I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! My husband and I spent our holiday with my side of the family in California and are full of gratitude for the time spent with family and friends, lots of great food, and returning home to our pets who were spoiled and incredibly well taken care of by my in-laws.
The feelings of gratitude continue today as we have a special treat with a joint Creative Spaces interview with authors Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery. Together they have collaborated on two award-winning nonfiction picture books, Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival (illustrated by Jean Cassels) and Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine, and a Miracle (a collaboration that also included Major Brian Dennis).
Two Bobbies is a wonderful, tear-jerker of a story about a dog and a blind cat (both with bobbed tails, hence the names) who helped each other survive Hurricane Katrina. Their story was featured on Anderson Cooper 360º, which is where Kirby and Mary first learned about the Bobbies and got the idea to turn their story into a picture book. In addition to being a heartwarming story of friendship and survival, Two Bobbies also celebrates the hard work of animal rescue organizations and the many volunteers who traveled to New Orleans to help in the aftermath of Katrina. If there is an animal-lover you are buying gifts for this holiday season, I highly recommend this book. (And Mary and Kirby are donating a portion of their proceeds from this book to Best Friends Animal Society.)
Scholastic's Dear America series. The Fences Between Us is about 13-year-old Piper who lives in Seattle in 1941 during the bombing of Pearl Harbor where her brother has recently been stationed. Her father is the pastor for a Japanese Baptist church and when Piper's Japanese neighbors and her father's congregants are sent to an incarceration camp, her father follows, bringing Piper with him. Also make sure to keep an eye out May 2011 for Kirby Larson's next novel, The Friendship Doll.
Mary Nethery is a best-selling author of several picture books. In addition to her collaborations with Kirby, she is the author of Mary Veronica's Egg, illustrated by Paul Yalowitz, and Hannah and Jack, illustrated by Mary Morgan. Mary Nethery's newest picture book is The Famous Nini: A Mostly True Story of How a Plain White Cat Became a Star, illustrated by John Manders. Set in Venice in the 1890's, a plain white cat, left to fend for scraps, makes his way into the heart of a cafe owner who has nothing to spare. From the School Library Journal, "Before there was Dewey Readmore Books, there was Nini, also a humble stray, practicing random acts of kindness in 19th-century Venice . . . At the heart of Nini's appeal and talent is the fact that he is simply a charming stray. Nethery has a lot of fun with Nini's story, creating characters openhearted enough to be touched by a purr or a nudge against the shins; she provides an analysis of the fact versus her fiction in the author's note."
To find out more about these authors and their books, visit Kirby Larson's website and blog, and Mary Nethery's website.
|Kirby Larson's writing space|
|Mary Nethery's writing space|
Describe your workspace.
Kirby: When our son went off to college, I took over his bedroom (I had been relegated to a corner of the guest room/sewing room previously). The walls are a soft gold which glow warmly on our gray Seattle days. Two windows bring in light and a spectacular view of two enormous Katsura trees, whose delicate heart-shaped green leaves blaze red and gold in the fall (and also smell like cotton candy!). My office has two bookcases and needs at least two more, a desk, a file cabinet, a rolling file cabinet for work in progress and a dog bed for Winston the Wonder Dog.
|Winston the Wonder Dog|
Describe a typical workday.
Kirby: Ha! No such thing exists. When I’m home, however, I am generally in my office by 8:30 or 9, coffee to my right, work in progress on the screen. I shouldn’t, but I answer emails first thing. When I’m in the thick of things, I do turn off my email and find I get ever so much more accomplished. Most days I’m in my office until it’s time for dinner—though Winston is adamant that, rain or shine, we take a walk around 3 p.m. each afternoon.
List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.
Mary: I adore my baby muse, Dash. He sits in his basket as I write. He came to us from what he likes to call an orphanage in Atlanta, Georgia. He really is a godsend—slipping me a great detail when I need it the most, and now that he’s getting Dr. Dictionary every morning via email, he even suggests word replacements! Pictures of people I love, like Kirby, adorn the top shelf above my computer. My other favorite thing is my ever faithful iMac which allows me to work with the least amount of frustration possible.
Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.
Mary: I wish I had a ritual, but I don’t. I think rituals can be happy things that bring you comfort and safety and assure you that yes, you can get through this really difficult chapter where you’ve got your main character, alone in her bedroom without her cell phone, with a possible intruder, and nothing but a baseball bat for protection, and how am I ever going to be able to write it so it scares the pants off my readers, and . . . Yes, I believe I need to put together a ritual ASAP.
What do you listen to while you work?
Kirby: Nothing, aside from Winston’s snores. I prefer quiet while I work.
Mary: I like silence and the sound of the water tinkling over the rocks in the fountain downstairs. The only time I like music is if I’m writing a particular scene and need the playlist that I think would accompany it—for inspiration. But I’m too easily moved by music—music can be hazardous to my psyche!
What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?
Kirby: Coffee or a homemade latte are fairly essential and, most afternoons, a cup of tea (I like Harney & Son’s African Autumn or Paris) and a Trader Joe’s Fig Bar, which gets shared with a certain four-legged muse.
Mary: I have a Jura Capresso that grinds the French Roast beans and makes one cup of coffee at a time with a lovely crema. And almost everyday, my husband bakes sunflower seeds for me—they’re excellent for increasing seratonin.
Kirby: My love for what I’m doing! And the fact that I really do see it as a job.
Mary: I’ve learned to be really disciplined. You can’t create unless you produce something, and what could possibly be more heady than creating a universe? And I know I’m meant to write—I feel like the real “me” when I’m writing.
Do you write longhand, or on a computer, or another way?
Kirby: Always on the computer (old habit from my journalism degree), though I print off drafts and hand revise on them.
Mary: I always write on the computer. But sometimes I need to trick my brain into moving out of the box by writing long hand. I revise both on the computer and via printed drafts.
How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?
Kirby: It depends on the story. With the nonfiction picture books, because Mary is so great at seeing the story arc and plot points, we tend to write in scenes. With my own work—which has come to be fairly exclusively historical fiction—historical events are the dots that I try to connect with characters and action. I am not an outliner, but I do spend a lot of time writing about the story. I have just this summer used a program called Scrivener to write a historical novel and I liked the rhythm and discipline of it so I'm using it again for the current WIP.
Mary: I spend a lot of time just cogitating and writing down ideas that may seem disparate but begin to work together in some odd way. When I think I’ve got a handle on the story, I begin to shape it by writing a brief sketch of each scene with major plot points, on a big piece of butcher paper—at some point, everything that’s on the butcher paper is transferred to a document. I don’t like outlining. It bores me. But fashioning the shape of a story to the point where I can no longer hold back from beginning to write it, keeps me intrigued and works for me.
If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?
Kirby: Couldn’t do it anymore. Not even with Mary! I’m too spoiled.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?
Kirby: Don’t listen to advice! ;-) I think if a writer reads voraciously and learns the basics of her genre, she should avoid using other people’s road maps and create her own.
Mary: Hmmm, follow your muse, write about what makes your passions burn, and create your own path.