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Editor Spotlight: Karen Chaplin of Quill Tree Books/Harper Children’s/Teen

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

Are we in for a treat! Today, I’m pleased to have with us, Karen Chaplin, Executive Editor at Quill Tree Books / Harper Children’s/Teen!

JR: Hi Karen, thanks for joining us today!

 

KC: Thanks so much for having me!

KR: To start with, could you tell us a little bit about your path to becoming an editor at Harper?

KC: Sure! I had a bit of an unconventional path to becoming an editor. I started out on the children’s managing editorial side of the process—copy editing, scheduling, proofreading. I did that for a few years until I made my way to editorial, first in academic publishing, then back to children’s, where my heart always was. I look at all my different jobs as huge learning opportunities, and even though I didn’t go the traditional route, I still use all the knowledge I gained from my time in managing editorial and academic publishing. They were extremely valuable experiences.

 

JR: You’re right, that is unconventional. But thankfully, you wound up in children’s books! And speaking of which, what was the first book you worked on?

KC: When I was at Puffin/Penguin Young Readers Group, my very first acquisition was a four-book YA series call The Specialists by Shannon Greenland. They were such fun books! About a girl who was recruited into a secret spy group, which eventually became her family. Sort of a version of X-Men meets Spy Kids.

JR: X-Men meets Spy Kids? I’m in! What do you enjoy the most about your job?

KC: I love working with my authors. Collaboration, exchanging ideas, being creative—it’s exciting to bring an author’s vision to life and have a small hand in it.

 

JR: When I read the books you’re involved with, it is some eclectic list. Is there anything that you look for in particular?

KC: I’ll say that one of the things that unites my fiction list is a strong narrative/character voice that takes me back to being a kid. It’s so hard to do, but when it is done well, these characters feel like they could’ve been me, or one of my friends, back in the day. And as for nonfiction, I love learning new things, so the stories I like to bring to readers are ones that are little-known or a different perspective or experience on a familiar time period.

 

JR: Are you very hands-on with your authors?

KC: I try to take cues from my author. I’m happy to be a very hands-on editor if my author needs me to be. At the same time, I never want to be too hands-on that I crush the creative spirit. But I tell my authors I’m here if they need me.

 

JR: That sounds like a good policy. What advice can you give to authors?

KC: What I tell my authors is to read in the category you want to write in—learn everything you can from other authors. Writing is a craft, and you can always get better and learn new things. I would also say don’t get caught up in trends or word counts. Write until the story feels finished. You can always go back and revise—that is probably the biggest part of the writing process.

 

JR: Great advice! Now, I have to know, what was your favorite book as a child?

KC: Wow, that is a tough one. There were so many! I was obsessed with From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Harriet the Spy. I also devoured Beverly Cleary’s Ramona and Beezus and Ramona.

JR: From the Mixed-Up Files? Well, you certainly came to the right place for that! I read that you also liked the Encyclopedia Brown, which I loved as well, but if you had been friends with him, do you think he might’ve gotten on your nerves for being a know-it-all?

KC: Ha! I did love Encyclopedia Brown—and really mysteries in general. I was a huge fan of all thing mystery—Agatha Christie for one. And yes, I do think I would’ve gotten a little annoyed with Encyclopedia Brown, but he was clever and always right….

JR: I LOVE Agatha Christie! And Then There Were None is one of my all-time faves! I know that you’re also a fan of The Great British Bake Off. You posted a challah that you baked, which looked delicious. Do you enjoy baking in general? If so, what’s your specialty, and follow-up, did you make enough for everyone?

KC: You’ve done your homework! Yes, I got into GBBO, probably a bit late, and it inspired me to make a challah, which looked great but turned out dreadful. (I will conquer bread one of these days!) I do really like to bake in general. I make a lot of banana bread, which my family devours within a few hours of it coming out of the oven, usually not even leaving me a slice.

Karen’s Actual Challahs!

 

JR: Well, they do look great, so when you conquer bread, save me a slice! How can people follow you on social media?

KC: I’m on Twitter @capchapreads

JR: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us today!

KC: Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to chat!

 

Well, that’s it for this month, my mixed-up friends! I’d like to once again thank Karen Chaplin for joining us, and until next month, Happy Reading!

 

Jonathan

Zatanna and the House of Secrets Interview and Giveaway

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgHi Mixed-Up Filers!

Today, I have the privilege to be talking to both Matthew Cody and Yoshi Yoshitani, whose graphic novel, Zatanna and the House of Secrets,  is available now from DC Comics.

Hi Matthew and Yoshi. Thank you for joining us today.

My first question is for both of you. Can you tell us a little bit about Zatanna and the House of Secrets?

Matthew: Zatanna and the House of Secrets is about a normal tween girl, Zatanna, who discovers that just about nothing in her life is what it appears to be – not her dad, not the house she grew up in, not even the family pet rabbit. There are magical secrets afoot, and more to Zatanna than she ever imagined!

YoshiIt’s a story of a girl growing up and trying to figure out her identity as the world and people around her change—figuratively and literally! And of course, lots of magic

Matthew, you’re books are, for the most part, a mix of fantasy and superheros. So, Zatanna’s story seems like a natural fit for you. Did you choose the character?

Matthew: I did. When this opportunity to work with DC came along, they asked me to pitch them three or four characters I’d like to write. Zatanna was a no-brainer, because she’s never been your typical superhero. She’s a magician! The story of how she became a magician – how she discovered her powers – was such a joy to conjure up (see what I did there?)

Not gonna lie, Zatanna is one of my favorite DC characters, and my go-to for cosplay. Yoshi, I love the new character design. I’m already planning on rocking this as my next cosplay. How did you approach the character design?

Yoshi: Yes! Zatanna is one of my absolute favorites too! Zatanna’s fully grown costume is over the top and confident, so it was fun to work backwards and consider what her pre-evolution outfits would be. Maybe some vintage finds, maybe her dad’s old shirts – she has a style but has yet to nail down her look. I really wanted to capture that transition.

One of the things that I really liked about this story is how it explored the relationship between Zatanna and her father and the idea that our parents aren’t always the heroes we expect them to be. Matthew, was that something that you wanted to focus on early on?

Matthew: Definitely. Middle school is hard for a lot of reasons, but one of the toughest aspects of it is that push/pull between still needing your parents tremendously, while at the same time feeling like you need to separate yourself in some ways. So, we took fantasy and did what the genre does best – we externalized that conflict. At its heart, this is a very family focused story about the mistakes we make both as kids and adults. And how we deal with them.

Another thing that I particularly loved was that the House of Secrets is like a character itself in the story. So, another question for both of you: How did you approach the world-building?

Matthew: The House of Secrets has been around in DC Comics lore for a long, long time. It’s been interpreted and reinterpreted in a many different ways, so I kind of took that meta-fact and applied it to the house in our story. Our House of Secrets has been passed down from Caretaker to Caretaker for centuries, and each one left their mark. Poor Yoshi then had to being all that to life on the page (btw, she knocked it out of the park)

Yoshi: Matthew had the idea that the House of Secrets had been passed through many different owners in different parts of the world and different eras. I absolutely loved that, and I personally relish any opportunity to kit-bash multiple cultural influences. Plus those huge stylistic changes really gave the impression of a magical unpredictable house—one you were just dying to run around yourself!

We see Teekl throughout the illustrations before we’re ever introduced to the character. Yoshi, was this an easter egg or is Teekl spying on the Zataras?

Yoshi: I was hoping someone would notice! And yes, Teekl is definitely a warning that Klarion and his mother are nearby, not that Zatanna understands that at the time. Its an Easter egg that’s fun on the reread.

Are there any other easter eggs that fans should keep an eye out for?

Matthew: Oh yeah! Yoshi’s art has a ton of clever hints and nods, but if you want to look for one in particular that might excite old school DC fans, pay special attention to the stone busts and portraits throughout the house to get a glimpse of the house’s original “caretakers”.

Yoshi: There are a few visual Easter Eggs for those who are familiar with the DC universe. I won’t give anything away, but definitely check out the school dance. Also, those in the know will recognize the Witch Queen’s assistants for what they are.

Speaking of fans, I’m going to geek out for a little bit here. In DC canon, Zatanna was the caretaker of the House of Mystery, which is similar to, the House of Secrets. Can we expect to see another story featuring the House of Mystery, perhaps a different caretaker?

Matthew: Huh. That’s a great idea! 😉

Is there anything else about the story that either of you would like to share?

Matthew: It’s really, really good!

What’s the best piece of creative advice that both of you have received and would like to pass on to other writers and artists?

Matthew: For writers, read more than you write – but write a lot.

Yoshi: Breaks are important to creative flow, and pursue a creative process that brings you joy.

What is something that people would be surprised to learn about you?

Matthew: I tried to break into comics as a writer before I became a published novelist.

Yoshi: I’m allergic to coconut.

What are you working on next?

Matthew: I’m finishing up a novel for older readers and am working on a couple of kids comics projects that I’m really excited about.

Yoshi: Something else with DC!

How can people follow you on social media?

Matthew: On twitter I’m at @mattcodywrites. I tweet rarely but always respond!

Yoshi: Twitter @yoshisquared. Insta @yoshiyoshitani  Website Yoshiyoshitani.com

Thank you so much for the interview!

Zatanna and the House of Secrets is out now, and here at The Mixed-Up Files, we’re giving away a copy. Enter our giveaway below.

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The winner will be contacted  via email and asked to provide a mailing address (US/Canada only) to receive the book.

Writing and Illustrating Funny Poetry For Kids – Author Interview with Vikram Madan, and Giveaway

At Mixed-Up Files today, we’re thrilled to have author-illustrator Vikram Madan. Vikram talks about his new book A Hatful Of Dragons that comes out on April 21, 2020. He also shares his exciting publishing journey along with other writing tips.

                                                           

 

  1. Tell us about A Hatful Of Dragons. What inspired you to write the book?

A Hatful of Dragons: And More Than 13.8 Billion Other Funny Poems’ is a quirky, eclectic collection of funny rhyming poems woven together with rich illustrations featuring recurring characters and sub-plots – a double dose of visual and literary fun for all ages 7 and up.

As a kid I loved both cartooning and writing poems but never thought of combining the two till I encountered, much later in life, Shel Silverstein’s work. I was instantly attracted to the concept of words and images working together to create a funnier experience. So much so that ‘A Hatful of Dragon’ is my third collection of self-illustrated funny poems featuring intertwined words and drawings.

 

  1. What would you want readers to take away from A Hatful Of Dragons?

I would love for readers of all ages to come away from this book with the idea that you can have a lot of fun playing with language and also with a desire to read more rhyming poetry.

 

  1. What were some of the most fun and challenging parts about writing A Hatful Of Dragons?

The poems in my original manuscript were largely disconnected from each other. While shortlisting the poems, Rebecca Davis, my editor, instinctively zeroed-in on the uniqueness of creating cross-connections between poems. As I developed the illustrations for the book, I had a lot of fun thinking of ways to interconnect the poems visually. For example, a main character in one visual might show up later in the book as a secondary character in another visual, helping create a cohesive, but weird, universe for the characters. I hope kids will have fun closely inspecting the illustrations for cross-connections.

The most challenging part of the book was stuffing 13.8 billion poems into 64 pages. 🙂

Actually I found doing the illustrations to be a challenge as I underestimated the sheer physical work required to get through multiple rounds of revisions and changes. Somewhat like running a marathon, most enjoyable, not while you’re doing it, but well after it is done. 🙂

 

 

Another challenge was coming up with a distinctive title for the book. The title poem ‘A Hatful of Dragons’ did not exist in my original manuscript. We thought of titling the book ‘There’s a Dragon in My Wagon’ but an internet search showed half-a-dozen books already had that title. Many other title poems from the manuscript did not pass internal sales and marketing reviews. I finally proposed ‘A Hatful of Dragons’ and once that title was approved, I had to then write a title poem from scratch worthy of the book. Talk about pressure! 🙂

 

  1. You began your writing career by self-publishing your work. How did the experience influence you as a children’s writer? How did you make the transition from self-publishing to traditional publishing?

Prior to self-publishing, I spent a decade trying to have my rhyming picture books and themed poetry collections published. I found agents and publishers reluctant to consider poetry. With rejections piling up, I actually gave up writing and submitting for a few years. However the itch never went away. In 2012, I spent a summer writing a fresh collection of poems. I decided then that if no one would publish my poems, I would publish them myself, which led to my first collection ‘The Bubble Collector’.

 

Once ‘The Bubble Collector’ was out, I realized writing the book was the easy part. Marketing, distribution, getting anyone to notice a self-published book, was incredibly hard (more so for us introverts!). I learnt that if I didn’t do the hustle, no one else would. With perseverance and leg work, I was able to get the book into local bookstores, gain a few favorable reviews and endorsements, and conduct some school visits. The book went on to win a 2013 Moonbeam Book Award for Children’s Poetry and was invited to apply to the 2014 WA State Book Awards. All in all, for a self-published poetry book, it did quite ok. The ‘hustling’, however, left me with deep appreciation for traditional publishing.

Upon completing the manuscript for my second collection (in 2015), I decided to give the traditional channel another shot. It took a year of querying agents before one, Rosemary Stimola at Stimola Literary Studios, expressed interest in the manuscript. (The modest success with the self-published book really helped my pitch). It took Rosemary another year to find a publisher, Boyds Mills & Kane. The publisher scheduled the book for a 2020 release, five years from when I finished the manuscript. Despite the slow pace of traditional publishing, I’ve really enjoyed working with my editors, Rebecca Davis and Barbara Grzeslo – the book is so much better than I could have made just by myself – and I’m looking forward to it being available everywhere without having to knock on doors, one at a time. 🙂

And since the second book was going to take five years, I squeezed out another self-published poetry collection, ‘Lord of the Bubbles’, in 2018, which went on to win a 2019 Moonbeam Award for Children’s Poetry.

 

 

  1. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Although I was writing and drawing from a really early age, I didn’t take my art seriously because I couldn’t see how to traverse the gap between what I made and what I admired. With no insight into the creative journey, the learning process, the blood, sweat, and tears that every piece of art demands, I did not believe in my own abilities. My epiphany came when one day, as an adult, I accidently wandered into an exhibition of original Dr. Seuss manuscripts. Typewritten sheets covered with frustrated scribbles, crossed out over and over again in search of better options. I was stunned to realize that the ‘genius’ was in the incessant revision, the twenty attempts before something worked, the trying, trying, trying and not giving up. Looking at those manuscripts was the first time I thought to myself, “Wait, if this is how it’s done, then maybe I can do this too!” Thank you Dr. Seuss – I wish I could have sent my younger self to see that!

 

  1. Do you have any other advice/tips for writers?

In visual-art circles the running joke is that ‘Only the first fifty years are the hardest’. In other words, the ‘successful’ artists are the ones who find ways to persist. The same is true for writers. Patience, persistence, working on your craft, and never giving up! (And if you do feel like giving up, read a book, any book, by creative coach Eric Maisel).

 

Here’s a cool flip-through video that Vikram made for the book: https://youtu.be/XswGM2FLlBM

Seattle-area Author-Artist Vikram Madan grew up in India, where he really wanted to be a cartoonist but ended up an engineer. After many years of working in tech, he finally came to his senses and followed his heart into the visual and literary arts. When not making whimsical paintings and public art, he writes and illustrates funny poems. His books include ‘The Bubble Collector’, ‘Lord of the Bubbles’, and ‘A Hatful of Dragons’. Visit him at www.VikramMadan.com

 

Want to own your very own ARC of A Hatful Of Dragons? Enter our giveaway by leaving a comment below! 

You may earn extra entries by blogging/tweeting/facebooking the interview and letting us know. The winner will be announced here on March 2, 2020 and will be contacted  via email and asked to provide a mailing address (US/Canada only) to receive the book.