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.


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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!

Back-to-School Giveaway!

And the winner is . . . SHANNON CULP!


So many teachers and librarians have shared with me how much they enjoy using Book Scavenger in their classroom and with students, and now my publisher has created a fantastic Common-Core aligned Teachers Guide for both Book Scavenger and The Unbreakable Code, available as a free PDF download on my author website, the Book Scavenger website, or my publisher’s website.

To celebrate, I’m giving away a class set of signed Book Scavenger paperbacks (exact amount TBD based on winning classroom size) along with a hardback of Book Scavenger and The Unbreakable Code for your school library or teacher’s classroom.


1. Follow me on Twitter and retweet my post about the giveaway (pinned to the top of my profile)

2. Share my latest newsletter along with #BookScavengerGiveaway on Twitter or Facebook

3. Email me at fromthemixedupfiles@gmail.com with “Class Set Giveaway” as your subject.

4. “Like” my Facebook Author Page and comment on the giveaway thread.

Entries accepted through September 14. Because of shipping costs, only US entries are eligible for this giveaway. I’ll announce the randomly selected winner on September 15 via Twitter and on this blog.