Interview: Jen McConnel, YA Author

Jen McConnel-0034Jen McConnel first began writing poetry as a child. A Michigander by birth, she now lives and writes in the beautiful state of North Carolina. When she isn’t crafting worlds of fiction, she teaches college writing composition and yoga. Once upon a time, she was a middle school teacher, a librarian, and a bookseller, but those are stories for another time.

The Secret of Isobel Key Comps_FINAL_RBGTHE SECRET OF ISOBEL KEY will be released by Bloomsbury Spark in December 2013.

Lou is in the middle of a quarter-life crisis. Fresh out of college, she’s unemployed and unsure of herself. But when she gets the chance to escape to Scotland with her best friend, it could be the answer to her quest for self-discovery. The trip is not at all what she expected, especially when her tour guide turns out to be the dreamy historian Brian, and together they embark on a hunt for information about Isobel Key, a woman accused of witchcraft in the seventeenth century.

They set out to learn the truth of the condemned witch, but Lou isn’t prepared for the knowledge that awaits her. She must face her own demons if she has any hope of righting the wrongs of the past. 

Flashing between seventeenth century Scotland and a contemporary romance, THE SECRET OF ISOBEL KEY is a mystery that will please readers of all ages.

Keep up with Jen on her website and Twitter.

Let’s see how Jen answers the Proust Questionnaire!

What is your idea of happiness?
That particular golden sunlight that only seems to hit in the afternoon; it’s like basking in honey!  Also, walking along a beach with my feet in the sand in just about any weather is another way I find bliss.

What is your favorite song? When do you first remember hearing it?
Nothing brings a smile to my face quicker than Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young”.  My mom loves his music, so I’m sure I heard the song somewhere in my childhood, but I don’t think I was aware of it until high school, when I was feeling rebellious but too scared to rebel.

Which talent would you most like to have?
I’ve always wanted to be able to play an instrument.  I kind of tried to learn the piano years ago, but I wasn’t patient or dexterous enough.  My mom and siblings each plays an instrument, and I love listening to their music.  I can sing, but it’s not quite the same thing.

On what occasion do you lie?
I like to think I don’t, but I do lie to myself about how much time I have in any given week.  I always tell myself I can do everything, but I keep learning that that’s not always true.  Sometimes I lie to myself about how many cookies I’ve had in an afternoon, too.

What is your present state of mind?
Right this moment? A little bit tired (I’m not a morning person by nature, although I am trying), but fairly optimistic and excited for my day.

What is your motto?
Life is beautiful.

What character trait do you most value in your friends?
Enthusiasm.  I’m a very enthusiastic person, and I love spending time with people who get excited about life. I’m lucky to know so many!

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I catch myself using “rather” in my writing a lot, but in my everyday speech?  I’m not sure.  Maybe “just”? That creeps into my writing, too.

Your favorite painting?
I have always, always, always loved Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night”.  The energy, the colors, the power of the painting captivated me a long time ago, and when I finally got the chance to see it at the MOMA in New York, I wasn’t disappointed.  I love the texture of it, the way the paint is layered, and the raw emotion of the image.

Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, 1889

Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, 1889

What is your favorite journey?
The journey I took to Egypt with my husband three years ago.  Something about that trip cracked me open and changed me, and the journey itself was amazing, populated by wonderful characters, beautiful places, and stark, raw emotion. Plus, traveling anywhere with him makes the journey worth taking (this applies to our adventures as well as our everyday!)

What is your favorite time of day?
The gloaming in the summertime.  I love the lavender light, the lingering warmth of the day, and the fireflies.  It’s magical fairy time!

With which literary hero or heroine would you most like to share a coffee?
I’ve always adored strong women, like Scarlet O’Hara and Jo March, but I worry that we might spend the miraculous coffee time arguing about something silly!

What do you need to achieve before you can die happy?
I hope I have a lot more time ahead of me, although I can’t think of any specific achievements that I HAVE to hit.  I want to keep writing, and I want to be happy.  I guess I hope that I manage to achieve a life that is, in the balance, one of joy.

Who or what is your first love?
Books.  I have always been in love with the pages of books.  When I was a kid, I aggressively collected old Nancy Drews, and I even “cataloged” my growing fiction collection.  I remember being over the moon when I counted the books on my shelf and realized I had acquired over a hundred.

What’s the last dream you remember?
A rather dark and scary one, actually.  I thought I saw a silhouette of a man walk by the window and stand at the front door, not knocking.  In my dream, my husband didn’t understand why I was panicked, but when he went to check the back door to make sure it was locked, it was wide open.  *Shivers*

What’s your madeleine?
Chicken rice casserole, fuzzy socks, and a cat curled up beside me as I lose myself in a book.  The comforts of my childhood are still the things that make me feel safe and warm.

Without thinking, in one word: what is life?
Bliss.

Interview: Kendall Kulper, YA Author

Kulper_Headshot_Small2Kendall Kulper is a YA writer living in Chicago, IL with her husband and adorably befuddled dog. She graduated from Harvard College in 2008 and worked as a radio journalist for a few years before she heard the YA call and decided to write full time. Mostly she likes writing historical fiction (with a fantasy twist), and when she’s not writing, she likes making elaborate five-course dinners and convincing her 27-year-old feet that they can still do ballet.

Her debut novel SALT & STORM is coming from Little, Brown in September 2014.

Keep up with Kendall on her blog, website and Twitter.

Let’s see how Kendall answers the Proust Questionnaire!

What is your idea of happiness?
Sunday afternoons, after eating blueberry and whipped-cream puffed pancakes with my husband, collapsing on the couch with my puppy on my lap and a good cup of tea (and a book, of course).

What is your favorite song? When do you first remember hearing it?
Only one song?! Totally impossible–I could never pick just one. When I’m feeling happy, I love Here Comes the Sun, by the Beatles (I can remember dancing to that one in preschool). My go-to karaoke song is Valerie, by Amy Winehouse (a power hit that is always fun to dance to). My husband and I had our first dance at our wedding to Moonlight Serenade, so of course it has a special place in my heart. And Dear Avery, by the Decemberists is the song that best captures my latest manuscript–so I pretty much have been listening to it non-stop lately.

Which talent would you most like to have?
So! Many! I wish I was better at writing humor (a seriously underrated skill). I wish I knew how to make a fabulous meal out of only the stuff in my pantry (working on it). I wish I could do jumps and leaps and pirouettes like I used to. Right now, though, I’m trying to train my puppy, so some sort of Dog-Whisperer talent would really come in handy.

On what occasion do you lie?
I am a pretty terribly horrendous liar, and so I rarely lie because when I do, no one believes me. Does writing fiction count?

What is your present state of mind?
Right now I feel equal parts anxious and excited. Or 40-60. I’m starting a new manuscript, my husband is getting ready to graduate and go on the job market, our little puppy is slowly learning how to behave, and my latest manuscript is out in submission-land. Mostly I feel pretty positive and happy about all this, but there’s a *little* bit of anxiety, too.

What is your motto?
Adapt and overcome.

What character trait do you most value in your friends?
Basic human kindness. The older I get the more I seek out people who are sweet, genuine, and loyal. Cynicism and snark doesn’t get too far with me–I like people who like people.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Lovely is one I use a lot. An old coworker used to make fun of me for saying “Yup” all the time which I never realized before but OMG I SAID IT ALL THE TIME. And definitely. As in “I definitely say definitely way too much.”

Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh (1888)

Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh (1888)

Your favorite painting?
Again, too hard to pick just one! I have a giant chalkboard wall in my apartment and I’m redrawing my favorite paintings on the wall. Right now it’s Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, but I am also very fond of Wyeth’s Christina’s World and Whistler’s Nocturne, Blue and Gold.

What is your favorite journey?
That’s a tough one. Writing is a pretty incredible journey. So is being married. College taught me a lot about life and friendship and priorities, and having a puppy is teaching me a lot about patience and empathy and responsibility. It’s hard to pick one as a favorite because even the bad ones have helped make me the person that I am, which I’m grateful for.

What is your favorite time of day?
Most days I break things up and get out of the house, either for a ballet class or a run with my dog or a trip to the gym or grocery store. It’s a nice breather from my work and a good reminder that sometimes the best ideas come when you’re enjoying a pretty view or moving your body or having a random conversation.

With which literary hero or heroine would you most like to share a coffee?
Francie Nolan from A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN (although Francie and I would both pour our coffees luxuriously down the sink and drink tea instead). Francie is a character I fell in love with from the first page, when we were both 11 years old, and the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve come to appreciate her sensitivity, insight, and compassion.

What do you need to achieve before you can die happy?
I would never want to think that I need to achieve something to die happy, because I think that puts a lot of pressure on your goals. There are lots of things I’d like to accomplish in my life–publish, be a mom, own a house with a little garden–but I feel really happy with my life right now. I’m working towards what I want and I’m thankful for what I have.

Who or what is your first love?
Oh books. Stories in general. Reading, writing, watching great movies or great TV shows or hearing people tell stories about their lives. I fell hard and I’m still recovering.

What’s the last dream you remember?
Last night I dreamed I was back in my old journalism job, and that they had hired me to work for only a few days and so I was just filling in. I’ve actually had this dream a bunch of times since quitting my job and it always fills me with anxiety. Must mean something but I haven’t figured it out yet.

What’s your madeleine?
Music. So many times I’ll hear a song that I haven’t heard in years and just instantly be transported to another time in my life, like singing on the beach with my girlfriends in middle school or crying in my dorm room or falling in love with my husband. It always surprises me how intense these feelings are and how quickly they come back to me.

Without thinking, in one word: what is life?
Happiness.

Interview: Sara Sargent, Associate Editor

Sara Sargent photoSara Sargent is an Associate Editor at Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books. She started her publishing career as an intern at Miramax Books before eventually interning at Disney/Hyperion Books for Children, getting her Master of Science in journalism from Northwestern, and joining the editorial team at Harper. She is also Chair of the Young to Publishing Group. Her authors include Rosamund Hodge, Sangu Mandanna, Marcy Paul, and Kiki Sullivan. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at Sara_Sargent. Sara lives in Brooklyn.

Her current projects include Cruel Beauty, Gilded Ashes and The Dolls.

Keep in touch with Sara on her blog!

Sundered HC CNow, let’s see how Sara answers the Proust Questionnaire!

What is your idea of happiness?
A quiet mind.

What is your favorite song? When do you first remember hearing it?
Picking a favorite song is like picking a favorite book: I can’t. But one song I love is Van Morrison’s “Queen of the Slipstream” because it reminds me of nights in college when my roommate and I would stay up too late studying, eat too much pizza, and stress too much about grades. When we got punchy we’d listen to that song and be less worried about the state of our lives. Looking back, that stuff mattered so little.

LostGirl_jkt cWhich talent would you most like to have?
I would love to have a good singing voice. It would be preferable to sounding like a screeching cat, which I do 90% of the time.

On what occasion do you lie?
Getting out of plans.

What is your present state of mind?
My flight back to New York from Vancouver is delayed three hours right now. I have been moving slowly through the five stages of grief, and am nearing acceptance.

GildedAshes EPB CWhat is your motto?
Only you are responsible for your own success.

What character trait do you most value in your friends?
Thoughtfulness.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
xoxo

Madame X by John Singer Sargent (1884)

Madame X by John Singer Sargent (1884)

Your favorite painting?
Portrait of Madame X by John Singer Sargent.

What is your favorite time of day?
Twilight.

With which literary hero or heroine would you most like to share a coffee?
Amy Dunne.

What do you need to achieve before you can die happy?
Creating a loving, lasting home.

What’s your favorite journey?
The walk back to my desk after a successful Acquisitions Meeting. Or whatever plan trip/train trip/car trip I’m taking on a Friday night en route to a weekend getaway.

Who or what is your first love?
Human relationships.

What’s the last dream you remember?
I just know it took place in a big, empty mansion.

What’s your madeleine?
Everything about autumn.

Without thinking, in one word: what is life?
Plenty.