PAL Interview for December 2018
Randi Hacker has worked as a personal assistant to the stars, publisher, educator, librarian, author and video store clerk. She was the editor of The Electric Company Magazine published by Children’s Television Workshop. Her essays and articles have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Punch and Spy. She is currently the Education Outreach Coordinator at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas.
Randi’s young adult novel, Life as I Knew It (Simon & Schuster, 2006) was chosen as one of the New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age 2007. In addition to her duties as Outreach Coordinator, Randi is the mother of a 12-year-old daughter adopted from China. Welcome to Randi Hacker, our featured PAL author for the month of December!
Randi, what was the inspiration for your young adult novel, Life As I Knew It?
My novel, Life As I Knew It, was inspired by the true story of the family of a dear friend of mine. The way they held together and came through the difficult and unhappy circumstance of the father’s stroke and subsequent death seemed noble and in need of a grander narrative.
Did writing your book involve any research?
I did some research on post-stroke behaviors and symptoms but mostly I just relied on my experience of their anguish and courage. I was quite involved with them through it all. Research is always a challenge for me. I prefer to make things up.
How did you find your editor?
I found my editor through a referral from Dan Gutman, an old friend from our days together on a video game magazine back in the 20th century.
The editor who bought my book wanted more books from me, but then left Simon & Schuster and my book became an orphan. Life As I Knew It was released in 2006, and was chosen as one of the New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age in 2007. It is listed as resource for grieving teens by the Mourning Star Foundation of California.
You’ve done some work for hire in the past. How did you get your assignments?
In the old days, I did tons of work for hire and they found me, usually. I worked for Scholastic and Penguin and Parachute Press among others.
Do you ever experience writer’s block? How do you handle that?
Often. An editor I worked for back in the days of my employment on a consumer electronics trade magazine said, “Just put one word after another,” and that has always worked for me. You think you’re writing just awful prose but when you go back and read it, it’s not that bad.
Is there anything in general that you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Finding exactly the right word. I am a bear about precision in word choice. If I can’t think of the exact word, I will write its nearest equivalent and enclose that not-quite-right word in square brackets so I know to go back and think about it some more.
Where do you get ideas for your books?
From life, certainly, but mostly from death. I am fascinated by the way we humans approach, live with and refer to death. My most recent and as yet unpublished YA is also about a family coming together and coming through the death of a father. It is written in three tenses: past, present and future.
When you have an idea for a book, how do you go about writing it? Do you use an outline?
I do not outline. I am a dive-in-and-just-start-writing kinda gal. I work in pencil in a notebook then type my chapters on the computer. I also make random notes on any available scrap of paper that I mostly remember to add to that notebook I’m using to create the particular book I’m working on.
What books or authors have influenced your writing?
Douglas Adams, first and foremost, then Jane Austen, Rachel Khong, Patrick Dennis and Kate di Camillo. I also love Anne Tyler and Ann Patchett and Sharon Creech and Christopher Buckley.
Where do you turn for instruction and inspiration?
Douglas Adams. Always.
How does your experience as an editor inform, inspire, and affect your writing?
I learned so much about brevity and clarity when I was the editor of The Electric Company Magazine published by Children’s Television Workshop. We would go on research jaunts to schools and I could see what the kids understood and what they responded most enthusiastically to.
What books were among your childhood favorites and why?
The Little Orpheline by Natalie Savage Carlson because the main character, Brigitte, had little gold hoop earrings which I totally wanted and, ultimately, got. Charlotte’s Web, because of Charlotte. The Narnia Books, so beautifully written and who doesn’t want to find a portal to another realm? Heidi for her skylight up there under the eaves of her grandfather’s house in the Alps. Mrs. Coverlet’s Magician and While Mrs. Coverlet Was Away because of its humor. The Incredible Journey, heroic animals, need I say more? The Witch Family because of Malachi the Spelling Bee and the tiny witch baby. Captive of the Delawares because the idea of being kidnapped and raised by Native Americans just appealed to me—not the kidnapped part, you understand, the part about the way the Native American lived. And I loved the Greek myths.
What are your favorite titles today and why?
Anything Anne Tyler writes, I’m in. I love Fredrick Backman, particularly My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. I’m a big fan of Harlan Coben especially his Myron Bolitar series, and Carl Hiaasen, whose characters and stories about nutty Florida are so, so wild and funny and environmentally aware. Right now I’m reading Nicholas Nickleby, for probably the 5th time. It’s my favorite Dickens novel.
What encouragement has helped you along your writing path?
My mother. And my 9th grade English student teacher who first told me I should be a writer.
Did you face any early challenges to finding success on this path?
Many, many rejections. I still get them! And I’m not sure I consider myself a commercial success though I do consider myself a success at writing the best prose that I can.
What do you love about being a writer? What is the most difficult part?
I love making things up. The freewheeling use of my brain. Working at home.
The hardest part for me is developing a rip roaring, well-paced story from the original exhilarating idea.
What projects are you working on now?
I have just completed a micro-memoir about my mother that I think could be life-changing for anyone who reads it; it has been, so far, for the people who have taken it for a test run. I’m told that marketing it will be difficult because my mother was neither a drug addict nor an alcoholic nor bi-polar and I am not a celebrity. I’d like to find an agent who believes that even someone down here on the ground can have a story that occupies a meaningful place in the great universal narrative of the fraughtness of mother/daughter relationships.
I am also working on a picture book with my daughter about what happened to Rudolph after that foggy Christmas Eve.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given about writing?
Just put one word after another. Really. It always works.
Do you have any advice for beginning children’s writers?
If your writing amuses you, you’re golden. Also, read everything you write out loud to yourself; it helps so much with the rhythm.
Anything else you would like to add?
I have been told by any number of agents that I am one of the best writers they have read, BUT they said they wouldn’t know how to market my books. I would like to find an agent brave enough to take on a good writer whose books are genre non-conforming.
Thank you so much for sharing your writing experiences here, Randi. Randi lives with her daughter in Lawrence, Kansas. You can find out more about Randi and her books on goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/35025.Randi_Hacker.
Life As I Knew It, Simon & Schuster 2006
FORMER Authors of the Month
Molly McCluskey-Shipman writes picture books for children. Her first picture book, Emma’s Dilemma (Goldminds Publishing), received an honorable mention in the Purple Dragonfly Book Award. Her picture book Festeva’s Holiday Cheer was released last month from Lift Bridge Publishing. In addition to writing for children Molly has written various manuals and articles for nonprofit organizations and she is active in the Great Plains SPCA.
Amber Hendricks grew up reading everything she could get her hands on, including the morning cereal boxes. That passion melded into writing, and by the age of 11 she was writing and binding her own “books.” Amber earned her degree in merchandising, and over the years has worn many hats. Those include army wife, mother, visual merchandiser, certified pharmacy technician, and childcare professional. But she has always circled back to her first love of telling stories. Sophie and Little Star is her first book for children.
Adib Khorram works as a graphic designer, videographer, projectionist, and more for live events in and around the Kansas City area and nationwide. When he’s not working at his day job, he writes contemporary fiction for young adults.Darius the Great Is Not Okayis his first published book for young readers. It received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly and was selected as a 2018 BEA Young Adult Buzz Book. You can read more about Adib and his books on his website at www.adibkhorram.com/.
Billie Holladay Skelley is the author of children’s books from picture books through young adult, as well as articles, stories, essays and poetry for adults. Her books for young readers have earned awards such as the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award, the Purple Dragonfly Award, and the Missouri Writers’ Guild Best Juvenile Book Award. Her latest book, Ollie the Autism-Support Collie, was released this year in June. Billie is a retired registered nurse who now enjoys focusing her time on her writing. You can read more about Billie and her books on her website at www.bhskelley.com or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Roberta Lynne Roelfs has always loved reading, and she has been writing stories and poems since she was in the first grade. Today she writes for children under the name R. Lynne Roelfs. Roberta is the author of a magazine story inspired by her dog, Duncan, and has published fiction and nonfiction passages for the educational testing market.You can read more about Roberta and her work on her website at www.rlynneroelfs.com and follow her at twitter @RLynneRoelfs
Constance Levy felt poetry was ‘love at first sound.’ She has been writing poetry since first grade and is still writing today. Her poetry has earned many awards, including a Lee Bennett Hopkins Award and honor award, a Boston Globe Horn Book Honor Award, the National Council of Teachers of English Notable Books in Language Arts, and others. You can find out more about Constance and her books on her website at http://www.constancelevy.com/.
Jan Greenberg combines her passion for art, literature and writing to write award-winning books about art and artists for young readers. Some of her awards include: the American Library Association Notable Book Award, the International Reading Association Teachers’ Choice Award, the Boston Globe Horn Book Honor Award, the Seibert Honor Award, and the Printz Honor Award. You can find out more about Jan and her books on her website at Jangreenbergsandrajordan.com.
Alastair Heim writes picture books for young children, including THE GREAT PUPPY INVASION published by HMH/Clarion and HELLO DOOR published by little bee. He lives in Kansas City with his wife and three children. You can find out more about Alastair and his books on his website www.alastairheim.com and you can connect with him on twitter at www.twitter.com/alastairheim
Lori Galaske writes for children from the picture book age to middle grade and teens. Her short stories and articles have been published in teen magazines and in anthologies, and she writes an inspirational blog for adults. Her first picture book, THE ALPHABET FOREST, was published by Guardian Angel Publishing in 2017. You can learn more about Lori and her book and her writing on her website at www.lorigalaske.com. Find her on facebook at www.facebook.com/kidlitlife/ and follow her on twitter at @lgalaske.
Carol Murray writes poetry and non-fiction for young readers. Her books for children include Rookie Reader books and storybooks with stickers, as well as having her poetry published in Highlights magazine and in anthologies. Her newest book, CRICKET IN THE THICKET, was released in 2017. You can find out more about Carol and her work at www.carolmurray.net
Jonathan Schkade writes religious books for children, books with titles like Icky Sticky, Hairy Scary Bible Stories and Not-So-Nice Bible Stories: Master Criminals. He has published a dozen books for young readers in the religious market. He also writes picture books, MG, and YA for the general market. www.jonathanschkade.com
Nicki Jacobsmeyer’s stories have been published in Saturday Writers anthologies (Missouri Writer’s Guild), and her book, CHESTERFIELD was published by Arcadia Publishing. Her first children’s book, SURVIVING THE IDITAROD: An Interactive Extreme Sports Adventure, was released by Capstone Press in August. You can find out more about Nicki and her books on her website at https://www.nickijacobsmeyer.com/about.
Vicki Berger Erwin has worked as a children’s book buyer and a sales rep for Scholastic, and she and her husband owned the independent bookstore, Main Street Books, in St. Charles, MO for seven years. She is the author of many books for children, including SCOOBY DOO AND YOU, as well as some single Scooby Doo titles. She was also a ghostwriter for several popular girls’ book series. DIFFERENT DAYS, is historical fiction for middle grade readers, and was released this month by SkyPony Press. You can find out more about Vicki and her books on her website at www.vickibergererwin.comz
Laura S. Schmidt writes contemporary fiction and mysteries for young adults. Her first novel, SWEETER THAN LIFE, was published in 2015. Laura has worked as a community education coordinator, and has spent several years as a staff counselor at an agency that supports children and adults with developmental disabilities. You can find out more about Laura and her books on her website at www.laurastewartschmidt.com
Jessica Shaw writes for children from the picture book age through young adult, including poetry, fiction and non-fiction. Her work has been published in several magazines for children as well as doing work-for-hire projects. She received a Letter of Merit from the SCBWI 2016 Magazine Merit Award committee for her poem My Favorite Sounds, published in Ladybug, May 2015. You can find out more about Jessica and her books on her website at www.authorjessicashaw.comz
Patricia A. Miller writes picture books, including nonfiction, historical fiction, and fiction, and she has written several board book manuscripts as well. She has had two nonfiction magazine articles published in Highlights for Children magazine. Her latest article is “A Century of Blossoms,” which appears in the April 2017 issue of Highlights. You can find out more about Patricia and her writing on her website at www.patriciamillerbooks.com.
Clare Vanderpool writes adventure and historical fiction for middle grade readers. Her book Moon Over Manifest won the 2011 Newbery Award, and her newest book, Navigating Early, was a 2014 Michael L. Printz Honor Book. Visit her website to find out more about Clare and her books at www.clarevanderpool.com
Claire M. Caterer has been a freelance writer and editor for more than a dozen years. Her short fiction for adults has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and Woman’s World. She lives in Shawnee, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City, with her husband, daughter, and two dogs. Find more about Claire and her books on her website at http://www.clairecaterer.com/
Sue Lowell Gallion writes picture books, early readers and chapter books for children from her home in Leawood, Kansas. She is the former Regional Advisor for Kansas SCBWI, and is currently Co-Regional Advisor with Kim Piddington for Kansas/Missouri SCBWI. Sue has been published in children’s magazines and educational publishing. PUG MEETS PIG, released in September 2016 from Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), is her first picture book. You can find out more about Sue on her website at www.suegallion.com
Lisa Wade McCormick has written eighteen non-fiction books for children, and her stories have appeared in several children’s magazines. Besides being a children’s book author, Lisa is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than 20 years experience as a newspaper reporter and television producer. She is currently the investigative producer at WDAF-TV in Kansas City. You can find out more about Lisa and her books on her website at www.lisawademccormick.com
Rita Arens is the author of the contemporary realistic young adult novel, THE OBVIOUS GAME (InkSpell Publishing, 2013), a 2016 Library Journal Self-e Selection. Rita is also the editor of a parenting anthology, SLEEP IS FOR THE WEEK (Chicago Review Press), winner of a 2009 gold National Parenting Publications award (NAPPA) and winner of an honorable mention in the 2012 New York Book Festival. You can find our more about Rita and her books at www.ritaarens.com
Patricia J. Norton is the author of phonics-based beginning readers and narrative non-fiction for children. In 2006, she started a new publishing house, Short Vowel Phonics, to provide phonics-controlled short stories for beginning and struggling readers. You can find our more about Patricia and her books at http://shortvowelphonics.com/phonics/
Amy Houts, Maryville, MO, is a freelance writer and former instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature. She enjoys writing fiction and nonfiction books on assignment for educational publishers, as well as working on her own projects. She is the author of over 60 books, many for young children ages 3 to 7. You can find out more about Amy and her books on her website, www.amyhouts.com, or follow her blog at http://www.houtsandhome.com/amys-blog.
PEGGY ARCHER, O’Fallon, MO, loves to talk to students and adults about writing and her books. Readers can learn more about her author presentations on her website at www.peggyarcher.com. They can also check out her author blog, Peggy’s Pages, at http://www.peggyarcher.com/blog.htm. NAME THAT DOG! ( Dial Books for Young Readers, ISBN# 978-0-8037-3322-0) is also available through Scholastic Book Club and Scholastic Book Fairs.
JANIE CHEANEY is the author of novels for middle-grade readers. Her book, THE MIDDLE OF SOMEWHERE, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, was named a 2008 Kansas Notable Book by the Kansas State Library. Janie is also a senior writer for WORLD Magazine and co-publisher of RedeemedReader.com.
HOLLY SCHINDLER‘s first two published works, A Blue So Dark and Playing Hurt, were both YA novels. Her debut MG, The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, released with Dial / Penguin on February 6, 2014, and her next YA, Feral, is forthcoming from HarperCollins. Find out more at hollyschindler.com
BRIDGET HEOS is the author of Mustache Baby (Houghton Mifflin, May 2013, ISBN-13: 978-0547773575) She lives in Kansas City with her husband and four children. Check out her Facebook page, Author Bridget Heos, or website www.authorbridgetheos.com for updates!
BONNIE HINMAN writes non-fiction books for children. She lives with her husband in Joplin, MO, close to their children and grandchildren. You can find out more about Bonnie and her books at http://www.bonniehinman.com.
SHANNON MOORE is the former Assistant Regional Advisor for Missouri SCBWI. You can find out more about Shannon on her blog, Great Books for Children, where she reviews children’s books. http://greatbooksforchildren.com/index.php/about/.
JODY FELDMAN lives in St. Louis where she writes middle-grade contemporary novels for young readers. The first book in her series, The Gollywhopper Games, was an ALA/YALSA Best Books for Young Adults nominee, and received the Midwest Bookseller’s Choice Award Honor Book for Children’s Literature. The second book in the series, The Gollywhopper Games: The New Champion, recently made the St. Louis Post Dispatch Best Sellers list for kids’ books. http://jodyfeldman.com
NANCY POLETTE of O’Fallon, MO is the author of picture books, fiction and non-fiction for middle grade readers, and has four easy readers coming out this year. Nancy is a former teacher of students in K through 8th grades, and is currently a professor of education at Lindenwood University where she teaches Children’s Literature.
ANN INGALLS was born in Cleveland, grew up in Detroit, and now lives with her husband and three children in Kansas City. You can find out more about her and her books, including J is for Jazz, on her website at: http://anningallswrites.com/ann-ingalls/
CYNTHIA COLLINS, from Jefferson City, enjoys writing for the teen and young adult audience. Her debut novel for teens, THE UNICORN TREE, was released by Mockingbird Lane Press in 2012. Two of her short stories published in the quarterly writers’ journal, The Storyteller, received a People’s Choice Award for 1st Place in Fiction. You can find out more about Cynthia and her writing on her website at www.cynthia-collins.com, and you can contact her at email@example.com
KRISTIN BAIRD RATTINI, Foristell, Missouri, is a freelance writer who has written for children’s magazines for 17 years, Kristin has enjoyed the challenge of introducing young readers to a wide range of topics and the thrill of hooking their attention with writing that’s both educational and entertaining. You can find out more about Kristin and her books at: Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/kristin-rattini/5/900/33a and MediaBistro: http://www.mediabistro.com/fm/PD.asp?user_id=6628
MARGO L. DILL, of St. Louis, Missouri, is the SCBWI Missouri webmaster and a children’s and YA author. She currently has three books out: Maggie Mae, Detective Extrordinaire: The Case of the Missing Cookies (picture book), Finding My Place (middle grade), and Caught Between Two Curses (young adult). She is also a freelance editor and writing teacher. Find out more at http://www.margodill.com
SUE BRADFORD EDWARDS writes from her home in Florissant, Missouri, where she lives with her husband and son. You can find out more about Sue and her work on her website at www.suebradfordedwards.com, and on her blog, https://suebe.wordpress.com/
VEDA BOYD JONES is the author of 47 books and over 500 articles and short stories. She writes children’s picture books and middle grade novels, fiction and non-fiction, and has been published in children’s magazines. She also writes romance novels for adults. Find out more about Veda and her books on her website at www.vedaboydjones.com
CYNTHIA REEG writes picture books and middle grade novels. Her writing includes fiction, non-fiction, short stories and poetry. Her books have been published by Guardian Angel Publishing, and her work has been published in anthologies, magazines and newspapers. Her newest book, BUNNY BUSINESS, was released from Guardian Angel Publishing in September 2014. http://www.cynthiareeg.com/index.html
STEPHANIE BEARCE is the author of non-fiction for children and she also writes middle grade fiction. She is a past SCBWI Regional Advisor and is a full member of the Missouri Writers Guild and American Christian Fiction Writers. Find out more at www.stephaniebearce.com
BARBARA STUBER, from Kansas City, brings visual art and writing together as she weaves artwork into her stories for young adults. Her latest book, Girl in Reverse, was an NPR (National Public Radio) pick for the Best Books of 2014 in five categories. Her earlier book, Crossing the Tracks, was an ALA Wm. C. Morris Award Finalist in 2010. Find out more at http://www.barbarastuber.com
JEANIE FRANZ RANSOM, from O’Fallon, Missouri, sold her first story to Seventeen magazine when she was a teen, and has been writing ever since. She is an award-winning author of children’s picture books, and her books have received starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly. She is also a former elementary school counselor. Find out more at www.jeanieransom.com
JODY JENSEN SHAFFER is the author of 26 fiction and nonfiction books, which include titles like NINJA WARRIORS, INSIDE MY MUSCLES, BLACK-FOOTED FERRETS, and FREDERICK DOUGLASS. Her debut picture book, ROCKY, releases in 2017 from Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin. Find out more at: http://jodyjensenshaffer.blogspot.com/
ANOLA PICKET is a former teacher and school librarian and writes historical novels for middle grade readers. She is also the author of an I-Can-Read book for younger readers, and co-author of a book for teachers and parents, Multiple Intelligences and Positive Life Habits. Anola lives in Kansas City but loves to travel and finds ideas and inspiration in her travels. You can find out more about Anola and her books at www.anolapickett.com, or meet her on Twitter at anolamarie.
AMY SKLANSKY, University City, is a former editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books, Amy writes picture books and board books, and is the author of children’s fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Her books have received many awards including the Bankstreet College of Education Best Books of the Year, Outstanding Science Trade Book by the National Science Teachers Association and Children’s Book Council, and have appeared on the St. Louis Independent Bestsellers list. You can read more about Amy at: www.amysklansky.com.
CATHY GILMORE, St. Louis, is a picture book author, and freelance editor. Her goal is to help children discover the joy of God’s love through her books. A Certified Catechist of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, she creates stories that bring the gospel to life for children. Her newest book, LITTLE LAMB FINDS CHRISTMAS, won the 2015 USA Best Books Award in the Children’s Religious books category. Read more about Cathy and her books on her website at www.catherinecgilmore.com.