August 30 Blog Tour Stop: Interview with Donna Jo Napoli!

WIK’s2012 Keynote Speaker! Donna Jo Napoli!

What a privilege it is for me (Susan Rosson Spain– hereafter SRS), to wrap up Southern Breeze’s blog tour with our WIK keynote speaker, Donna Jo Napoli! <Polite but excited applause!> Donna is an incredibly accomplished Professor of Linguistics and a prolific author of children’s literature, and has agreed to tell us a little about herself, her books, and her writing process. So, without further ado:

SRS: I hear you were in Dublin this summer. Was that business or pleasure?

DJN: I was a Long Room Hub fellow at Trinity College Dublin. Part of what I worked on was linguistics. But the other part was a novel, about a little Irish girl in the 900’s who winds up in Jutland alone and has some pretty disturbing experiences. It’s a companion book to my novel HUSH: AN IRISH PRINCESS TALE. It’s the story of the younger sister, Brigid, who gets separated from the whole family. I love to write on site as much as possible, and if it’s not possible, I love to visit the site.

When you walk around the place your story is set, or the place your character loves and will be missing, you notice things that books may not tell you—sounds and smells—the feel of things. I’m going to be working on this sort of thing in one of my workshops (the senses). [DJN is referring to WIK]

SRS: Oh, I hope it’s one of the workshops I’ll be attending! Tell me, as productive a writer as you are, with more than 70 books to your name–everything from picture books through early reader, middle grade and young adult—do you have a favorite genre?

DJN: Truly, I don’t have a favorite genre. I get stories in my head that I need to tell—and sometimes they are for one audience and sometimes for another—and sometimes they are of one type and sometimes another. Probably the type that is most fun to write for me is animal novels—because I do a lot of reading about natural history and a lot of observing the animals—and then I just write without worrying that some warthog or swan or frog will be offended that I didn’t represent them in the way they wanted. It’s almost relaxing—which is so unusual, since writing really is a terrifying act in a way.

SRS: Well it’s good to know I’m not the only one that feels that way. <grin> You’ve mentioned that your work in progress is a companion to HUSH. Do you write more than one book at a time? Perhaps more to the point, what does your writing schedule look like on a “normal” writing day?

DJN: I never go back and forth between books in the middle of drafts. But when I finish a draft of one book, I always complete a draft of another before I return to doing the next draft of the first book. It helps me to get distance and perspective so that I can cut what doesn’t work without crying.

But I try not to have more than one book for a given age audience on my plate too close together in time. I try to keep my voices distinct, and I worry about one teen voice, for example, influencing another. Right now, for example, I’m working on a teen book, a middle grade book, and a picture book—finishing a draft of one, then moving to the next. I like this mix. It’s like eating a meal of varied vegetables.

I don’t really have a writing schedule because I have a full time job. I used to wish I didn’t—I used to envy full-time writers. But I have hermit tendencies, and I think being forced to get out of the house and interact with people (which my job does for me) helps me to have more things I want to write about. So, really, a job helps me as a writer.

I begin a first draft of something only when I know I can have uninterrupted time—so that means between my teaching semesters or in the summer. Then I’ll get up early and write as long as my body will allow me (I find I need to get up from my desk more frequently as I get older—my hands hurt, my legs need to move). Day after day. Until I finish.

But on later drafts, I just steal the time here and there while I’m doing my regular job. So maybe I’ll get to work all weekend on a book. But maybe I won’t get to work at all for three weeks. It always makes me a little scared and sick not to write for too long—and to me, a week feels too long. But sometimes I have no choice.

SRS: Are you into any new types of writing?

DJN: Yes, and I’m terrified. A couple of years ago David Wiesner handed me a pile of illustrations he’d been working on which somehow just didn’t get in his head. He asked me if I’d like to try to come up with a story. I wrote a novel—he liked it—and so now we are doing a graphic novel together.

It is a very different experience from writing a picture book—where I do the words and then the illustrator does whatever appeals. And it’s very different from writing a novel—where I see through my mind’s eye, and therefore I can see inside and outside. In a graphic novel, you cannot go on and on about feelings—I mean, come on, what illustrations can fit that? You have to constantly think about what kind of visual scene might go with your words. We are both new to this, so we are feeling our way. Slowly.

SRS: Wow. That really is different from your previous body of work! Tell me, how do you manage teaching and having a personal life, and still get so much writing done?

DJN: Badly.

But I believe in that. Perfection is not something I believe in—so I don’t strive for it. I strive to understand my stories my characters, and to help my reader understand them. I enjoy what I do—in fact, I’m totally passionate about it. And I know anyting I write will never be “finished” in the perfection sense. Anything can be made better—that’s fact (except perhaps in mathematics and religion)—and I don’t want to spend my whole life trying to improve a single sentence. So I do the best I can in a sensible amount of time and I move on. (“Sensible,” of course, is relative. Once I spent seven years writing a first draft. That’s not sensible. But I only did it once.)

SRS: As a linguist, do you consciously try to educate your reader?

DJN: Last spring I heard Eileen Spinelli tell a group of young writers that she “loved words.” I really don’t think I had ever thought about it before like that—but once she said it, I realized that I do, too. Words are such amazing things. And when a writer uses exactly the right word for the scene, I want to kiss the earth in joy. Many times a very ordinary word is the right word. But sometimes you have to shake yourself free of thought and let your instincts about your own language have rein. You are aware of the nuances just by being a native speaker of a language—use the nuances. I try not to intellectualize about it. I write my stories out loud (speaking as I type), and I let myself feel the words in my mouth as I see them on the page and hear them in the air. I trust my instincts to choose them.

SRS: Donna Jo, thank you so much for speaking with us. What you’ve shared is fascinating, and I’m sure our readers would love to know more about you and your books. Are there other ways to read further? A website, blog, Twitter, or Facebook page, perhaps?

DJN: I gave up on a blog and never figured out Facebook (though I have a Facebook page that I hope people will visit and “like”—because I put announcements there sometimes). So my website is my best source: http://www.donnajonapoli.com.

Aug 15 Blog Tour Stop: Interview With Sharon Pegram!

Connie Fleming, hereafter noted as “CF”: For the first-ever WIK blog tour, I have the distinct pleasure of interviewing (and introducing) this year’s Southern Breeze WIK conference coordinator, Sharon Pegram. Sharon lives in Suwanee, GA.  Don’t you love the Southern sound of that?  I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting Sharon until the interview. I think you’re going to adore her. I know I do already.

CF: So, who are you, anyway?

SP: I write science fiction and play a lot of video games with my engineer husband and eight-year-old son. In other words, I’m a geek. In my pre-parenting, gainfully employed life I was a school librarian, so I do enjoy organizing things and helping people connect with a good book.

CF: Sounds like you are perfect for the job of coordinator. Having been a past conference coordinator and know the huge amount of work involved, so my next question is, “What made you decide to be the 2012 WIK coordinator.” Or in other words, “Have you lost your mind?”

SP: At Wik’10 Lisa Stauffer asked me to be her assistant for Wik’11 (while I was picking up my sandwich at lunch, so walk carefully through that line…), as training to coordinate Wik’12. I went back and forth over it for about a month, and then my husband said, “Just do it. You’ll be great.” He knows how to access the confidence I sometimes forget I have.

CF: What are you working on?

SP: Panacea, about a girl whose blood heals and the guy who gets tangled in her problems. Pelagos, a sequel with a new love, an old enemy, and a helicopter mom with special forces training. And Self-Evident Truths, in which a girl falls in love with her dad’s artificial intelligence project.

CF: Sharon is too modest to mention that her novel, Panacea, was a semi-finalist in the 2011Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest.  Congratulations on that, Sharon. Now, what is it like coordinating a Southern Breeze conference?

SP: Kind of like coaching a team where all the players know more than I do. Fortunately, they’re good teachers.

CF: I hear that! What have you learned about how WIK works?

SP: Jo, Claudia, and Heather do more than should be temporally possible. One of the more interesting documents in my notebook is the itemized schedule. To fit so much into one day, they have everything scheduled, down to which announcements are made at the welcome and which at lunch. And it’s color-coded by person, so everyone knows who’s doing what.

CF: Wow, you ladies are organized! What’s special about WIK this year?

SP: The first-ever Southern Breeze blog tour, of course. I’m also excited about having 15 speakers on the faculty. There should truly be something for everyone.

CF: Have you run into any glitches yet, and if so, how have you handled them?

SP: I think it’s early for glitches, but I’m sure they’ll make their appearance as preparations progress. My favorite glitch from last year was when I called the day before to confirm lunch for the intensive, and the restaurant had lost the order. Always call…

CF: Sharon, I know with you at the helm, the conference is sure to a great experience for Southern Breezers, as it always is. Many thanks to you and all the volunteers who make these events possible. We hope you will check back with us after the conference for “the rest of the story.”

This is dedicated to the Ones I LUV.

No. I do not mean my husband, kids, mother, father, sister and brothers. Nor do I mean my country, or even God. Sure. I love them too, but this is not about them.

This is about my fellow WINGs members. Yes, they are also my fellow Writers and Wannabes bloggers, and you can see them on the panel to your right.

Now, you’re probably saying to yourself; Yeah, they’re a pretty good looking bunch, but, “LUV?” Really?

Yes. Really. Let me tell you the sad story of a lonely puppy that got lost on a dark and dreary night, and huddled in the confines of a leaky sewer pipe until she was rescued by a beautiful light. Ok? What? Been there? Heard that?

Well, then, I’ll tell you another story. My story. Flash back to New Year’s Eve, six years ago and there’s TK Ed 2006., sitting in her living room, little puppies, err, kids, all around her, wine glass in hand, pondering her existence. She had the golden ring; the kids, the trophy husband, the house and car, the fancy law office, the respect of her colleagues… Well, maybe. TKEd06 sat there and thought until her ingrown toe nails grew in grown toenails. What was missing in her life? What did she really want to do? What did she really want to achieve?

Several wine glasses and ball droppings later, she realized what she’d been missing – self-satisfaction, gratifying goals and… friends.

Fast-forward to TKEd12, and she has all of these and … it’s all thanks to those women to your right.  Just about the best critique group ever, they’ve been there to pick me up after a bad reject, to celebrate my one or two small successes, and when I’ve needed a shoulder to cry on.

WINGS, my fellow, WRITERS AND WANNABES, Susan, Nancy, Connie, and Stephanie. This blog is for you.

TK Read

To meet them, click the profile pictures on your right to go to our Author Bio page.