A Peek at the Creative Space of Melanie Conklin

melanie_conklinJoining us today for Creative Spaces is author Melanie Conklin, author of Counting Thyme (Penguin, April 2016). Melanie lives in New Jersey with her family and previously worked as a product designer. Counting Thyme is her debut novel and has been described as Rules meets Counting by 7s. It tells the story of a girl named Thyme whose younger brother is accepted in to a new cancer drug trial, which means her family will have to relocate thousands of miles away from everything she knows. To learn more about Melanie and Counting Thymevisit her website, or follow her on Twitter or Tumblr.

Now let’s take a peek inside her creative space and hear about how Melanie works . . .

 MLC office

Describe your workspace.

My office does not have a door, but it is filled with windows. The carpet is strewn with Legos from my children, while my childhood silhouette hangs on the wall. The window frames over my desk are filled with sketches, notes, and post-its—I like being surrounded by ideas while I work. My desk is a rescue from an estate sale in North Carolina with a generous wooden worktop and a drawer that sticks. Don’t mind the back left leg, which is still held together with packing tape fifteen years later!


Describe a typical workday.

Now that my book is out in the world, my workday has changed a lot. In fact, it’s taken some work to figure out HOW to work now, with so many distractions and varied responsibilities. What I’ve settled on is a pattern of purpose. Each day has a purpose, and I do my best not to stray far from it. Some days are for email and marketing and keeping up with the goings on of Counting Thyme. Other days are for writing, with absolutely no interruptions from email or social media. Most days start with a glass of orange juice and a glance at my bullet list, which keeps me on track.

MLC bookshelves


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

1. The windows. I love looking out on the world, feeling the energy of passersby and watching the sway of the trees.

2. My headphones, which cancel out the noise of life or provide a background track, depending on what I need.

3. My accomplishment jar, where I store scraps of paper with good things written on them—a collection of moments to look back on in the future when I need a boost.

MLC detail1

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

My rituals seem to vary with every project that I write. Some require quiet, others need the same song on repeat until I’ve used it up. I almost always have my headphones on either way. I work with selfish single-mindedness when my children are at school or camp. The laundry and the dishes can wait. Once I’ve gotten something done, be it an admin day or a solid writing session, I’m energized for the rest of my day, which I generally spend with my kids.

MLC detail3

What do you listen to while you work?

I’d say that I listen to silence more than anything, but when I do want music, it’s generally a single track or artist that I play on repeat. Usually the selections are suitably embarrassing, like a Duran Duran track or Sia’s latest hit.

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

I always have a glass of water within reach, but I don’t eat while I write, which means I skip lunch most days, but the hunger hits me the moment I stop.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

Focus is a moving target. I try very hard to give myself the freedom to do what I need to do on any given day. Right now I’m listening to Natalie Imbruglia for some reason. Other days, I escape to my public library or my local Barnes & Noble cafe. The hardest part of writing is accepting that there is no fixed formula, and that your writing process will continue to evolve.

MLC detail2

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

I keep a project notebook for every book—a small notebook that I fill with notes and sketches. My creativity has free reign on these pages. I scratch things out. I write them again. I tear pages into tiny bits and flush them down the sink. When I’m ready to draft, I write directly on a Word document, but for revision I print the pages and work on paper again.

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

My project notebooks play a key role in developing stories. I need that space to think freely, to mess up and fumble around as I try to find some answers. I love story craft, so my focus is usually on a character’s goals, wounds, and wants. I write according to an outcome rather than an outline. I establish the emotional arc first, and the rest of the project builds upon that scaffold.

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

I share my workspace with my children every day. Stepping on Legos sucks, but being surrounded by their boundless creativity is a gift.

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

The best piece of writing advice I’ve ever read is not actually writing advice, but a poem I first encountered in seventh grade that has stuck with me over the years. So much of creativity is about tolerating defeat that I think it applies.

Defeat may serve as well as victory
To shake the soul and let the glory out.
When the great oak is straining in the wind,
The boughs drink in new beauty, and the trunk
Sends down a deeper root on the windward side.
Only the soul that knows the mighty grief
Can know the mighty rapture. Sorrows come
To stretch out spaces in the heart for joy.”

Where Are They Now: Janet Fox

IMG_8226bOne of my favorite reads so far in 2016 is
The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle
by Janet Fox, so it’s a great pleasure to catch
up with her today. Her original Creative Spaces
interview can be found here. Read on to find
out what’s new!




What have you been working on since Faithful?

Wow! It’s been a while, right? Since Faithful, I’ve had two more YA historicals published: Forgiven, and Sirens, both out from Penguin (2011 and 2012). And I finished my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts (2010).

Faithful high res Sirens front cover.inddForgiven with award

But the big news is the release of my middle grade debut, The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle. It was released by Viking in March (2016). I’m very proud to say that it’s received four starred reviews and numerous other accolades. It’s a creepy mystery set in a castle in 1940 Scotland, so has both elements of World War 2 and fantasy. I loved writing it so much that I’m working on a sequel, with fingers crossed that Viking will want one. I’m also at work on two other middle grade novels, a YA contemporary, a YA sci-fi, and a picture book. No rest for the wicked.

CharmedChildrencover (1)


Have your work habits/routines changed in the last six years?

We moved to Montana in 2010, and my husband retired and son entered college, so my life has become much more stable and my writing time much greater. No more shepherding the boy and adhering to others’ work routines. Now I spend much of my day working, if I’m not running errands.



And in office news, I still have an office in our cabin in the mountains nearby, where I wrote most of Charmed Children (no TV, and plenty of quiet). But I also have a wonderful office with long views in our house in town, where we spend the winter months. It’s a perfect balance.


Any newfound wisdom to share?

I’m going to quote my wonderful agent Erin Murphy – who was not my agent 6 years ago: “Always take the long view.” I had no idea I’d change agents. I had no idea I’d ever write a middle grade fantasy. I had no idea it would be this well received. I just kept working, with the long view of being a writer, the best writer I could be.


More about Janet Fox:

Janet Fox writes award-winning fiction and non-fiction for children of all ages. Her published works include the non-fiction middle grade book GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT (Free Spirit, 2006), and three YA historical romances: FAITHFUL (Speak/Penguin Group, 2010), FORGIVEN (Penguin, 2011), and SIRENS (Penguin, 2012). Janet’s debut middle grade novel THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE is an historical fantasy set in 1940 Scotland (Viking, 2016). Janet is a 2010 graduate of the MFA/Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and she lives in Bozeman, Montana. She’s represented by Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can also find her at www.janetsfox.com


A Peek at the Creative Space of Tara Dairman

dairman pic credit Tiffany CrowderJoining us today for Creative Spaces is my friend and one of my favorite funny writers, Tara Dairman. The third and final book in her All Four Stars series publishes this month, and to celebrate her publisher is giving away a complete set of the series! Congratulations to Sarah Irwin, the winner of the prize!



Tara Dairman is the author of the middle-grade foodie novel All Four Stars (Putnam/Penguin) which was named an Amazon Best Book of the Month and won a 2015 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award. The Stars of Summer followed in 2015, and Stars So Sweet (7/19/16) completes the series. Tara grew up in New York and holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College. After surviving the world’s longest honeymoon (two years, seventy-four countries!), she now lives in Colorado with her family.

To learn more about Tara and her books check out her website, or follow her on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram.

Now let’s take a peek inside her Creative Space . . .



Describe your workspace.

Currently, it’s my dining room table, which is where I like to spread out when I can. But I also do a fair amount of work on a lap desk in a squooshy chair by the window in my bedroom. (I have recently expanded this workspace with an overturned laundry hamper-desk. Classy!) Since I write on my laptop, I’m pretty mobile. My one requirement is sunlight, so wherever I work, I try to be near a window.

bedroom desk

Describe a typical workday.

Typical? Ha! 🙂

If I’m drafting something new, I like to put in 2-3 hours of work on it in a day. I really can’t do much more than that, though, or I burn out. Conversely, I seem to have a near-infinite capacity to revise. Since I have a new little one at home now, my work hours now depend on the availability of child care. I’ve become more efficient by necessity; if I’m going to be apart from my baby (and especially if I’m paying someone to take care of her), I’d better get some work done.

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

Sunlight (it helps stave off despair)

A cup of tea (I have mugs from my agency, my publisher, and friends’ book launches, so it’s always fun to pick one out for the day)


My Gladys Gatsby doll (She sits on the mantel in view of my dining room table workspace. A reminder that the things I dream up can truly come to exist in the world!)


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

Not really. I mean, a tidy space does help abate some of my writerly anxiety, so I attempt to clean the laundry and remnants of last night’s dinner off the table before I start working…but that doesn’t always happen. (Here’s a pic from today.) And a hot beverage helps, too—caffeinated tea if I need the boost, decaf or herbal if I don’t. I have a great recipe for homemade masala chai, but it involves chopping ginger and crushing spices and such, so I only make it if I’m reallytrying to procrastinate. 🙂

What do you listen to while you work?

Nothing. I’ve never been able to listen to music while writing, it only distracts me.

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

Like I mentioned earlier, chai is my favorite, but any hot tea will do.


What keeps you focused while you’re working?

Deadlines always help, whether a publisher’s deadline or one from my critique partners. Getting into the world of the story is always the hardest part, but hopefully, once I’m in, the momentum of the story itself will also keep me engaged. I also use Freedom software to block my access to the internet as needed.

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

I drafted my first book, All Four Stars, longhand, but I’ve written my three subsequent novels on the computer. I can type faster than I can hand write, so ever since I moved to a faster-drafting model of writing (details at https://taradairman.com/2013/09/19/first-drafting-now-96-faster/) I’ve found it easier to work on the computer.

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

I used to let the muse lead me, but now I’m a total convert to outlining. My stories tend to be plot-heavy, so having an outli
ne helps me think through the twists and turns in advance and keeps me from getting too lost during the drafting process. I’m a big fan of Save the Cat.


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

Wow, great question! I’m going to say Jane Austen. I feel like she’d be pretty focused during our designated work time, then we could break and drink tea and make snarky observations together about the world.

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

Write the story only you can write.

And, related:

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison



Win all three books in the All Four Stars series!
US entries only


If you missed the previous stops along the Stars So Sweet blog tour, check out the links below for a variety of reviews, recipes, and much, much more!

SWEET blog button2


JULY 7 Dahlia @ The Daily Dahlia
JULY 8 Lucy @ The Reading Date
JULY 11 Michael @ Middle Grade Mafioso
JULY 12 – Katie @ Bookish Illuminations
JULY 13 – Brenda @ Log Cabin Library
JULY 14 – Aeicha @ Word Spelunking
JULY 15 – Karen @ For What It’s Worth
JULY 18 – Sylvia @ A Baked Creation
JULY 21 – Lisa @ Fic Talk
JULY 22 Jen @ Pop! Goes the Reader
JULY 25 Stephanie @ Kitchen Frolic
JULY 26 Jenn @ Creative Spaces

Where Are They Now: Don Calame

Don_PictureDon Calame was featured on Creative Spaces five years ago when his YA novel Beat the Band was published. CLICK HERE to read his original interview. Let’s check out what Don has been up to since then!



What have you been working on since Beat the Band?

Since Beat the Band came out I’ve written two more YA novels: Call the Shots and Dan Versus Nature. Call the Shots was the third installment of the Swim the Fly series, this one featuring Sean’s point of view. Now each boy – Matt, Cooper, and Sean – all have their own books and that series is complete.

coverDan Versus Nature is a brand new story with all new characters. It’s a stand alone book but once again featuring a teenage boy. It’s the story of Dan Weekes, a fifteen year old boy, whose mother has had a string of horrible boyfriends. When Dan’s mother suddenly announces she is engaged to the latest “loser,” a strapping, handsome, outdoorsman and bear hunter, Dan starts to freak out. He’s worried his mom is making a terrible mistake and that their lives are going to be made miserable. To make matters worse, for Dan’s sixteenth birthday his mom gets him an outdoor survivalist camping trip with his soon-to-be stepdad so that the two of them can bond before the wedding. Unfortunately, once they get out into the middle of nowhere it turns out that this would-be outdoorsman knows absolutely nothing about how to survive in the wilderness. And, as with all my novels, things go horribly and hilariously wrong.

I’ve also been working on a picture book and developing a television series with my wife who is an absolutely amazing writer and all-around wonderful person.


Have your work habits and writing routine changed since 2011, and if so how?

My work habits have changed a bit since Beat the Band was published but not that much. We’ve moved to a new house but my office is still in one of the spare bedrooms. I’ve gotten a new desk and desk chair (my last chair lost its hydraulics and kept sinking me down). I also bought a new couch so my new dog (Anna) can lounge on it while I write. Scooter’s still in our lives but he prefers to lounge elsewhere.

I’m also back on coffee. I gave it up for awhile and stuck with tea but old habits die hard.

I still try to get three pages a day but am not always successful. I still listen to music while I write. I still outline my books before I start on them and I still procrastinate as much as always.

One thing that’s changed is I’ve recently set up a system where I can stand and write for part of the day because apparently sitting all day is supposed to be terrible for your health. Plus, I’ve heard Hemingway stood when he wrote so maybe there’s something to it.


Any newfound wisdom to share?

Last time I mentioned that you have to have faith when writing because you are always heading into unknown territory, feeling your way as you go. If you don’t have faith that it will all work out in the end then self doubt creeps in and can squash the creative impulse.

I still feel this very much but beyond faith you also just have to get to it. Meaning, you can’t wait around for the muse to show up. You have to put in the hours and sometimes the work goes well and sometimes it doesn’t. I think some people have this idea that creative work is this romantic thing where you are struck with inspiration and the creative ideas flow. But it doesn’t work that way at all. Doing anything creative is hard work that requires a time commitment and unless you view it that way you will never get anything done.

I’ve also come to understand that although it’s great to put in the hours working you have to have balance in your life. So, while it’s nice to sit at your computer and be creative for hours on end, it’s equally important to spend time with loved ones, see friends, play with your dog, and sit on the porch and read a book.


If you’d like to learn more about Don Calame and his books, visit his website and his blog “Dirty Laundry”

A Peek at the Creative Space of Ann Jacobus

Joining us today for Creative Spaces is Ann Jacobus. Her debut YA thriller, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light, was published last fall from Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Griffin/Macmillan. She earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in San Francisco with her family. To learn more about her visit her website, find her on Twitter as @annjacobusSF, or like her on Facebook.

Marc Olivier Le Blanc photography, Pictures by San Francisco Photographer, advertising and editorial.

Marc Olivier Le Blanc photography, Pictures by San Francisco Photographer, advertising and editorial.

Now let’s take a peek and see where and how she works!


Jacobus working space


Describe a typical workday.

Sometimes I get up at 6:00 to meditate until 6:50. I’m never sorry I did it, but it’s hard to wake up at 6:00.

Typically, I’m up at 6:50, kid(s) off to school by 7:30, and at my desk with tea and breakfast by 7:32 am. I put out any fires and answer any urgent emails, or other social media maintenance. Then I turn off Internet and write or revise. I’ll check email and have a second quick breakfast during a break at 10 or so, because you can never have too many breakfasts.

My newest computer flashes the emails I’ve just received across the top of my screen regardless of whether gmail is open, and I can’t decide if this is good or not. If something comes in from my editor for example, or from an old friend, or even a compelling sale on sweaters or free grocery delivery, I hop to it. If I miss reading them because I’m focused for once, (but noted the flash in the upper right corner) then I have to wonder what it was and go check.

Lunch by 1:00, then more administrative stuff, email correspondence, social media, reading, until 3 or 4 depending on sports schedules, exercise, dog walks, appointments, grocery shopping, etc. Ideally more reading in the evenings.

In the summer, we spend a month or so in our summer house, where my “office” is being sprawled out on my bed. I do love to sit outside in one of these rockers to read or think, watch the sun go down, and drink wine. Sometimes I even let someone join me.


Jacobus summer chairs


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

We had some renovations done this past year. I used to use our spare bedroom as my office. It has wonderful bookcases. But my daughter is living in there for now, so I’ve claimed a corner of our bedroom.

I sit in a stuffed chair that is in terrible need of re-upholstering. But it’s comfortable and cozy. So while something does need to be done about it’s tattered appearance, I hate to part with it even temporarily.

My laptop- EVERYTHING is on it.

Supply of Trident bubble gum. For when I’m stuck. It helps to chew. I used to have Rolos or Twizzlers handy, but I’m cutting back on sugar, one day at a time.


What do you listen to while you work?


Well, neighborhood construction, traffic, delivery and trash collection sounds, conversations of people walking by outside, fog horns, sirens, as well as house sounds, including family members yelling long distances, phones ringing and laundry spinning.


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

Fruits and nuts of all kinds and Trident bubble gum. Okay, Rolos, or any kind of chocolate, milk or dark, with or without caramel, with or without nuts. And green tea.


What keeps you focused while you’re working?

Nothing. Do you know of something that will do this?

I can stay focused once I get going, sometimes at the expense of family, meals, deliveries, etc. But it can be really hard to get there.


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

The answer is kind of “all of the above.” I used to be more of a seat of the pants writer. Just sit down and go. I try really hard now to think and stew and research for longer beforehand, write backstory and learn about my characters (interviews, maps, correspondence), and come up with major plot points or milestones BEFORE I begin writing a new story. This has proven again and again to save time. I can’t outline, so I have to accept that I need to write lots of pages I’ll never use, but in the end I’m still throwing out fewer pages than when I just go with no preplanning.


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

I do share my workspace. With our inherited Long-haired Chihuahua.

Here’s a photo of Louie. My son was letting him mess around as Super Dog. (People who dress up their pets should probably be punished).


I’d be glad to share my workspace with another writer if I could interrupt them and ask for advice on my work-in-progress. Like some depth and flawless prose style from Ursula LeGuin, or maybe some help with plot from screenwriter Graham Moore. I liked THE IMITATION GAME and I always need plot help. Plus he seemed like a good guy and I admired what he disclosed at the 2015 Academy Awards when he won for best screenplay. Dav Pilkey would probably be really funny and could possibly add some much needed levity to my work.


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

“Read. Read. Read. Write. Write. Write.”




Youth One Book, One Denver Activities in June

Local to Denver? Looking for fun activities for kids to do this month? Here are the rest of the June Book Scavenger Youth One Book, One Denver programs. (If you’d like to plan ahead for July and August, CLICK HERE to view the full schedule of events.)


June 29, 2 – 4 p.m. at Tattered Cover Colfax (2526 East Colfax Ave.), Ages: 9-14, FREE
TO REGISTER: store.popcultureclassroom.org/collections/classes-workshops-and-camps/products/comic-book-workshop-with-pop-culture-classroom-in-conjunction-with-2016-youth-one-book-one-denver

June 30, 2 – 4 p.m. at Tattered Cover Aspen Grove (7301 S. Santa Fe Drive, Littleton), Ages: 9-12, FREE TO REGISTER: store.popcultureclassroom.org/collections/classes-workshops-and-camps/products/cosplay-workshop-with-pop-culture-classroom-in-conjunction-with-2016-youth-one-book-one-denver

June 21, 2 – 3 p.m. at Schlessman Branch, Denver Public Library (100 Poplar St., Denver), Ages: 6-12, $11

June 27, 1:30 – 2:30 p.m. at Ross-University Hills Branch, Denver Public Library (4310 E. Amherst Ave., Denver), Ages: 6-12, $11

June 29, 10 – 11 a.m. at Ford-Warren Branch, Denver Public Library (2825 High St., Denver), Ages: 6-12, $11

TO REGISTER: www.youngrembrandts.com

June 24, 3 -4 p.m. at Red Wolf Gallery (544 Santa Fe Drive, Denver), Ages: 6-12, $11

June 28, 10 – 11 a.m. at Central Library, Denver Public Library (10 W. 14th Ave., Denver), Ages: 6-12, $11

June 29, 3 – 4 p.m. at Virginia Village Branch, Denver Public Library (1500 S. Dahlia St., Denver), Ages: 6-12, $11

TO REGISTER: www.youngrembrandts.com

June 30, 10 – 11 a.m. at Woodbury Branch, Denver Public Library (3265 Federal Blvd., Denver), Ages: 6-12, $11

TO REGISTER: www.youngrembrandts.com

June 21, 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. at Bear Valley Branch, Denver Public Library (5171 W. Dartmouth, Denver), Ages: 7-12, $11

TO REGISTER: www.youngrembrandts.com


Monday, June 27, 2 – 4 p.m. at Tattered Cover Colfax (2526 E. Colfax Ave), Ages: 3rd – 8th graders, $10
TO REGISTER: lighthousewriters.org/workshop/detail/id/1491


Unfortunately, the following activities have been cancelled due to low registration. 🙁 There will be more Super Sleuthing scheduled in July (you get to make cool detective kits using chemistry!) so I hope you’ll call to register for those.

MUSIC (No musical skill or knowledge required!)

KIDS CREATE MUSIC FROM BOOK SCAVENGER – June 25, 9 a.m. – noon at Denver Performing Arts Complex, Boettcher Concert Hall practice rooms, Ages: 8-12, $30
TO REGISTER: www.axs.com/events/309387/colorado-symphony-very-young-composers-program-tickets?skin=dpac


June 22, 9:30-11 a.m., Unsolved Science 1 at Tattered Cover Colfax (2526 E. Colfax Ave), Ages: K – 5th graders, Cost: $25/class (register for all three and save $2 per class)

June 23, 9:30-11 a.m., Unsolved Science 2 at Tattered Cover Colfax (2526 E. Colfax Ave), Ages: K – 5th graders, Cost: $25/class (register for all three and save $2 per class)

June 24, 9:30-11 a.m., Unsolved Science 3 at Tattered Cover Colfax (2526 E. Colfax Ave), Ages: K – 5th graders, Cost: $25/class (register for all three and save $2 per class)

TO REGISTER:  Please call 303-805-9287

Paperback Giveaway Winners!

Congratulations to the following randomly chosen readers who correctly solved the puzzle in my last newsletter! (The solution was Stars So Sweet by Tara Dairman. The puzzle was solved by reading up and down the columns, starting on the far righthand side.)







If you don’t want to miss out on future puzzles and giveaways, CLICK HERE to subscribe to my newsletter.


Where Are They Now: Lisa Schroeder

588558The kid lit community is typically a welcoming and nurturing place, and one individual who epitomizes this for me is the author Lisa Schroeder. She’s kind, sincere, generous with advice, and an excellent writer to boot. I was delighted to learn that we share an editor in the wonderful Christy Ottaviano who published Lisa’s latest middle grade novel, The Girl in the Tower (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt). I love Lisa’s books and I love Christy’s books, so I will definitely be reading this newest one for sure!
Lisa Schroeder was featured on Creative Spaces five years ago when her YA novel The Day Before was published, and you will be amazed at everything she has accomplished since then .


Girl in the Tower

What have you been working on since The Day Before?

Lots and lots of things! I even painted my office and got a new desk since the last time we visited. This picture was right after the redo. I wish it looked this clean now, haha.

IMG_0052 (1)


Asfar as books go, I’ve published three YA novels in the past five years, the latest called All We Have is Now (Scholastic), and a bunch of MG novels, including two out this year: Sealed With a Secret (Scholastic) and The Girl in the Tower (Henry Holt).

Sealed with a Secret

I think the YA market has changed a lot in the past five years, with more and more publishers really wanting books that crossover well for adults, and I don’t necessarily write that kind of YA. Mine have always been written with the true teen, and the young teen at that, more in mind. So I’m glad I’ve also been writing middle-grade the last six years, as those books, generally, are selling better. At least my realistic, contemporary novels anyway. This year has seen my first foray into fantasy, with a fairytale type book, and I think this may be a more difficult market than I’d originally anticipated. I wonder, too, if people think it’s just another Rapunzel, but it’s actually quite different.


Here’s the book trailer for The Girl in the Tower, which includes lovely artwork by the talented artist Nicoletta Ceccoli.


Have your work habits/routine changed in the past five years?


I still like scribbling in notebooks. Here’s a page from my idea journal where the original seeds from The Girl in the Tower came from.


Journal Page


I still outline most of my MG novels while I am more of a discovery writer with my YAs.


As far as routine, one thing that’s changed is after quitting my full-time job back in 2010, I’ve now gone back to work part-time. I really find it’s best for my mental health to get out of the house and out of my head and do something else a couple of days a week. The business of publishing can be a bit (or a lot) crazy-making at times. Everyone thinks the dream is to have all day to write, but it can be so isolating. For me, I love getting out, interacting with people, and feeling appreciated in a way I don’t when I’m home by myself.


Any newfound wisdom to share?


Every writer should read Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s so good, and I look at it almost every day, because it really speaks to me. For anyone else who might need this, I’ll share it here too.


Creativity 2


Thanks so much for letting me visit again!
 *     *     *
If you’d like to learn more about Lisa Schroeder visit her blog/website, follow her on Twitter, or “like” her author page on Facebook.


A Peek at the Creative Space of Eliza Wheeler

elizawheeler2016_webEliza Wheeler grew up in northern Wisconsin in a family of artists, musicians, and teachers. Her picture book, Miss Maple’s Seeds (Penguin), debuted on the New York Times Best Seller list. She has also ilMiller_WYG_jacket_72dpilustrated other children’s books including Wherever You Go (Little Brown) by Pat Zietlow Miller, the middle grade book Cody and the Fountain of Happiness by Tricia Springstubb (Candlewick), Holly Black’s Newbery Honor winning novel Doll Bones (Simon & Schuster), and Mara Rockliff’s picture book The Grudge Keeper (Peachtree). Most recently, Tell Me a Tattoo Story by Alison McGhee (Chronicle) and Cody and the Mysteries of the Universe by Tricia Springstubb (Candlewick) were published in April.

Eliza received the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Grand Prize Award for best portfolio at the 2011 SCBWI National Conference. Eliza currently lives with her husband in Los Angeles, California. See her work at www.wheelerstudio.com



The artwork on the table and wall is for THIS IS OUR BABY, BORN TODAY by Varsha Bajaj (Penguin).



Describe your workspace.

I live in a small studio apartment with my husband in Los Angeles, and my drawing table is tucked into the corner of our main living space (it takes up about 1/8th of our apartment!). It can be a challenge to have a workspace that I stare at in my off hours–with my projects staring back at me—but it is a cozy and inspiring place to work. My desk moves up and down, so when I start painting I often stand. I have a lot of visual inspiration taped up on the wall while I work. As another work station, my husband Adam built a little fold-able work table for our couch where I do sketching or computer work.

ewheeler_computer station_72dpi

Describe a typical workday.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find a good balance for the work day, and have found a routine that seems to be working really well: I wake up between 8-9am and have ‘creative free time’ to read or write before I turn on the phone and computer. I then have breakfast, check my work email, and go for a 2-3 mile walk. When I get back, I silence my phone/email for a workday that usually goes from 11am-7pm. I’ll usually end the day catching up on correspondence. Deadlines can sometimes throw this routine out the window and I end up going off the radar, working late into the night.

What media do you use and which is your favorite?

I sketch in pencil, then create final art using dip pens with India ink, watercolors, and gouache on cold-press watercolor paper. The inking part of the process is generally my favorite.




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

1) I recently put up a new shelf above my pin-board which holds all the books I’ve worked on, as well as the Miss Maple doll that I made to model for my first book.




2) This mug (sitting on my grandma’s dishware), given to me by my brother and sister-in-law, stamped with my hometown name. It’s a little piece of home, and with tea in it, it’s about the most comforting thing I can think of.




3) This edition of The Wind in the Willows that my husband found for my last birthday. It’s the first edition that was illustrated by Ernest Shepard, so it combines my favorite words with my favorite pictures.



Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.
I usually light a candle when I start working, which is somehow grounding to me. Maybe the psychology behind it is simply that if I leave the vicinity it might burn the place down. Haha! But the actual effect is very calming. I also set a timer to go off every 45 minutes for breaks to stretch, read, or meditate. Doing creative work for long hours can burn me out, so these are things that help sustain my energy.


What do you listen to while you work?

When I’m writing or brainstorming I listen to film soundtracks. Then while I’m doing less brain-crunching work, like sketching, inking, and painting, I go between mediocre tv shows (if they’re too good or too bad I can’t focus), books on tape, and other audio podcasts, radio shows, interviews, etc.

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

Green tea, and ice water. The challenge, for me, is usually in NOT snacking!

What aspect of illustrating do you find most challenging and why?

The main challenge is in trying to capture the image that’s in my head. This image goes in and out of focus; it’s nebulous and elusive. It’s the carrot on a string, and I know it’s part of what keeps me excited to get to the drawing table each day.

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

In my fantasy, I would share a space with illustrator genius Lisbeth Zwerger, but on second thought, I’d probably just stand behind her, watching her work all day, so that would be terrible for both of us. In reality I share a workspace with my husband, Adam. We get along super well and respect each other’s need for focus.

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

To study the work of your favorite artists to guide you in the search for your own voice. It’s not about emulating or copying one person, but it is about observing all the elements that excite you – one artist might have beautiful color palettes, or another could be about their use of line and wash. I think a lot of questions about one’s own work can be answered through those influences and interests.


Youth One Book, One Denver!


I am so happy to share this news today–I’ve had to sit on it for quite a while! Book Scavenger was chosen by the youth of Denver to be the featured title for the Youth One Book, One Denver reading program this summer! This means that not only is the book recommended as a citywide read, but there are tons and tons of cool activities and programs being planned using themes from Book Scavenger. Kids will get to do things like:

  • Work with the Colorado Symphony to help produce original music based on elements of the story.
  • Make their own comic book versions of the book.
  • Learn about costume design from cosplay artists.
  • Learn bookbinding techniques for making their own book.
  • Make their own chemical detective kit at science sleuth camp.

Isn’t that cool? There’s also a citywide scavenger event, writing workshops, art workshops, and so many more things. Seriously–it blows my mind to hear about everything that’s being planned.

This morning when I spoke at the book selection announcement (and met the mayor! OMG, I met Mayor Hancock! He’s super nice and funny, FYI), I talked about how my character Mr. Griswold believes in the power of literature and games to bring together a community and create bonds between friends and family. The Youth One Book, One Denver program is exactly the sort of thing Mr. Griswold aspires to do. He wants to inspire people to not only pick up a book and read, but to make connections with the world and people around them through books.

There are a ton of people who have been working really hard behind-the-scenes to get this program off the ground this summer, and who will continue working hard through the summer to create memorable experiences for everybody who participates, and I am so appreciative for the dedication and creativity of everyone involved. It is a tremendous honor for my book to have this experience.

If you’re local to Denver, you can find out more about the program and upcoming events here: http://artsandvenuesdenver.com/events-programs/one-book-one-denver-new/

All materials © 2017 Jennifer Chambliss Bertman. Author Website by Websy Daisy.