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.

A Peek at the Creative Space of Christina Farley

Christina Farley is the author of Gilded, Silvern, and Brazen, a YA series based on Korean mythology. Her latest novel is the middle grade fantasy The Princess and the Page. She taught and traveled internationally for ten years before becoming a writer. To learn more about her visit her website or follow her on Twitter or Instagram.     


Describe your workspace.

I have my cute desk where I can write at, but often I find myself writing wherever I am. So it could be on the sidelines of the soccer pitch, my car, library, backyard, or coffee shop. My motto is write when you can. It doesn’t have to be the perfect spot.



Describe a typical workday.

I give myself a daily word count goal if I’m drafting. If I’m revising, I give myself a pages finished goal. I’m fairly strict about hitting that goal, but then I also have learned to give myself manageable goals. Usually 2,000 words a day.

For writing, I like to hit it hard first thing while my mind is fresh. So usually I’ll write until I’m mentally exhausted or hit a roadblock. Then I’ll go for my morning run which really helps inspire me with road blocks.

A big chuck on my writing is actually done in the evening while I’m sitting in the car during soccer practice. It’s a love/hate thing. I love it because I always get lots of writing done. I hate it because I’m stuck in the car with no internet and nothing else to do but write.


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


  1. A picture of my sister and I in France. She is my muse.


2. The letters from students about my books.

3. My published books because they remind me that I’m not a complete hack!


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

I love to light a candle that signifies my mood. A friend gave me a Jane Austen Paddywax candle which I’m obsessed with.


What do you listen to while you work?

I love to listen to music while I write. When I’m drafting, I play on my iPod the playlist that I create specifically for the book I’m working on. Usually it’s instrumental like a movie soundtrack. It really helps block out noise at home, but more importantly draws me into the world that I’m creating.


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

Peppermint patties and coffee. I love using a mug that symbolizes my mood too!


What keeps you focused while you’re working?

I suppose pure determination. I also like to hang quotes that are meaningful to me as I work on a project.


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

I keep a journal with all of my notes and ideas. Every book gets its own notebook. Then I type my drafts onto the computer.


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

I like to storyboard my ideas and then once I have a clear vision for the story, I place it into a plotting chart like this one. Then I write it!


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

My fellow YA Chicks! We do a lot of writing together.


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

Write because you love to write.

A Peek at the Creative Space of Sonia Gensler

Sonia Gensler is the award-winning author of Ghostlight, a contemporary middle grade novel, as well as The Dark Between and The Revenant, both young adult historical novels. She is obsessed with Gothic horror and loves to write ghostly mysteries.

Sonia grew up in a small Tennessee town and ran with a dangerous pack of band and drama geeks. As an adult she experimented with a variety of impractical professions—museum interpreter, historic home director, bookseller, and perpetual graduate student—before finally deciding to share her passion for stories through teaching. She taught literature and writing to young adults for ten years and still thinks fondly of her days in the classroom. Sonia currently lives in Oklahoma with her husband and cat.

To learn more about Sonia and her books, visit her website, or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.


Describe your workspace. 

It was a long time coming, but I finally have a home office with several bookcases. I write best with my reference books and favorite novels near to hand. My workspace is usually untidy, particularly when I’m in the middle of a project—papers and books all over the place, cups of cold tea, bills and random bits of mail, and at least two pairs of shoes under the desk. Every other week I try to tidy up, which often means shoving things in the closet. Once a year or so I have to tackle that closet—always an ordeal!

Describe a typical workday.

If I’m in the drafting phase, I procrastinate. There’s lots of staring and heavy sighing, if not actual swearing. I take frequent TV breaks. To be honest, I am more efficient with drafting when I leave my house entirely. I go to a coffee shop and encourage myself to feel publicly shamed into being productive (even though no one around me actually gives a hoot). If I’m researching or revising, I sit at my own desk and work until my thighs go numb or it’s time for food.

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

Three symbolic items that inspire me: 1) my framed poster of the Brontë sisters, purchased at the Brontë Parsonage Museum (which makes it somewhat of a holy relic to me), 2) My Emily Dickinson finger puppet (doesn’t she look as though she’s floating?), and 3) My dragonfly ornament that brings to mind my writing group and our times spent on retreat at Lake Tenkiller in NE Oklahoma. I love being surrounding by symbols of passionate female creativity!


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

The only ritual I can think of is making a cup of tea. For a while I tried to do a quick meditation before starting work (there’s an app for that!), but this never developed into a habit. I love the notion of rituals, and I think I need to further explore the possibilities.

What do you listen to while you work?

 I make a playlist for each book that I write (ooh, a ritual!), and listening to that always helps me focus. For my most recent manuscript, a Victorian Gothic thriller, I chose songs from the soundtracks for Penny Dreadful and the most recent Far From the Madding Crowd adaptation, along with instrumental songs from various Olafur Arnalds albums.


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

TEA. Always and forever. I might sip tea all day, but I try to hold off on snacks until my official afternoon tea break—usually around 3pm—when I give the cat his wet food and then watch a bit of TV with tea and a cookie, or something like that.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

I can stay pretty focused when researching or revising, but it’s a constant struggle when drafting. To get actual pages written, I have to set a daily word count goal, bribe myself with chocolate, use the Freedom app, and/or apply any other sorcery I can find.


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

When I’m in the research phase, I take longhand notes in a journal chosen for that project. I always feel inspired by Paperblanks journals. When drafting, I type on the computer. However, when I’m feeling especially blocked with a scene it often helps to write it out longhand.

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

Usually, the process starts with my fascination for a particular place and time. Once I have a vague idea of a conflict, I begin reading research materials and taking notes. More specific character and plot ideas come to me during this process, and in my research notes you’ll find facts from books written in one color, and story/character ideas in another color. (Or sometimes I write story notes on stickies, as in the photo above.) Once I have a better sense of what I’m writing about, I start outlining. Recently I found inspiration from Libbie Hawker’s Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing.Full disclosure: I have a fetish for books on outlining.


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

I already share it with my cat, Cedric. He usually prefers to sit in my lap as I type, but sometimes he valiantly holds down my research materials.


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

Something that helped me think more deeply about my characters came from Cheryl Klein of Arthur A. Levine Books. In a workshop about character she suggested that we should think not only about what our characters want, but also what they need. The want, or desire line, is what throws a character into the external conflict, but the need—which isn’t even a conscious thought at the opening of the story—is what will help her change and grow so that she can achieve her true desire.