A Peek at the Creative Space of Susan Cunningham

Susan Cunningham’s debut novel, Crow Flightpublishes December 11. In Crow Flight, the curious flight patterns of crows leads a teen computer programmer down a path of mystery and romance. Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it?

Susan lives in the Colorado Rocky Mountains with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys science nearly as much as writing: she’s traveled to the bottom of the ocean via submarine to observe life at hydrothermal vents, camped out on an island of birds to study tern behavior, and now spends time in an office analyzing data on wool apparel. She blogs about writing and science at susancunninghambooks.com. You can learn more about her and her writing on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Describe your workspace.
I write in my bedroom, which has great light and big trees out the windows that keep me inspired. I used to write while sitting cross-legged on my bed, but have since started using an actual desk. But I can tuck everything away when I’m not working: my desk chair wheels into the closet, my laptop slides under the bed and my writing desk transforms into a nightstand.

Describe a typical workday.
I try to start most days with journaling (technically “morning pages” as recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way). Then I get the kids ready for school and depending on the day, either analyze data (my “pay-the-bills” job that I also enjoy) or write.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.
A crow statue that was a birthday present from my husband. It reminds me of how important research is to my writing process, and of how lucky I am to have a partner who supports my writing.

Our dog, Cricket, who is a fun writing buddy and is always ready for a walk if I need a break.

And photos of backpacking trips – when I’m out in the mountains with everything I need on my back, I am most happy.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them. 
Morning pages first! I always journal in inexpensive spiral notebooks: they’re so plain, I don’t feel any pressure to fill them with brilliant words. When I’m working on a book, that journaling often includes a lot of brainstorming. I’m pretty motivated when I’m writing a first draft: the success of seeing words pile up keeps me going. But if I’m revising, I have to reward myself with sticker charts (a trick I picked up from author Laura Resau) and prizes.

What do you listen to while you work?
Though I have different playlists that inspire each story, I mostly listen to my white noise app while writing. Typically, I’m typing away to the cozy sounds of crickets chirping or rain falling.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?
Hot tea or hot cocoa. And for snacks: chocolate, popcorn and gum.

What keeps you focused while you’re working? 
I set loose goals (finish half a rough draft before an upcoming vacation, wrap up another set of edits before a holiday) and then plod along towards those goals. If I have a hard time getting started, I’ll set very small goals – write for 20 minutes or revise two pages. Basically, I find lots of ways to trick myself into actually writing.

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?
I’ve tried both and found that writing on my laptop worked best for me. But my brainstorming is all done longhand.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?
My stories tend to start with one image – for Crow Flight, it was a boy and girl on a wintry field, with trained crows flying around them.

Once I have that initial idea, I write a first draft. It’s pretty terrible, but it helps me narrow the story down.

And then I revise. Through revisions, the story really comes to life – but revisions are hard for me as I don’t always feel productive. Often I’m deleting words, not adding them. Hence the need for external motivation: stickers, a pastry from the local coffeeshop, a trip to the movies… My artist self is not above being bribed.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?
That’s a tough one, because I write best alone. But if I had to choose, I’d share my workspace with my husband. He’s a musician, though, so I’d likely be wearing noise-cancelling headphones.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received? 
One of my favorites was from the author Ron Rash, who spoke about how he spent years trying to learn to write. Nothing he wrote at first was good, but he just kept going and going. And now he’s a master. But he didn’t regret those initial years at all. They’re helpful for a writer, because you learn what techniques work for you, and you learn that you’re committed to it. So for all the aspiring writers out there who write and write, with no idea of what will come of it, keep going!

Visiting the Wave Organ

When I was in San Francisco this past spring for the The Alcatraz Escape tour, I met a class at the wave organ as the last destination on their Book Scavenger-themed scavenger hunt planned for them by their teacher (how cool is that??!!) after they had read Book Scavenger and The Unbreakable Code as a class. We ate It’s-Its, I signed books, and we explored one of my favorite spots in San Francisco. My media escort, Patty Stanton, surprised me by taking this video of the students talking about why they like my books. Watch the video and you can travel vicariously to the wave organ too!

Happy Three Year Anniversary Book Scavenger!

Book Scavenger was published 3 years ago. Somehow it feels like it was only yesterday, and also much, much longer at the same time.

I worked on Book Scavenger for 12 years before it was published and wrote 8 different drafts with lots and lots of revising within each draft. Over those years there were 5 critique groups that helped me hone my ideas and writing, 2 paid critiques at SCBWI conferences that were influential, writing workshops with Lighthouse Writers, and so many friends and family who encouraged and supported me along the way.

Now there are three Book Scavenger books in the world, soon to be published in twelve languages. (I still can’t believe stories I’ve written are being read in other languages by readers around the world.) I’ve been lucky to connect with so many educators and booksellers who are using my books in wonderful, inspiring ways. Every young reader I meet reminds me of myself when I was a young bookworm, and how much stories meant to me back then. It makes me feel lucky to be doing what I’m doing and excited to return to my imagination and write more books.

It’s been a wild, wonderful ride and I’m grateful I kept writing, grateful to everyone who encouraged me along the way, and grateful to every reader who has picked up one of my books. Here are way too many pictures (but there are so many more special moments than these too!) in random order capturing some memories from the past three years.




A Peek at the Creative Space of Kim Tomsic

Kim Tomsic is the author of The 11:11 Wish which was published by Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins earlier this year. “Wishes, magic, and dares abound when an adorkable tween math whiz tries to fit in at her new school by wishing on a magical cat clock only to suffer catastrophic and hilarious consequences! 

Learn more about Kim by visiting her website, following her on Twitter, or reading her blog.


Describe your workspace & typical workday.

This question makes me smile, because my workspace and workday are in constant motion. Usually around 5:00 or 6:00am, one of my dogs licks my face to tell me they’re ready to start the day. After giving them treats and love, I set my laptop on the kitchen counter, conveniently located near the hot coffee and tea, and dive right into my workinprogress. Getting started immediately lets me connect with my twelve-year-old self before I have to pay bills, drive to the grocery store, or do anything adultish. Eventually, the dogs get tired of me sitting on a kitchen stool, so I move to a room with a cushy couch and room for three. There, I review my corkboard—this is a board I’ve covered with colored index cards. On each card, I’ve written a one sentence scene so the board can be a visual story map. If I get stumped, I walk a lap or two (or three!) around the lake near my house. The lake is pretty magical—I’ve met a falconer’s apprentice, seen bears in trees, nearly stepped on snakes, watched a coyote skitter across the ice, and most recently, I saw my first muskrat. If I’m still stuck after going around the lake, I’ll check out notes in my office, watch Project Runway (while folding laundry, of course!), or best—I’ll read a book. Reading a good story nourishes my writer’s soul! I also teach yoga classes. It serves as great balance for me, because I spend half my day hunched over a keyboard and the other half stretching and realigning.

Morning commute


List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

The majority of writing happens at my kitchen counter. On the wall in the kitchen is a magnetic board with photos of my children and family members. Those photos are the best thing about my workspace. My heart fills when I look up and see the people who are rooting for me. Lucky and Sushi, my two dogs, are the second and third favorite things in my workspace. They’re always willing to listen to me read my pages aloud. I swear that sometimes they even smile!



What do you listen to while you work?

I listen to the sound of the words when I work. It’s embarrassing how much I need to hear my dialogue read out loud! My house has a lot of windows, so those passing by must think, “There’s that lady talking to herself again.”

neighbor passing by

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

“Snack” is my middle name. I like to snack all day! In the morning, I drink decaffeinated coffee and cream and munch on a peanut butter and dark chocolate granola bar, plus I drink lots of water. In the afternoon, black tea, and peanut M&Ms, and more water, and again later in the day, I drink lemon ginseng tea with honey and more water (ALL the water. I drink at least 12 cups of water a day). Someone once told my daughter that students perform 25% better when they are properly hydrated. I’ve never verified that statistic, but I believe it.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

Knowing where I’ve been and where I’m going helps me stay focused (hence the index cards). I’m a fan of Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, so I use the forty index card method (and the fifteen beats plan). I love the fact that when I work on a picture book, I can digest the beginning, middle, and end in one sitting, but I can’t often do that with a novel unless I create a storyboard. Seeing the whole story in front of me feels satisfying and doable.

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?

I write on a laptop, but every once in a while, I’ll write out a scene longhand, especially if I have a blue ballpoint pen and a pad of bamboo paper.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

The muse has to deliver an idea to my doorstep. Once I have the idea, I see if I can craft the 15 story beats like I mentioned in Save the Cat. Then I try to further develop ideas with methods I discovered on a lecture on Audible called The Heroes 2 Journeys. I’m also a fan of reviewing conference notes and craft books to see what stands out and feels important. I toss ideas back and forth with my critiquing groups, and I look at opening scenes in the well-crafted books. I also reach out to my friend, Jerilyn Patterson, who is generous and willing to discuss story beats. She helps me dig deeper and uncover holes. Then I send a plan to my agent, Jen Rofé, along with an S.O.S. saying, “Please call me! Recently, I was stuck on a source of magic for a new project, so Jen and her intern, Kayla Heinen, and I got on the phone and tossed around possibilities until the perfect idea fluttered to the surface. It takes a village for me to write a book!

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

Oh, fun question! Maybe I’d pick Oprah, because I hear she keeps bowls of fresh blueberries in her workspace; or Laurie Halse Anderson, because she’d be up for a hike at a moment’s notice; or Lin Oliver, she’s brilliant and so SO funny; or Vanessa Brantley Newton, she’d teach me more about Tai Chi tapping and we’d decorate the entire space with her gorgeous art.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

Linda Arms White said, “Let verbs be your workhorses!

A Peek at the Creative Space of Jenny Lundquist

Jenny Lundquist is the author of the young adult novel The Princess in the Opal Mask and its sequel The Opal Crown, and the middle grade novels Plastic Polly, Seeing Cinderella, and The Charming Life of Izzy Malone. Her latest novel is The Wonderous World of Violet Barnaby, a follow up to The Charming Life of Izzy Malone.

You can learn more about her by visiting her website, her Facebook page, or following her on Twitter, or Instagram.

*   *   *


Describe your workspace

I’d love to say my workspace was in a huge suite in my house but—alas!—my desk is stuck in the corner of our family room. My computer doubles as the family computer in the afternoons/nights when the kids are home from school. This means I’m in constant fear that I’ll accidentally lose work because my kids hopped on to play Minecraft before I managed to shut down and save everything.

Describe a typical workday

My day usually starts somewhere between 6-7am. I spend the next hour or so pleading, begging, and nagging my two preteen boys to Please, for the love of all that is good and holy: stop bottle flipping and eat breakfast, find your shoes, put your deodorant on (now put more on), and brush your teeth. I do this several times over until I can finally get them out the door and to school on time (hopefully).

After fighting that battle, when I come home, I just want to sleep the rest of the day.

I don’t, though; being a Mama Writer means my golden hours are from 9:00am – 3:00pm and so most days I try to have my butt in my chair by 9ish. That doesn’t mean I spend all those hours writing. Sometimes I’m writing, sometimes revising, sometimes I’m marketing. And, let’s be honest, sometimes I’m just screwing around on the internet. But regardless of whatever I have, or have not, accomplished during the day, at 3:00pm I’m heading to my kids’ school to pick them up. After that, if I’m not on a deadline, I’m Mom for the rest of the day and my afternoons and evenings are filled with permission slips, extracurricular activities, homework help, and fights over whether or not my boys should have to suffer the huge inconvenience of being made to shower Every. Single. Night.

But, if I am on a deadline, I pretty much ignore everything and everyone and hope that my house doesn’t end up resembling a scene from Lord of the Flies.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

My favorite thing by far is the marquee sign hanging over my desk that says CREATE. I have a thing for marquee lights; I’ve always loved them and wanted one of my own. But I really wanted a custom one that would help inspire me as I write. Thankfully, my husband is a talented woodworker, and he made me one.

Next, it’s definitely my record player. I’m a big fan of vinyl, and I listened to records last fall when I was working on revisions for The Wondrous World of Violet Barnaby (the sequel to The Charming Life of Izzy Malone). Violet is set in December, so I’ve spent a lot of time listening to Vince Guaraldi’s Peanuts albums, particularly the Christmas one. This might sound strange, but it’s really relaxing for me to hear the feedback on old records. It reminds me of when my mom would play her records when I was a kid. And frankly, when I’m on a deadline and tempted to stress eat my way through our entire fridge, anything that relaxes me is a great thing.

Lastly, I have a glass jar on one of my floating shelves. Inside, I put random pieces of paper where I’ve jotted down story ideas. I like to think of them bubbling away like soup in a pot, until they become stories I can actually work with.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

Does being constantly distracted by the internet count as a ritual?


What do you listen to while you work?

Vinyl records—instrumental jazz is my favorite, as it’s hard for me to write my own words when I’m listening to someone else’s.


What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

Coffee, definitely. I literally think better when I have a hot cup sitting next to me.


What keeps you focused while you’re working?

Um . . . I’ll answer that one when I’ve actually learned how to stay focused. Anyone have any suggestions for me?

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?

I have to write everything by longhand first in my journal before transferring it to my computer. That might sound slightly romantic, but all it really means is that I have to do everything twice. I so envy writers who can think well while they type! Blinking cursors suck the creativity right out of me. There’s something about putting pen to paper in a journal that allows me to get better in touch with who my characters are and what they want.


How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

I’m a combination of a plotter and a pantser. I like to noodle around with an idea and spend time brainstorming and free writing. At some point I’ll have a half-baked synopsis that I try to follow. But mostly I just have to write my way through several terrible drafts before I really know what story I’m actually trying to write. Outlines? Never. They’re way too confining for me.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

I would share it with George RR Martin; but I don’t know how productive that would be for me, since I’d be spending all my time trying to read his pages.


What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever heard or received?

The best piece of advice I’ve ever heard comes from Stephen King: “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

I’d love it if I woke up every day filled to bursting with inspiration and words that I just needed to get on paper. But since I wake up very differently (see above) when 9am rolls around I just have to take a deep breath, sit down, and trust that the words will come.

And they do.



Pre-Order The Alcatraz Escape and Receive a Gift!

On May 1, 2018, the third book in the Book Scavenger series, The Alcatraz Escape, will be available in bookstores and libraries near you in the United States. To celebrate, I’m partnering with the talented folks at Curious City DPW to create a super cool Book Scavenger map that will highlight some of my favorite locations featured in Book ScavengerThe Unbreakable Code, and The Alcatraz Escape. If you pre-order a copy of The Alcatraz Escape and email your proof of purchase and mailing address to fromthemixedupfiles@gmail.com by April 30, I will send you a signed map as a thank you!

You can pre-order your book from any book retailer you’d like in order to qualify for the promotion. If you’d like to support an independent bookseller, check Indiebound.org for one close to you. If there isn’t a bookstore nearby, many bookstores will ship, so pick one near your favorite city or email me and I can send you a long list of wonderful bookstores I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.


A SPECIAL BONUS FOR SCHOOLS! If you are affiliated with an elementary or middle school, please include your school name in your email. If I receive ten pre-orders from people affiliated with your school, I will donate a signed copy of The Alcatraz Escape to your school library.

Feel free to pass on this pre-order information to anyone you think might be interested. I appreciate your support!



A Peek at the Creative Space of Ben Guterson

Joining us for Creative Spaces is debut author Ben Guterson. His middle-grade mystery, Winterhouse, is wonderful. I highly recommend it to fans of Book Scavenger, especially if you’re also a fan of books like The Golden Compass or the Harry Potter series. I’m not the only one who adored this book either–independent booksellers selected it for their Indie Next list for Winter 2017-2018!

Here’s a little more about it:

An enchanting urban fantasy middle-grade debut―the first book in a trilogy―set in a magical hotel full of secrets.

Orphan Elizabeth Somers’s malevolent aunt and uncle ship her off to the ominous Winterhouse Hotel, owned by the peculiar Norbridge Falls. Upon arrival, Elizabeth quickly discovers that Winterhouse has many charms―most notably its massive library. It’s not long before she locates a magical book of puzzles that will unlock a mystery involving Norbridge and his sinister family. But the deeper she delves into the hotel’s secrets, the more Elizabeth starts to realize that she is somehow connected to Winterhouse. As fate would have it, Elizabeth is the only person who can break the hotel’s curse and solve the mystery. But will it be at the cost of losing the people she has come to car for, and even Winterhouse itself?

Mystery, adventure, and beautiful writing combine in this exciting debut richly set in a hotel full of secrets.

To learn more about Ben, visit his website or follow him on Twitter.



Describe your workspace.

My workspace is my older daughter’s semi-converted bedroom. For some reason, about half the room is still full of her furniture and boxes (she moved out years ago), so I have a desk against one wall, and two bookshelves nearby. Not very exciting, but I discovered long ago that I can work almost anywhere–just very lucky now to actually have my own “den”!

Describe a typical workday.

Wake up around 6:00. Have breakfast and read till about 8:00. Write from about 8:00 till 11:00. Have lunch, look at email or news, nap, take a walk or try to do something physical, read some more, have dinner, all from about 11:00 in the morning through 7:00 in the evening. Write again from 7:00 till 10:00.  Sounds kind of dull, now that I write it down!  Basically, I try to write six hours a day, seven days a week, almost every week when I am in the middle of working on a book–very fortunate to have this sort of schedule.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

Oh, gosh, not sure how to come up with three things here–really, my one favorite aspect of my workspace is that I sit before a window that looks out at almost total greenery.  I live in a heavily forested area, and right outside my window are several Douglas fir trees and then a few foothills in the distance.  It’s a lovely view, very peaceful at all seasons.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

None.  Unless “Typing on a keyboard” counts as a ritual?  I doubt it. 😊

What do you listen to while you work?

The sound of silence.  Not the song–actual silence.  I’m lucky to live in a very quiet area.  I don’t need absolute silence to work, but I do find I get distracted if there are too many loud or random noises, so it’s great that I don’t have to worry about disturbances most of the time, even when my window is open.


What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

Tea.  And more tea.  I don’t eat while I write, but I do like to drink tea.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

The writing itself.  I don’t find myself getting distracted or unfocused while I write, generally.

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?

Computer only.  Sometimes I take notes or jot down ideas in a little journal, but I do all my composing on my laptop.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

I usually get an idea–a setting, perhaps, or a character or a moment of action–that will become fixed in my thoughts and then expand and deepen for months or even years; and then, if my interest doesn’t fade, I slowly accumulate notes as I think and think about the possibilities in my initial inspiration.  After a while, I might have ten or twenty pages of notes, so then I’ll start thinking about how to corral them into a rough story and see if things come together.  A little synopsis might be in order at that point, and if I still feel enthusiastic about the potential, I’ll hammer my notes into some sort of order (lists of characters, settings, plot elements, and so on) and try to get things into some coherent scheme.  At that point, I can attempt an outline, which is something I like to do by way of charting a clear course for drafting.  I’m not beholden to the outline, but it gives me a rough roadmap even as I experiment within the parameters I’ve defined.  One thing I recognize now is that I spent a number of years trying to use systems or techniques that other writers had devised and recommended…and they never worked for me.  It wasn’t until I came up with my own method that the process felt natural and efficient.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

The only possible answer I can give here is: My wife. Happily, I should add.  Be sure to note that: Happily.  Seriously, my wife has been my biggest supporter, and any person would be glad to have someone in their corner who is so helpful and steadfast.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

Hmm, not totally sure.  I do know that when I was about 19 I read The Art of Fiction by John Gardner, and that book has remained the single most important piece of writing advice–albeit, stretched across scores of pages–I’ve ever encountered.  I also recall a teacher I had in college, Lois Hudson, reminding the students in her creative writing class that each passage should “do two things,” and I think there’s a lot of wisdom there–how to make certain there’s a level of depth and interest and resonance on every page and, really, in each sentence, that make the parts come together organically and meaningfully within the bigger picture.


A Peek at the Creative Space of Kim Ventrella

 Kim Ventrella is a children’s librarian, and a lover of weird, whimsical stories of all kinds. She lives in Oklahoma City. Skeleton Tree is her debut novel.



Describe your workspace.

I wrote Skeleton Tree sitting cross-legged in a dog bed, while my dog, Hera, sat on the couch looking over my shoulder. It’s true! And it was really effective. After I sold Skeleton Tree, I graduated to an official, squishy office chair, and I have since evolved to mostly writing outside. There’s something about the fresh air and openness that really helps along the creative process.

Describe a typical workday.

I also work full-time as the Children’s Department Manager at a public library, so depending on my schedule, I get up early and walk my dog. Then it’s time for tea or coffee, watering the plants and settling into my writing space. I’ll go to work at the library next, and then come home and start writing again after dinner. If I’m lucky I squeeze in some reading before bed.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

My dog, Hera, is the most important part of any workspace. She’s such a kind, non-judgmental soul. Next on my list, a nice breeze. It kindles my thoughts and helps me feel connected to something bigger. Finally, tea or coffee, that is a must.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

Not really. I always need either tea or coffee, even if it just hangs out collecting gnats and dog hair. I like to write in ‘blackout’ mode to minimize distractions, and I always set a word count goal for myself when I’m actively working on a project and not just tinkering. Usually 1500 or 2000 words.


What do you listen to while you work?

Nothing when I’m outside, just the normal ambient sounds. Inside, various classical playlists.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

Apart from tea and coffee, mostly dark chocolate or Annie’s Bunny Grahams.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

I like having a specific word count or scene-specific goal in mind. That way I know when I can give myself permission to stop working.

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?

 On the computer, I am way too slow at longhand.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

I always thought of myself as a pantser, until I had real deadlines (i.e. ones that were not self-imposed). Now, I do try to outline ahead of time to make sure I have a strong enough character arc and plot.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

Besides my dog? No, what am I saying, it has to be my dog. She’s the best writing partner ever!

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

There’s this great TED Talk from author Brené Brown called Why Your Critics Aren’t The Ones Who Count.” I love it! Basically, she says there will always be critics, and that’s okay, it’s part of the process, but don’t ever let them stop you from creating. I think that’s important advice for any writer or creative person. After all, the truly terrifying thing isn’t the critics, it’s living your whole life without daring to pursue your dreams.

To learn more about Kim Ventrella visit her website, find her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.


Where Are They Now: Jeannie Mobley

I originally interviewed Jeannie Mobley for Creative Spaces when her debut middle grade Katerina’s Wish was published. Katerina’s Wish received starred reviews, was named to many state and national reading lists, and received the Colorado Book Award. Let’s catch up with Jeannie and hear what all has kept her busy since her last visit . . .



What fun to be back on the Creative Spaces blog! Thanks for having me, Jenn! I went back into your archives to see what I said when I was first featured. Turns out I am writing this almost five years to the day from when my original post appeared.

So many things have changed in my life in those five years—my nest has emptied, I’ve taken up two crazy new hobbies (loom weaving and swing dancing), other books have been published, and a substantial number of my hairs have turned gray. This summer has been full of change, as our daughter married and we lost two sweet members of our aging menagerie of pets. Change seems to be the bittersweet theme of life these days. But let’s talk about writing.


What have you been working on since Katerina’s Wish?

It was interesting to reread the post from five years ago and see that I mention researching a book set in New Orleans in the 1920s. That book, Bobby Lee Claremont and the Criminal Element came out in September from Holiday House Publishing.  It is the story of  Bobby Lee, a twelve-year-old orphan in 1923, leaving New Orleans for Chicago where he hopes to get into business with the gangsters who are making a killing off of prohibition. But when he discovers the train is carrying the coffin of a jazz-club owner, and the widow and associates of the dead man, he begins to see that there’s more killing going on than he bargained for. And his unexpected desire to protect the widow and her infant son draws him into an increasingly dangerous mystery.


I haven’t been working on that one book continually for the last five years. Not long after my last appearance on this blog, my second book, Searching for Silverheels, was acquired, so Bobby Lee was set aside. After Silverheels was published in 2014, a variety of “next book” strategies were discussed that had Bobby Lee back on and off the table several times before it finally got a green light in the summer of 2016.

Other projects that I am excited about include another middle grade story and two historical novels aimed for the adult market, which is a departure with a surprisingly steep learning curve. I’m not sure where I currently am on that learning curve, but I am learning a lot, and that always feels good.


Have your work habits/routines changed since then?

My initial response to this question was “No.” Then I went back and read that original post, in which I profess to keep my workspace uncluttered, and I looked at my work space as it is today…

Part of this clutter is the inevitable change in the writing life post-debut. Now there are always multiple projects going on—the new idea I’m developing, the one I’m polishing to send to agent or editor, the book under contract I’m revising, and of course, the ones out in the world I’m still promoting with blog posts, interviews, and appearances. Hence the multiple piles, each belonging to a different project.

This summer, to add to the clutter, wedding projects moved into my sunroom and crept into my writing space.  Clutter still distracts me, but I’ve become better at rolling with the punches. The clutter here, which includes a project I wove for my daughter and her husband, flowers and lighted decorations left over from the wedding, and silly gifts given to me by people I love, is all stuff that grounds me. Now that my kids have moved out and life isn’t full of their constant activities (and stuff), a little material chaos of my own isn’t so bad.

I’m not as fussy about my tools anymore either. I write with whatever tool (pen or computer) is on hand, although I still love my favorite writing pens. I’ve expanded from two to four favorite writing mugs (always keep growing, that’s my motto!), and I’ve acquired a crew of new helpmates.


Bargain Basement Jane Austin is a constant source of wisdom, while Revision Bear reminds me that even the parts of writing I don’t like can be approached with a smile. Sock Puppet Unicorn is excellent for reading dialog aloud and seeing if it sounds natural. Because, you know, nothing says natural like a sock puppet unicorn. And finally, Peg Leg Pirate Parrot stands tall and keeps smiling, even when times are tough and rejections might be piling up. Together they keep me from despair, give me someone to talk to while I’m working, and prevent me from going to the Humane Society and adopting three dozen needy pets. (Did I mention that my nest has emptied?)

Any newfound wisdom to share?

This can be a hard, crazy business. Don’t let it make you hard and crazy. And try to limit your needy Human Society pets to four or under.


To learn more about Jeannie Mobley and her work, visit her website.



Where Are They Now: Tara Dairman

 I originally interviewed Tara Dairman for Creative Spaces when the third and final (sob!) in the All Four Stars trilogy was published. Wait–I just realized that was only a little over a year ago. Boy, a lot can happen in a year because things have changed quite a bit for her! I’m thrilled to check back in with her today.


*  *  *  *



What have you been working on since Stars So Sweet?

My new middle grade novel, The Great Hibernation, comes out from Wendy Lamb Books/Random House on September 12. It’s my first standalone novel and a complete departure from the All Four Stars foodie series! It’s also my first book with a new publisher (sadly, my editor for the Stars books has left publishing).

The Great Hibernation is about a town where all of the adults mysteriously fall asleep and the kids are left in charge; it’s a mystery, a political parable, and a zany comedy, and it was a whole lot of fun to write. (It also features a lovely blurb from one of my favorite fellow MG mystery writers, Jennifer Chambliss Bertman.) [Interviewer’s Note: It’s true! I really, really love this book. I hope others read it and connect with it the way I did.]



Have your work habits/routines changed since then?


A lot has changed, actually, because my family and I relocated 1000 miles earlier this year to Austin, TX. So my routine got put on hold while we found a place to live and figured out things like childcare schedules. Eventually, though, I did get back to writing–when the heat allows, I love to work on our new back porch!


My toddler is in preschool three days a week, so I usually write on those mornings. I take a break to do some yoga and eat lunch, and then deal with “businessy” stuff in the afternoon, like e-mails, responding to Skype and school visit requests, setting up book tour events, etc.


(Or, honestly, sometimes I just nap. I’m expecting a new baby this fall, so I’m often pretty drained. And then, when he or she arrives, the routine will reset itself all over again!)


Any newfound wisdom to share?


Be kind to yourself. There will always be people who insist that you have to write every day, and it’s great to write every day if you can manage it (you’ll certainly produce books a lot faster!). But sometimes big life changes, health issues, etc. will get in the way of your creativity and/or disrupt your routine. I’m trying to be better at not guilting myself when life shifts necessitate that I slow down with my work–and appreciate the privilege of being able to take a breather when I need one.


To learn more about Tara Dairman, visit her website or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Her latest book The Great Hibernation was published this week and is now available for sale everywhere!
All materials © 2020 Jennifer Chambliss Bertman. Author Website by Websy Daisy.