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Interview with Leslie Helakoski, Prize-Winning Picture Book Author and Illustrator

Leslie Helakoski
Leslie Helakoski

“Interview with Leslie Helakoski, Prize-Winning Picture Book Author and Illustrator” by Joan Y. Edwards

Leslie Helakoski was one of the presenters at the Highlights Foundation workshop I attended in April, 2015 in Honesdale, Pennsylvania called, “Picture Books and All That Jazz.” 

Leslie is the author of eight picture books including Michigan Reads winners Big Chickens, and Woolbur. Her books, known for their word play and humor, have won acclaim from Junior Library Guild and with starred reviews in Kirkus and award nominations in over 20 states. She has illustrated her three most recent books, including Doggone Feet! (a best math choice by Scholastic Magazine) and her newest release, Big Pigs.

Leslie, I am very impressed with your writing and illustrating talents. Thank you for being a guest on my blog. I know that learning about you and hearing your advice will intrigue and delight my readers.

You’re welcome. I’m glad to be here. Let’s get started.

  1. Where were you born? Abbeville, Louisiana.
  2. Where was your favorite place to live as a child? I grew up in Louisiana, and lived on the banks of Vermilion Bayou. I still love it there and am always looking forward to going back. The culture there is so interesting and the food and music inspires me.
  3. Which states have you called “home?” I’ve lived in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, South Carolina, as well as Louisiana and both the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. I loved each of them.
  4. Did you ever want to hide when you were a child? I loved hiding as a child. My siblings and I were always building camps in the woods or crawling into some hole to hide.
  5. What are your favorite places to read a book? In a tree, on the beach, in a hammock.
  6. How did you do in English in high school? Aced it!
  7. When and why did you decide to become an author? In the eighties and nineties I came across fun picture books like Frog and Toad, George and Martha, The Stinky Cheese Man  —they were beautiful and funny and the kids I read to loved them. As a graphic designer and new parent, I thought ‘I can do this.”
  8. Have you always illustrated your books? I have always wanted to illustrate my books but the publishers have not always been in agreement. Sometimes it is a marketing decision to pair a new writer with an established illustrator. Sometimes it is an aesthetic choice—how an editor envisions the book that makes them choose a different artist. In my case, I think I wasn’t ready to  illustrate my first few books, even though I thought I was. It took me a while to understand the depth of illustrating and not just designing a page.
  9. Who or what has been the most help and inspiration to you as a writer? Joining SCBWI – Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has been the most helpful thing I’ve ever done for my writing and illustrating.
  10. Which is your favorite genre? Comedy, drama, poetry, I love them all.
  11. What’s your favorite book? Impossible to say overall. I love the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary. I loved them as a child and find them still relevant today.
  12. What are you writing now? Four different manuscripts… all picture books. Each is getting good comments from editors but they have  not sold yet. I’m hoping to announce something about them soon.
  13. What are you illustrating now? I’m working on a dummy for one of my projects. It has very spare language and I think a dummy showing how the book could look will help it sell.
  14. What resources have helped you improve your illustration skills? Taking a painting class, being in a critique group with other illustrators I admire.
  15. What has been the most exhilarating moment for you as a writer? Oh, my first sale with a major publisher (Big Chickens) and the starred reviews it received.

    Big Chickens
    Big Chickens
  16. Do you ever cry while writing or illustrating your books? Nope.
  17. Do you outline and plan your books ahead of time or do you let your books develop on their own as you write them? I’ve done both. Not sure which is better—anything that gets the story out works.
  18. What is your advice for people who have rhyming in their picture books? If you are going to rhyme, you’d better do your homework. Read tons of books in rhyme, scour websites on rhyme, listen, attend workshops on rhyme. Do not accept mediocre rhyme. Rhyme is fabulous fun when it is on beat.
  19. How can writers use rhythm and sound to make their children’s books come alive even if it is not a rhyming book? Studying poetry can help prose as well as rhyme. Listen to music and lyrics as well—I sometimes try to get my words to echo the rhythm of a musical piece for mood.
  20. What are 3 ways to create an unforgettable character? Shoot, if I knew how to do this, I wouldn’t be waiting to hear on four manuscripts.
  21. What do you do when your story gives you trouble?  Here are some questions I ask myself when I’m struggling with a manuscript: What is the outer conflict? What is the inner conflict? Is the problem clear? How is the problem solved? (Resolution) What is the theme? (Be concise.) Is there a universal connection?  What is the take-away?  Is it child appropriate? Has it been done? And if so, how is this different?
  22. Please explain what you mean by theme or take away? The theme of a book, or the take-away, as some people call it is the underlying message of the story. For example, in Big Chickens, the story is about four fearful chickens running away from a wolf. But the theme, or what I want kids to leave with, is a message about how fear itself causes problems.
  23. What are the main things a writer should check when revising a manuscript? What is the theme or take away?  What is the connection for a child?
  24. How can a writer tell when a manuscript is ready for submission to an editor or agent? If you have revised it until you can’t see straight, then put it aside for a few weeks and gone through revisions again. Then show it to your critique group—WHAT? You don’t have one? Then get one!— After all you’ve done all of the above, then it might be ready to send to an editor or agent. Never, never hurry to submit. Send your very best work.
  25. How did you find your agent? I was submitting to several agents when I saw my agent speak at an SCBWI event. I liked her attitude and savvy. Before I had an agent, I submitted to names I’d see written up in newsletters and professionals I’d meet at conferences.
  26. Which blog do you believe all authors should read? I don’t read a lot of blogs regularly. I am too distracted by the internet to use it wisely and end up procrastinating.

Check Leslie’s website her latest books and workshops: www.helakoskibooks.com
Twitter at @helakoski

Here are two articles about Leslie:

“9 Picture Book Topics to Avoid (Or Be Ready for Stiff Competition and Write a Story with a Fresh Take)” by Leslie Helakoski and Darcy Pattison

“Q & A with Leslie Helakoski: DOGGONE FEET:” http://annemarieobrienauthor.com/2013/09/q-a-with-leslie-helakoski-doggone-feet/

Here are three of Leslie’s Fun-filled Books:

Big Chickens Fly the Coop by Leslie Helakoski
Big Chickens Fly the Coop
by Leslie Helakoski

Big Chickens Fly the Coop http://www.amazon.com/Big-Chickens-Coop-Leslie-Helakoski/dp/0142414646/

Woolbur by Leslie Helakoski
Woolbur by Leslie Helakoski

Woolbur http://www.amazon.com/Woolbur-Leslie-Helakoski/dp/B005X9FTN6/

Doggone Feet! by Leslie Helakoski
Doggone Feet!
by Leslie Helakoski

Doggone Feet! http://www.amazon.com/Doggone-Feet-Leslie-Helakoski/dp/1590789334

Thank you for doing this interview with me, Leslie. It was fun, fun, fun!

Please leave a comment for Leslie or ask her a question. She would love to hear from you.

Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards
Copyright © 2015 Joan Y. Edwards


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Guided Imagery for Children and Adults – Interview with Janis Silverman

Janis L. Silverman
Janis L. Silverman

“Guided Imagery for Children and Adults – Interview with Janis Silverman” by Joan Y. Edwards

Thanks for inviting me to share with writers and book lovers!

You’re very welcome. It’s a pleasure to have you here.

Readers: Look below the interview for details of a free giveaway and links to all of Janis’ wonderful books.

1. When did you decide to become an author?

I began writing when I thought I had something important to say .I had a private tutoring practice where I was teaching a lot of reading and study skills. I had developed some successful techniques for students to learn how to study various content subjects. So, I published my first book, Read to Study in 1987.

2. Did you ever consider giving up?

I have not ever thrown in the towel on an important writing idea. There are times when rejection letters can be discouraging; however, I kept going each time. When you believe in the value of your writing, you have to keep believing and keep going.

3. Who or what has been the most help and inspiration to keep you going as a writer?

I am a very determined person.

4. You’ve written many wonderful non-fiction books. Is this your favorite genre? Why?

I love to read and write many types of books. I’ve written children’s fiction, but my nonfiction writing is what was published. My last books are guided imagery meditations, poems, and prayers. Each meditation is written like a very short story. My imagery stories are imaginative like fiction can be.

5. What is guided imagery?

Guided imagery is a story or scenario the reader must imagine. While reading or listening to the imagery story, the listener visualizes himself in the story. Each meditation introduces the reader to an idea worth contemplating, such as love, friendship, hope, etc. The following is excerpted from my children’s book of guided imagery, Imagine That! (YouthLight, Inc., 2011)

Guided imagery is a method that incorporates listening, visualizing and imagining. As children listen to a guided imagery reading, they begin to draw mental images, use sensory input, think about the concept presented, and learn to relax. When given the opportunity to interact with the imagery, children process the ideas and images. The imagery is further enhanced through discussion and follow-up activities. Children may revisit and use these images as needed.

Children enjoy using imagery because it is fun, like a game. It appeals to their natural ability to imagine and to their sense of fun” (Berkovitz, 2004).
Guided imagery can take many forms. Guided imagery may be introduced as a short reading, a longer story, or a simple directive. A child may be directed to visualize his favorite place or to picture a happy day. In longer stories a child will slowly meet a new situation and be invited to enter the story.

Regardless of the style of imagery presented, each child processes imagery in a different way. He uses all of his senses and his imagination. He/she gains individual insights from the experience.

Imagery can be accompanied by music. The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (Bonny, 1978) is used by music teachers and trained therapists who use classical music following a story. Children process the visualizations while they relax with the music. Music teacher and therapist, Linda Powell describes participation in the Bonny Method as “dreaming while awake”(Powell, 2007). Children write or discuss their ideas following the music.

Guided imagery is not hypnosis. Professionals are not telling children what to believe or what to think. They merely use stories to help children imagine success and to improve their relationships with themselves and others.(Imagine That! Copyright YouthLight, Inc., 2011)

This speaks about children’s use of imagery. Adults also benefit from the process.

6. What are the good benefits of using guided imagery?

There are many benefits to guided imagery meditation. The following is taken from the introduction to Imagine That! Imagery Stories to Help Young People Learn to Improve Their Behavioral Self-Control (YouthLight Inc., 2011) Although this discusses use of guided imagery stories in schools by teachers and counselors, the method is greatly affective when parents introduce this to their children. If you are interested in the research references, they are at the end of the book, Imagine That!

What are the benefits of guided imagery?
Teachers and school counselors can use guided imagery to aid children to feel safe and relaxed. Guided imagery helps children with tension, general anxiety, test anxiety, grief and trauma, to gain insight and to visualize success (Cheung, 2006). Professor Cheung also uses guided imagery with children struggling with ADHD.

Guided imagery in schools supports children with issues of safety, bullying, social skills, health, paying attention, anger, and performance anxiety (Powell, 2007). Other benefits of guided imagery Ms. Powell (2010) claims include building self-esteem, finding creative solutions to problems and the confidence to explore new possibilities. ”…When children are given the chance to explore themselves and their world through imagery, incredible transformations can take place.” (Berkovitz, 2004)

Images can also be helpful to the creative writing process. Ebersol (2007). Art classes created their story characters before they wrote and benefitted from the visualization process.

There are several techniques school professionals may use to relax ADD/ADHD students (Rief, 2006). According to Ms. Rief, imagery is helpful in developing focus, relaxation, dealing with stress and anxiety, developing social skills and creative expression.

Classroom teachers and reading specialists use visualization to improve reading comprehension on a daily basis. There are many benefits of using guided imagery in a variety of school settings.

How is guided imagery used in the schools?
Most often counselors and school psychologists use guided imagery in a small group counseling setting. However, classroom teachers and special education teachers may use guided imagery to create a safe and relaxed atmosphere and to better control behavior issues in the classroom.
Guided imagery “increases students’ self-awareness and integrates their inner senses with learning (Johnson, 1984). According to Sandra Rief (2006), visualization skills have been determined to be a valuable tool used to empower students to overcome difficulties in their lives, to develop memory, and to improve learning. (Copyright YouthLight Inc., 2011)

Adults find many benefits using imagery. These include stress reduction and health advantages.

7. When did you learn about guided imagery?

I have used guided imagery meditation for decades to help with pain levels of rheumatoid arthritis and stress.

8. How has guided imagery helped you?

Imagery meditation relaxes my mind and body. It reduces my tension and pain levels and better equips me to think, focus, and problem solve. Meditation helps me stay positive and focused.

9. What are three of your favorite guided imagery passages?

I am including one for children from Imagine That! The title is “The Wave is Like Breath.” Read or listen to this meditation very, very slowly.

The Wave is Like Breath

As you close your eyes, imagine that you are at a beautiful beach.
You sit in the sand watching the sun rise.
The sun’s golden color shines on gentle waters.
You quietly watch the water move back and forth on shore.
Breathe slowly in and out as you watch the waves do the same thing.
You feel your body relaxing to the slapping rhythm of the waves.
You continue to picture the waves and breathe slowly.
Listen to the ocean water move in and out of shore.
You feel totally connected with the earth, water and sky.
This is the start of a wonderful day. (Pause and relax in this place awhile.)

Slowly stretch and open your eyes.
Keep these memories with you as you slowly open your eyes.
Make it a fabulous day.
When you need to relax, recall these images of the beach.

This imagery story is also from Imagine That! (YouthLight, Inc., 2011)

Think about this.
Possible is the opposite of impossible.
Imagine a world where dreams can happen.
The word “can’t” is not spoken or even thought.
Close your eyes, and imagine what is possible in
your life.
Picture yourself doing something you have been
afraid to do.
Maybe it’s playing a new sport or rock climbing.
Perhaps it’s being brave enough to talk to
someone at school.
Maybe it’s going in for extra math help after school.
You could ask a classmate for help.
Imagine that you can do anything.
Think of something you want to do.
Just know that you can follow your dreams.
Picture your dreams in living color. (Pause; sit quietly awhile.)

Slowly open your eyes.
Remember that anything is possible.
Yes, it is possible.

This meditation “A Sea Shell” is from Book One. Relax: Staying Grounded After Diagnosis. This is one of four books of meditations I wrote three years ago during treatment for breast cancer. The four eBooks contain Guided Imagery Meditations for Women with Breast Cancer are titled: Relax, Reflect, Restore, and Recover.

A Sea Shell

Run your fingers over a polished, smooth shell.
It is so soothing.
The repetitive stroking of your fingers.
The sensation.
A sea shell is a certainty in a time of uncertainty.
This lovely object affirms the beauty of
nature and life itself.
When you relax or meditate,
try holding a smooth object.
It could be a small polished stone.
Or a glossy piece of jewelry.
A swatch of a favorite velvety fabric.
How can a tiny object be comforting?
Gently close your eyes and breathe deeply.
Imagine that you are in a favorite spot.
You are curled up and comfortable.
You have a special object in your hands.
Breathe slowly and rhythmically.
Stroke this favorite object between your thumb and forefinger.
You find your fingers in rhythm with your breathing.
The pattern of breathing and fingers is captivating,
relaxing and all consuming.
You find your mind leaving stress and problems behind.
You are lulled into deep relaxation.
Sit like this in a quiet place.
Continue breathing and stroking the silky object.
Continue this pattern for at least ten minutes.

When you are totally relaxed.
Gently stretch and awaken.
Open your eyes.
Use a comforting object when you meditate.
Awaken your senses.
A simple shell can be so healing.

10. Where do you get your ideas for writing the guided imagery for your books?

Everything I have written has come from my experiences, either professionally or personally. The meditations in Imagine That! Are meant to help children think through and solve problems, develop better self-esteem, and learn how to calm themselves.

I use nature and other topics familiar to children as springboards to develop imagery stories. Children can more readily picture themselves in these scenarios. I also believe these imagery stories and activities help children understand themselves and learn to control their behavior.

The meditations in Relax, Reflect, Restore, and Recover were daily messages in my heart with concerns and feelings that I sorted out in my writing. This allowed me to turn any negative thoughts into positive ones, visualize, breathe and meditate on more optimistic ones.

As I moved into wellness, I began writing guided imagery meditations for wellness. I also am developing interactive very short imagery stories for toddlers and young children. The idea for the latter came from time with my five-year old grandson.

11. How do you weave research into your manuscripts?

I have searched and cited research studies on the benefits of guided imagery. This is found in the books’ introductions.

I developed Help Me  Say Goodbye, a children’s grief therapy book after researching about grief and what books were available for children.

Forums, Fairs and Futures: A Journey in Time through Markets of the World required the greatest amount of research. I researched places, history and the monetary/economic systems of several early cities.

12. What are you writing now?

I am working on two manuscripts of guided imagery. The first is for adults. I am enjoying writing these wellness meditations. The second is for very young children. I may be blazing new territory, as these imagery stories are short and interactive. Children do not have to close their eyes or sit still. They interact with the imagery in an active way. Young children relate better when they are moving and thinking at the same time.

13. How do you know when your manuscript is ready for submission?

That is a challenging question. Is it ever perfect? I do edit and listen to my words many, many times. I try to get others to try the meditations and comment on them. After much ado, I begin a proposal and send it out to publishers.

14. What three things should a good query letter contain?

A query letter should engage the publisher. The working title should be clear, the purpose and audience stated. A note about how the book is better and differs from others on the same subject is a valuable addition to a query letter.

15. How did you find publishers for your books?

Ah, that is the hard part! The publishing business changes constantly. It seems to be contracting, not expanding. There is still a place for independent publishers. That is where my educational and counseling books have been published.

Getting the right match is a challenge. The Literary Marketplace and The Writer’s Market are good references, as well as publishing information in writing magazines. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ magazine, “The Bulletin,” has a publishing page or two in each edition.

I also get information about publishers through networking and attending writing conferences. Since I do not have an agent, I cannot solicit some of the larger publishing houses. If a writer wants to knock on those doors, she needs an agent.

16. Did you cry while writing any of your books?

I don’t remember crying, but it was an emotional time for me when I began writing Help Me Say Goodbye: Activities to help Kids Cope When a Special Person Dies. My mother had just died after a long bout with cancer.

When I wrote the guided imagery meditations for Relax, Reflect, Restore and Recover: Guided Imagery Meditations for Women with Breast Cancer, I was going through a rough time with breast cancer treatment. I had a lot of emotions which changed on a daily basis. The writing and use of these imagery stories was calming and soothing to me.

17. How did you do in English as a kid?

I did well in English and loved the literature. I am still a voracious reader.

18. What’s your favorite book of all time? Why?

My favorite children’s book is Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. I love the naughtiness, spirit and adventure of Tom’s escapades. The book also has a historical impact, since it shows how separate and unaccepted black Americans were in the 1860’s. There are many interesting concepts, such as Huck Finn’s father’s alcoholism, Tom not living with his parents, and the lifestyle along the Mississippi River at that time. There are many lessons Tom learned and shared in this remarkable book. The writing and dialogue are also superb.

19. What’s your favorite book of all that you’ve written?

Each book is a part of who I am. All of my writing came from my life experience. It is difficult to choose. I am attached to the new books I am currently writing.

If I have to choose, the four audio and digital books of meditations I wrote three years ago when I was in treatment for breast cancer have to be closest to me personally. Each meditation went from my heart, my mind and my soul to the computer. I hope other women walking this path will find the meditations in Relax, Reflect, Restore, and Recover calming, centering, and comforting.

20. Which book on the craft of writing has helped you the most and why?
Olga Litowsky’s It Is a Bunny Eat Bunny World: A Writer’s Guide to Surviving and Thriving in Today’s Competitive Children’s Book Market, Walker Publishing, 2001, is an excellent guide to navigating the world of children’s book writing and markets.

21. What is your favorite blog? Why?

Joan, I love your blog. It is so encouraging and upbeat. You always have such a variety of ideas and writers for us, the readers, to take in. Thank you.

Thank you, I’m honored that I give you encouragement.

22. What other blog do you go to for inspiration and encouragement?

I do use the SCBWI blog and Katie Davis’ blog. Because of my limited vision, I write and research when I can, but may not surf writing blogs as much as I would like.

23. What’s a funny question or unusual statement you’ve heard or read related to your books?

I may be too serious, and my writing is about serious topics. I did use a lot of humor in a novel, Smoky Secret Agent Cat. This book has not yet been published. I also have an idea for a funny picture book. Maybe then I’ll have funny comments.

I love your story, Smoky, Secret Agent Cat. I hope it gets published soon.

24. What does your writing mean to you?

I’ve been writing for more than twenty-five years. I love creating, taking an idea, watching it grow. Writing is not only a wonderful expression of who I am. It is also a way for me to contribute, to give back, and to leave my footprints.

Janis L. Silverman is a retired elementary, middle school, junior college and specialist teacher of gifted and talented children. She holds a B.S. Degree in Elementary and Kindergarten Education from the Pennsylvania State University and an M.A. Degree in Special Education: Teaching the Gifted and Talented Child from Northeastern Illinois University.

Janis’ website http://www.janislsilverman.com

Visit Janis Silverman’s Amazon author page at:
http://www.amazon.com/Janis-L.-Silverman/e/B001K8HEEQ and
her Facebook author page at http://www.facebook.com/JanisLSilvermanAuthor

Janis Silverman’s Books

Janis is the author of five educational books:

Read to Study, Royal Fireworks Press
Creative Word Processing, Royal Fireworks Press

Forums, Fairs, Futures Copyright © 1992 Janis Silverman
Forums, Fairs, Futures Copyright © 1992 Janis Silverman

Forums, Fairs, and Futures: A Journey in Time through Markets of the World, Leadership Publishers

Fairy Tales on Trial Copyright © 1999 Janis Silverman
Fairy Tales on Trial Copyright © 1999 Janis Silverman

Fairy Tales on Trial, Pieces of Learning

"Advanced" Fairy Tales on Trial Copyright © 2000 Janis Silverman
“Advanced” Fairy Tales on Trial Copyright © 2000 Janis Silverman

“Advanced” Fairy Tales on Trial, Pieces of Learning

Janis authored two children’s books in the counseling field.

Help Me Say Goodbye Copyright © 1999 Janis Silverman
Help Me Say Goodbye Copyright © 1999 Janis Silverman

Help Me Say Goodbye: Activities for Helping Kids Cope When a Special Person Dies, Roman and Littlefield, a children’s individual grief therapy book.

 Imagine That Copyright © 2011 Janis Silverman

Imagine That Copyright © 2011  Janis Silverman

Imagine That! Imagery Stories and Activities to Help Young People Learn to Improve Their Behavioral Self-Control, YouthLight Publishers (2011) Phone (800)209-9774

Janis, a breast cancer survivor, has written a Kindle eBook of meditations for women with breast cancer.

Relax, Reflect, Restore, and Recover Copyright © 2012 Janis Silverman
Relax, Reflect, Restore, and Recover Copyright © 2012 Janis Silverman

Relax, Reflect, Restore and Recover: Guided Imagery Meditations for Women with Breast Cancer, Amazon Kindle, 2012.

It is available now (2013) in four separate eBooks and four audio books (Audible Books)

Copyright © 2012 Janis Silverman
Relax Copyright © 2012 Janis Silverman

 Relax-Staying Grounded after Diagnosis

Reflect Copyright © 2012 Janis Silverman
Reflect Copyright © 2012 Janis Silverman

Reflect-Cultivating Meditations

Restore Copyright © 2012 Janis Silverman
Restore Copyright © 2012 Janis Silverman

Restore-Exhaustion Effects Meditations

Recover Copyright © 2012 Janis Silverman
Recover Copyright © 2012 Janis Silverman

Recover: Healing Renewal Meditations

Janis, thanks again for allowing me to interview you on my blog. I know that my readers will derive much pleasure from learning about you and your great books. I appreciate you very much.

Janis is giving a free personalized meditation to one lucky person who leaves a comment on this blog post before midnight Tuesday, June 10, 2014.  I will announce the winner chosen by Random.org on Wednesday, June 11, 2014.

Celebrate you.
Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards

Copyright © 2014 Joan Y. Edwards


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Linda Vigen Phillips – Writer of Prose and Poetry for Young Adults and Middle Grades

Copyright © 2013 Linda Vigen Phillips
Copyright © 2013 Linda Vigen Phillips

“Interview with Linda Vigen Phillips – Writer of Prose and Poetry for Young Adults and Middle Grades”

Linda, thanks for being a guest on my blog. It is a pleasure to interview you.

I have exciting news to share. I’m glad to be here.

Everyone’s anxious to hear your good news. Let’s get started!

1.   How did you do in English as a kid?

For me, it has always been about words as opposed to those mysterious things called numbers.  I honestly barely got into college because of my math scores!  In English I was a show-off from the get go.  I wrote a play “just for fun” in the fourth grade that my teacher made a big deal about.  I won some essay contests in high school.  I bombed on multiple choice tests and relished the essay parts.  English class, language arts, anything to do with words—always my favorite part of school.

2.  When did you decide to become an author?

Well,  I decided with the first diary someone gave me in grade school, but the rest of the world didn’t catch on for quite some time!

3.  What’s your favorite book?

Of course, this is always the hardest question to ask a writer because there are so many.  The one I identify the most with is Catcher in the Rye.  As a teacher I loved and used Hatchet the most for its wonderful description and narrative richness.  Most recently it’s The Book Thief.  By the way, speaking of the latter, it is one of the rare instances in which I thought the movie was almost as good as, if not equal to, the book.

4.  Are your characters based on real people?

Copyright © 2014  Linda Vigen Phillips and Eerdmans
Copyright © 2014 Linda Vigen Phillips and Eerdmans

My book, Crazy, is semi-autobiographical. Eerdmans will release it in October 2014. It is about a teenage girl coming to terms with her mother’s mental illness.  My mother suffered from bipolar disorder and I have drawn from actual events in my own life to shape the story.  Some of the minor characters are based on friends I knew growing up.  Don’t panic, girlfriends,  your names have all been changed and thanks to my editor, many of you have melded into composites!

5.  Did you outline and plan your book before you wrote it or did the story just flow on its own?

The book, Crazy, evolved from a collection of twenty poems that I wrote as a way of working through the feelings that resulted from my struggle with my mother’s illness. A number of these poems were originally published in adult literary journals.  I was considering putting them into a poetry chapbook when my writing buddy, Carol Baldwin, critiqued them and suggested that they needed to be a novel.  I took her advice, but to answer the question, I never specifically outlined the book.  It sort of spewed out like water from a faucet once I got going.

6.  How do you know when your manuscript is ready for submission?

Ah, don’t we all wish we knew the answer to that one!  Hopefully, if you are a serious writer, you have plugged into a critique group and/or workshops and conferences enough so that you have gotten considerable feedback from more than one source on your manuscript.  If you have not reached that saturation point, then your manuscript is probably not ready.  On the other end of the continuum, even when we are as ready as we can be, I think we writers tend to fret about our little darlings even as we hit the send button or drop that query in the mailbox.

7.  Who or what has been the most help and inspiration to you as a writer?

My association with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) has most certainly been the biggest help and influence in my writing career.  Prior to my involvement with this organization I had plenty of ambition, but zero understanding of writing technique or the rules of the game.  Thanks to Fran Davis, beloved former RA of this region, I jumped in feet first and co-facilitated the 1998 conference in Charlotte with Carol Baldwin.  It was a great way to begin learning the trade and to see the importance of critique groups and networking with other writers.  It was all new to me, having been the reclusive closet poet for so many years.  And the bonus, of course, was finding life long friends like Carol.

As far as my book goes, I owe a debt of gratitude to Patti Gauch, retired senior editor at Philomel, who was my mentor at the 2009 Highlights Foundation Chautauqua Workshop.  She was instrumental in helping me find my YA voice and refine the raw story that I took to that workshop.

I am currently in the middle of revisions with my editor, Kathleen Merz, at Eerdmans and I am blown away with the editing process she is taking me through.  It is really the hardest work I have ever done on a writing project, and by far the most valuable.  It amazes me how she catches inconsistencies and parts that simply do not work well. I never would have caught them on my own.

8.  How did you obtain your agent?  Tell us about her.

My agent, Julia Kenny, is with Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. I found her on a random blog interview where I learned the type of material she was looking for. My heart leaped when it was definitely NOT dystopian, fantasy, or sci fi because up to that point, it seemed those were the genres everybody else was looking for. It was an instant fit, and she has been and continues to be a joy to work with. I got to meet her last year when I was in New York and that was a definite perk!

9.  What are you writing now?

My Work-in-Progress (WIP) represents a total departure from my debut book, in that it is MG, light-hearted, not in verse, with a male protagonist.  I’m currently debating the wisdom of not following up the debut book with something written in the same style, thanks to friendly advice from a fellow writer.  Be that as it may, here is the pitch:

Procrastination Pete must complete his science project during Spring Break at a castle where proving that a ghost doesn’t exist involves more than he bargains for.

For news about Crazy and Procrastination Pete stay tuned to my website http://www.lindavigenphillips.com (my blog is there, too)  and twitter @LVigenPhillips  where I am sure to hash through it in the future.


Linda Phillips has taught lower and middle school students, as well as adults in writing courses online and in continuing education classes. (http://www.writing-world.com/poetry/children.shtml) Throughout her years of teaching, poetry writing has served as an important creative outlet. Her debut book, Crazy, is a YA novel written in verse about a teenage girl coming to terms with her mother’s mental illness. The book is semi-autobiographical, having evolved from a collection of poems originally written as a cathartic way to process the mental illness in her own family.  It is Linda’s hope that the book will speak to teens or adults whose lives have been affected by a loved one with mental illness. When she’s not writing, Linda can be found on the floor playing with the grandkids, or on the greenway, pedaling her ancient Raleigh 3-speed bike.

Other interviews of Linda:

Linda, thanks again for being a guest on my blog. It is so exciting that you not only have an agent, but have a book release coming soon.



Linda is offering a free critique of 2 poems  – no longer than 1 page for each poem to a lucky winner.  In order to put your name in the hat to win, leave a comment on this blog post before midnight Sunday, February 15, 2014. Random.org will choose the winner. I will announce it on Monday, February 16, 2014.

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Joan Y. Edwards

Copyright © 2014 Joan Y. Edwards


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This interview with Linda Vigen Phillips is part of the Authors I Admire Series:

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  12. Linda Martin Andersen. Linda Andersen Is Proof That PubSub3rdFri Works
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