Monday, June 28, 2010

A Peek at the Creative Space of Janet Fox


***Just a reminder that this Thursday, July 1, marks the start of Book Cover Bingo, a fun summer game through which you can win some cool prizes. If you have no idea what I'm talking about click here to find out more. If you want to play but haven't received a game card yet, email me at fromthemixedupfiles(at)gmail.com and I'll get one to you ASAP! Now, on with this week's interview!*** 

This week we're stepping inside the workspace of writer Janet Fox. Janet's debut young adult novel Faithful was published in May of this year. Her novel is one of the 2010 debuts I've been most looking forward to reading, and I must not be alone in thinking that because I've been on my library's waiting list for the book since it was published a month and a half ago! The good news is I'm next in line; the bad news is I can't offer you my personal take on it. But I thought this description from the Class of 2K10 website made it sound particularly intriguing:
Faithful, the story of 16-year-old Maggie Bennet, is a tale of romance and mystery set in 1904 in spectacular Yellowstone National Park.

In 1904 Margaret Bennet has it all – money, position, and an elegant family home in Newport, Rhode Island. But just as she is to enter society, her mother ruins everything, first with public displays, and finally by disappearing. Maggie’s confusion and loss are compounded when her father drags her to Yellowstone National Park, where he informs her that they will remain. At first Maggie’s only desire is to return to Newport. But the mystical beauty of the Yellowstone landscape, and the presence of young Tom Rowland, a boy unlike the others she has known, conspire to change Maggie from a spoiled girl willing to be constrained by society to a free-thinking and brave young woman living in a romantic landscape at the threshold of a new century.

Here is a great review of Faithful and interview with Janet Fox here. An interview of Janet with Cynthia Leitich Smith can be found here. And I also came across this trailer for Faithful:
 

I mentioned already the Class of 2K10--Janet is a member of this group of some of the 2010 debut authors of middle grade and young adult fiction. But Faithful isn't Janet's first published work. She's also published a handbook for students titled Get Organized Without Losing It, as well as stories and articles in magazines. She lives with her husband, son, and Basset hound in Texas and spends her summers in Montana. If you'd like to learn more about Janet Fox, she has a great website with links to her blog, articles on writing, tips for organizing and more.



Describe your workspace.

I have a small office right now – but it’s snug and friendly. It sits right off the kitchen. I have tons of bookshelves. And some open spreading-out space on tabletops. I work at an old roll-top desk that my husband bought me when we got married. I never roll the top down – it’s always in use! My computer sits at an angle on a marble slab resting on an antique sewing machine base. If I could change one thing about my office, I’d give myself more wall space, because I like to hang up long charts of time-lines and plot-lines and maps.


Describe a typical workday.

I’m so lucky. I can write almost every morning. I get up and exercise, and I’m at my desk by 9. I scan email to put out any fires, then I get to work. I write (or revise) until lunch, take a little nap after lunch, and work again until about 4. I deal with email until dinner. Sometimes I work in the evening if I really want to stretch, and if I don’t have to blog or attend to something else. It’s heaven.


List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

My cuckoo clock, my chair, and my big bulletin board. My cuckoo clock is my companion. It’s a lovely wooden Swiss clock, with a deer and rabbit and bird carved on the front, and my friendly cuckoo to chime the hours. Most of the time I don’t hear it; but it’s a bit of whimsy. My chair was one I bought when I began writing full time. It’s a big, clunky office chair in my favorite green color. It swivels and leans and supports me just right. And my bulletin board is like a picture view of my mind. It’s not newsy – it’s photos of plants that I took years ago, mingled with drawings my son made at 8, and old postcards (on one with a bicycle: “Ride a Stearns and be content” – if only!) and cartoons and poems, all layered one on top of another.
 

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

Coffee. Two cups of cappuccino, each drunk slowly, before noon. I write two pages and then take a break, even if it’s just to walk out of the room and back. My postprandial nap.

Boomer the Basset Hound
What do you listen to while you work?

Nothing. I cannot listen to anything, not music, not news, not anything. Only my ticking cuckoo clock. Otherwise I need complete silence. I’ve tried music – I wish I could listen – but, nope.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

My coffee in the morning. Sometimes in the afternoon I’ll have a cup of green tea. Occasionally I’ll have dark chocolate. Yum.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

If the story doesn’t keep me focused, I’m in trouble. That’s usually the first sign of trouble, actually – that my mind is wandering to the mail or the laundry, or what is the dog up to? What’s that noise outside? Then I know my story isn’t working. 

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?

Computer. I type almost as fast as I think, and my writing has slowed down. And my computer is a Macbook (picture me giving it a big kiss.) I love my Mac.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

It has changed and I don’t doubt will continue to evolve. Generally I’m an organic writer – that is, I shoot from the hip and make sense of it all later. But this is problematic and can lead to disaster halfway through a project. So lately I’ve taken to beginning organically and letting the muse take me wherever, and then, just as I’m about to hit the wall, set up a plot chart and start scene-building, but in a free-form kind of way. If I know the ending I can generally make the middle work. Charts are really important to me. My next office will have huge wall space for charts.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

Living? Laurie Halse Anderson. I love her work. Dead? Charles Dickens. I’d be pestering him all the time. “So, Charlie, what would you think if…” “Charlie, I had this idea, and…” “Charlie, how can I make this scene faster/more nuanced/funnier…”

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

Linda Sue Park: “Read, read, read.” If you want to be a writer, you have to be a reader. There are no shortcuts to this.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

B-I-N-G-O!

 He looks like a Bingo, doesn't he? c. Ken Yasuhara


***BINGO UPDATE*** Book Cover Bingo has now ended. The last book was won on July 14. If you are just coming across this post now and would have liked to play, I will be hosting another game of Book Cover Bingo in the future. (Date undetermined as of now.) You can check back in for Bingo news and updates, or consider subscribing to my blog via RSS, email, or adding yourself as a follower so you hear about game news from the very beginning. Hope you'll join the fun in the next round of Book Cover Bingo!***
 
It's officially summer and I'm itching for some fun and games. So I had this crazy idea to try hosting a game of Bingo here on my blog for the month of July. I like a good theme, so instead of generic Bingo I thought I'd give it a Creative Spaces twist and host the first ever CREATIVE SPACES BOOK COVER BINGO! **insert confetti explosion and sound of celebratory kazoo horns here**

So what would you be playing for? How about Bingo-winning bragging rights and hilarious fun?!?!

Oh, you want tangible honest-to-goodness prizes? All right, All right. I've got a few things here that might perk up those competitive bingoing skilz. In fact, I've got 15 fabulous prizes. (No joke, there's some seriously cool stuff up for grabs here.) But more on those goodies in a minute. First, how will this game work?

How To Play:

1. Email me at fromthemixedupfiles(at)gmail.com (Replace the (at) with an @--I'm just trying to avoid spambots, I've got enough offers for great deals on Viagra for now, thank you much.) 

2. I will email you your Bingo playing card. Each Bingo card is unique, created by myself using a pool of over 80 book covers that have been featured in previous Creative Spaces interviews as well as the ones that are upcoming in July. So far I've made up 15 game cards, in hopes that at least 15 of you will play so all the prizes can be won. 

3. There are roughly 552,446,474,061,128,648,601,600,000 possible arrangements for book covers on my Bingo cards, so no more than 552,446,474,061,128,648,601,600,000 people can play. Sorry Person # 552,446,474,061,128,648,601,600,001!

4. When I send you your Bingo card PDF file, I'll rename the file after you. This is partially because it appeals to my organizationally anal side, but also it will hopefully deter anyone from doctoring their card in order to falsely win.

5. On July 1, I will start calling out book covers by posting them on my blog. I have a pool of over 80 book titles that I am drawing from so, in order to get through all of them in one month, I will be updating my blog 2-3 times a day with a new book cover. EVERY post will have a Bingo cover in it so make sure you check them all so you don't miss a book.

6. If a book cover is posted that you have on your card: Hooray! You can cross it off on your card. 

7. Once you have 5 book covers crossed off in the same row (horizontal, vertical, or diagonal), comment "BINGO!" on whatever is the most recent blog entry. Your winner status will be tied to the time you post your BINGO! comment. (So if two people get Bingo with the same book cover, the person who comments earliest gets first pick of the prizes.)

8. Once I check against the PDF file that I sent you (and named in your honor) I will pronounce you Winna!Winna!Winna! and you get your pick of the available prizes.

9. Once a book cover has been called, it is fair game to cross off your board no matter when you come across it. Meaning, if you check in once a week, make sure you go back and review all the books that have already been called so you don't miss out on a BINGO!

10. To avoid confusion, I will ALWAYS precede a Bingo game book cover with something along the lines of "The next Bingo book cover is. . ." (Some posts, like the Creative Spaces interviews or a book review, are going to include images of book covers and these covers do not count for the purposes of the game.)

11. I will be posting on July 4.

12. We'll keep playing until either all prizes have been won or the month ends. (If people want to keep playing after all the prizes have been spoken for, we can do that too. We'll discuss if we get to that point.) 

13. There is no cut-off time for joining the game. You can email me for a playing card now, next week, July 16, or even July 31 if you'd like. But you are considered a winner from the time you post your "BINGO!" comment on my blog, not from the day your winning book was posted, so the earlier you join in the better.

14. I reserve the right to fiddle with these rules as we go along if need be. This is an experiment of sorts as I've never organized an online game like this before. Fingers crossed it's a fun and successful experiment!

How does that sound? Any questions? Did I forget to cover anything?

What was that? OH, RIGHT! The priiiiiiizes. . . 

Vanna, tell them what they can win!

 (the role of Vanna will be performed today by Ace, my angel-dog)


The pool of prizes includes books from each of the upcoming July interviewees (so this is also a preview of the Monday interviews you'll be seeing). The books available to win are (click on the title link for more information about the book):

1. A hardback copy of Bobbi Miller's picture book Davy Crockett Gets Hitched!


2. A hardback copy of Rosanne Parry's critically acclaimed novel Heart of a Shepherd!

 

3. A paperback copy of Rosanne Parry's Heart of a Shepherd!

4. An advanced reader copy of NYT bestselling author Maggie Steifvater's upcoming release, Linger!

  
5. A SIGNED hardback copy of Maggie Stiefvater's upcoming release Linger!*


6. A SIGNED hardback copy of Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater (the prequel to Linger)!*



7. A SIGNED paperback copy of Lament by Maggie Stiefvater!*


8. A SIGNED paperback copy of Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater!*



*Maggie's books were ordered from Fountain Bookstore and so while they will be autographed by her, I cannot have them inscribed to specific individuals.  

9. The brand new picture book collaboration of Mac Barnett and Dan Santat, OH NO! Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World!


10. The hardback picture book Always Lot of Heinies at the Zoo by Ayun Halliday and illustrated by Dan Santat!


11. The brand new paperback version of Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) by Lisa Yee and illustrated by Dan Santat.



In addition, when I wrote to the previous Creative Spaces interviewees about doing this game, a number of them offered up copies of their books to sweeten the prize pool. Since these would be coming directly from the authors, they would be able to sign and inscribe their books for you if you would like. So I'm very excited to add to the list the following prizes: 

12. Eleanora E. Tate's middle-grade novel Celeste's Harlem Renaissance!


13. Janet Fox's debut young adult novel Faithful!



14. Lyn Miller-Lachmann's  young adult novel Gringolandia!

  
15. Denise Vega's young adult novel Fact of Life #31!


So that's it! That's the run-down of my July summer fun game of Book Cover Bingo. I hope you'll join me, and please spread the word to anyone you think would enjoy this. The more the merrier!


 

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Peek at the Creative Space of Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff

We're starting this week off with a look at the workspace of author Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff. Liz is a former elementary and middle school teacher who has published a number of books including The ABC's of Writing for Children, John Muir and Stickeen: An Alaskan Adventure, Louise the One and Only, and her latest title Jackson and Bud's Bumpy Ride.

Jackson and Bud is about the true story of the first cross-country road trip, completed in 1903 by Horatio Jackson, his mechanic Sewall Crocker, and a dog they picked up along the way named Bud. If you thought Oprah and Gayle toughed it out in their cross-country road trip, get a load of this: Horatio Jackson drove a 1903 Winton that clocked an impressive 30 miles per hour at its zippiest. They covered over 5,600 miles in their trip, only 150 miles of which were paved at that time, with few road signs and no maps to guide them. All this in a car that had no windshield or roof, neccesiatating everyone--even Bud the dog!--to wear driving goggles to keep dirt and bugs out of their eyes. 

Booklist said of Jackson and Bud's Bumpy Ride: "It might be difficult for children to imagine a time when cars didn’t rule the road, and roads themselves didn’t rule the landscape, but this true account will take them back to an era when that scenario seemed unlikely. . . . Hargis’ glib cartoon illustrations of the begoggled trio and their clanging, mud-spattered auto are a terrific match to the lighthearted narrative. An afterword provides a deeper appreciation for just how remarkable and historical their adventure really was. Easily accesible history here."

Here is a book trailer for Jackson and Bud's Bumpy Ride:


In addition to the books she's authored, Liz has published more than 350 articles in magazines and newspapers and was the writing for children columnist for ByLine magazine for eight years. She has taught educators through the California State University Hayward's East Bay Extension program, and currently is the chairwoman of the California Writers Club "Young Writers Contest" and workshops for middle school students.

If you'd like to learn more about Liz and her books, you can visit her website and her blog. (Her blog is a great place to find writing prompts, and I especially enjoyed the recent posts--June 20 and June 8--on Sylvia Beach Hotel, a bed and breakfast where each room is decorated in homage to a different author. Another one to add to my list of "Places I'd Like To Go Someday"!)


Me in my clutter!

Describe your writing space.

My husband took our old guest room and made it into my current office. He built wall-to-wall bookshelves and made a long computer desk which is in the center of the room, facing the door. On one wall there is a large window which looks out at open space of oak trees and northern California wildlife. Deer and red-tailed hawks are frequent visitors.

This is what I see out of my office window.  

Although I love this space, I must confess it’s cluttered with books, papers, and small, loving treasures I’ve collected over the years! Fortunately, my whole house isn’t this way. Only this one room.

I also have a second, smaller space for my roll-top desk and file cabinets. This area, off our bedroom, used to be my only writing area and my computer was in the hallway of this space. When my son and his friends played outside, I’d have to roll my chair away from my computer, allowing the traffic to pass through, and then roll back to my computer so I could finish my sentence! I worked this way for years.

The bookshelves my husband made for me.

Describe a typical workday.

After some exercise and e-mail, I will write most of the day with short breaks for lunch and dog-walking. Besides writing for children, I freelance for adult magazines and newspapers, and chair a county-wide writing contest for middle school students. That plus school visits and teaching writing workshops for kids provides a lot of variety and sometimes disrupts my focus.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

I treasure my books. Some are from my childhood, my son’s childhood, and some real special ones are from my mother and father’s childhoods. Others I’ve bought at used bookstores or found at free library-give-aways.

Then there are those lovely ones that are autographed from my friends and other authors. Books for writers can be research and also pure joy!

A collection of small animals reading and writing.

My altar to the angels and Mother Mary, as well as pictures of my mother and father who have crossed over. Although I consider myself a “Cafeteria Catholic,” I have a strong belief and love for Mother Mary and angels.

Anna and Valentine Koehler - My father's grandparents.  I've never known any of my grandparents, as they all passed on before I could meet them. But for some reason, I feel close to Anna.


Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

I usually begin the morning with some meditation and prayer, with my Yorkie, Zoie, at my feet.

Zoie

What do you listen to while you work?

If it’s warm enough, I’ll open the window so I can listen to the birds and the squirrels. Otherwise, silence.

In the old days when my son was young and lived at home, I’d pop in a classical CD or listen to movie music without lyrics.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

Decaf iced tea. And then lots and lots of ice water. A handful of nuts is a good protein snack for me, although I would rather eat chocolate all day long!

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

Trying to keep myself from NOT looking at “my” hawk outside that window! And turning the sound off of my computer so I don’t hear when someone has sent me mail online so I won’t check it so often!

Also, once I’m “in” a project, I often don’t hear or see anything else and am surprised when my husband walks in the door after work. It’s that late already? Isn’t it still morning?

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?

When I write articles and nonfiction, I tend to write everything on the computer. When I write fiction, I do a mixture of the two. Some of my first drafts and brainstorming are done longhand. Once I capture the voice or next few plot points, I go to the computer and continue with the scenes ahead.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

I use a mixture of the two, depending upon the project. With fiction, the muse leads me first. Then it’s a mixture of head and heart! When I use ONLY my heart, later I’ll get in a muddle. If I use ONLY an outline, there is no soul to the book. So with me it’s “back-and-forths” of muse-plot-outline-muse-plot-outline and a meshing of both.

With nonfiction books and articles, I do an outline first before going too far with the project.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

Probably one of my writing friends: Ellen, Paula, Karen, Susan, Loretta, or Susie.

What is the best piece of writing/illustrating advice you’ve heard or received?

1. This from a character workshop I just took from Martha Engber: Detail the moment your character’s thinking changed.  What moment in his or her life gave her the “ah-ha” time that propels her inner fear/rule/motivation?  In my current book, I know this, but didn’t write it because it will be revealed at the end of the book. However, as writers we need to write this first. This tiny minute in time for the character, written as a slow-down-the-scene, is crucial for the author to be aware of from the first page of the book. It’s one of those “duh” moments for me! Why didn’t I do that all along? (Said as I knock my head against the wall now!)

2. When I interviewed Karen Cushman for The ABCs of Writing for Children she said her first drafts were short. With each subsequent draft, she’d add description, details, character depth, layers, etc. This is freeing me now that I’m in a first draft stage with a book.

I hope you enjoyed this interview! Later this week I'll be posting details about a really fun summer project that I hope you'll be interested in participating with. Stay tuned for more info . . .

Friday, June 18, 2010

Love This Book! Once I Ate a Pie

My husband and I had a date night a while back. Sushi at our favorite spot in Boulder and then wandering down Pearl Street, an outdoor pedestrian mall. We were making our way to the candy shop, a route that passes the Boulder Bookstore. And I can’t wander by the Boulder Bookstore and not go in, so we did. We wound our way back to the children’s section and this book immediately caught my eye:


Once I Ate a Pie by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest, illustrated by Katy Schneider. With that combination of title and the cute little pug on the cover . . . my husband and I are dog lovers so I couldn’t resist picking it up. The book is a collection of poems, each a portrait of a different dog. The first one is titled “Puppy” and the illustration features a German shorthair pointer puppy. Last summer our German shorthair pointer passed away, a loss we weren’t expecting and weren’t prepared for, so any time we see a pointer these days--real or fictional--it has our attention. The puppy poem was sweet. Here’s a snippet:

     What if I get lost?

     “You will chase snowflakes in winter,” the people tell me.
     “Run through the grasses in spring
     and howl at the full moon.”

      Not now. I am a puppy.

It tugged our heartstrings. Then we turned the page and met Mr. Beefy. Mr. Beefy is a rotund pug, older looking than the one on the cover. In the illustration he’s lounging next to an overturned pie tin, a sad but satisfied look on his face. The look of a dog who has been scolded but would do it all over again if given the chance. From Mr. Beefy (I hear him in the voice of Kevin from The Office):


I am not thin, but I am beautiful.

When no one is looking, I steal tubs of butter off the table.

I take them to the basement to eat in private.

Once I ate a PIE.


What I can’t translate from the book is the design of the typesetting. In Mr. Beefy’s poem “thin” is printed in tall, stretching letters, “beautiful” in a graceful arc. “When no one is looking” is printed with each word on a new line, every word a step ahead of the other like an imitation of Mr. Beefy sneaking down the stairs into the basement. “Once I ate a pie” is in a bigger, bolder font than the rest of the poem, “pie” in all caps. The visual stress on that sentence and the word “pie” in particular communicates to me Mr. Beefy’s pride, and  perhaps braggishness or disbelief, of this major feat.

We laughed out loud reading Mr. Beefy’s poem. Not only because it was funny, but it was familiar. Our Ace, the German shorthair pointer, was notorious for snagging unguarded food. Chicken carcasses left on the counter that we thought were out of reach, a half-eaten sandwich left unattended for one second when you ran to the other room, an entire Halloween bowl of miniature Reese’s peanut butter cups with the aluminum wrappers still on, carelessly left on the coffee table, that prompted a late night run to the emergency vet. If you left the trash can out, Ace would rummage through it as soon as he got the chance. I’d be in the basement switching a load of laundry and above me I’d hear his toenails slowly clicking across the floor like he was sneaking up on something. Click. . . click. . . click. What is he doing, I’d wonder. Then I’d remember I hadn’t put the trash back in the cupboard. “Ace!” I’d yell and run up the stairs. When he knew he was caught he didn’t run away or hide, he just ate faster, trying to get every last bite before his scavenged prize was taken away.

Our other dog, Jack, steered clear of Ace when he was getting into food he shouldn’t. It was always a sign that Ace was doing something naughty if Jack came running down into the basement and hopped onto the couch, his safe spot. Once he was caught, Ace would be put into time out in the bathroom while his mess was cleaned up, and that’s when Jack would make his appearance. Giving us the poor pitiful eyes to remind us that Ace had just helped himself to a delicious treat while Jack  was an obedient dog and had none of it. Since we’re suckers, Jack would get a treat for not stealing the food himself, although we always wondered if Jack might have been the brains of the operation. Pointing out the food opportunity to Ace and then running for it, leaving Ace to be the fall guy so Jack could in turn get our praise and treats in the end.

    Ace (left) and Jack (right)

These are the stories we started retelling each other in the bookstore as we stood there and read aloud every poem of Once I Ate a Pie. If you’ve ever lived with a dog or known one well, you’ll identify with these poems. They cover a whole range of personalities from the protective German shepherd to the sleeping old dog to the Pomeranian who barks the alarm for every little thing. I bought the book on the spot as well as a copy to give to another dog-loving friend I thought of. It’s a book I know I will reread a hundred times over, at least, and an instant addition to my favorites list.

Not only is this book highly recommended for dog lovers, I see a lot of potential as a teaching tool as well. When I teach a writing class in the future, I almost certainly will use this book as an example of the power of precise word choice and arrangement. How an economy of the right words in the right patterns can so clearly bring characters to life.

Students can discuss, for example, why they think the “high” in the first poem is printed in an arch, like a rainbow. Why are some lines staggered? Why are some words bold faced? What effect do the differences in text layout and design have with how you read and hear the poem? You could do an exercise having students read a pre-typed version of one of the poems, written in straight lines without the spacing and special emphases, and then show the published version and ask students to compare the experiences of reading each. You could read a poem aloud and ask students to guess what the dog looks like and then reveal the picture and talk about how their guesses compare. Students could write poems that capture the personality of their own pets, and if they don’t have pets then an animal they know--grandma’s cat, a squirrel who frequently visits their yard. Or use photos of animals they don't know and have them make up poems that create a character based on the photo.

We’ve been meaning to put together an album of photos and memories of Ace. We have a haphazard pile of photos and scribbled notes and stories about him, but nothing that’s been organized into an album yet. Once I Ate a Pie inspired me to write three poems about Ace. A good start to the memory album and a fun way to remember him.

Here’s one:


MY PILLOW

Sometimes, I worry.

I worry I won’t get any of the food you are eating.
I worry the cat is getting more attention than me.
I worry if he’ll come home again.

But then I remember my pillow.

I run and find it,
do a victory lap,
and lie down with my pillow.
Hug it between my front paws
suckle away my worries.

I know I will get more food.
I know I will get more pets.
I know he will come home again.

And then I am asleep.



Monday, June 14, 2010

A Peek at the Creative Space of Liza Woodruff

The other day I mentioned the blog The Dust of Everyday Life, and today I have the pleasure of featuring one of their artists, Liza Woodruff. Liza has been working as a professional illustrator for 13 years and has illustrated 18 books. She studied illustration at The Art Institute of Boston, during which time she also interned with Horn Book. Among the titles she's illustrated are Amanda Bean's Amazing Dream, Little Bo Peep, and Dancing with Daddy.

Three of her books will be published this year including Jack and Jill published by The Child's World in August, Ten on the Sled by Kim Norman to be published in October by Sterling, and now available for sale at a physical or virtual bookstore near you. . .


The publisher's description of How About a Kiss for Me? written by Todd Tarpley reads:

Kissing a bunny might be funny, but kissing a mop has got to stop!

It’s giggles galore when one fearless baby goes on a kissing adventure. There are plenty of kissable characters to meet along the way as our mischievous little kissy-face is quick to pucker up. And at the end of the day, when he is all “puckered” out, it’s Daddy who gets the last kiss good night. Parents will love reading this winning, silly-sweet story aloud, and preschoolers will go gaga for Liza Woodruff’s adorable illustrations.

Sounds like a great pick for a Father's Day gift!

In addition to The Dust of Everyday Life, Liza also contributes to New Laces in Old Sneakers, a group blog kept with six other illustrators. You can also learn more about her by visiting her website and her personal blog.



Describe your workspace.

I live with my husband and two children in a 150 year old farmhouse in Vermont. My studio is in a corner room on the first floor.


It's a great space, but because it's not in the center of the house, I am pretty far from the wood stove. This means it can get pretty cold in the winter. I have room for three desks, a bookshelf, and my computer stuff. My studio's four windows look out onto the yard and let in lots of light.



We live in a pretty rural area, so there are lots of birds and critters outside, though I really only see birds from my window because the dogs scare bunnies and other things away. Lately, I have been able to keep an eye on the fat squirrel that sits right in the bird feeder and stuffs himself with sunflower seeds. I can also see the weeds growing in my flower and vegetable gardens.


Describe a typical workday.

During the school year, I get up in the morning and have to get the kids ready and out the door for school. Once they are on the bus, I usually sit at the computer with a cup of coffee and catch up on emails and look around on the internet a bit.


I then try to work for a few hours before I break for some lunch and exercise or walk the dogs. There are a couple of hours left to work after lunch before the kids are home from school. When I am working on a big deadline, I will start work after dinner and continue late into the night. It is so quiet, it is actually a nice time to work. This is good because night becomes my work time during the summer break.

What media do you use and which is your favorite?

My work is done with watercolors and colored pencils. I use Arches 300 lb hot press watercolor paper. It is nice and thick and does not need to be stretched. I scan my work onto the computer and sometimes clean up the jpegs in Photoshop, but the art itself is created traditionally with paper, pencil and paint.

Lately, I have added some pastel to my work to punch up the color a little. Here's an example with pastel added to the sky.


List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

I have some shelves in my studio where I keep my favorite things.


They contain so many special things, it is hard to pick just three. I have saved favorite animals and toys from my childhood, and I also display some of the things that my children have made for me which are special to me. You can see my old doll Amanda Jane and a ceramic heart that my son made. On the wall, I put up a favorite snow globe collage that my daughter made.


Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

The one ritual I have is to start a project by cleaning up my workspace. I need clean surfaces to work on because the general clutter that accumulates during the time I am working on a project can become pretty distracting. On my desk, I use a blank piece of paper as a blotter and a white background to have beneath the tracing paper I work on. I write notes and doodle on it as I work, so when I start a new project, the first thing I do is replace it.



What do you listen to while you work?

When I am sketching, I really need to use my brain, so I will either work in silence, or listen to some quiet music. I have very eclectic music taste and I like anything from classical music to the Beastie Boys.

When I paint, I love to listen to audio books or radio programs.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

I like to drink coffee and tea while I work. Though I love to snack on things like yogurt covered pretzels, eating while working doesn't usually work out that well. My fingers get all gooey and then I smear my artwork.


What keeps you focused while you’re working?

The thing that helps me stay in my chair the most is a good audio book. I sit to listen to the story, which gets me started, and then I get to a certain point in my work where I am really engrossed, and that has a momentum of its own.

What aspect of illustrating do you find most challenging and why?

Getting started on a project is the hardest part of the illustration process for me. It takes me a long time to figure out who the characters are and what they are like. Once I have a full sense of what they look like and their personalities, the drawing becomes much easier.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

I would share my space with my friend Peggy who is a botanical illustrator. We have been friends since art school and used to enjoy working together when we both lived in Boston. We share ideas and push each other to challenge ourselves in our work. It's too bad she lives all the way in Colorado! Instead I have to share my studio with my dog Emerson, who likes to keep me company while I work.


What is the best piece of illustrating advice you’ve heard or received?

You can be working even when you are not sitting with pencil and paper. Refill your well of creativity while out in the world by making mental note of what you feel and observe. An hour or two alone doing something outside of your work, and the reflection that goes along with it can be a great source of creativity. This advice is loosely paraphrased from Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way.

I have also been told over and over to draw as often as you can and it's true. The more you draw the better you get.