Sunday, October 31, 2010

Who Dat? Where Dat?

It's Halloween! 

Here's an appropriate photo from my book Chicago Curiosities (Globe Pequot Press / January 2011). The first person to correctly identify what this is and exactly where it is will go on my list for a free copy of the book.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Babe Ruth Calls His Shot

One of the first tasks I had to accomplish before receiving the contract to write It Happened in Chicago was to compile a list of events that I would include in the book, with a line or two about each explaining the importance or relevance.

My initial list had 100 events on it. The publisher wanted around 30 for the book. Among the many events I was not able to include was one that occurred on October 1, 1932. Here's a link to an excellent write-up on it from Babe Ruth Calls His Shot.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Chicago Curiosities -- Page Proofs in Hand!

I am just now going through the page proofs for Chicago Curiosities (Globe Pequot Press / 2011). This is when a book starts to feel REAL. I'm seeing the pictures with the entries, and the page layouts just as they will appear in the final product.

It's "speak now or forever hold your peace" time for me, as the author. My last chance to catch errors or fix things that absolutely MUST be fixed. I have to refrain from recasting sentences and editing the manuscript unless it is absolutely necessary for some reason.

With this book, I'm feeling good about the writing for the most part, so that's a plus. I did come across two instances where the photo caption did not match the photo. The photo matched the entry topic, but I had given 2-3 options for pictures to the editor, and somewhere along the way, we crossed wires so that I sent the wrong pictures for the captions I provided in these two cases. (I suppose it's good that it's only two cases!)

Anyway, I do love this book and I hope other people will pick it up and enjoy it. It's sort of a guide book -- but not a typical guide book. Even the obvious, standard tourist sites are given a bit of a twist due to "curious" circumstances or conditions that surround them.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Skating on the Edge... of the 94th floor!

Too bad my Chicago Curiosities book is already in its final stages before publication!

Ice rink planned on 94th floor of Hancock building

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Name Your Pet after a Chicago City Street!

This is just for fun:

Name Your Pet after a Chicago City Street!

I love the list they came up with. I think Cermak the cat is my favorite. How about you?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Monadnock Building

I just came across an excellent article about The Monadnock Building, a Chicago landmark that earned an entry in my book Chicago Curiosities (Globe Pequot Press, 2011).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Meet Author Peter J. Spalding!

My guest today is Peter J. Spalding, author of the eBook 1871: A Novel of the Great Chicago Fire. Peter has done about every form of writing, including journalism, poetry, and commentary, for which his work was picked up by The New York Times.  He has also worked in various capacities on both stage and film, including two stage plays and six screenplays.  1871 is his first novel.

For more information about Peter J. Spalding and his book, visit and

Welcome to "It Happened in Chicago", Peter!
Q: In addition to writing books about Chicago, do you have any other ties to the city?

I live in California now, but I grew up in Illinois-- I was born in Park Ridge, actually. The one time we moved away was when my dad got a job in upstate New York.  It was my first real move, and I guess my mom was trying to make things easier on me, so she got me a picture book called "There'll Be A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight" by Robert Quackenbush.  It was basically a kiddie version of the Chicago Fire-- it was completely inaccurate of course, but who cares.

I think she ended up ruing that day!  I was one of those kids who always wanted the same bedtime story every night, so I probably drove her crazy reading it over and over.  By the time we moved back to Illinois, I was hooked, and I've been obsessed with the fire ever since.

Q: When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer?

That's like asking me when I realized I had brown hair-- I've known it as long as I can remember!  I actually started writing before I could read, because I used to tell stories to my mom, and she'd transcribe them.  As soon as I was old enough to read and write, I started doing it myself.  I wrote all kinds of short stories as a kid, and I wrote my first full-length play at the ripe old age of ten.  By the time I got to high school I was running the gamut, writing prose, poetry, drama-- you name it.

Q: Please describe one of your earliest works (go back as far as you can remember). Who or what inspired you to create it?

The earliest thing I know of was a thing my mom put in a scrapbook.  It was a retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood."  I must've been about two.  The way I told the story, she went through the forest and had all kinds of crazy adventures.  It was a little like "Alice in Wonderland."  The Big Bad Wolf was hardly in it; I guess I didn't think he was important.  So that was my two-year-old mind at work!

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

Well, I come from a long line of writers, because every generation of my family has had at least a few.  My great-grandmother was a wonderful poet and a great storyteller, and I think she gave my grandmother a lot of her genes.  Both of my parents have written nonfiction-- in fact, my dad has a book coming out this summer about Lafayette.  So this stuff kind of runs in our veins, and needless to say, my folks have been great.

In school, I had three great teachers who stick out in my mind: Mrs. Ash in sixth grade, and Mrs. Rush and Mr. McCoy in high school.  But they're just the tip of the iceberg.  I've had so many great friends and mentors over the years, I can't possibly name them all.  I've learned something new every day, and I still do.

Q: What type of books do you read for pleasure?

I read anything that's smart and exciting.  My all-time favorite writer is Mark Twain, although Steinbeck and Fitzgerald are up there too.  But sometimes I shy away from so-called literary fiction, because it can get dull and pretentious.

My favorite books of the last few years have been "The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold and "The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger-- say what you want about their movie versions, but the books are great.  I also read a lot of nonfiction, especially history, which probably won't come as a surprise.

I love sci-fi and fantasy too.  I have a weakness for Marvel Comics, especially Spider-Man.  And I think J.K. Rowling is brilliant, but not just because she wrote a fun series and sold a lot of books.  She got a whole generation of kids to love reading, all over the world, even though conventional wisdom said young people don't read books anymore.  I defy anybody to name another writer in the last hundred years, who has inspired so many millions upon millions of people.

Q: What was one of the easiest things about writing 1871: A Novel of the Great Chicago Fire? What was one of the most difficult?

The easy part was telling a story that I cared so much about, and that was really personal to me.  I hope that doesn't sound like a BS answer, because I really do mean it.  Very often, it's hard to pinpoint what your story is really about; and if you're not careful, if you're not personally invested in it, then it can come across as dull or cliched.  That's one of the biggest pitfalls for any writer, myself included, but on this book it was never a problem.

I felt like I'd had this story in my head for years, and I just needed enough writing skill and experience to be able to do it justice.  I drew from my own life too-- I've never lived through a huge disaster, thank God, but a lot of the characters' conflicts and feelings were based on things I'd gone through myself.  So, for better or worse, this is a story that comes straight from my heart.

The hard part was working out all the technical stuff.  Some of it was pretty routine, like setting up the story and making sure all the details are consistent, because the book does have a lot of subplots.  But to be honest, I made it harder for myself than it needed to be.

I swore I'd make the story 100% historically accurate.  Even though it's fiction, I wanted to make sure the story could've happened in real life.  That's a lot easier said than done.  It forces you to do a huge amount of research, so I can't tell you how many months I spent in libraries and archives, just digging through microfilms and yellowed books and whatnot.  And a lot of the time, eyewitnesses gave different stories, or one piece of evidence contradicted another, so I couldn't say for sure what had happened-- I had to make my own judgment calls about what I thought was most likely.

Then came the hardest part of all: I had to to tell a compelling story, and get readers to really care about the characters, while staying within those limitations.  Sane writers don't do that.  The real world doesn't follow nice conventions like three-act structures, so most writers will use artistic license to change whatever they want.  I'm all for that, because it obviously worked for Dickens and Tolstoy and who-knows-who-else.  But on this book, I was bound and determined to do it my way.

I think it worked out in the end, because I do think historical accuracy helped the story, but it still gave me a lot of gray hair.  Oh well-- such is life.

Q: Of the characters mentioned in 1871: A Novel of the Great Chicago Fire, please tell us about one you would like to meet and why.

Does Abraham Lincoln count?  He's only in a couple of flashbacks, but I'd love to meet him! I'm only half kidding, actually.  That's why I wrote about the Lincolns: they're just fascinating people, and I wanted to get to know them better.

The more I found out about them, especially at that stage in their lives, the more they seemed downright Shakespearean.  Robert was so much like Hamlet: he was grappling with the legacy of a dead heroic father, and he was struggling to find his own place in the world.  And Mary was kind of like Lady Macbeth, with her ambition and whatnot, although she obviously never plotted a murder.  Their stories were so packed with drama that as a writer, I couldn't resist.

Q: Can you share with us anything about the fire that you feel most people don't know?

Well, that ties right into the last question, because most people don't know that the Lincoln family lived through this.  Most books don't even mention it, and if they do, it's just in passing.  I was floored when I found out about their story-- I couldn't believe that nobody had written about it before.  So I was pretty excited to be the first (as far as I know).  Obviously, since I was doing fiction, I did have to invent some details when the historical facts were unclear.  But the Lincolns' basic storyline is real.

In a broader sense, though, I don't think people realize how heartbreaking the fire was.  The city's boosters tried to gloss over that stuff because they didn't want to scare off investors.  But the truth is, it really was hard on people who lived through it.  For example, the whole North Side was wiped out-- it was like the Lower Ninth Ward during Katrina-- so if you lived in that part of town, you would've almost certainly lost your home.  You have to think of that in human terms, because statistics don't do it justice.  That's why eyewitness accounts are so important: they make you realize how crushed the survivors really were, and how profoundly their lives were changed.  And not everybody made it.  For example, Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard was one of Chicago's founding fathers, but he lost practically everything and never recovered.  So it really did take a lot of heroism and fortitude; and when I wrote the book, I wanted to honor that spirit.

Q: What led you to decide that the novel should be published as an eBook?

It was a combination of things, but the short answer is, I think eBooks are the way of the future.  They're still kind of a niche market, but they won't stay that way for long, considering that iPads and Kindles are selling like hotcakes.

I do have to say, I think paper books are great, and they're never going away.  I love curling up on the couch or sitting on a park bench or what have you.  But you do have to stay up to speed with the times, and frankly I think the publishing industry is still stuck in the twentieth century.  Most books don't sell enough copies to cover the author's advance, but publishers pay those advances anyway.  And if retailers can't sell enough copies, the publishers buy them back.  That makes it almost impossible for them to make money.  They have a really hard time adjusting to change, which in this day and age is a serious problem.

I'm not a doomsayer, by any means, but I do think publishers need to adapt, and the quicker the better.  It's kind of like what happened in the fifties, when movie studios had to deal with the advent of television.  It was painful in a lot of ways; they had to completely rethink the way they did business, and some companies got through it better than others.  But movies eventually found their place alongside TV, and nowadays they coexist pretty well.  I think the same thing will happen in the publishing world, where paper books will find their place among eBooks and other new media.  But it may take a while, and the old rules of the game won't necessarily apply.

Anyway, I knew eBooks were a growing market, and I wanted to get in on the ground floor.  A lot of other writers have done the same thing; Stephen King published "Riding the Bullet" as an eBook years ago.  I think it's going to become more and more mainstream as time goes on.

After all, we've all gotten used to downloading music and reading newspapers online.  So why not download a book?

Q: What would you like us to know about your current work/s in progress?

I'm working on a book about an old movie theater, which by the way is another passion of mine.  And I'd love to write more about the westward movement, especially the California Gold Rush, and about the space program.  I have a couple of ideas for those, but I'm still in the early stages of writing.

I'm also working on a few stage plays and screenplays.  Some of them grew directly out of "1871," because I learned so much about Chicago history that I found more stories that I wanted to tell!  I want to do a movie about the Leopold and Loeb murder, among other things, but that's a tough sell in Hollywood.  So you'll have to wish me luck.

Q: Anything else you'd like to share?

People always ask me how much of the book is fictional, and how much of it is real.  I usually dodge that question, because I want people to enjoy the novel as is, without worrying about the behind-the-scenes stuff.  And if I've done my job, they won't be able to tell the difference between fact and fiction.

Even so, if you want to learn more, I do encourage people to read up on the fire.  I think it's an amazing piece of history, and there was only so much that could fit into the book.  There are a lot of great resources out there.  I posted some links and recommendations on my blog, and there's more where they came from.  So by all means, check it out!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Vivian Harsh (1890–1960)

Described as “the historian who never wrote,” Vivian Gordon Harsh devoted her life to building one of the most important research collections on African-American history and literature in the country.
Read an article about this fascinating, talented woman at

She was the first black librarian in the Chicago Public Library system.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Further updates on Chicago Curiosities

The Chicago Curiosities manuscript is now with an editor who specializes in putting together books in the Globe Pequot Press "Curiosities" series. I should be seeing copyedits before too long, along with any questions or concerns about my photos.

To date, I have not experienced any particular traumas related to a copyeditor's notes or queries. With my nonfiction books, I am typically asked to clarify things, confirm information that is questioned by the copyeditor, or explain/correct apparent inconsistencies.

Having worked as a copyeditor myself, I almost always understand where the copyeditor is coming from and have no problem going along with changes.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cubs Heaven?

The Chicago Curiosities manuscript is with my editor, who is making some decisions about Sidebars and Trivia items (as in, do I need more of either?)

She asked if I could write a Sidebar for the chapter on the Northwest section, so I went looking for something and found a really good one (so good, I wish I had known about it earlier, so I could take a picture and write a full entry).

Check it out at Beyond the Vines and Your Funeral Guy.

I understand that the Chicago location is the first of what will be many very special "skyboxes" for sports fans. Amazing.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Update on Chicago Curiosities

Ah... the plot thickens! Or, rather, the manuscript thickens. I'm talking about Chicago Curiosities, scheduled for publication by The Globe Pequot Press in December.

I am headed down the home stretch -- a darn good thing considering that the FINAL deadline for the manuscript and photos is June 1! Here's what I still need to do:

  • Write and select photos for 7-8 more entries ranging in length from 100 to 400 words.
  • Write an introduction, acknowledgments, and author bio.
  • Write 5-6 regional section "openers" at 250-300 words each.
  • Find an "overview" map of Chicago.
  • Pinpoint the locations of about 100 "curiosities" on regional maps.
  • Develop the final photo list with ID numbers, captions, etc.
  • Do a final word count on the entire manuscript to make sure I'm at 30,000-35,000 words.
I've been working on this project since August, 2009. I've made four trips to Chicago to take pictures. 

And now, as I said, I'm headed down the home stretch. Onward and upward!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Sign of the times?

(seen in Chicago near Dearborn Street Station)

It's good to know Michelle and Barack have a back-up plan in case this Presidency thing doesn't work out...

Monday, April 5, 2010

Chicago Curiosities Continues!

I'm still in the midst of taking photographs and writing entries for my book Chicago Curiosities (Globe Pequot Press / December 2010). Took a quick trip up to the Windy City yesterday and came across this unusual sculpture.

It did not seem to have a sign or plaque explaining what it is or who created it. I am embarrassed to say I don't know the exact location, except that I came across it not far from Union Station.

If you can tell me and I can verify what you say, I will send you a copy of my book It Happened in Chicago!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Meet Author Nnedi Okorafor!

My guest today is Nnedi Okorafor, award-winning novelist and author of numerous award-winning short stories, plays, magazine articles, and essays. Her first novel, Zahrah the Windseeker, was published in 2005 by Houghton Mifflin. An illustrated version was published in Nigeria in 2008 by Kachifo Ltd. The novel takes place in a highly technological world based on Nigerian myths and culture. Nnedi’s other novels include The Shadow Speaker (Hyperion Books, 2007), Long Juju Man (Macmillan UK, 2008), Who Fears Death (DAW Books, June 2010), and Akata Witch (Penguin, 2011).

To learn more about Nnedi and her work, visit her web site at

Welcome to It Happened in Chicago, Nnedi!

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

NNEDI: Well, I’ve lived in the area since I was about seven. First, my family and I lived in the south suburb of South Holland. In the 80s, this area had a serious racial problem. My family was one of the first black families to move into this neighborhood. The white residents didn’t take well to this. Let’s just say my siblings and I were lucky to be born fast runners…I’ll leave it at that. When I was about twelve, we moved to the south suburb of Olympia Fields. I currently still live there.

Q: When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer?

NNEDI: I didn’t write a story until I was a sophomore in college at the University of Illinois, Champaign Urbana. Before that I always thought I’d be a veterinarian or an entomologist. I loved the sciences and excelled in math; I never showed any great propensity for English or literature. The only hint was that from the moment I could read, I LOVED doing it. I spent a lot of time in the library and I consumed books like candy; science books or fiction, it was all delicious. I also had a very very big imagination. As a kid, I had my entire first grade class believing they were shape shifters. I believed that just beyond the playground was another world full of dragons, horses and sentient rabbits. I remember during art class in 2nd grade creating a giant butterfly out of construction paper and then being terribly upset when it did not fly. Stuff like that.

When I was twelve, I started reading Stephen King. The first novel I read was It. That opened the world of storytelling to me, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I came from very scientific medical immigrant parents. My father was a cardiovascular surgeon, my mother a registered nurse and midwife with a PhD in health administration. They weren’t wired to push an imaginative daughter toward the arts. So, only after taking a creative writing course in my sophomore year in college (which my boyfriend at the time had encouraged me to take) did I realize that I had a knack for and an interest in telling stories. From that point on, I never stopped writing.

Q: Please describe one of your earliest works (go back as far as you can remember). Who or what inspired you to create it?

NNEDI: I vaguely remember trying to write a story when I was about six. It was called Donald Duck and the Sand |Witch. It was about Donald Duck making friends with a witch on an island that looked like a…sandwich. OMG, I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this. LOL!! I have no idea why I wrote it and I never wrote another story until I was 20 years old.

The first story I wrote in that creative writing class was called The House of Deformities. It was a story set in Nigeria and involved pink ducklings, bull dog puppies, an ancient old woman with a cleaver, looming vultures, fly-riddled raw meat, and a very ominous outhouse -- yes, it was a true story (I was about 8 when we stopped at this mysterious roadside restaurant in Nigeria)….except for the black hole to hell in the outhouse floor. It really was a pretty good story. :-)

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

NNEDI: My professor at U of I, Professor Jean Thompson (also a great author) was pivotal in my early days as a writer. She was the first person to pull me aside and say that I was good and should keep going.

Q: I understand that many of your stories take place, either literally or figuratively, in Nigeria. Can you tell us a little about your “Nigerian connection”?

NNEDI: Both my parents were born and raised in Nigeria and from a young age they have been taking my siblings and me back to Nigeria to get to know family. So along with my American experience, I had a sort of parallel Nigerian experience. My parents were the type of immigrants who wanted to become American AND remain Nigerian, and they passed that on to my siblings and me. Thus we are both American and Nigerian citizens, make sure we visit often and have ingested both cultures in our own unique ways.

Q: What was one of the easiest things about writing Zahrah the Windseeker? What was one of the most difficult?

NNEDI: Of all the books I’ve written, Zahrah the Windseeker was the easiest. It came to me whole, from beginning to end. I knew the story immediately. The most difficult part was paring it down. There were so many tangents that I wanted to go on. I loved the world of the story and I loved the field guide. I actually had to take out several scenes for this reason. Like the Bush Cow Party Zahrah witnesses one night while in the jungle -- did you know those thieving little bush cows can play drums? :-). I’ve since returned to Zahrah’s world. I wrote a short story called From The Lost Diary of Treefrog7 that is about two of the explorers who contribute to the book that Zahrah uses to navigate the Greeny Forest. I’m also working on a Zahrah the Windseeker graphic novel with illustrator John Jennings.

Q: Of the characters mentioned in your novels, please tell us about one you would like to meet and why.

NNEDI: Papa Grip/The Desert Magician/Long Juju Man/Aro…each of these characters is actually the same guy…or creature…or deity, whoever he is, they are all him. In Zahrah the Windseeker, he is Papa Grip the quirky town chief who wears hot pink caftans, loves to dance and gives Zahrah poignant words of wisdom. In Long Juju Man, he is a tricky annoying trickster ghost who eats rotten mangoes, smells like pepper, is fond of butterflies and teaches Ngoli bits of wisdom. In The Shadow Speaker, he is a deity of the crossroads who proclaims himself “Jesus’ General!” and shoves Ejii toward her destiny. In my forthcoming adult novel, he’s a very traditional rigid-minded but very powerful sorcerer who can change into a vulture.

I know this character, in all his forms. He insists on appearing in all my stories; it doesn’t matter if it’s a central role or a cameo appearance. He must be present. I’d love to sit down to dinner with him (I imagine he’d want to eat at an Ethiopian restaurant…somewhere where he could eat with his hands. He’d order something spicy with beef or goat meat) so I could ask him who he is, what he wants with me, how to make Nigeria’s roads safer and what the question to Life the Universe and Everything is, since the answer is apparently 42. ;-).

Q. What would you like us to know about your current work/s in progress?

NNEDI: I have an adult novel coming out in June titled Who Fears Death (DAW Books). It’s, I guess, what you’d call African magical realism or as my editor likes to call it, African magical futurism. It is linked to my previous novels but in a way you won’t expect. I’m very very proud of this one.

Then I have a YA novel from Penguin Books coming out sometime in 2011 titled Akata Witch. This is a fantasy novel set in present-day Nigeria and involves some utterly insane Nigerian juju and mystical creatures. Sunny, the main character, was born in the United States to two Nigerian parents. When she is nine, she moves back with her family to Nigeria. Oh, and to add to the cultural complexity, Sunny is albino. “Akata” is a derogatory term for African Americans or foreign born-Nigerians, it means “bush animal”. It’s a name Sunny is called quite a lot by her classmates. In other words, the book is also about culture conflict and otherness. But it’s also about a girl who becomes a witch.

I’ve also got a YA short story coming out in an anthology called Life on Mars (Penguin Books). It’s my first alien story. It’s set in the desert of Niger and my alien has a special relationship with Nigerians. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m working on a graphic novel version of Zahrah the Windseeker which will be different from the novel. It’ll show more angles to the story and we’re going to have some fun with the visual aspects of it. Lastly, I’m working on a Disney Fairies chapter book. The character mine will focus on is Iridessa, the light-talent fairy. The tentative title is Iridessa and the Fire-Bellied Dragon Frog. That’s supposed to come out later this year or in 2011.
Q: Anything else you'd like to share?

NNEDI: That’s about it. Thanks for interviewing me. :-)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Meet Author Terry Spencer Hesser!

My guest today, Terry Spencer Hesser, is a writer and documentary filmmaker who has received several Emmy nominations and awards for her work, including an Emmy award for Treasures of the Art Institute (2001) and A War on All Fronts: The Life and Times of Robert Rutherford McCormick (2005). She has worked with Audrey Hepburn, Oprah Winfrey, and R. Kelly. Her play, Christmas with Elvis, was described by FOX-TV as "the funniest show in town."

A lifelong resident of Chicago, Terry has written two books. Her debut novel, Kissing Doorknobs (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 1998) won an American Library Association award and has been translated into five languages. Her latest book, I Am a Teamster (Lake Claremont Press, 2008), is a biography of Teamster Union Organizer Regina V. Polk.

For more information about Terry Spencer Hesser and her work, visit

Welcome to It Happened in Chicago, Terry!

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

TERRY: I grew up in the lawless area just west of Chicago known as Cicero.  As an adolescent one of my favorite activities was taking the el downtown and walking to Old Town to buy love beads and patchouli oil but mostly to visit the Wax Museum and examine the St. Valentine’s Day massacre.  I think it was the beginning of my interest in Chicago’s roaring reputation and history.

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

TERRY: I never took my writing seriously until college when I saw the power of a uniquely told scenario,  scene, and finally story.

Q: Please describe one of your earliest works (go back as far as you can remember). Who or what inspired you to create it?

TERRY: I made villages out of buttons at my grandmother’s house…its what you play with when there were no toys to play with.

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

TERRY: My ex-husband Dennis Hesser was extraordinarily significant in my personal growth and for that I will always be grateful.

Q: What was one of the easiest things about writing I Am a Teamster? What was one of the most difficult?

TERRY: The easiest was finding Regina’s point of view – she was very straightforward.  The hardest was making her come alive with only interviews and research – without the opportunity to hear her talk about herself.

Q: What is one of the things you admire most about Regina Polk, the heroine of I Am a Teamster? Are there any similarities between the two of you?

TERRY: I admire her ability to act on instinct…and if not instinct then flawless execution of a plan.  I share her concerns for humanity, for women, for personal freedom and maybe even her warrior spirit.

Q: Would you tell us a little about the "road to publication" of I Am a Teamster?

TERRY: It is a short  story.  We took it to Sharon at Lake Claremont Press and worked out the details.  Our mistake was rushing it into print for a conference of teamsters and bypassing some publicity as a result.

Q: Of the characters mentioned in Kissing Doorknobs -- a novel about an 11-year-old girl with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) -- please name one character you would like to meet and tell us why.

TERRY: I would like to meet the main character Tara because she is a fictionalized version of myself as a child and give her a hug.

Q: Your have written about and filmed many Chicago people and places. Can you tell us briefly about some of these?

TERRY: I did a profile about Chicago Tribune publisher Robert McCormick for WTTW and told the history of Chicago from the standpoint of the Auditorium Theater Building.  I’ve done publicity for R. Kelly and worked with Oprah on a documentary about Paul Adams and Providence St. Mel.

Q:  A brief bio I read about you says that you "searched for vampires in Transylvania." What was that all about?

TERRY: For an A&E series called “The Unexplained” we investigated the vampire myth from Bram Stoker’s book to the Transylvanian mountains and goth bars in Beverly Hills.  It was such bloody fun!

Q: What are you working on right now? What has been the biggest challenge of this project so far?

TERRY: I am working on a book about the town of Cicero and my family – the biggest challenge is integrating my family into essentially a history book – and sometimes sacrificing unverifiable stories.

Q: Anything else you'd like to share?

TERRY: I am just very lucky to be able to interpret this continually surprising world.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Meet Author Stephanie Kuehnert!

My guest today is Stephanie Kuehnert, author of the YA (Young Adult) novels I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone (MTV Books, 2008) and Ballads of Suburbia (MTV Books, 2009). The Chicago Sun-Times notes: "With her first two novels, Kuehnert has created vivid pictures of teenage lives that lie in that borderland that abuts adulthood. It is a fertile, confusing and intense place, and Kuehnert never holds back. But like a good ballad, she keeps the stories taut and precise, with a touch of heart thrown in for good measure."

I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone was picked as one of eight “Young adult books that rock” by the L.A. Times. Ballads of Suburbia is set in Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago. Stephanie says that she decided to set the novel in Oak Park: “Because I love reading about the Chicago area during different eras and wanted to capture my corner of Chicagoland in the era I came of age in, the early nineties.”

For more information about Stephanie and her books, visit her web site at

Welcome to It Happened in Chicago, Stephanie!

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

STEPHANIE: I moved to Oak Park, IL, a suburb right on the Western border of Chicago when I was eight years old from St Louis, IL. Since I was born and raised a city girl, I wasn't all that happy being in the suburbs, but I always loved venturing into the city of Chicago and definitely consider myself a Chicagoan. My mother's family has been here since they immigrated from Poland and she is the one who taught me to love the city of Chicago. I left the area right after high school because I was unhappy in the burbs, but I found my way back, ultimately attending Columbia College Chicago for both my BA and MFA in creative writing. Going downtown for my classes are what truly made me fall in love with this city. Though I've always loved it for its culture, especially the musical culture. I spent my teenage years basically living at the Metro, Fireside Bowl, Aragon, etc seeing punk shows and I still love seeing live bands and supporting local bands in particular. Currently I live in Forest Park, which is another western suburb right on the end of the green line. It's a working class town and I relate to the culture here much more than I did Oak Park; I love living in Forest Park.

Q: When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer?

STEPHANIE: As soon as I learned to read. My mother's favorite story to tell about me is how I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder so much when I was five, I insisted on being called Laura and I always had to dress in my "frontier dress" and moon boots because it was as close as I could get to how Laura would dress . I kept a journal from a very early age because I planned to document my life like Laura did.... but my life wasn't very interesting so I quickly turned to making up stories.

Q: Please describe one of your earliest works (go back as far as you can remember). Who or what inspired you to create it?

STEPHANIE: I remember two short stories I wrote circa third grade. One was about a colony of space cows. I'm not sure where that come from... I've always loved a wide variety of stories, sci-fi included, and I've always been an animal lover. The other was a sad tale of a baby who was so sick because her mother drank while she was pregnant (see, third grade and already writing about the heavy issues). That one was inspired by my mom--- not because she was a drunk, far from it! She was a neonatal nurse and would tell me be about her "sick babies" and nursing them back to help. And she has always been my biggest inspiration and cheerleader.

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

STEPHANIE: My mother, who always encouraged me to purse my dream. I tried to go to college for sociology and dropped out because it wasn't my true passion and she was the one who said I should go to school for writing because I've always loved it and I should pursue my passion and we'd figure out how I'd pay my bills, lol!

But also several of the teachers I had at Columbia College Chicago, especially the chair Randy Albers. He really nurtured my talent and pushed me to do my best. Professor and acclaimed Chicago author Joe Meno also had a huge influence on me. I saw what he'd done at such a young age and coming from punk sensibilities like me and I thought, there is a place for my voice out there and if I work even half as hard as Joe (because that man is one of the hardest working writers I know), I might have a shot.

Q: What was one of the easiest things about writing Ballads of Suburbia? What was one of the most difficult?

STEPHANIE: The easiest thing was setting up the place. I set the novel in Oak Park during the time I grew up because I knew it so well and, selfishly, I wanted to remember it exactly as it was to me, so why not set a book there. I love books like Crossing California by Adam Langer, The Book of Ralph by John McNally, and Hairstyles of the Damned by Joe Meno that capture a certain part of Chicago during a certain time and I knew it would be so so so much fun to do that for my own neighborhood. I had a blast doing that. Umm but the subject matter was rough. It deals with drug addiction, depression, and self injury. I had to revisit dark places from my own past. I used to self-injure, I struggled with depression, I dabbled with drugs and I lost friends to full blown serious addiction. I had to tap those old dark emotions in creating my characters and bringing emotional truth to the story and it was honestly the hardest thing I've ever done as a writer, but I'm glad I did it. I've never been more proud of anything I've done than Ballads of Suburbia. And I hope it reaches a lot of teens who need it.

Q: Of the characters mentioned in either of your novels, please tell us about one you would like to meet and why.

STEPHANIE: Man, I feel like I know them all too well and all of their struggles come from either a part of me or my past. I'd probably have to say Emily, the main character of my first novel, I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE, though. She's a total rock star and just the girl I've always wanted to be.

Q. What type of books do you read for pleasure?

STEPHANIE: Mostly YA. It really is my favorite genre of fiction. I love a good coming of age story. I love stories that are honest and real in regards to the human condition and the human spirit and I think currently the YA authors of the world are handling that best!

Q. What would you like us to know about your current work/s in progress?

STEPHANIE: They are pretty top secret. One, another YA novel, is based in Greek Mythology. It's kind of a revenge novel, but more so a learning to deal with grief novel. The other will probably be an adult/upper YA novel. It's my bartender novel since tending bar is my day job and has been since grad school and I have lots of stories. It's about a mom who has to learn to finally grow up with her teenage daughter.

Q: Anything else you'd like to share?

STEPHANIE: Nope, would just like to say thank you for having me!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Meet Author Kimberly Pauley!

My guest today is Kimberly Pauley, a writer living in the Chicago suburb of Grayslake. Kimberly is the author of Sucks to Be Me: The All-True Confessions of Mina Hamilton, Teen Vampire (maybe) (Mirrorstone / 2008), which was included in 2009 YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers and ranked #5 on the Fall 2008 Kid’s Indie Next List – “Inspired Recommendations for Kids from Indie Booksellers.”

NPR correspondent Margot Adler recently praised Sucks to be Me in an article titled “For Love Of Do-Good Vampires: A Bloody Book List”.

The sequel – Still Sucks to Be Me – is scheduled for publication in May 2010. Kimberly has also written for a number of online and print publications, and is the founder and owner of Young Adult Books Central, one of the leading YA (& Kids!) literature sites on the Internet.

To read more about Kimberly and her books, visit her web site at .

Welcome to It Happened in Chicago, Kimberly!
Q: Please tell us a little about your ties to Chicago.

KIMBERLY: Well, we moved to the area just three years ago, but my husband had been working in the area for at least the last 10 years. He traveled here all the time and when it got to the point he was traveling every week...well, we decided it was time to move!

We now live in Prairie Crossing, a conservation community filled with amazing, wonderfully friendly people.

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

KIMBERLY: Oh, geez. I don’t know if I ever had the Eureka! moment, but really, as far back as I can remember. I always loved books.

Q: Please describe one of your earliest works (go back as far as you can remember). Who or what inspired you to create it?

KIMBERLY: My older sister actually sent me my first “book” last year. I’d sent it to her when she was in college. I would have been 6 or 7. It’s cute...but I can’t say that I had much to say! Of course, I did my own illustrating... It was, apparently, about a dog. I’m not sure why, since we didn’t own one at the time!

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

KIMBERLY: Jim Warford. He was my Television Production and Drama teacher when I was in 9th and 10th grade. He read some of my (rather odd) writing and really encouraged me. And trust me when I say it was really odd stuff, so I’m happy he did even with that going against it!

Q: I understand that you quit a corporate job to become a full-time writer. What was that like? Do you have any advice for people who think they might want to do that?

KIMBERLY: Quitting my corporate job was the best thing I ever did. We were also moving, so it was kind of extra incentive as I wouldn’t have wanted to transfer anyway. I was a manager and it was very stressful, especially with all of the constant layoffs we had going on (I worked for a really large telecomm company). However, I was really only able to do this because my husband’s job paid enough for us to live on. It wouldn’t have worked out otherwise. It was tough to cut our income so drastically, but doable. Ha, though I guess it would follow then that my advice would be to marry well...

Seriously, if you want to do something like that, just be realistic. At this point, I’ve got one book out and one book about to be released and my income is still far less than I made as a development manager.  Income, of course, isn’t the most important thing for me (and we’ve also got a son now), but you obviously have to consider it. Even if you get a book published, it isn’t instant riches. It wasn’t instant for most of the writers we hear about every day.

Q: For you personally, what is one of the easiest things about writing YA fiction? What is one of the most difficult things?

KIMBERLY: I love writing for teens. I think they are, in general, more open about their emotions and also more accepting of fantasy. That said, you have to be authentic -- they can sense if you are condescending. But, as long as you stay genuine and have respect for them, it’s wonderful.

Q: Of the characters mentioned in Sucks to Be Me, please tell us about one you would like to meet and why.

KIMBERLY: Probably Uncle Mortie, because I envision him in my head a bit like Grandpa from The Munsters...and who wouldn’t want to meet Grandpa?

Q: Can you tell us a little about Young Adult Books Central – how and why did you start it? What have been some of the most difficult challenges? What do you enjoy most about it?

KIMBERLY: I started up Young Adult Books Central (YABC) back in 1998. It was kind of a side project, really, while I was working. I’d studied adolescent lit in college and really missed that type of thing while working in the corporate world. It was a way for me to stay connected. Well, it grew from there and is one of the leading teen lit sites on the Internet today. I’ve got a wonderful staff of reviewers that include librarians, former teachers, and published authors. There have been kids that have literally grown up with the site.

However, it’s been more a labor of love than anything else. Even though we’ve had the traffic, I never really tried to capitalize on it -- so over the years I’ve spent a lot of my own money on it. Recently, after talking it over with my husband and balancing it against my own writing career, we figured out that we either need to make it sustainable/profitable...or else. So I’m working on that now. That’s really been the most difficult of the challenges -- and is still underway. We’ve connected so many readers and authors over the years (and I’ve made some great friends), so I really don’t want to give it up.

I really enjoy all of the authors and publishers I’ve met through it. I’m sure it helped me to get published myself, both from a “who you know” standpoint to just having taught me so much about the industry. It’s been a huge learning experience. And, I got to interview Clive Barker on the phone once!

Q: What would you like us to know about your current work/s in progress?
KIMBERLY: I’m working on a non-vampire related novel right now about a teenage girl who has a “superpower” (that she calls a “stupidpower” since it’s kind of useless) and stumbles into a celebrity kidnapping plot that only she can solve. It’s kind of an urban fantasy, but also really funny.

Q: Anything else you'd like to share?

KIMBERLY: I’ve really loved living here far more than I thought I would! Of course, I do miss Florida when Winter sets in, but the people up here are wonderful. There’s a lot to be said for the Midwest!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Meet Author Lori Degman!

My guest today is Lori Degman, author of the picture book 1 Zany Zoo (Simon & Schuster / 2010). The book is illustrated by Colin Jack. If you want to learn more about Lori and her books, visit her web site at .

Welcome to It Happened in Chicago, Lori!

LORI: Thanks so much, Scotti, for having me as your guest author!

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

LORI: I've lived in the Chicago area all my life. I grew up in Wilmette, about 15 miles north of Chicago and currently live in Vernon Hills, which is about 30 miles north of Chicago. I enjoy taking the train down to the city, though I don't get there as often as I'd like.

Q: When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer?

LORI: I've always enjoyed writing in rhyme and often wrote poems and song parodies. I also enjoyed telling stories to my younger cousins and other children I'd babysit, but I never thought of writing them down. Years later, when I began reading picture books to my sons and I saw how much they enjoyed them, I decided to try writing rhyming stories.

Q: Please describe one of your earliest works (go back as far as you can remember). Who or what inspired you to create it?

LORI: The first story I remember writing was a chapter book called Susie Goes to the Moon when I was in third grade. I had three chapters written and my friend's baby brother got his hands on it and ripped it to shreds. I was too upset to start it again. I'm not sure what inspired it - it might have been all the space talk in the 60's.

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

LORI: My twin sister, Julie, has been my biggest supporter - and critic! She has spent countless hours listening to and reading my stories and helping me with the plots, characters and rhyme. My other family members and critique group buddies have also been a great help!

Q: Please tell us how 1 Zany Zoo came to be published by Simon & Schuster.

LORI: My story (which was called 1 Wacky Zoo, at the time) won the Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories contest in 2008. As part of the prize, they offered the book to Simon & Schuster and they offered to publish it! A mini version of the book, written in English and Spanish, will be inside boxes of Cheerios this March/April and the hardcover will be in stores July 20th.

Q: What was one of the easiest things about writing 1 Zany Zoo? What was one of the most difficult?

LORI: The easiest, and most fun thing about writing 1 Zany Zoo was coming up with zany situations for the animals and writing the rhymes. The most difficult thing was rewriting it to make it a counting book - a suggestion I received from an editor that I am very glad I took!

Q: I understand that you work as an “Itinerant Hearing Teacher.” Can you tell us a little about that? How does this job influence your writing?

: An itinerant teacher goes from school to school working individually with students. My students are hard of hearing and need extra support in areas such as listening skills, reading, and self-advocacy. I think time spent with children keeps me in touch with my inner child.

Q: What would you like us to know about your current work/s in progress?

LORI: I have two stories that my agent is submitting to a variety of publishers - There's a Cow in the Kitchen and Company's Coming and Rooster Flew the Coop. I have several other stories started but none are ready to submit yet.

Q: Anything else you'd like to share?

LORI: I just want to say to aspiring writers - keep writing and don't give up! To non-Chicagoans, I want to say - come visit - it's a GREAT city!!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Meet Author Suzanne Slade!

Today’s guest is Suzanne Buckingham Slade, author of over 70 books for children. Her works include picture books, biographies, and titles about animals, sports, and nature. Upcoming titles include What's the Difference? (Sylvan Dell Publishing, Spring 2010), Climbing Lincoln's Steps (Albert Whitman, Fall 2010), The House That George Built (Charlesbridge, 2011), and Multiply on the Fly (Sylvan Dell, 2011).

To learn more about Suzanne and her books, visit her web site at .

Welcome to It Happened in Chicago, Suzanne!

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

SUZANNE:  I was born in Park Forest and moved around quite a bit in the years that followed, but have been living in a northern suburb, Libertyville, for 14 years now.

Q: When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer?

SUZANNE:  As is the case with many children's writers, I decided I wanted to write children's books while reading stacks of picture books to my children when they were young.

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

SUZANNE:  I've received encouragement (and lots of help) from many writing friends--Jeff, Tina, Kellie, Barb, Lorijo, Lori, Hal, Laura, Shawn, and lots more, but the one name that stands out for me, especially in the early years, is Mary Dunn.  She was the instructor of my first writing class and then welcomed me into her critique group.  She patiently helped me improve my writing year after year after year.  Mary is a good friend who always has a kind word of encouragement for every writer she meets.

Q: I understand that you worked in the engineering field several years before starting your writing career. What caused you to change professions?

SUZANNE:  Basically, I had my midlife crisis a bit early when I turned 30.  I enjoyed engineering, but I really wanted to do something more creative.  Shortly after my children were born in 1993 and 1994 I decided writing was for me and never looked back (even after eight solid years of rejection letters!)

Q: You have a series of “Chain Reaction” books coming out in 2011. Can you tell us a little about those?

SUZANNE: It's funny you ask about those books because of all the non-fiction titles I've written, they were the most challenging.  But they challenged me in a good way, causing me to really dig into my research and contact many experts to make sure my information

was correct.  These four books take a look at four different ecosystems and how the loss of one animal might affect the other living things around them.  What's exciting about these titles is that they were written in "storybook" form, rather than traditional non-fiction text, and have wonderful illustrations.  I especially enjoy writing projects which give me the opportunity to share a story which can change the way children think about, and take care of, our world.  This seems to be a recurrent theme in many of my book titles lately, as my latest picture book, What's the Difference? releases from Sylvan Dell next month.  It's an encouraging story about how people can make a huge difference in helping endangered animals. 

Q. What type of books do you read for pleasure?

SUZANNE: You'll find me either reading picture books, or poring through big non-fiction titles as I do research for my latest picture book idea. 

Q. What would you like us to know about your current work/s in progress?

SUZANNE:  I have a picture book coming out this fall with Albert Whitman, Climbing Lincoln's Steps, which I'm very enthused about.  This title shares how the actions of several brave individuals led to significant changes in the past, and it also encourages children to take their own steps of change to help improve our future.  I was especially pleased when Albert Whitman selected the perfect illustrator, Colin Bootman, for this title.  He's won more illustration awards than I can remember, and his sketches for this title are outstanding!   

 Q: Anything else you'd like to share?

SUZANNE:  I've been doing something new with school visits--virtual author visits.  I'm not very tech-savvy but these visits have been very easy to set up.  As a result, I've really enjoyed meeting students around the country and answering their questions--all from the comfort of my office.  My dog, Corduroy, has been a big hit with kids too!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Meet Author and Artist Sallie Wolf!

Today's guest is Sallie Wolf, author of  Peter's Trucks, illustrated by Cat Bowman Smith (Albert Whitman, 1992) and Truck Stuck, illustrated by Andy Robert Davies (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2008). A resident of Oak Park, Illinois, Sallie is also an award-winning artist whose work has been displayed at dozens of art shows and exhibitions. Her newest book, The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound: A Bird's Journal (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2010) is a book of bird poetry illustrated by images from her sketchbooks, with pages designed by Micah Bornstein.

To find out more about Sallie, visit her website at

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

SALLIE: Well, Scotti, I came to Chicago in 1973, when I married my husband, Chuck, then a second year law student at the University of Chicago. I thought I would be going back East—I grew up in Virginia, and Chuck’s family lived in New Jersey at the time. And here it is, 36+ years later, and we’ve never left the greater Chicago area. Oak Park is where we have lived the past 31 years. It’s been a great place to raise our family, 2 boys, and it’s easy to get into the city.

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

SALLIE: In 8th grade I had a friend who wanted to be a journalist and she got me interested in writing fiction. I also became intrigued with the books being read to my younger sister, who is almost 10 years younger than me, and that is one reason I began to think about writing for children.

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

SALLIE: In high school I started an “escapism” journal, inspired by the book Don’t Knock the Corners Off, by Caroline Glynne. She was 15 or 16 at the time her book was published. I was intensely jealous of her success and began writing my own story about a girl and a house with many mysterious rooms. I worked on it all through high school, and I don’t think I ever finished it.

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

SALLIE: When I was 17 I took a creative writing course at Phillips Exeter Academy Summer School, in Exeter, NH. I had to keep a writer’s notebook, jotting down anything that came to mind or any observations about what was going on around me. The notebook was turned in for regular individual critiques. My teacher, Mr. Marriott, at my first critique, put his hands behind his head, his feet up on the table, and pronounced, “Well, you’re a writer.” It was the high point of my summer, and I’ve thought of myself as a writer ever since.

Q: For you personally, what is one of the easiest things about writing picture books? What is one of the most difficult things?

SALLIE: There is almost nothing easy for me about writing picture books. At least I can see the end in sight—only 32 pages. And yet it is a struggle to get from the beginning to the end. The hardest part is finding the right structure or shape to the story. The language itself is perhaps the easiest, since I love words, the way they taste in my mouth, the rhythm of them. It would help if I could spell better.

Q: Would you tell us a little about the "road to publication" of your first book, Peter's Trucks?

SALLIE: Looking back, Peter’s Trucks led an almost charmed life. I met an editor at a conference who said she was looking for a truck book. I already had an idea in mind, and I started writing on the train ride home. I submitted a story, in prose, about 6 weeks later. After months of waiting for a reply, I got a letter suggesting I aim at a younger audience and focus on rhythm, rhyme, and repetition, the three “R’s” of childrens’ books. I rewrote and resubmitted the manuscript. Again a long wait. When I heard back, the editor suggested I write the book in a rhyming pattern  and she showed me how the first stanza might look. The book was already very close to rhyming so it was easy to rewrite. This is the version that was accepted. The whole process of writing and revising to acceptance took about 2 years, and it took 2 more years for the production of the book. At the time it was agonizingly slow, but in retrospect it seems very fast and straight forward. It took over twelve years to write and publish Truck Stuck, and I had to submit it many times. Robin Makes A Laughing Sound found a home right away, but the production has been slow, partially because of the difficult economic times.

Q: You have been an artist since childhood. Do you have a favorite medium?

SALLIE: I work primarily in watercolor, often with pen and ink drawing. My father gave me watercolors when I was very young and I’ve always liked watercolor best, and anything on paper. I do a lot of mixed media as well, but always add water—to charcoal, pastel, fountain pen inks. Water, paper, and ink are the common elements in almost all my art.

Q: Your newest book -- The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound: A Bird's Journal -- will be published February 1, 2010. It's the first book you both wrote and illustrated. Can you describe one of the biggest challenges in putting this book together and tell us how you met that challenge?

SALLIE: The biggest challenge was finding a way to create the page layouts. I had the poetry and I had bird imagery—sketches of birds, mostly scattered all through years of my journals. I wanted to collage my images together with the poetry and journal-like observations, but I did not want to cut up my journals to do it. I was at my local Starbucks, asking a question about Xeroxing on clear Mylar. The new barista, who was on his break, asked me why I needed to do that. I described my intention of combining images with words and said, “I know this can be done in Photoshop, but I don’t know Photoshop.” He said, “I know Photoshop. I can help you,” and out of that 10 minute conversation a collaboration was born. Micah Bornstein took scans of my sketches and composed the pages in Photoshop. We worked together on the actual makeup of each page, and he created the digital files that were used to produce the artwork. I was amazed and very pleased that Charlesbridge was willing to take a chance on the two of us with this project.

Q: You offer workshops for children. What do these usually encompass?

: I love to share my working process with people of all ages. With young children I teach art workshops—how to paint in watercolor, draw with charcoal and pastel, combine watercolor and drawing media, and do collage. With older students and with adults I like to talk about the process of keeping a journal. I can teach several simple ways to bind a journal sketchbook, and then we explore ways of working in them. And I like to combine writing with art, with students creating a collage,  and then writing based on that collage.

Q: Please tell us a little about The Moon Project.

SALLIE: The Moon Project is an on-going art project that I have been working on since 1994. I watch for the moon on a daily basis, and when I see it, I chart it’s position and phase in my journals. I use my arms and a compass as measurement and I draw a “moon portrait”. Eventually I compile my observations into calendar-like charts and other kinds of drawings and graphs, even sheet music, based on the moon’s physical position in the sky. I’m trying to teach myself strictly through personal observation about the patterns and movements of the moon. The Moon Project has been exhibited at the Adler Planetarium, in Chicago; the Art Gallery of the Fermilab Research Facility in Batavia, IL; the Louisiana Art and Science Museum in Baton Rouge, LA; and several other venues. Currently the Moon Project is on display at the Art Gallery of the US Air Force Academy in Colorado.

Q: Anything else you'd like to share?

SALLIE: My next project is a book based on my Moon Project. I’m very excited to see my art, which I develop for an adult audience, become the inspiration for my writing for children. That is how the Robin book evolved, and the art I am working on continues to lead me to new story ideas.

One of the things I like most about being involved in Children’s Literature is the generosity of the community of writers and illustrators who make up SCBWI and especially our Illinois region. Thank you so much, Scotti, for letting me share my art and writing with your readers.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Meet Author Lisa Mallen!

My guest today is Chicago resident Lisa Mallen, author of numerous magazine and newspaper articles. Her children's picture book Elton the Elf (Lobster Press, 2000) was described by Publishers Weekly as being "decked out in whimsical, bright-as-a-button acrylics" with "a jolly premise just right for preschoolers to learn about the holidays."

For more information about Lisa Mallen, visit her website:

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

LISA: I was in my early 30's, when my kids were in elementary school, although I think I had a seed planted in my head from a college course at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. I started out in nursing, loved all the science, microbiology, genetics courses -- hated chemistry and working in the hospital. My hats are off to all who do work in nursing and the medical field. It takes a special person, and I was not one of those special people, so I changed my major. I absolutely loved my children's literature course in the program I followed, so when my kids were very young, I came to their school any time an author or illustrator visited. I was always so intrigued. When the author/illustrator Megan Lloyd came to visit my second grade son's class to talk about her book Farmer Mack Measures His Pig, I was so intrigued. A light bulb went off in my head, and I thought, that's it, that's what I want to do! Write Children's Books! So I vowed and made a promise to myself that I would do everything I could to learn about writing my stories down, learn about  the publishing industry, and how to submit my stories, and submit them, etc., etc.

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

LISA: My earliest story was about a girl who didn't like her freckles and what she did to try to get rid of them, and then realizing in the end, because of her grandfather, that her freckles were ok. It was actually about me, and when I lived in Italy. My dad was in the army and we lived near a farm where the ladies had lots of advice for my mom and also me. They knew I didn't like my freckles, and had a remedy they totally believed in and I tried. So I guess you could say that my dad and my kids inspired me to write it.

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

LISA: Yes, I will name two, and they were equally significant: Megan Lloyd (author/illustrator) and R.L. Stine (author of Goosebumps and many young adult books). Both Megan and Bob gave me so much encouragement and advice,  and still do.

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

LISA: My family and I lived in Naperville for 9 years, after moving here from the east coast. We knew nothing about the Midwest, although my husband grew up in Wisconsin. I was an army brat, and lived everywhere but the Midwest. I moved into Chicago from Naperville in 2007. I absolutely love Chicago and the Midwest. You couldn't ask for a more friendly and welcoming environment. I've lived all over the world and U.S., and I have to say that Chicago is my favorite place to live. It's number one in my book!

Q: What was relatively easy about writing Elton the Elf? What was difficult?

LISA: The story and my vision of the story were easy. The editorial process with my editor and publisher was difficult, but with our collaboration together, it made it the great book it is today.

Q: What type of books do you read for pleasure?

LISA: I love non-fiction. I love biographies, and I'm reading the Andrew Jackson book American Lion. It is special to me because my aunt and cousins are direct descendants of Andrew Jackson and Rachel Jackson. In fact they have inherited and live on the farms that Andrew owned and lived on in Tennessee, that have been passed down through the generations. I also love mysteries. Mary Higgins Clark is one of my favorite authors. And then I belong to a book club in my building. They choose books I would not normally select, but I really, really enjoy reading selections out of my comfort zone and stepping into something totally different.

Q: You have a formula or a "course of action" that you like to share with children and other writers. Can you tell us little about that?

LISA: I think besides what everyone else says -- "You need to read. You need to write." -- I think you need to dream and put your dreams into action. I'm still trying to do it: having a vision, setting goals, making a plan, and proceeding with the plan.

Q: What would you like us to know about your current work/s in progress?

LISA: I have a variety of works in progress, a few finished and a few I'm still revising and tweaking. They include fiction and non-fiction, picture books, chapter books, and adult books.

Each of my manuscripts has relevance to my life and my experiences from childhood to present. For instance, Paige's Purr-fect Pet, a picture book about a preschooler and how the desire for a pet affected her and her family. This fictional story has so many true happenings about our cat, Pillow, and our neighbor's child, Paige.

My fictional chapter book Glory Halle Lujah is about an army brat -- something I wish I could have read as a kid and an army brat.

My passion now has been and is the Blues music genre and I've researched and written oodles about Buddy Guy and Phil Guy, "America's Real Blues Brothers." In the process I became Phil's manager for 3-1/2 years and learned so much more. Unfortunately, he passed away from prostate cancer August 20, 2008. I've been trying to get back into continuing this non-fiction biography about the legendary brothers, and think that after the roadblocks of grieving, I'm going to finish it this year. There are several other stories and manuscripts that are complete and I'm excited about, so I hope to keep submitting and have something happen with one or all of them!

Q: Anything else you'd like to share?

LISA: I guess it's a question or a thought to ponder: If you know you have good stories, and have been critiqued and told you have good stories, and it's been nearly 10 years since your first and last published book, and with the current recession, and the woes of publishers these days downsizing and not accepting as much as they did to publish, not that they did before, what would be the advice and suggestions of your readers?