Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Meet Author Juliet Bond!

Today's guest is Juliet Bond -- author of the children's book Sam's Sister (Perspectives Press, 2004), described in reviews as "a supportive insight on open adoption" . . . "a moving tale about coping with separation and adjusting to sometimes difficult realities" . . . "a poignant and thoughtful story ... an important contribution to the adoption literature."

A Chicago native, Juliet is a professor at Columbia College. She has taught Chicago History courses and is currently writing a YA novel (historical fiction) about a girl growing up during the turn of the century in the Hull House neighborhood.

For more information about Juliet Bond, visit her web site:

Q: How old were you when you first realized that you wanted to be a writer?

Juliet: Honestly?  I always thought I'd be a singer.  But halfway through college, I took a women's studies course, which got me all fired up about inequality and issues of justice.  I’d caught the "I have to save the world" bug. This lead me into social work and then, finally writing. Though I always kept a journal and loved reading as a kid, I never thought I was smart enough to write. My friends who flew off to Barnard or Stanford for college were the writers. I was the one with the pretty voice and the big heart. 

Q: Describe one of your earliest works. Who or what inspired you to write it?

Juliet: It wasn't until my friend Jeanne fell into a coma and left behind three kids that I first sat down to write a children's book.  I’d gone to bookstores and searched for something online that might bring her young children some comfort but couldn’t find anything applicable so I wrote my own, and a good friend then illustrated it. We took it to Kinkos, had it bound and gave copies to the family. I've since found out that practically every writer's first children's book is about dealing with the loss of a loved one!  By now, I’ve heard countless editors warn writers NOT to send them their manuscript about grandma dying…they get so many.

My second book was written for the women and children I worked with while at The Cradle, a private adoption agency in Evanston, IL. We'd gotten some disturbing statistics back about women who wanted to make adoption plans but were stymied by the terror of having to tell their children about what they intended. They felt their children couldn’t possibly understand, they felt ashamed and they were turning away from the possibility of keeping in touch with the adopted family (which is called “Open Adoption”) in order to keep the adoption a secret. This felt like a loss to everyone involved, the adoptive family, the adopted child, the birth parents and the birth siblings. I ended up writing a coloring book we used with our clients. The book was a narrative but it included all of the therapeutic techniques we recommended to birth mothers who were considering an open adoption and who were also parenting other kids. (Over 60% of women who make adoption plans are already parenting other children.)

My book was written from the perspective of a five-year-old birth sibling. My boss suggested I send it to an adoption publisher. I did. She happened to be looking for a book on just this topic. The stars aligned and I became a published writer! Since then, I've taken classes, workshops, joined SCBWI, written like a fiend, revised, revised, revised and acquired an agent.

Q: Can you name someone whose encouragement made a significant difference as you developed into a writer?

Juliet: Oh, without a doubt it is Jane Yolen!  I spent a weekend with her (and six other writers) at a Highlights Founders Workshop. Her generosity, guidance and warmth made me feel like I could tackle writing with grace and without losing my unique voice and point of view. I’m also honored to have become friends with Kelly Milner Halls who is a fantastic cheerleader and has been generous enough to critique my non-fiction work. I also made some great connections at other conferences and have since joined two critique groups and had the privilege of building some wonderful friendships with writers I admire.

Q: Please tell us a little about your ties to Chicago.

Juliet: I grew up in the Chicago area and have always loved the city but I truly became obsessed when I taught a course on Chicago History and Culture.  It forced me to read and learn all I could about my town. I scheduled bike tours, took the river architecture run, rode the Weird Chicago* bus, scheduled a guided tour of Old Town through Second City Theater and dragged my students to various ethnic enclaves to taste, smell and sample the offerings. It was the field trips that really got me. Connecting the past with the present is so powerful! Since then, I always incorporate field trips into my courses. One of my favorites is when we visit Hull House Museum where many of Chicago's greatest reformers generated their ideas and shared their talents. Their efforts contributed to the formation of the juvenile court system, fair labor practices, the ACLU, NAACP and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. They did all of this while maintaining a cultural refuge for 25 different immigrant groups in their community – no easy feat!

Q: What was easy about writing Sam's Sister? What was difficult?

Juliet: Sam’s Sister came very easily actually.  It was firmly based on practices and principles of social work I was using every day.

It was everything that followed that was hard.  I had decided to write but then I had to really learn the craft!  I know it sounds backwards but it was after the publication of Sam’s Sister that I became a writer.

Q: Of the characters mentioned in Sam's Sister, choose one you would like to meet and tell us why.

Juliet: I’d like to meet Rosa, the five-year-old birth sibling who is losing her brother to adoption. Though, I relate to the mothers in the story, I know their feelings, their grief, and the depth of their decisions, Rosa is the hero. She’s the one I want to spend my time with. As a child, she has the strength to find joy in the midst of a very painful situation. Adults have often been convinced, through years of disappointment, that optimism is foolish or that it leads to deeper regrets in the long run.

Writing for children is like this gift – a moment where I can shrug off my adult self and fully embrace the hopeful, joyful girl in me who still believes she’ll get the happy ending.

 Q: You have children and a demanding career. What tips would you like to share with other writers on finding time to write?

Juliet: Oh find that Rosa-like girl, I guess.  Her optimism, when you write her, could keep you going. The fact is, without a love for the actual story and the characters you’re writing - you won’t bother to find the time to write them.

Right now I manage a children’s theater, participate in the PTA and teach eleven courses.  I don’t have the time to write but I eke it out by getting up early or putting off grading (or never, ever exercising) because it brings me pleasure and allows me the opportunity to be creative and quiet.

Q: You are currently working on a historical fiction novel for young adults. For the other writers out there, what "stage" are you at with this new novel? What has been the biggest challenge so far?

Juliet: Well I am still at a basic research stage with this one. I am reading all of the children’s and adult books written about Jane Addams and some of the other wonderful young reformers, activists and writers who lived in Chicago at the turn of the century. (I just finished The Jungle by Upton Sinclair who was a regular at Hull House - so amazing!) I know I want to write from the immigrant girl’s perspective and have finished the outline and the first chapter. I want to convey how it felt to emigrate from a lush, riverside village in Europe and end up confined to a few grey city blocks in a neighborhood where the rotting garbage was a foot deep, her emotions, relationships, challenges and growth.

Q: Anything else you'd like to share?

Juliet: Only thank you for the pleasure of participating in your blog.

* Read an interview with author and Weird Chicago tour guide Adam Selzer.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Meet Author Sara Shacter!

My guest today is Sara Shacter -- a children's writer who grew up in the Chicago area and currently lives in the city itself. Sara's  picture book Heading to the Wedding (Red Rock Press, 2006) was described by Contemporary Bride magazine as "not only charming, but also delightful in the delivery of teaching accepted behavior for kids attending a wedding."  Sara has also written and edited nonfiction for magazines and educational publishers.  Currently she is working on a YA novel and several picture book manuscripts.

For more information about Sara Shacter, visit her website:

Q: How old were you when you first realized that you wanted to be a writer?

Sara: I remember writing stories about Inspector Toenail when I was in elementary school.  But when did I realize I wanted to be a professional writer?  Not until I graduated from college.

Q: Describe one of your earliest works. Who or what inspired you to write it?

Sara: Well, Heading to the Wedding was inspired by a business cocktail party.  I was mingling with some folks and mentioned that I wrote for children.  A woman listening said, "Do you know of a book that teaches kids about wedding guest etiquette?"  I didn't, so I decided to write one.  It was a fun challenge: the story needed to instruct, but not be didactic.  I think I hit the mark: the book always makes kids laugh.

Q: Can you name someone whose encouragement made a significant difference as you developed into a writer?

Sara: My husband, hands down.  He's my cheerleader.  He gets so irritated whenever a rejection letter arrives in the mailbox that I end up comforting HIM!  When I say, "It's okay.  It just wasn't the right house.  I'll find a better fit," I come to believe what I'm saying.

Q: Please tell us a little about your ties to Chicago.

Sara: I grew up in Highland Park, a northern suburb.  Though I went east for college, I returned upon graduation.  It's just a fabulous city: big, but not too big.  Gorgeous.  Full of opportunities and inspiration.

Q: What was easy about writing Heading to the Wedding? What was difficult?

Sara: The basic plot was easy: it's the story of a family that decides to have a practice wedding at home, before going to the real thing.  Patrick and his sister Evie learn all about what happens at a wedding, how to make a toast, the importance of taking the closest hors d'oeuvre on the plate, etc.  I pretty much just ran through the course of a wedding.  However, making it funny and compelling, and rounding out the characters in 800 words or less, took much more work!  I lost track of how many drafts I completed.

Q: Of the characters mentioned in Heading to the Wedding, choose one you would like to meet and tell us why.

Sara: I love Evie, who actually wasn't even in the book when I sent the manuscript to Red Rock Press!  The editor wanted both a boy and a girl for marketing reasons -- a smart suggestion.  I think Evie's hilarious and irreverent.  I'm more straight-laced, so I enjoy her joie de vivre.

Q: You have written quite a lot of nonfiction for magazines such as Highlights for Children and Chicago Parent Magazine. Can you share some differences between writing a picture book and writing for magazines?

Sara: In a picture book, there must be an opportunity for a compelling illustration on each spread.  Though magazine articles include photos or illustrations, there isn't the pressure to include a new visual every few sentences.  However, magazine nonfiction has its own set of requirements.  Trying to explain, in very little space and in kid-friendly terms, a scientific principal, or what made a historical figure who s/he was, is a challenge!  A wonderful challenge, but a challenge nonetheless.

Q: Anything else you'd like to share?

Sara: I feel lucky to be working in this field.  There is nothing more exhilarating than seeing a child's face light up when s/he reads something you've written.  And there is no nicer group of colleagues in the world than fellow children's writers and illustrators.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

An interview with me

Kathleen L. Maher interviewed me about It Happened in Chicago for her blog. Check it out at this link:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Meet Author Ophelia Julien!

Today's guest is Ophelia Julien -- author of several young adult novels, including Saving Jake (New Leaf Books, 2002), about a boy who can "track" lost objects, people, and even past lives with his mind.

Unlike most of us, Ophelia grew up in a haunted house on the north side of Chicago. She reads, writes, and collects ghost stories. Her more mundane activities include baking, knitting, crocheting, and sleeping whenever she can.

For more information about Ophelia Julien, visit her web site at and her blog at

Q: How old were you when you first realized that you wanted to be a writer?

Ophelia: When the Beatles' song "Paperback Writer" hit the charts and summed it up for me in actual words.  I was in grade school at the time and already writing stories.

Q: Describe one of your earliest works. Who or what inspired you to write it? 

Ophelia: When I was in eighth grade, I wrote what I thought was a novel (40 type-written pages with no margins and no double spacing) set in a boarding school.  The influence was Rudyard Kipling's Stalky & Co, still one of my all-time favorite books.

Q: Can you name someone whose encouragement made a significant difference as you developed into a writer?

Ophelia: I'm an inveterate letter writer (as in fan-girl) and have been since I was a kid.  My first response came from Madeleine L'Engle and I still have that letter.  I also have a note from Stephen King that encouraged me to write what I wanted to write, which was young adult fiction, and a letter from another of my heroes, Richard Peck, who gave me encouragement in an entirely different way.  I was lucky enough to meet Mr Peck.  He's a lovely man.

Q: Please tell us a little about your ties to Chicago.

Ophelia: I grew up in Chicago and didn't move away to the suburbs until I was married and a parent.  Chicago is probably one of my all-time favorite cities.  Its history is hidden because so much burned down in the Great Fire, but it has history, all right.  And lots of haunted places.  Like my childhood home, for instance.

Q: What was easy about writing Saving Jake? What was difficult?

Ophelia: I don't think anything about writing Saving Jake was easy.  For one thing, it's the most autobiographical book I've ever written and I was terrified when it got published and my family was going to be able to read it.  Parts of it were truly painful to put down on paper, but I'm glad I did it.  Maybe the only easy thing was getting the character of Jake Holdridge.  He pretty much rang my doorbell and introduced himself, unlike Philip Corts who ran away from me for almost two years.

Q: Of the characters mentioned in Saving Jake, choose one you would like to meet and tell us why.

Ophelia: I'd love to meet Jake face to face.  We understand each other completely and he'd be fun just to hang around with for a day.

Q: In your blog, you talk about the Chicago Swordplay Guild. Do any of your books draw on that particular interest of yours? If not, do you think you might write a book that features swordplay someday?

Ophelia: I'm currently working on a book now that will include swordplay and if I don't get it right, I sure will hear about it!  Actually, I'll need to run those scenes past my colleagues just to make sure I don't mess up.  I'm very interested in swords and sword fighting but interest does not a skilled practitioner make!  One of these years, I also hope to include Tae Kwon Do in a book, since that was my first exposure to martial arts, back when I was in high school and college.

Q: You obviously have a special sensitivity to otherwordly phenomena. Is that a help or a hindrance to you as a writer? Can you give an example of how it helped or hindered you on a specific project?

Ophelia: At one time I might have said my "sensitivity," as you very kindly put it, was a hindrance.  I've tried writing other kinds of stories and no matter what I'm doing, even my adult short stories, I end up putting a paranormal twist into it. I can't seem to keep that out of my creative endeavors and have decided it's best not to try.  And despite my background, I do manage to frighten myself from time to time.  Back when I did newspaper writing, I wrote an annual Halloween feature where people would tell me their true ghost stories and I would write them up.  One year I was home alone typing up my copy and there was a God-almighty crash from the direction of my basement.  It sounded like someone dumped a cabinet full of dishes on the floor.  I got up to investigate and nothing was out of place.  And of course, no one was there.  There's a reason I write during the day!

Q: Anything else you'd like to share?

Ophelia: Sure.  Right now I'm working through the inevitable frustration of trying to get my next manuscript published.  I'm currently searching for an agent who handles YA fiction, as well.  Someone recently asked me about my dream of being a famous author, but you know what?  That's not exactly it.  In the end, I don't care if people can't remember my name.  But I'd sure love it if they remembered my characters.  Thanks for asking!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Meet Author Pamela Todd!

Today's guest is Pamela Todd -- author of the award-winning novel The Blind Faith Hotel (Simon and Schuster, 2008), described by reviewers as "a deeply felt novel about coming to understand what home really means" . . . "a wrenching, funny, heartwarming story" . . . "a careful exploration of relationships and the emotional dynamics of a family in transition." Pam also wrote Pig and the Shrink (Delacorte, 1999), a "funny middle-grade novel about a boy who tries to turn his overweight friend into a science fair project, only to find that his friend has his own ideas about how to live his life."

For more information about Pamela Todd, visit her web site:

Q: How old were you when you first realized that you wanted to be a writer?

Pam: I can’t remember not wanting to be a writer. It’s the only thing I know how to do. 

Q: Describe one of your earliest works. Who or what inspired you to write it?

Pam: When I was in third grade, I wrote a poem about commercials and how they made you want to read a book instead of watch TV. Apparently the Chicago Public Schools liked the topic because they published it in a district-wide collection of kids’ poetry.

Q: Can you name someone whose encouragement made a significant difference as you developed into a writer?

Pam: My family is my cheering section. I have a great husband who loves books, loves authors, and loves to read. My children – some of whom are writers themselves – are also delightfully encouraging.  My Mom is an artist who is in her eighties and still painting – very inspiring. And my sister gives me all my good ideas.

Q: Please tell us a little about your ties to Chicago.

Pam: I was born on the streets of Chicago – literally.  I made my entrance a little prematurely – in the car on the way to the hospital.  I grew up on the west side in a neighborhood of two-flats, with an unending supply of interesting characters.  And I’ve lived the rest of my life about two miles away from where I started out.  Chicago is the best city in the world, for my money.  We have a beautiful lake and natural areas, a vibrant arts community, an unending supply of free summer entertainment…we’re green, we’re friendly, we’re real…we gave the U.S. a great president…and we totally should have gotten the Olympics.

Q: What was easy about writing The Blind Faith Hotel? What was difficult?

Pam: Writing about nature comes easily. And characters grow in my head like weeds.  But plotting is more work.

Q: Of the characters mentioned in The Blind Faith Hotel, choose one you would like to meet and tell us why.

Pam: Ivy. I want to know what happened to him after the book ended.

Q: You mention on your web site that The Blind Faith Hotel was inspired in many ways by your own life. What about your novel Pig and the Shrink? Did that arise out of personal experience as well?

Pam: Weirdly, yes, although I had forgotten the incident entirely until long after the book was published. Pig and the Shrink is about a boy who turns his friend into a science fair project. I was a psychology major in college, and one of my experiments was trying to get my roommates to quit smoking using the power of suggestion. It worked about as well as Tucker Harrison’s project did. 

Q: You are currently working on a novel called Escaping Gravity. For the other writers out there, what "stage" are you at with this new novel? What has been the biggest challenge so far?

Pam: My biggest challenge is staying focused. I’ve written two essays and two picture books recently, and now I’m off on another adventure – starting an interactive wildlife corridor project.  Fortunately, Escaping Gravity has continued to write itself.  I am keeping notes and it seems to be developing with or without me.

Q: Anything else you'd like to share?

Pam: If not now…when? Just thought I’d throw that in.

Myers Briggs for Your Blog!

You know about the Myers Briggs Personality Test? Well, now there’s a version of that for blogs. Visit Typealyzer, enter the URL of your blog, and see what you get. It Happened in Chicago (the blog) is:

ISTP - The Mechanics

The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment and are highly skilled at seeing and fixing what needs to be fixed. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.