
furnished accomodation,leave travel and medical and a two year
fixed contract are available for the most deserving candidates.

Bahrain is one of the most desirable places in the Gulf (GCC
States). Considerable saving potential and no restrictions on
expatriate living.

Apply immediately with CV, cover letter, photo and three

Bali – Indonesia!

International School in Bali, Indonesia urgently and immediately
requires a Primary Grade 2 teacher.

Degree in primary education and experienced teachers preferred.

Apply ASAP!

By: Heather Ivester in: Education,Travel | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

August 3, 2010

I’m happy to welcome Hester Bass as my guest today. If it’s possible to fall in love with a picture book, I fell head over heels for Hester’s award-winning book, The Secret Life of Walter Anderson. I think you will too, when you hear the story behind it!

Hi Hester. I loved your book! Can you tell us how you got the idea to write it?

Thank you, Heather! This book did percolate for a long while. Here’s the scoop. In the early 1980s, my husband Clayton and I were introduced by a Mississippi friend to the work of Walter Anderson, and we were captivated by his broad range of work and adventurous life.

We first saw an exhibition of his work in the mid-80s in Columbus, Georgia and then in 1992 we visited the Walter Anderson Museum of Art (WAMA) in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Anderson’s work seemed to vibrate with intensity, we were transfixed by the murals, and the town of Ocean Springs with its warm friendly people and main street lined with ancient live oaks charmed us instantly.

In 1996, my husband accepted the position of executive director of WAMA and we moved our family to Ocean Springs. I got to know the extended Anderson family, learning more and more details about this extraordinary American artist. I performed as a storyteller then and told Anderson’s life story to the school groups who visited WAMA. The children really leaned into the tale of a man who rode a bicycle instead of driving a car, who could draw with a crayon as expertly as with pen and ink, and who had a special relationship with nature.

Wow! I can see how kids are drawn to his unique personality.

I was absolutely compelled to tell the story of a man who lived under his boat on the beach of an uninhabited island, sometimes eating whatever washed ashore, so he could capture in words and pictures the beauty of the Gulf Coast. I wrote the first draft in 2001, sold the manuscript in 2006, and the book came out in 2009 — but, in a way, it took me over 25 years to write this book.

It was definitely worth the wait! In light of the recent Gulf oil spill disaster, what do you think readers can learn from the life of Walter Anderson?

Although Walter Anderson was widely traveled, most of his art represents what surrounded him every day — pelicans, dolphins, and turtles right down to the lizards, dragonflies, and shrimp — and everything he loved on the Gulf Coast has been threatened by this oil spill. It is an unfathomable tragedy, likely to have even more long-term effects than Katrina.

Walter Anderson was as much as naturalist as an artist and a keen observer of nature. He was among the first to sound the alarm in the 1960s against the effects of DDT on the pelicans, since he saw that something was thinning their eggshells and threatening the species.

I didn’t know that about DDT and pelicans. That sounds scary.

Walter Anderson spent his life striving to bring art and nature into one thing, and I think he succeeded. When I look at his art, the vibrancy of the image draws me in and l have a new appreciation for whatever he is showing me. While I hesitate to place a meaning on anyone’s life or art because every reader or viewer brings his or her own interpretation to bear on the work, I can share the meaning that Walter Anderson’s life speaks to me: get outside and experience the infinite beauty of the natural world.

This is especially important for children. The environment and way of life of the American Gulf Coast are treasures that must be preserved and protected for all to enjoy, and I hope stricter safety measures will be placed in effect to secure greater safeguards against environmental degradation in the future.

I agree. In your book, Walter Anderson often visits Horn Island. Where is this island located? Have you ever been able to visit it?

Horn is a barrier island about twelve miles off the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The only way to get there is by boat. I’ve been there several times, and it truly is a magical place that makes me feel I am at the edge of the world. It’s now part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and a ranger lives there, but Horn retains the feel of an uninhabited island. There’s no dock so you pull into the shallows and wade ashore as the fish and crabs scurry out of your way. Very quickly though, if you are still and quiet, nature closes back in around you and one begins to realize the appeal of such a place for an artist.

Anderson wrote that he wanted to become a part of nature and not an interruption to it, and this is possible on Horn. Yes, the temperatures can be extreme and the insects are legendary, but Horn is one of my favorite places in the world.

Oh, you make me wish I could go there! Your text goes along beautifully with the amazing illustrations of E.B. Lewis. How did the two of you get matched up to work together?

One of the biggest misconceptions about writing for children is that authors and illustrators work together; usually they don’t talk about the project at all, much less meet, but this case was different. My fabulous editor at Candlewick Press asked my opinion regarding an illustrator, and I felt E. B. Lewis was a superb choice; he’s a gifted watercolorist and someone whom I felt would understand Walter Anderson’s journey as an artist. We met at a conference in 2007 but didn’t talk about the book; we just got to know each other a bit. I learned it was his habit to use photographic references and that he posed models and props to achieve the look he wanted.

In July 2008 I received an invitation to accompany him to Ocean Springs, Mississippi since I knew the people and could help him gain access. We spent a very busy but very fun week in Mississippi, and two of Walter Anderson’s children graciously posed as their parents. His other two children offered their support with locations and getting us to Horn. Many people on the coast have commented to me that E. B. really captured the light and the water accurately, both hallmarks of E. B.’s gorgeous paintings.

Yes, the water is painted so beautifully in the book.

Luckily folks will soon have a chance to see those paintings for themselves in an exhibition called “Creating The Secret World of Walter Anderson” that will open at WAMA in September 2010 and then tour other museums. The show will feature the sketches, photographs, and other aspects of the preliminary work; all the paintings used as illustrations in the book; and originals by Walter Anderson. I’m excited to see all this in one place myself!

I hope this exhibit will travel to a museum near me — I’d love to take my family to see it. Were you surprised when your book won the “Orbus Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children?” What is this award all about? Has it opened any doors for you?

Oh my goodness — yes! — “surprised” is an understatement. The annual NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children is given by the National Council of Teachers of English, established for “promoting and recognizing excellence in the writing of nonfiction for children” following the literary criteria of accuracy, organization, design, and style. It’s a big deal, to say the least!

I happened to meet the chair of the Orbis Pictus Committee at a conference in New Orleans in November 2009, and she mentioned that she had seen my book and liked it. Well, I was thrilled just to know that the committee was aware of it! The NCTE was set to announce the award on the same day in January as the ALA awards — the American Library Association announces several awards that day, including the other national award for children’s nonfiction: the Sibert Medal — so that day was marked on my calendar as it is every year since it’s considered the “Oscars” of children’s literature. (One hopes but one does not expect, if you know what I mean. 😉 )

The weekend before the announcement I was at a book festival in Texas — Beauty and the Book — rooming with the lovely and talented Kerry Madden. After a very full Friday, I checked my e-mail about 11:30 at night and found one with the simple subject “news” from the Orbis Pictus committee chair.

She said that knowing I was out of town and that ALA’s conference was in Boston — meaning that likely everyone from Candlewick Press was there — she thought I might not hear the “news” in a prompt manner so she suggested I visit the NCTE website since it had been updated a little early. “Congratulations!” she said. Hmmm. When I clicked the link and saw my book cover load in, I screamed — you can check with Kerry — and whooped and hollered with joy! Then I started making the phone calls — yes, at nearly midnight — which continued into the next day.

I really can’t describe the exhilaration of that moment. An award like the Orbis Pictus brings so much attention to the book — and thus to Walter Anderson and his incredible art — that I could never accomplish on my own. I am so deeply grateful, and look forward to thanking everyone in person when I accept the award at the NCTE conference in Orlando in November 2010.

That’s true — all the attention your book gains will help increase awareness of Walter Anderson’s life and work. On a different subject, when I’ve heard you speak at SCBWI conferences, you seem to have a heart for encouraging new writers. What advice would you offer to a writer who has a dream on one day publishing books for children? Is it worth the ups and downs and all the risk?

To answer your second question in a word: yes. It’s worth it. Writing, as any creative pursuit inevitably does, involves the risk of exposing some of your inner life to the opinions of others, which can be very tough to bear. You have to want to write, to be published, to promote, to work hard on every aspect and understand that writing is an art but publishing is a business.

You have to want to succeed and “keep your eyes on the prize” because along the way there will absolutely be setbacks, criticisms, and disappointments to be sure. But. If you work very, very hard to put only your very, very best work in front of an agent or publisher, dreams can absolutely come true; I am living proof.

You’re right, I do love to encourage new writers. I remember very well what it was like to be one because I still am a beginner. I learn new things about myself through writing every day and hope to never lose that beginner’s mind and enthusiasm.

My advice for the dreamers: Go for it. Read constantly, especially in the genre of books that you want to write. Read books on the craft of writing and discover how you work best. Attend conferences to network with writers and be critiqued by professionals. Get out and meet people who love stories — librarians, teachers, and booksellers.

Deconstruct favorite books to see how all the pieces fit together. In my opinion, it is much more important in the beginning to spend time polishing your work until it shines than to spend your time submitting work that is not ready. The greatest mistake most beginners make is to submit a manuscript to an editor or agent before it is the best it can possibly be.

Competition is fierce, but a finely crafted story with vivid characters and a snappy plot that hooks a reader and won’t let go is what every editor is looking for.

Thank you for all of this advice! You’ve encouraged the dreamer living in all of us. Hester, is it true that you once appeared on the TV game show, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” What was that like? Did you get really nervous or was it mostly fun?

I’ve actually been on two TV game shows and let me tell you, it was fun fun fun! I was on “The $50,000 Pyramid” with Dick Clark when I lived in New York back in 1981. I won a pen and pencil set, some car wax when I didn’t own a car, and some towels. My game went to a tie-breaker and I lost by a few seconds so I didn’t get to the Winner’s Circle.

Then after two-and-a-half years of trying to get on the show, I returned to New York in 2002 to be in the Hot Seat on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” in its first season of syndication with Meredith Vieira. I had been writing for a year or so but needed a cash infusion to get serious about it — attend conferences and such — so this would be, as they say, “life-changing money” for me.

What a dream come true!

Being a game show contestant is definitely nerve-wracking, but I’ve been an actress and a singer and was somewhat accustomed to the pressures of performing in front of an audience. Still, being in the Hot Seat is a unique experience — one mistake and you’re out. I relaxed a bit once I’d used all my “lifelines” at $16,000; then it was just me and the questions.

I successfully reasoned or just plain guessed my way to the $250,000 question, and when I saw it was about “Star Trek” I thought I had it for sure — but it was something that was never on the show. Play along!

Lt. Uhura’s name comes from a Swahili word meaning what: Heaven, Freedom, Travel, or Justice. I felt sure it wasn’t “Heaven” or “Travel” but I couldn’t choose between “Freedom” (the obvious answer, I thought — too obvious) or “Justice” (which could also fit the times and the character) so I had to walk away with $125,000. Whee! I couldn’t sleep until I got back home.

That’s still absolutely amazing!

Oh, and the answer? My guess would have been “Justice” and it would have been wrong: the answer was “Freedom.” I’ll never know what my last two questions would have been, and you know what? That’s okay, I’m happy. 🙂

I can see why — you still came home with plenty to get you to that first writer’s conference. One more question — what’s next for you? Are you working on another book or planning a new adventure? Do you still want to be in a movie and go visit New Zealand?

Next up: I’m going on tour again to appear at bookstores and speak at conferences. I’ve got some school and library visits on my calendar. I’m thankful to say the book also won the 2010 SIBA Book Award for Best Children’s Book given by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, so I’ll be headed to their conference to thank all the marvelous book lovers who keep independence alive.


Of course I still want to be in a movie (hint, hint to Christopher Nolan — my favorite director!), and New Zealand is the #1 place I want to visit (all those locations from the Lord of the Rings movies — wow!) and my list goes on and on.

I am always writing new stories but I don’t like to talk about them until I have a signed contract; then I can barely stop talking about them. Look for more nonfiction — especially picture book biography — and I hope to break into fiction. I’m writing/ rewriting a novel. So I better get back to it.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share with us, Hester, You’ve inspired us with our own writing journeys!

Thank you for inviting me to your blog.

Please visit Hester Bass at her website to learn more about her and her wonderful books. I love this quote she shares from Walter Inglis Anderson:

“True art consists of spreading wide the intervals so that imagination may fill the space between the trees.”

July 27, 2010

Today’s guest is Meredith Efken, who has written a fascinating novel about adopting a child from China. I’d love to share her book with someone who is interested in this topic. Please leave a comment below or email me privately, and I’ll draw a name on Friday to win LUCKY BABY. [Update: Congratulations to Laura! She won the free copy of this book!]

Hi Meredith. I was excited about reading your book because I know several families who’ve adopted daughters from China. Can you tell us about your inspiration for writing LUCKY BABY?

In 1999, my husband and I adopted our oldest daughter from China. She was fourteen months old, and neither she nor her new parents had the faintest clue what to do with each other. Becoming a family, with the addition of our second (non-adopted) daughter three years later, was this miraculous, inspiring, and sometimes heart-breaking journey. I wanted to write about that journey — not just the usual “orphan finds family in happy-ever-after ending.”

The adoption became the hook for the story, but what I really ended up exploring was the process of becoming a mother — that process of being broken, being shaped, of dying, living, of losing all control over your heart because it doesn’t belong to you any more — and how thrilling, and frightening, and painful it all can be.

Your novel gave me a lot of new insight into the emotions involved on both sides of adoption. How much of Meg and Eva’s story was similar to you and your daughter’s?

Much of it is quite different, actually. My daughter was much younger than Eva when we adopted her, and she didn’t have any physical disabilities (even though we’d been told she did.) Eva’s attachment problems are also far more severe than anything our daughter has experienced, though some of the questions and internal conflict about birth parents and adoptive parents — and their roles in her life — are ones that are very common not just for my daughter but for many adopted children everywhere.

My own family and upbringing, as well as my husband’s, are drastically different (and much more positive) than those of Meg and Lewis in the story. That’s been one of the interesting things about this novel and people’s reaction to it — I must have hit a lot of the emotional notes correctly, because many people assume the story is a lot more autobiographical than it is.

But I did draw on some of my own insecurities and fears about parenting, as well as the stories and experiences of many, many mothers — both adoptive and not. Even though the emotions in the story are not always from my own experience, they are the experiences of many other families. I hope the truth of those experiences comes through in the book.

What made you decide to focus on such a difficult aspect of the adopting experience? (i.e., attachment disorder). Is this common, especially for families who adopt an older child?

Well, first, let me just adjust the question a bit. “Attachment disorder” is a specific psychological disorder that can affect any child who has been neglected or undergone trauma as an infant or toddler — not just children who are adopted. A psychologist can evaluate a child for RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) and recommend therapy and support for the child and the family, but it is definitely a challenging and difficult disorder to work with.

However, RAD is distinct from having problems adjusting to a family or problems developing attachment after an adoption. I think it’s not an either/or situation — RAD or no problems at all. There is a wide range of experience between those two extremes. Not every child who struggles to adapt to their adoptive family has RAD. And not every child who is adopted has attachment problems — no one really understands what causes some children to struggle while others seem to have no problems at all. It’s very complicated.

That said, nearly all adopted children do have struggles unique to the adoption experience. They’ve all experienced a trauma early in life — that of losing their birth parents, even if they can’t remember it. There is a grief process they must go through to deal with that loss. Additionally, a child who has been in an orphanage or foster family experiences loss a second time when they go from that placement to their adoptive family. Even though the adoption provides the benefit of a stable, permanent, loving environment, the loss of the familiar is still traumatic.

That double loss has consequences. It affects a child in often-profound ways. So I chose to write about that, showing one child’s process of grieving and coming to terms with her loss and the impact that has on her family and friends. I don’t consider Eva to have actual RAD. She has experienced deep loss that is far bigger than what she can process on her own, and so she does end up needing the help of a therapist to work through those issues before she can really integrate into her new family.

The process of grieving for what has been lost and then moving forward with a new family looks different for each child. Some children have a much more difficult time than others. Some seem to adjust fine in childhood, but will have to deal with their grief as adults. Others seem to come through it all very smoothly at a young age and are fine. I don’t think that the age of the child at adoption necessarily impacts their attachment or adjustment by itself. My understanding is that there is an entire range of factors that can impact how a certain child reacts to an adoption.

It’s something all adoptive parents need to be aware of, but not fearful of. Adopted children — especially ones who have been in an institutional setting like an orphanage — by the very fact of being adopted have special needs that their new parents have to be prepared to deal with.

Getting support early and being patient, educating themselves, and being committed to the process for as long as it takes are what adoptive parents need to plan on if they choose to adopt. It’s not always easy, but the good news is that the vast majority of adopted children do adapt, and do go on to have very productive, healthy lives. There is a lot of support and a lot of hope available to families who are working through this process.

Thank you, Meredith, for all of this valuable information! While reading your book, I really felt like I was visiting China. You describe the sounds, smells, and sights that take your reader there. How did you learn so much about China? What is your favorite place to visit?

We traveled to China for the adoption in 1999. We spent a couple days in Beijing, about a week in our daughter’s birth city for the adoption, and then about another week in Guangzhou, to go through the immigration process to bring her home. Much of my description of China was based on that trip, including our short tour of our daughter’s orphanage.

When I needed to fill in all the many gaps in my knowledge (since two weeks is hardly enough time to really understand a foreign country), I went to a variety of sources, including blogs of expats living in China, some Chinese friends living in my city, videos on YouTube, and other adoptive families. The hardest part was portraying life in a private Chinese home in China, since I haven’t had the opportunity to actually visit anyone’s home in China.

I found videos on YouTube of people in China getting together with friends in their homes, and I also used real estate listings to see photos of the interiors of various homes in Shanghai. I did a lot of reading about how they celebrate holidays such as Chinese New Year, what foods they eat — like for breakfast — and from there I used my imagination.

My daughter and I traveled back to China last summer (2009), and I was amazed at the difference 10 years has made in the nation. I had to make some last-minute adjustments to my book based on that trip because the country as a whole has become so much more developed over the past decade.

My favorite place I’ve visited is definitely Kunming, in Yunnan Province. The weather is beautiful, the people are friendly, and Yunnan is home to over half of the ethnic minorities that live in China, so the cultural heritage is extremely rich. Plus, they have some beautiful parks and lots of flowers. The food is amazing, too.

You mention Chinese phrases often in your writing. Have you studied the Chinese language? In your book, parents Meg and Lewis want their daughter Eva to retain some of her cultural heritage by learning Chinese. Do you think it’s a good idea for children adopted from China to keep in touch with their native language in some way?

I have studied Chinese just a very little bit. It’s a beautiful language, and not nearly so hard as it has a reputation of being. We’ve got classes in our city that are specifically for adoptive families, but due to our daughter’s dance schedule (she’s intensely pursuing ballet as a possible career) we haven’t been able to make the Chinese classes.

Most of the phrases in the book were either translated for me by Chinese acquaintances or were taken from phrase lists for adoptive families on the internet.

I think children adopted from a different culture should always be offered as many opportunities as possible to learn about and interact with that culture. But each child’s level of interest in doing so is going to be different. I don’t think it’s good to force it on them.

As far as language-learning goes, I think it’s a good idea if the opportunity is there. But realistically, unless the adoptive parents are fluent in the language and use it regularly at home, a child isn’t going to become bilingual or even fluent just by weekly language classes. The exposure to the language is good — it’s good for any child to learn a second language. Learning Chinese is an especially good idea right now, considering that it is becoming a more dominant force globally.

I confess I got hungry for Chinese cuisine while reading your book. It’s full of references to delicious food! What is your favorite Chinese food? Can you find it where you live in the U.S.?

I have to say — if all you’ve experienced of “Chinese food” is in a Chinese restaurant in America, you are missing out. Real Chinese food is completely different — a tremendous variety of flavors and ingredients (a few are far too exotic for my comfort!). It’s quite an adventure!

Some of what I like best in real Chinese food (which varies greatly by region of the country) are the simple dishes — the stir-fried green beans or the mushrooms. I even had a friend in the States once who stir-fried spaghetti squash and sliced sweet peppers, and it was heaven. They don’t actually use such thick sauces as the restaurants here do. The sauce is generally more broth-like, and it lets the flavor of the vegetable really come through.

I also like the dumplings and stuffed buns — which they do serve in some parts of China, though I don’t think it’s quite as common as the dim sum restaurants in our American Chinatowns are.

We had one dish in Kunming during our 1999 trip that I’ve been dreaming of ever since. It was called Yunnan Flavor Soup, though I think it may be called “Over The Bridge Soup” in other parts of the country. The waiter brought us super-heated broth, and a tray of raw meat slices (I wasn’t a vegetarian at that point) which we cooked in the soup broth itself. Then we added vegetables, noodles, and what I believe was a quail egg. The broth cooked all of it, and it was simply delicious–and so much fun to assemble and “cook” it ourselves.

I have not been able to find a recipe for it or any restaurant that makes it, but if anyone knows of a recipe for it, I’d love to have it.

Throughout the book, you weave in certain symbols, such as ladybugs, dragons, and a dream-like Chinese woman who appears at various points in Meg’s journey. Can you tell us how you got interested in writing using magical realism? How do you think it adds to the story?

I really struggled in writing this book to adequately express the sense of wonder and the miraculous nature of the adoption experience. Plain old prose just didn’t seem to do it, and it was quite frustrating from an artistic standpoint. I’d been reading about magical realism as a genre, and it intrigued me conceptually — the writers attempt to flip-flop reality by portraying the fantastic as normal and the mundane as magical — but much of classic magical realism is darkly political in nature and didn’t really appeal to me.

Then I came across some women writers of magical realism, such as Isabel Allende, Sarah Addison Allen, and Alice Hoffman, and their blend of women’s fiction with magical realism techniques really appealed to me.

What the magical realism did for me in writing LUCKY BABY was to make it possible for me to convey the mystical and miraculous journey of the heart that is adoption. It also was a way for me to express my view of faith. As a Christian, I find that my faith is mystical, a bit fantastical to some, and rooted in the supernatural — and yet, it impacts my daily life in ways I nearly take for granted. And at the same time, that faith gives me an appreciation and a wonder for the most mundane of human experiences — eating good food, the beauty of a perfect sunset, the personal connection of one hand holding another. Magical realism seemed a perfect reflection of how I experience God at work in me, so I wanted to try it in this story.

Do you have any advice for families who are interested in international adoption? Are there any organizations you’d specifically recommend? Is it helpful to join an online support network when someone is merely exploring the option?

Don’t rush into it. Count the cost — not just financially, but also in terms of time, emotional energy, and the level of effort involved in caring for a child that has been institutionalized. There are challenges and difficulties that are unique to international adoption, and parents have to be prepared to love their child no matter what — even in the unlikely event that the child can’t love them in return.

I’ve had people suggest that by adopting, we took the easy way out because I didn’t have to go through pregnancy and delivery. And after having been pregnant as well, I can say that physically, adoption is much easier. But adoption has deeply emotional ramifications, and there are no guarantees that it will go smoothly. So long term, I think adoption is harder for parents. They’ve got to be prepared for that and willing to be that rock for their children when it gets hard.

If parents aren’t sure they can do that, then it’s better for them and for the child not to adopt. But if they are willing to take on the challenge and uncertainty, I think they’ll find that the adoption journey is amazing, beautiful, and well worth it all.

Definitely join an online or in-person support group at any phase of the adoption process. There’s so much to learn. It’s hard to list any websites these days because there are so many really great ones, but one of the longest-standing ones and most comprehensive is

Was it difficult for you to make the transition from humorous mom-lit to this novel, where you sometimes write from a Chinese orphan’s point of view? How did your creative coach help you in this process?

It wasn’t the transition that was difficult — because I knew I couldn’t personally manage to make this story a comedy. You have to have a certain amount of distance and perspective to write humorously — at least I do. And I realized early on that I had no distance and no perspective whatsoever when it came to writing about Chinese adoption. It’s why it took me eight years just to decide to write it at all.

The emotions run so deep and strong for me, and my own expectations were so high for doing it well, that it actually crippled me for awhile as I was trying to write. This is where my creativity coach stepped in and was an invaluable part of helping me get past the expectations and self-doubt. She helped me identify exactly what was holding me back from being able to write, and then came up with mental exercises and techniques for dealing with those doubts or concerns. It was all very simple stuff, but it was very effective in helping me get my confidence back.

But there were still parts of the book that were incredibly difficult to write — won’t say which ones here because it would involve spoilers for the plot. There’s a quote about writing by Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” I have no idea who he is and I’ve never read his work, but for the first time in my writing career, in writing LUCKY BABY I found the truth to his statement.

The act of emotionally “opening a vein” as I wrote was terrifying and painful, but also exhilarating. It stretched my writing skills in a way that wouldn’t have happened with comedy — as difficult as comedy actually is. So from an artistic standpoint, it was thrilling to have a chance to grow and write something so different from what I’d done before.

In writing LUCKY BABY, a novel about an American couple adopting a child from China, what was the most important message you wanted to convey?

I wanted to show the complexity of international adoption — the beauty and hope, but also the difficulties. It’s not a fairy tale where the rich American swoops in to rescue a foreign orphan and takes them away to a happy-ever-after life, or where the lonely, childless couple has their dearest wish come true.

Adoption is a beautiful, hope-filled way to build a family, but the hard truth is that it is built on a tragedy — the separation of a child from its birth parents. And there are always consequences of that tragedy that families will face. With international adoption, you have the added challenges of the loss of the child’s birth culture. I wanted to present these issues honestly because this is not a fairy tale.

Becoming a family is a long journey and it can be a hard one. But at the same time, I wanted to show the hope and beauty and healing that the adoption journey can bring as well.

Meredith Efken is also author of the critically acclaimed SAHM I Am series that traces the friendship of a group of stay-at-home mothers through their emails to each other. In addition to writing, Meredith owns the Fiction Fix-It Shop, which offers freelance fiction editing and writing coaching.

P.S. Don’t forget — if you’d like to enter your name to win a free copy of Meredith Efken’s LUCKY BABY, leave a comment below or email me at the address to your left. I’ll draw a name on Friday and will contact you for an address to send this amazing book!

June 15, 2010

Those of you who’ve been reading here for a while know I’m crazy about Japan. I taught English in Osaka for a couple of years, and when I came home, I left part of my heart over there. Well, I’ve become acquainted with a Christian mom who writes novels in North Carolina, after living in Japan 18 years! I’m so happy to introduce you to author Alice J. Wisler.

Hi Alice. Welcome to Mom 2 Mom! We’re so glad you’re here. Can you tell us a little about your background as the daughter of missionaries in Japan?

I was born in Osaka, Japan in the 1960s to career-missionary parents. I went to Japanese kindergarten in Osaka and an international elementary school in Kyoto. High school was in Kobe, and since the distance was far, I lived in the high school dorm for four years. Then I went back to teach English in a church-run school in the 80s after college and a stint in the Philippines. So, I’ve lived 18 years total in Japan.

Wow. That’s amazing! Do you still find yourself remembering Japan? How do you keep your memories alive? Do you have any favorite Japanese dishes that you like to eat or cook?

Japan is a huge part of my life. I love authentic Japanese food (Kanki and any restaurant that serves their food with sword-like knives is not what I grew up with). Sushi is my favorite. I like to make tempura at home with my fourteen-year-old son. I sing Japanese songs from childhood around the house all the time.

How did you get started writing fiction?

Boredom. I got tired of fighting with my younger brother and needed something else to do. I’ve been writing since first grade. My teacher had me stand up in front of the entire class and read my short stories. One was about having the “chicken pops” and one was about a birthday party. Fiction came to me at about third grade.

Do you think writing can be therapeutic for women who encounter difficult times in life?

Writing is one of the best forms of therapy. When you put your heart and all its anguish on paper, you experience clarity and comfort. I thank God every day for his gift to us in the healing that comes from the tool of writing through sorrow.

Can you share with us about your son, Daniel, and how your writing ministry for grieving parents began to develop?

Daniel, my second child, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at the age of three in 1996. He went through chemo, radiation and surgeries to try to reduce and remove the malignant tumor in his neck. In 1997, he died in my arms. He was four. I was thirty-six.

Since then my world changed. I started Daniel’s House Publications in his memory and created a monthly ezine, wrote articles, remembrance cards, spoke at bereavement conferences, and was asked to lead writing workshops. I saw that this tool of writing benefits many, so eventually started teaching online writing courses.

What can people expect from taking your online course, “Writing the Heartache Writing Workshop?”

My online courses last five weeks. I send the assignments out via email and the attendees complete them and send them back to me for feedback. I offer guidelines on writing poetry, essays, and for publication. The five-week outline is available here at my website, as well as information on how to sign up.

Can you tell us about your “in-person” grief-writing seminar that will take place in North Carolina in July?

The all-day workshop I’ll hold on July 17th will be an expansion of what I offer online. We’ll write from photographs and from mementos. We’ll create poetry and essays and share. The atmosphere will be a warm one to tell our stories.

Not everyone will be writing about a significant loved one who has died. Some will participate and write about other losses — loss of dreams, broken relationships, etc. This event will take place at the Country Inns and Suites near the Raleigh-Durham, NC Airport from 8 AM to 5 PM. You can read more about this exciting day here.

Well, it looks like you’ve got a busy summer ahead. Congratulations on your novel, How Sweet It Is, being a finalist for the 2010 Christy Awards! Can you tell us about this book?

How Sweet It Is is about getting away from the past in order to heal and start a new future. Deena Livingston, the main character, has been in an accident and broken up with her fiance. She moves to a cabin in Bryson City in the Smoky Mountains where she’s to teach cooking to disadvantaged middle school kids in an after-school program. The story is about forgiveness.

Are you looking forward to traveling to St. Louis for the awards ceremony?

Yes, I’m looking forward to flying there later this month. I’ll also be signing advanced reading copies (ARCs) of Hatteras Girl at the International Christian Retailers Show held after the Christy Awards.

What is your new novel about?

Hatteras Girl is set in the Outer Banks. Jackie and her childhood friend, Minnie, want to take over the Bailey Bed and Breakfast in Nags Head, but obstacles (including a handsome realtor) get in the way. This is a story about having to wait for dreams to come true.

That’s a topic we’re all familiar with! Do you have any tips for parents who would love to find more time to write? Is it worth the effort?

Keep at it. Don’t give up! Make time to craft the best stories you can write. Edit often. Yes, it is worth the effort because there is no other satisfaction like having your work published.

Thank you for your encouraging advice! Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks for this interview, Heather. It’s been fun!

You can learn more about Alice J. Wisler and her really cool novels at her website. Be sure to check out the beauiful Dutch cover of Rain Song!

May 26, 2010

Those of you who’ve been around me in real life know I’ve been on a Harper Lee kick lately. For a while, I managed to bring her name into just about every conversation.

It looks like rain today. Hey, that reminds me of the weather in Monroeville where Harper Lee lives.

Are you going on the field trip next week? Hey, did you know Harper Lee was from Alabama and moved to New York in her 20s?

Have you read any good books lately? I’m reading To Kill a Mockingbird again. Have you ever read it?

I can blame it on my local public library. Back in March, they hosted the first annual BIG READ event, inviting the whole town to read To Kill a Mockingbird together.

I couldn’t believe it. People of all ages reading the same book together! (Can you hear the harp music now?) Our library used some grant money to buy dozens of copies of the book, as well as DVDs of the movie, and recent biographies of Harper Lee by author Charles Shields.

If that weren’t enough, there were special speakers and events every week. I almost made it to everything. It was heavenly for me, since everything was local and FREE.

The first major event was a public showing of the movie, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” starring Gregory Peck. I gathered a group of friends and their kids, and we all went together. It was my third time seeing the movie that month, since I’d watched the DVD twice already, with and without the director commentary. So you see, I was a little obsessed.

At the movie night, we listened to guest speaker, Mary Badham, the actress who played Scout in the movie. Oh, she was wonderful. She told us funny stories about how she got chosen to play Scout and how she and Philip Alford, the boy who played Gem, used to fight and tease each other with squirt guns.

Before the movie started, she signed a copy of the photograph below for us, which I’ll always treasure:

Mockingbird atticus scout

Mary Badham was so gracious. I know she has been answering the same questions over and over for decades, but she made it so fresh and new for all of us. She did tell us that she can’t watch the movie anymore “because everybody in it is gone now. It’s just me and Philip (Gem) who are left.” Gregory Peck passed away in 2003.

A couple of weeks later, we were visited by Charles Shields, the author of the best biography you can find on Harper Lee. She really is a mysterious writer, refusing to do any interviews since the ’60s. Shields took four years writing his book about Harper Lee, completely without any cooperation from her. He conducted over 600 interviews, which make this a thoroughly fascinating read.

She only wrote ONE BOOK, by golly. It took her ten and a half years to finish it. She moved from Alabama to New York to be near her friend, Truman Capote (who is the character Dill in the novel), and to start a writing career. She lived in a tiny apartment with no hot water and wrote on a homemade desk made from a closet door.

Shields told us, at one point, Lee became so frustrated, that in the summer of 1957, she threw her manuscript out the window! She called her editor and said, “I give up.” Her editor told her to get out there and collect the pages of her manuscript or she’d have to pay back her advance. Lee couldn’t afford to do this, so she finally turned it in.

To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960, and it became an instant success, earning her the Pulitzer Prize. The movie version, with a screenplay by Horton Foote, won four academy awards in 1962. It has never gone out of print, has sold 30 million copies, and still sells a million copies yearly. The book is required reading by nearly every public high school in America.

Yet she never wrote another book. She’s in her 80s now and still lives a quiet life in Monroeville, which is now known as “the literary capital of Alabama.”

Since 2010 marks 50 years since the publication of Lee’s world-famous novel, Monroeville is hosting a 50th anniversary celebration in July. There will be all kinds of literary tours and events, and even a giant birthday party for the book. You can read all about it here.

Harper Lee did publish a few essays in magazines in the 1960s. If you’re curious, here are a couple of links:

Love–In Other Words, published in Vogue Magazine in 1961

Christmas To Me, published in McCall’s magazine, December 1961

I recently found out our BIG READ book for next year will be The Great Gatsby. Good thing, because I’ve also been on a Zelda Fitzgerald kick lately. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.

May 24, 2010

One of the things I love about going to SCBWI conferences is getting to meet all the fun people who write books for kids. Kristin O’Donnell Tubb is one of those people.

Her debut novel, Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different, made me laugh and want to know more about her. So here she is, coming to chat with us all the way from Nashville, Tennessee.

Welcome, Kristin! How did you come up with the idea to write your first novel?

I grew up in Athens, Tennessee, about an hour and a half south of Cades Cove. We visited the park dozens of times when I was a kid, when my cousins would visit from Chicago.

But in 2002, I went on a tour of the Cove, and was standing in John Oliver’s cabin when the tour guide mentioned that at one point, 12 people lived in the tiny log dwelling. Twelve people! This place had no running water, a handful of windows, and was slightly larger than a luxury closet. How in the world did they live?!

It occurred to me that this place that I’d visited dozens of times as a tourist had once been someone’s home. I wondered: how does one’s home become a national park?

Did you get to hang out much at Cades Cove while you researched your novel?

I’ve visited Cades Cove many times, but once I got the idea to set a novel there, I returned and took dozens of pictures and many notes. Too, I came across a research goldmine: in the basement of the Sugarlands Visitor’s Center near Gatlinburg, there is a library/archive that is solely dedicated to preserving the culture and artifacts of the people who lived in the areas that are now part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

They’ve collected everything from recipes and church hymnals to school textbooks and photographs. Land deeds, descriptions of school-yard games, farming techniques — it’s all there. Heaven for an historical fiction researcher!

Are there any locals still around who remember what it was like when the government came in and turned their homes into a national park?

All around East Tennessee, there are people who were born in Cades Cove and spent their childhoods there. I’m constantly amazed at how many people tell me part of their family is from there.

One such person is Dr. Durwood Dunn, a professor at Tennessee Wesleyan College in Athens, Tennessee. Dr. Dunn was very patient, answering several of my questions while I wrote the book. He’s considered one of the foremost scholars on the history of Cades Cove, and his book, Cades Cove: The Life and Death of a Southern Appalachian Community, 1818-1937, was one of the most useful books I used in the research stage.

Have you always had an interest in writing historical fiction?

Absolutely! I love reading historical fiction, and research is one of my favorite parts of the writing process.

Are you anything like your main character, Autumn? Do you like to “do things different” as well?

I wish I were more like Autumn! She’s spunky and spirited and creative, and she definitely does things different! I’m much more of a rule-follower than Autumn.

Autumn is so funny. Did you ever crack yourself up while writing?

Thank you! Actually, yes, I did crack myself up a few times while writing this book. (I also cried near the end — but NO SPOILERS from me!

I think if you’re immersed in the writing that much — so much that it makes you laugh and cry and feel so deeply — your readers are much more likely to get that from the story, too. At least, I hope so! Of course, anyone who knows me knows I laugh and cry VERY easily!

What was your favorite scene to write?

Probably the opening scene. I’d been researching Cades Cove for several months, and I was itching to begin the writing process. A contest was coming up, and I wanted to enter it. I pounded out the opening scene, title of the book included, in about an hour. (Of course, it went through MANY — manymanymany — rounds of edits after that!)

Something that strikes me as odd about the writing process: I can remember exactly where I was writing, what I was thinking and feeling, when I reread sections of the book now. It’s like listening to an old song, one that transports you to a specific place and time. Just one more thing I love about writing!

That’s all so interesting, especially for an adult reader to know more about your writing process. OK, here’s a question on a different subject. I heard that you actually got to INTERVIEW one of my all-time favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle. Can you share with us how it all happened? That is truly amazing!!

I know, right?! When I was in sixth grade, my fantastic elementary school librarian, Sheila Rollins, instituted a wonderful program: any student could read three of an author’s books, then interview that author by telephone. I remember exactly two things about the interview:

1. The interview was conducted via a speakerphone! It was the coolest piece of technology my 11-year-old self had ever seen. Very Charlie’s Angels.

2. When I told Ms. L’Engle that I, too, wanted to be a writer, she responded, “Good for you! Keep reading and you can do it.”

Wow! I’m sure she’s inspired many of her readers to become writers. Well, Kristin, after reading your book, some friends and I are trying to plan a family trip to Cades Cove. Do you have any recommendations for places we should visit?

You absolutely need to visit the Arts & Crafts Community, a loop just outside Gatlinburg about 8 miles long with dozens and dozens of artists working and living in a gorgeous, creative community.

If you have time, check out the Arrowmont School and see if they’re offering a craft class that you’d be interested in taking. There are always festivals and celebrations in nearby Gatlinburg, so check with the Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce to see what might be going on while you’re there.

And of course, you’ll want to hike the many trails throughout Cades Cove and in other sections of the gorgeous Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Thanks for all these great tips! Can you tell us a little bit about your next book?

Sure, here’s the jacket copy for Selling Hope, which will be released November 9 from Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan. I wish I could share the cover with you, because it is SOOOO PRETTY!

It’s May 1910, and Halley’s Comet is due to pass thru the Earth’s atmosphere. And thirteen-year-old Hope McDaniels and her father are due to pass through their hometown of Chicago with their ragtag vaudeville troupe. Hope wants out of vaudeville, and longs for a “normal” life—or as normal as life can be without her mother, who died five years before. Hope sees an opportunity: She invents “anti-comet” pills to sell to the working-class customers desperate for protection. Soon, she’s joined by a fellow troupe member, young Buster Keaton, and the two of them start to make good money. And just when Hope thinks she has all the answers, she has to decide: What is family? Where is home?

Our family loves Buster Keaton! Here’s one last question: do you have any tips for parents who are trying to carve out a little time and energy to write while shuffling kids into carpools and packing school lunches? How do you manage to squeeze it all in?

I wish I could say that I have this amazing time-pause button, or a clone machine, or an inherited gene that allows me to stay awake for weeks on end. But in reality, I have a wonderful husband who knows that when I’m starting to look stressed, a little writing time will go a long way toward curing that.

I also have a sitter who watches my youngest (a very active 3-year-old boy) a couple of times a week while I write and promote. I have a voice-recorder app on my iPhone, and I record ideas on it when I can’t get to a pen (which is almost always).

So yes, CARVING out time is exactly what I do. Writing is a priority for me, and I treat it like a career. The best career in the world!

Thank you so much for your inspiration, Kristin, and for sharing with us your behind-the-scenes process of writing!

You can read more about Kristin O’Donnell Tubb on her website and her Do Things Different blog. And here’s a really fun video I found about Cades Cove, in case you’re feeling the itch to travel to Tennessee.

May 18, 2010

My oldest daughter started wearing her hair in braids recently, and I wasn’t surprised to see she’d tucked a Betsy-Tacy novel into her backpack. I love it that she’s reading this series for the second time, and in the world of Betsy, cell phones haven’t been invented yet.

For anyone who is a fan of Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy series, you can rejoice along with me that there’s a big celebration going on this week in Mankato, Minnesota. After years of publicity efforts, fundraising, and restoration, both the Betsy and Tacy houses will be dedicated as National Literary Landmarks in a ceremony Thursday, May 20th starting at 6 pm.

If I lived anywhere near Minnesota, this is where I’d love to be.

I started reading the Betsy-Tacy books only a few years ago, after I discovered a copy of Betsy and the Great World in a used book store on St. Simon’s Island. I recognized the series from Gladys Hunt’s wonderful book, Honey for a Child’s Heart.

I’m so happy that HarperCollins Children’s Books has brought all ten of Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books back into print. The Harper Perennial Modern Classic editions, published in 2009, are gorgeous, with covers illustrated by the original artist, Vera Neville.

I’d love to gather a whole set of these books for my three daughters to take with them someday when they leave home. I hope HarperCollins will continue to keep these books in print for fans like me who are raising the next generation of Maud Hart Lovelace readers.

Here are the ten books of the series:

1. Betsy-Tacy
2. Betsy-Tacy and Tib
3. Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill
4. Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown
5. Heaven to Betsy
6. Betsy in Spite of Herself
7. Betsy Was a Junior
8. Betsy and Joe
9. Betsy and the Great World
10. Betsy’s Wedding

There are three other companion novels set in Deep Valley (Mankato). I especially enjoyed Emily of Deep Valley. HarperCollins is due to release these new editions in October 2010. You can pre-order your copies here.

1. Winona’s Pony Cart
2. Carney’s House Party
3. Emily of Deep Valley

The Betsy-Tacy Society has a whole upcoming calendar of events, including a Victorian Lawn Party, Ice Cream Social Concert, Neighborhood Walk, and Victorian Christmas.

In her introduction to the new Betsy Was a Junior/ Betsy and Joe 2009 edition, author Meg Cabot writes:

How could a series of novels in which the heroine has neither red hair, a tiara, magical powers, a boyfriend who is a vampire, or a cell phone be so bewitching? Well, Betsy won my heart not just because of the humor, vivacity, and realistic emotion with which her creator, Maud Hart Lovelace, imbued her, but also because of her believable struggles to find her voice as an author…not to mention true love (both of which echoed my own struggles not just at Betsy’s age but through my twenties and even beyond.)

These books do so much toward preserving a beautiful time period of American history. I’m thinking a field trip to Mankato would be a nice way to help bring literature to life!

Update: If you’d like to contact HarperCollins Children’s Books to show your support for bringing the Betsy-Tacy books back in print, you may contact them with this email address: Let’s keep these books in print for the next generation!

May 13, 2010

Hello. My name is Heather, and I’m a Book Blogger.

I just wanted to write that to see how it looked. I’ve introduced myself in many ways, but never as a “book blogger.” Apparently, there are lots of us, tons of us in fact, who blog about books, and now there’s even a convention full of people who will be meeting together to discuss blogging about books.

Here are a few of the topics that will be presented:

* Professionalism/Ethics
* Marketing
* Author/Blogger Relationships
* Social Responsibility
* Writing/Building Content

I would love to be there, but since it’s May 28 in New York City, alas, I won’t. That’s the last day of school for us, and I’ll be busy loading up kids and the contents of their newly cleaned-out lockers.

If YOU would like to go, I hope you can, and I hope you have a great time. You can read all the details here. Admission to the Book Blogger Convention also allows you access to roam the celestial BEA (Book Expo America), which is billed as “the largest publishing event in North America.” Here’s a rundown of all the exciting events going on for children’s book authors, editors, publishers, agents, booksellers, and other people crazy about kid lit.

I would like to be a fly on the wall for the session entitled “Speed Dating with Children’s Authors” (for booksellers only).