Tag Archives: Author Q&A

Author Q&A with Samantha Picaro

Author Q&A with Samantha Picaro

Author Q&A with Limitless Roads Café Author Samantha Picaro

I’m excited to host a Q&A with contemporary YA author Samantha Picaro here today. She’s the author of one of the contemporary YA books I really wanted to read. I will be reviewing LIMITLESS ROADS CAFE later this week. For now, check out the inspiration and some behind-the-scenes thoughts from the author about writing the book.

I find that a story is often inspired by a question. Was there a question that inspired you to write this story?

The question that inspired me: “Why do most books only have one or two characters with disabilities?” Then I asked myself, “Why don’t I write a book with a cast diverse in ability?”

Which character surprised you the most as you wrote LIMITLESS ROADS CAFÉ?

I was surprised when I realized that side characters, even “minor” characters are just as important as the main characters. Just like in real life, every character has their own personalities, goals, and obstacles.

Who is your favorite character? Are there things about your favorite character that couldn’t be included in the novel?

My favorite character is Kinsey, my main character. That may be too easy of an answer but Kinsey reflects so much of my own life, though not all of it. I couldn’t include the accommodations she receives at school because the book takes place during the summer.

Is there a scene or moment in your novel that really sticks with you? Can you tell us a little bit about it?

One scene that sticks with me is when the main character Kinsey talks to the girlfriend of one of the employees of Limitless Roads Café, Lexie. Lexie is confident and glamorous but Kinsey is shocked to learn that Lexie was rejected from her dream internship/job, just like Kinsey was rejected from her dream internship, and that Lexie deals with trolls who make fatphobic remarks on her channel. This sticks out to me because Kinsey realizes every person deals with judgment and people who think that person won’t make it in the field they’re passionate about.

What is something unexpected that you learned in writing LIMITLESS ROADS CAFÉ?

I learned that finishing the manuscript is far from the end. I’ve made many changes upon finishing it, and even now I worry it’s not the best it could be. Maybe a writer will never stop having ideas for a single story even when it’s about to be published.

What do you most hope that readers take away from your novel?

I hope they take away that anyone can pursue a dream, and that one’s best advocate is oneself.

What is one question about your novel you are often asked by readers?

People usually ask me why there’s no romance between Kinsey and any other character. I wanted to focus on platonic and familial relationships as well as professional. Too often people think romance is the ultimate and only form of love but it isn’t. Plus, I wanted Kinsey to achieve the true ultimate type of love: self-love.

About Samantha Picaro

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Samantha Picaro is the author of LIMITLESS ROADS CAFE. Her identity as #ActuallyAutistic informs her writing, where the heroines are determined, and comedy is balanced with drama. She has a B.A. in Psychology and a Master’s in Social Work, and she has put those degrees to use in the nonprofit sector. When not writing or at her non-writing job, you can find her trying new coffee flavors, reading (of course), and volunteering for various causes.

About Limitless Roads Café

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Kinsey Fontana relies on lists to navigate the world as an autistic teen. #Goals list: win her dream event planning internship (she knows it’s an ironic dream); master the art of masking; and gain Mom’s approval. Instead, she works at a café hiring teens with disabilities. Although she loves the café and discounted macchiatos, she dreams of more than planning open mic nights.

She has an opportunity to shine by throwing a fundraiser to save the café. The catch: allow her ex-best friend Melissa Castillo to be her assistant and pretend they are friends again so Melissa’s parents respect her.

To-do list: plan the fundraiser with zero fundraising experience; work with the intimidating hotel planner who rejected her for the internship; and use every masking technique to charm rather than repel people from sponsors to a boy band. Although she needs unhealthy amounts of caffeine to handle autistic burnout, Kinsey reconsiders her #Goals list and realizes self-doubt belongs down the drain like incorrect orders.

Author Q&A with Maybe There Are Witches Author Jude Atwood

I recently learned about a middle grade book called MAYBE THERE ARE WITCHES. In the book, a girl learns an ancestor of hers was hanged for being a witch. She finds her great-great-great-grandmother’s diary in the basement. Bad things start happening around her, things predicted in the diary. I’m generally a fan of intergenerational stories, so I’m super intrigued by this setup. When I learned author Jude Atwood was available to answer some questions about the book, I couldn’t resist hosting a Q&A. Here’s what I learned.

I find that a story was often inspired by a question. Was there a question that inspired you to write MAYBE THERE ARE WITCHES?

I think a lot of writing decisions are inspired by questions. For me, these questions often take the form of “What if?” I keep a lot of lists, and the seed that would become MAYBE THERE ARE WITCHES was in a list, years ago, of ideas for horror movie scenes. It was something like, “What if a woman found a very old diary in her house, and as she read it, she realized it was written to her?” Later, as I started thinking about writing a novel, I thought, “What if the woman was a girl? What if the book was written by an ancestor of hers?”

It looks like the story is set in rural Illinois. What is it about that setting that makes it perfect for your book?

I grew up on a farm in rural Illinois. Since then, I’ve lived in small cities like Peoria, Illinois, and bigger cities, like Portland, Oregon, and Los Angeles. Now I live in Orange County, where multiple cities form a sort of suburban megalopolis. There are plenty of things to love about all of these places, but I’m fascinated by their differences, and the misconceptions we often have about other regions. For example, where I grew up, I never skipped school, because even if I’d wanted to, there was no place to go—anywhere I went, whoever I saw would have said, “Jude, why aren’t you in school?” On the other hand, many of the college students I work with in Orange County have wild stories about skipping high school, even though some have never left the state.

I wanted to write about a girl who moves from Orange County to rural Illinois, so she can undergo a bit of a culture shock, but can also go through the very human experience of trying to find a sense of community in a new place, trying to figure out who “gets” you, and who you can trust and open up to.

For a writer, there are also practical reasons to choose a setting with a small population, especially for a scary story or a mystery. It’s easier to keep track of a limited group of characters, and there’s more of a sense that you can’t get away.

Who is your favorite character? Are there things about your favorite character which couldn’t be included in MAYBE THERE ARE WITCHES?

My official position is that I love all of my characters equally. And the easy answer is that I love whoever I’m writing at the time. But if I had to pick one, I’ll say that I really loved trying to work out the character of Chris Beck, who begins the story as a sort of backwoods loner who marches to the beat of his own drum.

The book was pared down quite a bit during the editing process, because my editor and I wanted to focus on the supernatural mystery elements of the story. Chris lost a few good lines, but not as many as the adult characters did.

Is there a scene or moment in your novel that really sticks with you? Can you tell us a little bit about it?

There’s a scene in the first half of the novel where two of the main characters, Clara and Gary, visit Chris’ house for the first time. He takes them to the basement to show them a dead coyote in his family’s chest freezer. When I was writing it, I thought of it as a funny, if slightly odd, scene, but I’ve since had a conversation with a blogger who thought the idea seemed too over-the-top/gory for a middle-grade book. That surprised me, because it came straight out of my childhood. We often had some kind of wild animal in our freezer, either for a bounty or for food.

My life’s a little different today. Now my freezer just has a bag of ice, a frozen pizza, and some blueberries and bananas for smoothies.

What was your favorite part of the process of creating MAYBE THERE ARE WITCHES? What was the most fun?

I’m a fairly slow writer, probably because I’m enamored with all of the aspects of writing a novel that don’t involve actually writing. I love to brainstorm ideas, and jokes, and scenarios—stuff that I may or may not use. As I mentioned earlier: I keep a lot of lists. I also really like doing research. The main characters in this book compete on their middle school scholastic bowl team, and as I researched, I learned that scholastic bowl has changed a bit since I competed years ago; the questions now have a very specific structure. So I got a kick out of trying to create a whole packet of potential scholastic bowl questions that might sound realistic, even though only a few ended up in the book.

What do you most hope that readers take away from your book?

It’s a story with a witch and a villain—although they may not be the same person. But it’s also a story about the stages of friendship, and the ways that we try to understand the people we meet as we get to know them better. I hope the book inspires a few readers to think about how there’s more to everyone than what we think we know.

What is one question about your novel you are often asked by readers?

The question I get asked most often is, “Are there witches?” But that’s probably because many of my early readers have corny senses of humor.

About Maybe There Are Witches

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“I can’t think of a better fate for young readers.” -Steven T. Seagle, co-creator of Ben 10Big Hero 6, and Camp Midnight

After moving to the tiny village of Biskopskulla, middle school student Clara Hutchins discovers that her family has a history in the region: one hundred forty years ago, one of her ancestors was hanged as a witch from the white oak tree on the edge of town. When Clara finds a mildewed diary in the basement, she’ s even able to read the rambling thoughts of her long-dead relative.

But when the book’ s predictions about Clara’ s own life start coming true, she wonders if those 19th-century villagers had a point: maybe her great-great-great grandmother really did have unearthly abilities. Now, a break-in at the tomb of the town’ s founder means a great evil has returned to Biskopskulla. Clara and her newest friends— two of the weirdest boys in school— must join forces to decipher the messages of a murdered witch and stop an unnatural catastrophe. But as they quest through historic cemeteries, backcountry libraries, and high-octane scholastic bowl tournaments, something sinister is lurking, watching, and waiting…

About Jude Atwood

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Raised on a farm in rural Illinois near the Quad Cities, Jude Atwood treasured the long drives into town for groceries and library books. The small towns in the region were brimming with opportunities for kids to be creative. The library hosted poster contests; the newspaper had a kids’ cooking feature. Once, Jude took youth summer classes in Parody, Movie Appreciation, and Latex Mask-making at the local community college. He wrote songs about garbage bags, learned about Alfred Hitchcock, and made a shrunken head.

He got his first job at fifteen: detasseling, pulling the reproductive parts off of corn plants for a seed corn company making hybrid varieties of corn. At Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, Jude competed in intercollegiate forensics, where he learned the value of a well-timed joke and the fact that your audience always has something to teach you. He moved to Orange County, California, where it hasn’t snowed in over seventy years, and earned his M.F.A. in Film from Chapman University. In Hollywood, he worked very briefly as an assistant in the office of a man who is now famous for throwing things at assistants.

After that, Jude became a full-time community college professor, a vocation that continues to this day. He spent several years coaching the college speech, debate, & theater team, and he now devotes much of his energy to teaching mass communication and media literacy classes. He’s made many friends and (he hopes) very few enemies. In his career as an educator, Jude received a commendation from the city of Santa Ana for his work with students, and was honored with the Legacy Award from the American Readers Theater Association for contributions to the art of readers theater. His writing has appeared in Unfortunately, Literary Magazine and Plainsongs, and his first novel, Maybe There Are Witches, won the 2021 Kraken Book Prize for Middle Grade Fiction.

Jude lives in California with his boyfriend and his dog.

Author Q&A with Jacqueline Jules

Author Q&A with Jacqueline Jules

Today, I’m excited to share a Q&A with the author of more than 50 books for young readers, and most particularly, the author of My Name is Hamburger, which I reviewed yesterday. Jacqueline Jules shares some of the inspiration behind favorite characters, why she chose to write Trudie Hamburger’s story in verse, and more.

Q: What is your favorite thing about Trudie Hamburger? What inspired you to create her?

Trudie is a version of myself at her age. My Name is Hamburger was inspired by my own childhood in a small southern town as a Jewish minority. Writing this book gave me the opportunity to recall both pleasant and not-so-pleasant memories of growing up.

Q: Who is your favorite character in the story? Were there things about your favorite character which couldn’t be included in the novel?

My favorite character in My Name is Hamburger is Daddy. This character was modeled after my own father who was a German speaking Jewish immigrant. Like Daddy in My Name is Hamburger, my father loved flowers and enjoyed visiting the cherry blossoms in Washington, DC. A big difference between Trudie’s father and my own is his profession. My father worked in a winery. He wore a tan uniform to work and came home each night smelling of fermented grapes. However, I felt a father who worked in a winery would be distracting in my middle grade novel. So I chose to make Trudie’s father the owner of a print shop because ink also carries a distinctive smell.   

Is there a scene or moment in your novel that really sticks with you? Can you tell us a little bit about it?

There is a place in the novel where Trudie realizes that she has made an unfair assumption. She blames the bully who has been tormenting her for something he did not do. When she learns the truth, she says “The news should make me feel better. No one tried to hurt me. It just happened.” Sometimes, we suffer difficult situations and loss. There is no one to blame. It is a reality everyone must face at some point in their lives.     

My Name is Hamburger is set in Virginia in 1962. What made you choose that particular time and setting?

Since this novel was inspired by my childhood, I needed it to take place in an era and town similar to my own experiences. It was a challenge at times, to make sure the things I recalled took place in the year of the novel. For example, in the final editing stages, I had to take out a particular brand of bike which was popular after 1962. Historical fiction requires research, even if the era is personally familiar to the author.

What made you decide to write Trudie’s story in verse?

Poetry is and was my first love as a writer. I love the compression and imagery of poetry as well as the challenge of packing volumes of meaning into a few lines. I am the author of four books of poetry for adults and a collection for young people titled, Tag Your Dreams: Poems of Play and Persistence. My first drafts of Trudie’s story were written in prose. Her voice didn’t truly emerge until I began writing the story in verse. 

What do you most hope that readers take away from My Name is Hamburger?

I hope this novel increases empathy and understanding. Jews make up only 0.2% of the world’s population. Many young readers may not have the experience of meeting a Jewish person outside of a book. While My Name is Hamburger is historical fiction, Trudie’s experiences with anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant sentiments are relevant today.

About Jacqueline Jules

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A former elementary school librarian, Jacqueline Jules is the author of over fifty books for young readers including My Name is Hamburger, which is a PJ Our Way selection. Her other books for young readers include The Porridge-Pot Goblin, Drop by Drop: A Story of Rabbi Akiva, Picnic at Camp Shalom, The Generous Fish, Feathers for Peacock, and Never Say a Mean Word Again. She is also the author of two chapter book series, Zapato Power and Sofia Martinez. Visit her online at www.jacquelinejules.com

About My Name is Hamburger

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Say your name with pride!

Trudie Hamburger is the only Jewish kid living in the small southern town of Colburn in 1962. Nobody else at her school has a father who speaks with a German accent or a last name that means chopped meat. Trudie doesn’t want to be the girl who cries when Daniel Reynolds teases her. Or the girl who hides in the library to avoid singing Christian songs in music class. She doesn’t want to be different. But over the course of a few pivotal months, as Trudie confronts her fears and embraces what she loves–including things that make her different from her classmates–she finally finds a way to say her name with pride.

Author Q&A with Deborah Kalb

Author Q&A with Deborah Kalb

I’ve had a really nice time lately getting to know some authors through these short Q&A sessions, and today I’m excited to share more about author Deborah Kalb, who writes about time travel and presidents for children.

Thomas Jefferson and the Return of the Magic Hat (The President and Me #3)
Deborah Kalb
Schiffer Kids
Published September 28, 2020

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After almost six months in Maryland, fifth-grader Oliver still misses his friends back in New Jersey. But things start to change one day, when his neighbor–and possible new friend–Sam lends Oliver a magic hat that takes him back to the 18th- and 19th-century world of Thomas Jefferson. Oliver and his sisters–Cassie, the nice one, and Ruby, the annoying one–end up learning more about Jefferson than they’d expected. And Oliver finds that his new neighborhood might not be so terrible after all. 

Thomas Jefferson and the Return of the Magic Hat is the third in The President and Me series that began with George Washington and the Magic Hat and John Adams and the Magic Bobblehead. This new adventure brings back previous characters Sam, Ava, J.P. (blink and you might miss them, though!), and of course the cantankerous talking hat itself.

Author Q&A with Deborah Kalb

I find that a story or series was often inspired by a question. Was there a question that inspired you to write the President and Me series?

A: Thanks so much, Kasey—I’m really glad to do this interview! Probably the question was whether I could combine history, magic, and current-day issues into a children’s book series. It took a while to figure it out, but it seems to have worked! Thomas Jefferson and the Return of the Magic Hat is the third book in The President and Me series, following George Washington and the Magic Hat and John Adams and the Magic Bobblehead. The main characters are actually not the presidents, but instead a group of fifth graders at an elementary school in Bethesda, Maryland, who end up having time travel adventures with the early presidents while also dealing with modern-day concerns like being in a newly blended family or being the new kid in town.

Can you tell us a little bit about something you know about the story that the reader may not know? Maybe a historical element you researched for a particular scene?

A: I spent a lot of time researching Thomas Jefferson’s life, but I also researched the life of Madison Hemings. He was one of the children of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman at Monticello, Jefferson’s plantation. Madison Hemings grew up at Monticello, eventually gaining his freedom once he reached adulthood. In his later years, he wrote a short memoir about his family history. I wanted to include his story in the book, and my present-day character Oliver meets Madison Hemings as well as Thomas Jefferson on Oliver’s trips back in time.

What’s your favorite moment in Thomas Jefferson and the Magic Hat?

A: It’s so hard to say! If I had to pick a few, first I’d choose the moment when Oliver ends up in the room where Thomas Jefferson is struggling to write the Declaration of Independence and is trying to incorporate all the changes various other legislators want included in the document. Oliver, who is fascinated by history but also enjoys Jefferson’s scientific mind, is intrigued not only by the fact that Jefferson is in the middle of writing this incredible document—but also by Jefferson’s one-of-a-kind self-designed portable desk.

Also there’s the time Oliver and his neighbor Sam travel back to the early 19th century and witness an eclipse with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. And the time Oliver and his two older sisters end up in the midst of the British incursion into Virginia during the Revolutionary War. I could continue but I’ll stop here!

What was the hardest scene in the book to write, and how did you finally get it on paper?

A: Actually, the hardest thing to write wasn’t a particular scene, it was my character Oliver himself. The books are each told from one kid’s perspective. George Washington and the Magic Hat is told from the perspective of Sam, who is no longer speaking to his longtime best friend; John Adams and the Magic Bobblehead unfolds from the viewpoint of Ava, Sam’s across-the-street neighbor, who’s dealing with her newly blended family. Oliver was already a known quantity from the previous books: a somewhat annoying genius-like boy who’s new in town. How would I get myself into the head of this character and make him relatable? I spent a long time pondering that. Then, suddenly, it all clicked into place. I now am just as fond of Oliver as I am of my other characters!

Is there a scene or moment in your story that really sticks with you? Can you tell us a little bit about it?

A: I’ve been writing these books during the years that Hamilton, the musical, has gripped the attention of so many people—for good reason! It’s an amazing show. So I was trying to figure out a way to get Alexander Hamilton into one of my books. I knew that Thomas Jefferson had a long, contentious relationship with Hamilton, and thought this book would be the best opportunity for a Hamilton cameo appearance. Where should this scene be set? In the “room where it happens,” where Jefferson invited Hamilton and James Madison to dinner to negotiate details about the new nation’s capital! I enjoyed fitting that scene into the story.

What do you most hope that readers take away from your novel?

A: I hope readers take away an appreciation for the history surrounding the lives of the early U.S. presidents and their families. The book deals with serious topics, including war and slavery. But the books also have a lot of humor in them, and I hope readers enjoy the books and identify with the present-day kids and their concerns.

What is one question about your novel you are often asked by readers?

A: Will I continue writing about every president? And I’d like to, but the odds are that won’t happen unless I live to be 120!

About Deborah Kalb

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Deborah Kalb is a freelance writer and editor who spent more than 20 years working as a journalist. She is the co-author, with her father, Marvin Kalb, of Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama, and has always been interested in presidents and history. She lives with her family in the Washington, DC, area.