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.

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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.