Interview Wednesday: Meet Anastasia Suen

Anastasia Suen visiting today. She is currently on the CYBILS Round One Poetry Panel and is quite busy so I’m glad she took time from her schedule to be interviewed.

Your Reading Life
MsMac: What books are on your night stand?
AS: The Renaissance Soul by Margaret Lobenstine and you are here by Thich Nhat Hanh. I also have a stack of books for my Booktalking blog, (including this year’s CYBILS poetry nominations).
MsMac: What is your favorite reading spot?
AS: An old couch in my studio. (From there I can see all of the great books waiting for me!)


Your Writing Life
MsMac: What does a day of work look like for you?
AS: I write in the morning and I teach in the afternoon. (I’ll be teaching the Naturally Creative Workshop again in January as well as the three kidlit writing workshops I offer year round: picture books, young nonfiction and children’s novels.) I always have a dozen or so projects in the works at one time, so no two days are alike.
MsMac: What is your favorite time of day to write?
AS: First thing in the morning is the best time to write. I write in longhand before I work on the computer, so my thoughts are free to go in any direction.
MsMac: Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?
AS: I like first drafts because that is what the big decisions are made. I need to take all of the research and thinking I’ve done and make it into something new. (Synthesis!) I find that very satisfying.
I also like to revise because I keep coming up with new ideas as I write. I love it when that happens.
MsMac: What does your writing space look like?
AS: I have my old couch, a wall of bookshelves and four tables of varying sizes with stacks and piles of files from different projects. There are two filing cabinets in the room (and stacks of file boxes in the closet). I also have several whiteboards that I use to plan my books.
Here is the character board for The New Girl (2013)

MsMac: What are your current projects?
AS: In addition to writing my own books, I also work as a freelance book editor and write two magazine columns. Focus on STEM is my Booklist column and Grow with STEM is the LibrarySparks column I write with science writer Shirley Duke.
So I am writing (and editing) a dozen different projects right now: fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. I also have my own poetry blog, Poet! Poet! (I post a new haiku each Friday.)
MsMac: What might readers find you doing when you’re not writing?
AS: Most of my work day involves sitting, so I like to take breaks and stretch, do yoga, or lift weights. I also read, listen to music or watch TV while I train on the elliptical, walk, or jog. (I watch mysteries and singing contests on TV. La, la, la!)
MsMac: How has writing poetry informed you as a person?
AS: I have been writing poetry since I was in elementary school. My mother played the radio all day when I was child, so we always had music in the background. A song expresses emotions and tells stories with concise vivid language. In my view, poetry is spoken music. It is a song with the human voice as its only instrument.
MsMac: Why is poetry important?
AS: Poetry is important because it focuses on one story or one emotion at a time. It doesn’t rattle on and on going here and there and everywhere. Instead, it concentrates on one thing and looks at it deeply.
Poetry slows us down and asks us to think, to see the world in a new way. It gives us the gift of being present in this moment. This is especially true with haiku, and that is why I like it so much. It is a challenge to say something with so few words. You have to make every word, every syllable, count.

Just for Fun
MsMac: Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?
AS: Dark.
MsMac: Coffee or tea?
AS: Tea.
MsMac: Dance: funky chicken or the tango?
AS: Funky chicken.
Favorite Quote:
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

Please return Friday for an original haiku by Anastasia.

Happy Reading.


Poetry Friday: Says the Seagull by April Halprin Wayland


Welcome to Poetry Friday. I am super excited to share a poem by April Halprin Wayland whom I had the privilege to interview on Wednesday. Even cooler, April invited me including my family to meet her while in Southern California last week. So I was able to get a couple of pics:

April at her desk. How cool is that?

Her tortoise, Sheldon, who loves to nibble toes as well.

Her dog, Eli, who was nicknamed “Peanut Butter” by my grandgirl. She would have stoled “PB” is she was able to. She talked about him the rest of the trip.

And now for her poem:


Shalom to slowly sinking sun
I sing in salty seagull tongue.

But who’re these people on my pier?
I sail, I swoop and then fly near.

They’re singing, marching up the pier
I think they did the same last year.

A father gives his girl some bread
she scans the waves then tosses crumbs.

I dive, I catch,
I save and…yum!

I like this ritual at the pier.
I think I’ll meet them every year.

I screech my thanks, and then I hear
“L’shanah Tovah! Good New Year!”

note: Shalom can mean hello, good-bye and peace.

poem © 2013 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

I like the ritual as well, April. Maybe one year I will join you at the pier. Thank you for sharing.

Poetry Friday is at Steps and Staircases. Thanks for hosting.

PS. Do you love poetry? Want to be part of the CYBILS, read about it and apply HERE

Happy Friday.
Happy Reading.


Interview Wednesday: April Halprin Wayland

Today I am excited to share my interview with April Halprin Wayland. I recently had the opportunity to meet April in Southern California. She was so gracious to welcome not only me but my family to her home where we met her dog and tortoise. I’m writing from the road so I will share photos with her poem for Poetry Friday.

Your Reading Life

MsMac: What books are on your night stand?
AHW: I am a very slow reader, but I just read the wonderful non-fiction picture book (an SCBWI 2013 Golden Kite winner) Noah Webster and his Words by Jeri Chase Ferris, illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch, and two wonderful picture books by Michelle Markel: Brave Girl—Clara and the Shirtwaist Maker’s Strike of 1909, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, and The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau, illustrated by Amanda Hall. I’m in the middle of the riveting multi-award-winning non-fiction book, Bomb by Steve Sheinkin, and Desperado’s Wife—a memoir, by Amy Friedman.

MsMac: Where’s your favorite reading spot?
AHW: In bed!

Your Writing Life

MsMac: What does a day of work look like for you? What is your favorite time of day to write?
AHW: I am much sloppier and not as well-organized as this is going to sound. This is my ideal day; sometimes I nail it and sometimes I don’t:

I drive with my friend, her dog and my dog (Eli) to The Coffee Place Which Shall Not Be Named to say hello to my friendly barristas and order a single shot soy latte with extra, extra, extra foam. Then we drive to the dog park. After the dog park, I will meditate for 30 minutes and take an exercise class. Then I run errands, have lunch, and write my daily poem and send it off to my friend Bruce Balan, who sails around the world with his wife in a trimaran. They’re in Thailand right now.

Then I’ll whack away at emails, critique student picture book manuscripts for my UCLA Writer’s Program class, critique manuscripts for the folks in my critique group, work on a blog post. Finally, I write! I’m excited about a couple picture books now.

MsMac: Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?
AHW: The first draft, until I get to the end, at which point I mutter—I have no idea how to end this! Or—now, that’s a really corny ending.

MsMac: What does your writing space look like?
AHW: I write in our extra bedroom. It looks like a child’s playroom with light pink walls, light blue carpet, and a huge plastic shower curtain printed with a map of the world on it hanging up and dog toys in an open drawer and spilling all over the room.

I write on a stand-up desk which I made by putting a pretty coffee table that I never knew what to do with on top of my desk. I love my desk. I stand on a bosu ball and bounce as I write. It feels very child-like to bounce while I’m downloading something from the internet.

MsMac: You’ll see her writing space on Friday.

MsMac: Please tell us about your new book, New Year at the Pier.
AHW: It’s beautifully illustrated by the most highly awarded illustrator in Canada, Stéphane Jorisch. Stéphane and I have been blown away by the response our book has gotten. It won the Association of Jewish Libraries’ Sydney Taylor Book Award Gold Medal as well as other distinctions.

It’s about a young boy named Izzy whose favorite part of Rosh Hashanah is Tashlich, a joyous waterside ceremony in which people apologize for their mistakes of the previous year, cleaning the slate for the new year. But there’s one mistake on Izzy’s “I’m sorry” list he’s finding especially hard to say out loud.

Tashlich (celebrated in my town on September 5th this year) is one of my favorite traditions. We walk to a body of water, sing psalms, and toss pieces of stale bread into the water. Each piece of bread represents something we regret doing in the past year. Because I live near the sea, I get to toss my “mistakes” into the ocean. It’s a way of letting go, of creating a clean slate for the coming year.

I’ve dragged numerous friends to our pier so they can taste the poetry of this ritual, to feel the wind, hear the gulls, experience moments of relief when they tossed each piece of bread. These moments changed me. How could I not share this in a picture book?

MsMac: What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
AHW: That we are all human.
And perhaps they will learn how to apologize and how to forgive.
For teachers:

Let this book help you explain to students why some of their Jewish classmates are absent for a few days in the fall…and what they may be doing.

Read it in January to talk about the ways people around the world celebrate the new year.

Use it with younger kids to talk about apologizing to and forgiving their friends and family.

Use it to open a discussion with older kids about the Rwanda Reconciliation.

I’d especially love to hear that you gave this book to someone from whom you’ve been estranged, as a way of starting a conversation, apologizing, and possibly beginning a new relationship.

MsMac: What might readers find you doing when you’re not writing?
AHW: Singing folk songs and playing my fiddle with a big circle of musicians, hiking with my hiking friends, walking Eli, being politically active so that our country supports all of us and so that we all support the world, driving my new all-electric car (it’s so exciting and so quiet!), taking care of my elderly relatives and taking long, adventurous bike rides with my best friend who is also my husband. (I know…awwww…sooooo corny!)

MsMac: How has writing poetry informed you as a person?
AHW: I’ve written a poem a day since April 2010, which changed my life; now I believe I really am a writer. Poetry seeps into me and leaks out. This can be very messy.

MsMac: Why is poetry important?
AHW: Because it just is.

Just for Fun

MsMac: Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?
AHW: Dark

MsMac: Coffee or tea?
AHW: Both

MsMac: Dance: funky chicken or the tango?
AHW: Israeli folk dances!

Favorite Quote:
If you think you are too small to be effective,
you have never been in bed with a mosquito.
~ Betty Reese

Thank you so much for sharing your writing and reading life with us, April.
Happy Reading.

Interview Wednesday: Greg Pincus

Many know Greg at Gotta Book from KidlitCon. Last year, he published an ebook of poetry, The Late Bird. It was nominated for the CYBILS Award in poetry. He’s hear today to answer questions.

Your Reading Life

MsMac:What books are on your night stand?
Greg: My TBR list/pile is currently topped by The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (which was there before the Newbery!); The Way I See It by Temple Grandin, and the National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry compiled by J. Patrick Lewis.

MsMac:What was your favorite book as a child? What particular genre stands out?
Greg: As a wee youngster, I loved Munro Leaf’s Ferdinand, as read by my father. Later on, my favorite was probably Guns of Navarone by Alistair MacLean. As a kid, I was not a big reader, believe it or not, but when my mom started giving me books by folks like MacLean and Ludlum and Christie I found some favorites.

MsMac: Where’s your favorite reading spot?
Greg: We have a very comfy big, green chair in which I love to curl up and read.

Your Writing Life

MsMac: What does a day of work look like for you? What is your favorite time of day to write?

Greg: I love to write late at night until early in the morning. This runs into problems with getting up at 6:30 to get kids to school, however. I’ve tried to adapt! A typical day of work has a block of writing time carved out of the morning and one kinda late but not too late at night. I have made a request for an eighth day of the week devoted totally to writing. I will keep you posted.

MsMac: Thanks, Greg. I need that extra day as well.Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?

Greg: Whichever one I’m not currently doing! I love both parts in different ways… and curse their existence from time to time, too 🙂

MsMac: What does your writing space look like?
Greg: Currently, a mess. In general, my writing space is wherever my keyboard or yellow pad is. I don’t tend to see much else beyond that.

MsMac: What are your current projects?

Greg: Currently, I’m focused on the final t-crossings/i-dottings of The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. – upcoming from Arthur A. Levine Books. I hope to put together another book of my poems, too, and am working on other novels and picture books plus finally diving into the companion book to 14 Fibs.

MsMac: That’s great, Greg. I love the Fibs and teach them, thanks to you. How does social media tie into your writing?

Greg: I view social media as a key part of both my writing and my writing career. For writing, I get support from friends, do research, and find and receive amazing and generous advice. For the career, I find that the connections and friendships from social media lead to incredible opportunities for all of us.

MsMac: What might readers find you doing when you’re not writing?
Greg: Hanging out with my kids and friends. Seeing a movie. Exploring Los Angeles. Searching for the perfect chocolate chip cookie.

About The Late Bird

MsMac: Tell me a bit about this book. What was your process? Why did you choose to publish an ebook rather than print?

Greg: I had wanted to explore eBooks and self-publishing for some time, and The Late Bird seemed like a great way to do that. In traditional publishing, I’m incredibly excited to debut with my novel (that has some poems, by the way!), so I wanted to explore with something totally different. Most of the poems in The Late Bird had already been published on my blog, GottaBook, so I figured compiling them would be easy and fun and would lead, in my head at least, to a book about which I had zero sales expectations. That was key to me, as I wanted this project to be an exploration and learning experience while still offering up something I was proud of. I chose not to do print only because of my own deal with myself in terms of time management. I have had a surprising number of requests for print, however.

MsMac: I think a print book would be great. What do you hope readers/viewers take away?
Greg: Smiles, laughs, and an appreciation for or at least recognition of the fact that we all have different perspectives on the world.

Just for Fun

MsMac: Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?
Greg: Dark chocolate.

MsMac: Coffee or tea?
Greg: Coffee. With a side of dark chocolate.

MsMac: Dance: funky chicken or the tango?
Greg: I will be the guy watching others tango or do the funky chicken, ideally while drinking coffee and savoring a side of dark chocolate.

Favorite Quote:

Greg: Oh, boy. I have a zillion favorite quotes, and find new ones all the time. But since it ties into this interview nicely, I’ll pick a favorite from Madelyn L’Engle:

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

Come back Friday for Poetry Friday and a chance to win a copy of The Late Bird by Greg.
Happy Reading.

Interview Wednesday: Five Questions About William Stafford

Today I am honored to have Kim Stafford answering five questions about his father, William Stafford. Kim has been instrumental in the preservation of his father’s writing. He is currently the Northwest Writing Institute, which I had the privilege in attending the summer institute in 1994.

MsMac: How did the cultural and physical landscape of the northwest influence your father’s work?
: William Stafford was born in Kansas, and the prairie was always his ideal landscape—lots of sky, and few obstacles to the long view. He once said that “Oregon’s alright—except the mountains and the trees get in the way of the scenery.” If you look at his poems, though, two very different kinds of landscape appear: the wild (forest, mountains, deserts, rivers, storms, nights, lonely outposts) and the suburban (neighbors, daily routines, local news, human connections like family and friends).

MsMac:Tell a story that defines your father’s role as a parent.
: We were driving somewhere. He started telling a story he had found in a novel, an old one—he couldn’t remember the title. The main character really wanted something. I can’t remember what it was, perhaps a partner, a kind of success. But he did not get what he wanted. The story went on, many detours, much wandering. Eventually, by unanticipated means, the main character achieved his goal. “Life can be like that,” my father said. Only much later did I suspect he made the whole thing up to teach me patience with the ways of destiny.

MsMac: What stance would/did your father use when working with children?
: He had a proverb: “Nothing’s too bad for the kiddies.” This meant the kids will get along one way or another. Of course, he loved us. He was devoted and engaged. But this love was not expressed by extravagance.

MsMac:Whenever I get stuck in my writing, I think about how your dad would give himself permission to “lower the standards.” Do you have a quote of his that you come back to again and again?
: Someone once asked my father, “What is your favorite thing you ever wrote?” His first response: “I love all my children.” But then he added, “I would trade everything I’ve ever written for the next thing.” To me, this says that loyalty to the next adventure of writing is more important than any kind of “success.” Real success is to sustain the sense of free and entrancing exploration of what lies ahead in writing.

MsMac: What do you notice as you look back on your father’s life?
: I have written a book in answer to this question: Early Morning: Remembering My Father, William Stafford. He was by turns gregarious (teacher, friend, “life of the party”) and solitary (rising before dawn, writing alone daily, “the wanderer”). The thread that bound this variety was his attention to what he called “seeking,” which included close engagement with human life, and also devotion to something beyond.

MsMac: How has your father continued to live on?
: My father is gone, but he left word…left words…left 20,000 poems, and a legacy of welcome to everyone who wishes to try the way of the writer.

Thank you, Kim. By the way, readers, I highly encourage you to explore Kim’s work as well. Go explore “what lies ahead in writing”.