Author Interviews

Going Backstage on How GUITARS Was Made

Hi Mixed-Up Filers! Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to Patricia Lakin, an award-winning author who writes both fiction and nonfiction for toddlers to middle-graders. We discussed Guitars, the latest book in her Made By Hand series from Simon & Schuster. It’s a fun book filled with great facts about how guitars are made and two activities that show kids how to make their own instruments.

Tell us a little bit about Guitars and the Made By Hand series? How did 4 Covers from the Made By Hand Series: Skateboards, Bicycles, Steel Drums, and Guitars, or more broadly, the Made By Hand series, come about? Did you select the subjects? If so, why?

The story of how Made By Hand came about is a true tale of admiration. An editor I have worked with in the past has a great love of hand-made objects. She knew that I shared that same love. It was this editor, Karen Nagel at Simon & Schuster, who created the Made By Hand series and asked me to be the writer.

The editorial team decided they wanted to focus on two objects used for transportation—one of wood and one of metal and use the same materials for two musical instruments. And that is how the book on Bicycles, Skateboards, Steel Drums and Guitars was born.

Did you actually visit Coloma Guitars? Or do you have any fun stories from researching the book?

The story of how I learned about the oh-so-talented Meredith Coloma is, I think, a New York story.  I happened to pass by Chelsea Guitars, a famous guitar store that is located at the equally famous Chelsea Hotel. I entered the long narrow shop and marveled at the guitars hanging on all the walls, from the ceiling etc. and asked the fellow behind the counter if he knew of a female luthier. [The three other books all had male makers and I wanted to highlight a woman for this book.]

The man behind the counter confirmed with another gentleman that I should contact luthier, Meredith Coloma—which is exactly what I did. She lives in Vancouver, BC. She was delighted to be a part of this project and so I put her in touch with the editorial department at Simon and Schuster.

Meredith and I spent a fair amount of time doing telephone interviews during which she shared her story—how she became a musician and decided to become a luthier—the latter all occurred because of a violin maker she happened to come to know. He only spoke Yiddish. His wife translated but he and Meredith spoke the language of music. It was that elderly gentleman who showed her the brochure of a luthier school not far from her home in British Columbia. I thought her story of becoming a luthier was magical and had to be included in the book.

We had extensive conversations and Meredith shared pictures of how step-by-step she creates an acoustic guitar as well as an electric guitar. I had no idea how complicated and how delicate the process is to create an acoustic guitar.

 

Guitars book cover

How did you approach the research and writing of Guitars?

I feel fortunate to live very close to New York Public Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.  There, I found so many books in circulation that dealt with the history of guitars, guitar greats and the science behind guitars.

I was able to bring those books home to do extensive research. Between those books and the wealth of information I found on the internet from a variety of guitar periodicals, I had tons of material to read and educate myself on the history of guitars.

Most nonfiction writers tell us that they learn so much about a subject that not all of it can fit into one book. Are there any fun facts that you learned that didn’t make it into Guitars?

That is so true. Each evening I’d recount to my husband all of the fascinating facts I’d learned about the guitar. Although I will admit that, since I’ve never studied an instrument and can’t read music, some of the facts on the number of strings on an acoustic guitar and the sound differential was too confusing to understand…plus, I knew that would make the book too technical to include. What I did find I had to cut was the longer history on how electric guitars were really influenced by Hawaiian ukuleles but I was able to include a few fun facts.

Do you play an instrument? If so, what do you play?

Patricia Lakin Publicity Photo 2021

As a child, I studied ballet and in college continued with dance classes, jazz and then tap and never studied a musical instrument.

If you could have a custom guitar made for you, what would it look like? Would it be acoustic or electric?

If I did own a guitar it would most likely be the guitar that Meredith made with a gorgeous tree inlaid on the acoustic guitar’s back. It’s on page 15 of the Guitar book.

I read on your bio that you’re inspired by movies. What is your favorite movie, and why?

Wow! I am such a movie fan that I don’t think I could pick a favorite. Going to the movies as a child, and now, even as an adult, is a special treat for me. Sitting in a darkened theatre, having those images up on the screen, larger than life—speaks to me in ways that I find totally magical.

 

Thank you for a fun interview! For more information about Patricia Lakin and her books, please check out her website. And don’t forget to check out Guitars and The Made By Hand series. For more information about, please visit Simon & Schuster’s Made By Hand page.

 

Interview with Author Laurie J. Edwards, Author of UNICORNS OF THE SECRET STABLE Series, Plus BOOK GIVEAWAY!

It’s wonderful to have Laurie J. Edwards on today talking about her newest book series, UNICORNS OF THE SECRET STABLE! Laurie and I met at my very first writer’s conference many years ago and our paths continue to cross—especially when it comes to writing unicorn stories. But Laurie doesn’t have just one new book out but FOUR. Yes, four books releasing at once for unicorn fans young and old to gobble up!

Here are the books in order:
Book 1: Unicorns to the Rescue

Book 2: Lucky and the Dragon

Book 3: Magical Unicorn Horns

Book 4: Mermaid Magic

Laurie is also giving away a copy of book one, UNICORNS TO THE RESCUE. Just enter the contest at the end of this post. U.S. residents only please.

What’s UNICORNS OF THE SECRET STABLE about?

There are unicorns behind Magic Moon Stable, but no one except Iris and Ruby knows they exist. As Unicorn Guardians, it is the sisters’ job to protect the unicorns and use their magic to keep them safe from the outside world.

Like their mother before them, Iris and her younger sister Ruby have been charged with hiding and protecting the unicorn world hidden on their ranch. The rest of the world sees only a stable with an old, tired horse, but when the girls turn the magic key to the paddock, they enter a lush land filled with forests, magical landscapes and creatures, & their beloved unicorns.

Interview with Laurie:

Donna: The idea of a hidden realm within our own is magical and mysterious. What inspired the idea for this realm and the series?

Laurie: For me, the line between reality and fantasy is easily crossed. As a child, I lived more in my imagination than in the everyday world. I caught raindrops in my upside-down umbrella while I watched fairies play in the rainbow-colored oil slicks on a rainy road. When I wandered home, drenched and dripping, my mother despaired of my dreaminess. But I was so caught up in spending time with otherworldly friends, I never noticed—or cared–that I was soaked.

When I was asked to take over this existing series, I jumped at the chance to expand the Enchanted Realm. Some of the world-building had already been done, but I had to come up with new places for the sisters to go, and I enjoyed imagining the possibilities for new adventures, new unicorns, new magical creatures, and new landscapes for each book. I got to dream up the world as I went along, which let me play out my childhood fantasies in the pages of a book.

 

Donna: Throughout the series, we get the stories told from multiple points of view from the sisters, Ruby and Iris. Why did you decide to give them both a chance to tell their story in separate books?

Laurie: I seem to be drawn to sisters who have opposite personalities. One is usually quieter, more serious, and plans ahead; the other is impulsive and spirited. Bet you can’t guess which one is me. 😊 Actually, most people see my quieter, shyer side, but the truth is: the wilder sister is closer to the inner me. I guess I feel the need to show life from different viewpoints. I did the same thing with the Second Chance Ranch series, which featured two twins with different personalities. It makes for some great conflicts as one sister rushes into things, and the other tries to keep her sibling out of danger. I also think it’s fun to see situations from different viewpoints. I try to choose adventures that will fit each sister and always ask myself which sister would be the most challenged by the situation. That’s the one who tells the story. I like each of my characters to face situations that will help them grow and change.

 

Donna: Your series not only has unicorns in it but other enchanting creatures like mermaids and dragons. What other magical creatures are you drawn to writing about and can we expect to see them in future stories?

Laurie: I love all magical creatures. In fact, a sneak peek into another middle-grade series I’m working on, The Birch Tree Chronicles, centers around a spell-challenged fairy and features gargoyles, so I’m sure some of those elements will find their way into the unicorn series. But overall, I like the softer, gentler magical creatures, and I have some ideas for combining several creatures to create some unique ones all my own.

 

Donna: You’ve written many books about ranches, what led to you to make the leap from writing about horses to unicorns?

Laurie: For me it wasn’t much of a leap, because unicorns are horses with one horn. 😊 I’ve always been a horse lover from the time I was young, and I’ve already mentioned how drawn I am to the fantasy world, so unicorns seemed like the perfect combination.

 

Donna: The final book in the series, MERMAID MAGIC, has Ruby exploring more of the Enchanted Realm leaving readers to wonder if future adventures await Ruby—and Iris—after this. Can we expect more stories in the series to come?

Laurie: I’m in the planning stages for more unicorn stories. Because the girls visit an underwater kingdom in the fourth book, I’d like some of the next books to center around mythical creatures who dwell in the sea. I also have ideas for quite a few more adventures. As the girls explore their secret realm, they’ll travel to many unusual settings and add new unicorns with different magical powers in each book.

Donna: Your legacy of stories includes a range of contemporary, magical, westerns, and non-fiction for all ages. What is it that you love about writing for the middle grade audience?

Laurie: I love spending time with middle graders. I taught in the early elementary grades and worked as a children’s librarian, so middle-graders are my favorite people. I love their imaginations and creativity, their eagerness to learn, and their enthusiasm for life. I sometimes think I’m still a middle-grader at heart. There’s a part deep inside of me that, like Peter Pan, never wants to grow up. And that part of me still believes in magic. Magic I hope spills onto the pages of my books.

 

Donna: Can you share what kind of story you’re working on now?

Laurie: I’m always writing several books at once. In addition to several adult novels and three picture books, I’m working on The Birch Tree Chronicles with a friend. In this four-book, middle-grade series, Birch Lockhart has no idea she has fairy powers. But after her parents disappear, she and her two younger siblings must learn to survive on their own while they fight the evil seeping their town with the help of an inept, absent-minded fairy.

I’m also doing final edits on a middle-grade fantasy, The Crystal Amulet, about a girl abandoned in the woods because of an ancient prophecy. She becomes the leader of a ragtag band of misfits who uncover a plot to destroy their village, and she must choose whether or not to risk her life to warn the people who cast her out of her village that they are in danger.

And I have one more middle-grade in the works, Silent Lies, historical fiction set during the Jewish pogroms in the Ukraine in the early 1900s.

 

About Laurie:

USA Today bestselling author Laurie J. Edwards has always loved books. In school, she got in trouble for reading during class. When she grew up, she chose jobs that let her spend time with books. First, she became a librarian and then an author. Now she not only reads, but she also creates stories for others to read. Laurie is also a freelance editor and illustrator. In addition to having more than 2300 magazine and educational articles published, she is the author of 60+ books for children and adults in print or forthcoming under several pen names. Visit Laurie at her website for more information.

 

Enter to win a copy of UNICORNS TO THE RESCUE!

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Interview with ABSURD WORDS Author Tara Lazar & Two Giveaways

Welcome back to the Mixed-Up Files, Tara! We’ve loved talking to you about how writers can excel at your awesome Storystorm challenge every January and what to do with their ideas after the challenge is finished. You also showed an easy way for teachers, media specialists, and parents to use Storystorm with children. You can find an interview with all these gems here! And in this post, you shared how Storystorm isn’t just for picture book writers.

And now I’m thrilled to interview Tara about her first MG (which is absolutely amazing for both a middle grade audience and all writers/creatives)! I’d like to welcome to the world Absurd Words: A kids’ fun and hilarious vocabulary builder for future word nerds!

How did you come up with the idea for Absurd Words?

I have a list of “Fun, Cool & Interesting Words” on my website, and it became the most accessed page on my site. So, I thought—why not turn it into a book?

 

Brilliant idea! What surprised you while writing this book?

So many things! The stories I found about word origins proved fascinating, I just couldn’t get enough of it! I even had to contact the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for a verification—yes, the Oscar people!

 

I’m amazed by how few words the average person uses compared to the amount of words that exist. What do you think are the most important reasons to learn new words?

The more words you know, the more words you can use, the more words you have to inform, educate and persuade others. Words equal power.

 

I love that…words equal power!

What are some fun ways teachers can use Absurd Words with their students?

Well, I have an entire section written that will be available soon! There are tons of games and writing exercises.

 

Ooh, that sounds like it will be such a helpful tool! If you follow Tara on Twitter, you’ll be one of the first to know when the games and writing exercises are up on her website.

In the meantime, I have an idea! Teachers can have kids look through Tara’s book and choose their favorite words to write on one side of an index card with the definition underneath (or on the back—as long as others can’t see it). In small groups, they take turns saying their word and having others write down what they think it means. The answers could be hilarious and might inspire a story! The person who chose the word shuffles the cards so they don’t know who wrote each one, reads them out loud—their favorite definition receives a point (or sticker). Then, they reveal the real definition. The person to their right reads their word, and the game (and learning) continues.  

 

Can you share a bit about your annual Storystorm challenge and how can writers use Absurd Words to help come up with awesome ideas?

These words will evoke memories and emotions, which will hopefully spur a few story ideas. I wrote about this for Storystorm a few days ago.

 

Such a great post. I love how these words evoke emotions. When I’ve needed inspiration for ideas, I’ve checked out your “Fun, Cool & Interesting Words” list. Now you have an entire book full of inspiring words and illustrations. They’ve already helped me come up with a few fun ideas this year.

 

It’s amazing that people can make up words and use them so much, they spread around and around…and end up in the dictionary! If you could choose one of your made-up words to go in the dictionary, what would it be—and why do you love it so much?

My favorite is “adogable” for a really cute pupster. I love it so much because I love animals so much! Frankly, I never met a pooch who wasn’t ADOGABLE!

 

I love, love, love adogable! My rescue pup is laying next to me and says she she’d be the perfect pup to show the world her adogable smile.

 

Can you share some tips to help kids and writers make up their own absurd words?

I made up the title of my first book: THE MONSTORE. The end of “monster” sounds like “store,” so I was able to crash them together easily. That’s all you have to do, find two words that can fit together like pieces in a puzzle (even if you have to force them a little)! These words are called portmanteaus, but that’s a long French word for something so simple. In ABSURD WORDS, I call them “crashwords” instead. Think about it, when these two words crash together, they lose a few letters here and there, like when a tire falls off and bounces away in a car crash.

Anyone can make up a crashword! A recent, popular one is “hangry,” made from hungry and angry. I know a lot about this word because my 15yo daughter never gets hungry, she goes straight to HANGRY. “I WANT AN EGG AND CHEESE SANDWICH NOW!” I thought I taught her better manners. [sigh]

 

Ooh, I’d love to see some crashwords in the comments! Who wants to share their favorites?

What are you working on now, Tara?

Some sequels! But I can’t say for which books!

 

So exciting! I can’t wait for more details. 😊

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

 

They say that if there’s a book you want to see in the world, you must write it yourself. As a kid, I always wanted a book like ABSURD WORDS. So, I finally wrote it myself. I wrote it for the kid in me, but I hope lots of other kids—big and small—also love it.

 

I already love it…and am sure it’ll have tons of fans. It’s such a fun and useful book. And as you said, words are power. Think of all the power these amazing, absurd words can create.

There’s still time to sign up for Storystorm, where the goal is to come up with 30 ideas by the end of January. And you can win awesome prizes like signed books, art, critiques and agent feedback on ideas, too.

Thank you so much for stopping by the Mixed-Up Files again, Tara. And happy birthday to Absurd Words!

Here’s TWO generous Zoom giveaways from Tara. The first is open to everyone. [Winner: Stephanie Wildman]

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This 30 minute Zoom is only open to teachers and media specialists for an author visit with Tara (she’ll even show up in PJs and let kids guess which ones she’ll be wearing ahead of time—which makes a fantastic graphing activity). [Winner: Mia Geiger]
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Winners will be shouted out on this post and Twitter on Wednesday, January 12. Good luck. 😊