Author Interview: Ann Dee Ellis

Spending time with Ann Dee Ellis is never boring as you will see from her interview. The year I attended her workshop is a memorable one full of learning, laughter, tender moments and lasting friendships. Every WIFYR experience has taught me something new and helped me become a stronger writer. One thing I learn from Ann Dee was about finding the voice of your character. We are fortunate to have her teaching a mini-workshop on that topic, on Friday, June 20 at the WIFYR conference.

Ann Dee is part of the great blogging team at Throwing up Words.

Q:  Ann Dee, do you have a writing ritual – a particular location, a certain time of day, etc?

A:  I write in my bed, in the middle of the day, while my baby and my two year old sleep. I try not to eat too much candy but sometimes it can’t be helped. Red Vines, peach rings, and if I’m really having a hard time, chocolate covered cinnamon bears from the BYU bookstore. Sometimes I feel bad about all the candy but other times I remember as a child dreaming of the day I could drive myself to the grocery story and buy myself as much candy as I wanted. That day has arrived.

I also enjoy writing in remote cottages on the beach. I think. I wish. One day.

Q:  What were some of your favorite books as a child?

A: I loved Drummerhof. I loved The Little House. I loved The Funny Little Woman.

My mom would read to us at night in her gigantic waterbed that would slosh around when you climbed on it. She read us The Secret Garden, Little House on the Prairie, Charlotte’s Web, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, and a novel about a Native American tribe that had a ritual where if two men wanted the same woman, they would each take an arm and pull. The one who truly loved the woman would finally give up and let her go so that she wouldn’t be hurt. This was romantic. Except when neither let go. Then it was sad.

When I was a teenager, I loved Louise Plummer’s books. I cried my face off in the basement bedroom while reading the Romantic Obsessions and Humiliations of of Annie Sehlmeier. 

Q:  What do you do when you aren’t writing?

A:  I sit on the heater with my kids and color. Sometimes I put make up on. Other times I draw on the sidewalk. Sometimes I teach college students. Or make them cry. I go to church and walk around the halls. I talk to people and watch them.

Q:  Of all the characters you’ve created, which is your favorite and why?

A:  My Mazzy from Everything is Fine. I love her. I feel like she’s been neglected and she doesn’t deserve it. She’s brave and she’s weird and she puts oranges in her bra and she yells at boys and does yoga and eats marshmallows and watches Oprah and I love her. I miss her and I love her.

Q:  What is the hardest part of writing for you?

A:  Letting go.

This is my favorite part about writing and also the hardest. Especially when I have limited time.

When you have so little time to write, you don’t want to waste it. You want every minute to count.

That’s a problem because when you create, you need the space to mess up, to go the wrong way, to write big chunks of lovely that will later be cut. You need the freedom to laugh and be ridiculous and try new things and not worry about what you mother or editor or fancy writing friend might think.

Writing is a mind game. It’s about letting go when everything tells you to hold on. To control it. To plan it. To make it good. The hardest part of writing is letting it be bad or weird or nothing. Just writing.

Q:  What makes you laugh?

A:  My boys. All five of them.

Q:  Can you tell us about what you are working on?

A:  A book about a girl and a boy and a trailer park.

Blog Tour and Author Interview: Wendy Toliver

Our blog tour ends today. We hope you have enjoyed getting to know these fabulous authors. There are still a few more interviews coming though, so watch for those.

Today we have the privilege of visiting with Wendy Toliver.

Her blog link is:

Wendy will teach at the conference on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. Her topic and class description sound intriguing:

Cardboard Cut-Outs Need Not Audition: How Acting Techniques Can Help Your Characters—and Overall Writing—Get a Standing Ovation

Welcome, Wendy.

What influenced you to write books for kids?

When I first decided to try my hand at writing a novel (I’d written several non-fiction books), I wrote a chick lit (now it’s usually called “women’s fiction”) manuscript. It was funny and light, and my agent sent it out to editors. Several of those editors came back with comments such as: ”She has a great voice for YA, maybe she should give that a shot.” That manuscript never sold, but I started thinking about writing for teens, and after writing THE SECRET LIFE OF A TEENAGE SIREN and getting a new agent who handled YA, I was pleasantly surprised that two publishers were interested. I went with Simon Pulse, and sold two more YA books, MISS MATCH and LIFTED, to them shortly thereafter. So, while the editors who’d read my chick lit MSS put the bug in my ear about writing for teens, I think it’s always been in me, and I hope to continue writing YA and MG because I absolutely love it.

Q: What were some of your favorite books as a child?

A: The Story of Ferdinand, Barney Beagle, A Wrinkle in Time, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, and anything by Judy Blume or Beverly Cleary

Q: What do you do when you aren’t writing?

A: When I’m not writing, I’m usually reading or thinking about my work in progress. I’m also a freelance editor, writing coach, copy writer, and presenter. I have three sons, ages 13, 11, and 7, so I’m always running them around and coaching soccer and basketball. I love snowboarding in the winter and wakeboarding in the warmer months. And I travel as much as possible.

Q: Of all the characters you’ve created, which is your favorite and why?

A: Poppy Browne, the main character in my third YA novel, LIFTED, is my favorite character to date. After being on the outs with the “in” crowd in liberal Boulder, CO, she moves to an ultra-conservative Texas town called Pleasant Acres, where she’s promptly embraced by an outgoing band girl as well as two of the most beautiful, popular girls. Poppy came alive to me, asking me who she can trust, who she can’t, and at what cost. I also love her sense of fashion and her sense of humor. She is, in my opinion, the perfect mix of vulnerability and strength, and by the end of her story, she’s grown by leaps and bounds.

Q: What have been some of the greatest moments in your life?

A: Right when my first YA book, THE SECRET LIFE OF A TEENAGE SIREN, was published, a 15 year-old poet named Anna contacted me on a social media site and we quickly became online friends. Turns out, she was dying of cancer and was going in for surgery that she might not survive. Miraculously, she had the strength to live four more precious years. During this time, she was my biggest fan, sending me quirky gifts, playing online games with my kids, writing reviews (you can still read most of them), sponsoring a writing conference that my friend and I put on, buying all of my books for everyone she knew, and sending champagne to celebrate my book launches. Turns out, this loving girl had an unbelievably difficult life, even beyond cancer, and writing poetry helped her deal with it at times, escape it other times. Many authors will say the best part of writing for teens is the fans, the young people you get to meet who say your books make a difference in their lives, who create art inspired by your writing, who bring your tattered book everywhere they go. I am deeply humbled that Anna chose to share the last four years of her life not only being a fan, but being a friend and an inspiration that I will never forget.

Interview, Part 2: Lisa Mangum the Editor

Yesterday we interviewed Lisa Mangum, the author. Today she is talking to us with her editor hat on. She works at Deseret Book. Every time I hear Lisa speak I learn something valuable.

Thank you Lisa, for sharing these insights with us.

Q: What is a typical day for you as an editor?

A: I always start my day by checking my email and tending to any urgent issues that cropped up from the night before. Because I know I’m sharper in the morning, I try to set aside some solid hours in the morning to tend to my editing assignments. Afternoons are my time to tend to all the smaller tasks that have accumulated during the day. I almost always have at least one meeting to go to every day, sometimes more. But one of the things I love about being an editor is that, even though the tasks are the same, the books are all different, so my days are always different depending on the books on my desk.

Q: How has being an author changed you as an editor?

A: I’m a nicer editor now. Having been on the other side of the desk (so to speak) has given me a greater appreciation for how scary deadlines can be, for how complicated it is to write a book, and how helpful it is to have an editor who listens and understands the process. I think it’s also helped me stay abreast of reading trends and what writers are excited about.

Q: How can an editor help an author improve a story?

A: A good editor can help an author see the strengths and weaknesses in a story as well as offer ways to push the story from average to excellent. A good editor can help the author’s voice shine in the manuscript and facilitate communication between author and reader. The best editors are entirely invisible to the reader. Editors are not the author’s adversary; editors are the author’s advocate.

Q: What is your favorite part of being an editor?

A: I love reading through the slush pile and finding that manuscript that makes me pause and say, “Oh, there is something wonderful here!” And I love taking that manuscript and working with the author to make the story shine as brightly as it can. I love the first time the text is typeset into the design and it looks like a real book for the first time. I love knowing that I had a small part in the magic of storytelling.

Q: What do you look for most in a query?

A: Strong writing voice, an interesting idea, and a compelling conflict. Query letters are tricky to write because you have to sum up your amazing story in one paragraph or one sentence. But it can be done! I pay attention to authors who can tell me four important things about their book in the first sentence or first paragraph: I want to know (1) who the hero is, (2) what the goal is, (3) what the obstacles are, and (4) what the consequence of failure is. It can take some practice to hone down your idea into a quick sentence like that, but it is well worth the effort.

Interview, Part 1: Lisa Mangum the Author

 Lisa Mangum

We have a special treat from Lisa Mangum. Today we interview, the author. Tomorrow, you will hear from the editor.

We welcome Lisa to the WIFYR faculty. She is the author of four award-winning books: THE HOURGLASS DOOR trilogy and AFTER HELLO. Lisa is teaching Full novel class in the morning workshops. She will also teach two afternoon workshops, Pitch Perfect and Killer Openings.

But for now, here is Lisa Mangum the author.

Q. Do you have a writing ritual—a particular location, a certain time of day, etc.?

A: Because I have a full-time job as an editor as well as being an author, I have to be really careful with my time. I don’t write at work, and I don’t bring work home. That means I do all my writing in the evenings and on the weekends. When it’s time to write, I like to settle onto the couch with my laptop and write. My cat often falls asleep on my legs, which is actually a great help to me. I’ll finish a chapter and think, “Oh, but I can’t disturb Allie. I’ll just write a little longer—until she wakes up.” As any cat owner will tell you, cats can sleep for a long time, but that just means my word count goes up and up.

Q:. What were some of your favorite books as a child?

A: My earliest book memory is of my mom reading The Secret Garden to me. I also remember discovering Dragon’s Blood by Jane Yolen when I was young. That was my gateway book into epic fantasy, which I devoured whole for years and years. Some of my other favorite books were Peppermints in the Parlor, The Phantom Tollbooth, and anything by Roald Dahl.

Q: What is the hardest part of writing for you?

A: Writing is hard—period. But sometimes it’s the getting started that is the hardest for me. I’ll get an idea, develop it, love it, and then I sit down to write it and I feel some paralysis as I stare at the blank screen on the computer. I have to get past the feeling that my first line has to be the best line ever, but once I do, I can pick up speed and get into the flow. But that first line sometimes makes me crazy!

Q: What writing advice do you have for emerging writers?

A: I’m a big believer in attending writing conferences. I think they are excellent places to learn, practice, and network. Writing can be so solitary, and it’s nice to get out into the world once in a while and hang out with other writers who understand the journey. I also love learning new techniques from other writers and hearing about their struggles and successes.

Q: What makes you laugh?

A: Playing board games with my friends. An unexpected surprise. My cat playing with a string. Mystery Science Theater 3000 movies. Song parodies. The TV show Community. Playing LEGO video games with my husband.

Blog Tour and Interview: Ilima Todd

Ilima Todd has joined us for the blog tour and an interview this week. Ilima will be sharing her journey to publication on Monday, June 16 at 4:30, along with Courtney Alameda and Jen White.
Ilima grew up on the north shore of Oahu. She says her eclectic background makes for interesting worlds in the books she writes. We are so glad to have Ilima participate in our blog tour and share this interview with us.
Q: Ilima, what influenced you to write books for kids?
A: I write for teens because I think I’ll always be one. My voice naturally hovers around that of a seventeen-year-old. It was such an eventful age for me. I ran a marathon, graduated from high school, moved away from home, started college, got a boyfriend, etc. Everything was new and grand and epic. I love how teens feel everything so intensely like that.
Q: What were some of your favorite books as a child?
A: The first book I remember fangirling over was A WRINKLE IN TIME in the fourth grade. A few other favorites were LITTLE WOMEN, THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND, and THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA.
Q: What do you do when you aren’t writing?
A: I have four children and have been homeschooling them for ten years. That and writing pretty much suck me dry. Granted, we do A LOT of reading at school. :)
Q: Of all the characters you’ve created, which is your favorite and why?
A: There’s one character that has made me cry buckets and pull my hair out, yet has the funnest voice I’ve ever written. He is so broken and desperate sometimes, but knows exactly how to make others laugh, including me. And he’s by far my favorite character. My husband’s sisters read the book and told me this character was my husband to a tee. Um…I guess I know why I love him so much, haha.
Q: Can you tell us about what you are working on?
A: Too many projects. More than I have time for. I’ve got a male POV dystopian which is freaking me out, a girl who has to marry a stranger to survive the apocalypse, a cancer/pandemic/survival story with a difficult southern voice, a girl whose memory is changing, a Johnny Lingo retelling, and an interplanetary space opera. And that doesn’t include all the ideas waiting patiently for me in my writing folder. It’s a good problem to have, I suppose. :)

Romance Novel Rewriting

A post by Carol Lynch Williams from Throwing up Words.

Here are the last questions for your novel.

What do our MC and her BF have to do together that they weren’t expecting?
What do they realize about each other as the climax of the other plot comes together?
Add in that real kissing scene you wrote earlier.
Now write the ending. Is it true love forever? Is it going to ruin their world but make a new one even better? is everyone happy? Who is happy and who is mad?
You now have the bones of a romance novel.
What are you going to do with it?
I suggest you go in and fill in the blanks. Add the tissue to these bones. Flesh the ideas out.
Give yourself a deadline.
Write to that deadline.
Then set the book aside.
Start another novel (after you take off a day or two! I always give myself a little time after I complete a book.).
When the time is right, pull out your romance.
Look the book over with a critical eye.
Take it to your critique group.
See what they have to say of the book as a whole.
Romance novels are big sellers. Look at Twilight. That was a romance novel wearing vampire capes.
Plus, here’s what Wikipedia said: “In North America, romance novels are the most popular genre in modern literature . . . “
So make your novel amazing.

Blog Tour and Interview: Natalie Whipple

This week’s blog tour introduces one of our afternoon faculty. Natalie Whipple will teach Five Things Every Beginning Needs on Wednesday, June 18 at 3:30 p.m. 

Here’s the link for the blog tour:

Natalie, thanks for joining us for an interview.

Q: What do you do when you aren’t writing?

A: If I’m not writing, you’ll probably find me cooking, taking care of my three kids, or watching Korean dramas and pro-gaming tournaments. I love to cook, especially Asian foods like pad Thai, bulgogi, curry, etc. I also have a significant cupcake addiction. My three kids are wonderful and also crazy, but we have fun. People usually look at me like I’m crazy when I say I love Korean dramas, but imagine dramatic/romantic/hilarious TV *without* the American levels of swearing and bedroom scenes. And pro-gaming? Well, it’s awesome. It’s the closest to liking sports that I’ll ever get.

Q: Of all the characters you’ve created, which is your favorite and why?

A: I’d have to say Josephine from House Of Ivy & Sorrow is probably one of my very favorite main characters. She’s confident (maybe too much at times) and outgoing and pretty much what I wished I could be as a teen. Okay, I wish I could be that way now, too. Jo also has a great sense of humor and she’s super independent, which is sometimes her downfall but something I admire nonetheless. On top of that, she’s a witch. Her magic may be gritty and dark, but who doesn’t want magic, right?

Q: What is the hardest part of writing for you?

A: I think the hardest part will always be my own mental/emotional struggles. Since I have anxiety, I sometimes have to fight my own crushing self-doubt. I often think what I write sucks or that no one will read it or that every writer on the planet is better than I am. If I can get past that and fall in love with my story, then I can usually make it through drafting and editing.

Q: What makes you laugh?

A: My kids, my husband, funny books, romantic comedies, clever t-shirts, cat videos, awkward moments, my little sister, my friends, ridiculously good cupcakes, and inside jokes.

Q: Can you tell us about what you are working on?

A: Much of what I’m working on is Top Secret right now, but I can say there’s a YA contemporary in the mix as well as some more of my own quirky brand of YA “paranormal/sci-fi/not-really-sure” on the way. I am also working on more novellas, because I’ve fallen in love with them. They are such fun, fresh projects! I’m also still writing for the video game Torment: Tides Of Numenera—that has been a dream come true.

Author Interview: Greg Leitich Smith


Although Greg’s never built a time machine, he has degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Texas at Austin. In addition, he has a degree in law from The University of Michigan Law School, Ann Arbor. Greg is a native of Chicago, naturalized Texan. Author of Chronal Engine (Clarion/HMH 2012); Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn (Roaring Brook/Macmillan, Spring 2014); Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown 2003); and Tofu and T.Rex (Little Brown 2005). Co-Author of Santa Knows (Dutton 2006).

Meet Greg Leitich Smith, one of this year’s faculty members.

Q: Do you have a writing ritual – a particular location, a certain time of day, etc?
A: Well, I have a day job, so I write when I can. My daily (weekday) schedule usually goes something like this: Get up somewhere around 6-6:30 a.m. Feed the cats. Work out/run. Write. Go to work. Return around 5-6 p.m. Feed the cats. Make dinner. Write.

On weekends, I usually try to write in the mornings before Cyn [Greg’s wife and well-known writer, Cynthia Leitich Smith] gets up, so we can take time off in the afternoon and pretend we have real weekends.

With regard to the actual writing, I try to mix it up. Sometimes I will draft on the computer and sometimes I will just use pen and paper. I did an entire draft of CHRONAL ENGINE on four legal pads.

Q: What were some of your favorite books as a child?

A: In early grade school, I really liked the Three Investigators series and The Great Brain, but my favorite was The Swiss Family Robinson. In middle grade and junior high, I fell in love with fantasy like Lord of the Rings and the Earthsea books. And all along the way, I’ve always loved nonfiction. We had a set of World Book Encyclopedias and I would periodically grab a volume and just read through it.

Q: What is the hardest part of writing for you?

A: Plotting and getting the first draft done tends to be hardest. I usually start with an idea and a character/voice, but putting together the first (terrible) go at it usually takes some gnashing of teeth…

Q: Can you tell us about what you are working on?

A: I just received edits on the sequel to CHRONAL ENGINE, which is tentatively titled CHRONAL ENGINE: BORROWED TIME. It takes up where CHRONAL ENGINE left off and ties up some of the loose ends. But not all, because after all, it’s time travel…

Find Greg’s books at The King’s English
(The bookstore for Writing & Illustrating for Young Readers.)

Blog Tour and Interview: Sherry Meidell


Illustrator, Sherry Meidell, will present a Mini-Workshop on Tuesday, June 17 at Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers. With a collection of illustrated books and an intriguing topic, Stepping into Your Picture, her workshop is sure to be a treat to those who attend.

Read the interview below to learn more about this fabulous illustrator. Follow the blog tour to see some of what Sherry is working on and read the WIFYR guest post.

Welcome Sherry!

Q:  What influenced you to illustrate and write books for kids?

A:  In elementary school I would get lost in book illustrations. I studied them and the stories they told. At night I stared at the ceiling of my room and imagine faces made by the shadows there. When we would go up to my grandparents house I would study the Saturday Evening Post covers by the great illustrators of the day. I suppose that early love of art sent me in the direction of illustrating children’s books and wanting to create my own stories. `

Q:  Do you have an illustration ritual ? a particular location, a certain time of day, etc?

A:  I have a studio in my house. After a bit of morning reading and excercise, I love to head up to the studio. The morning sun will come in the windows and set the mood for a nice day of illustrating. I always have projects going whether it’s a book dummy I’m working on or a watercolor to paint or another story to work on.

Q:  Who are some of the writers and illustrators you most admire?

A:  I love the illustrations of Jerry Pinkney. I have a nice collection of the books he has illustrated. I also love N. C. Wyeth and Norman Rockwell and Beatrix Potter.

Q:  What illustrating advice do you have for emerging illustrators?

A:  One of the best tools any artist can have is a sketch book and a pen. It should be with you almost always to capture things that are around you. They strengthen you muscle memory and skill. They are a valuable place to keep ideas and memories.

Q:  What have been some of the greatest moments in your life?

A:  Great moments come every day. This life is filled with beauty.

Q:  What makes you laugh?

A:  I seem to get laughing at times when it is not acceptable to laugh which usually makes me shake uncontrollably and laugh harder. In my younger days, I was in a musical of the Wizard of Oz. I was one of the munchkin lullaby league. There were three of us on stage. It was time for us to sing our song. We represent the lullaby league, the lullaby league the…….. and it hit. Two of the lullaby league hung their heads with uncontrollable giggles and the other girl sang a very nice solo. Was I the one singing the solo so nicely? No I was the one who giggled through the song and most of the night.

Q:  Can you tell us about what you are working on?

A:  A book dummy. :)

(Note: A book dummy is a mock-up of your book, meant to show editors the layout.)

Blog Tour and Interview: Robison Wells

Robinson Wells, author of the YA science-fiction thrillers VARIANT and FEEDBACK, is our stop for the blog tour this week. On June 16, Robison will be teaching about Characterization in the Monday Mini Workshop.
Here’s the link for the blog tour:
We’re glad he joined us for this interview.
Q:  Of the characters you’ve created, who is your favorite and why?
A: One of my very favorites to write Isaiah from VARIANT. He gives a very different perspective on survival and (if I’ve done my job right) his motivations appear reasonable. Not perfect, but reasonable. He doesn’t trust emotion, only logic. He’s a good foil for Becky, who trusts emotion over logic nearly every time. They’re both in the same gang, but for completely different reasons. Isaiah is there to enforce the strict rules; Becky is there trying to stop people from breaking the rules in the first place.
Q:  What advice do you give to aspiring writers?
A:  I was a history major in college and my brother, Dan Wells, was at different school about an hour or so away, working on an English/Editing degree. I came across a fascinating story, so I called Dan up and said “This is a good idea–you should write it.” He let me down easy. He told me to write a couple chapters and go to his writing group. And then he gave me the one piece of evidence that has served me best over the 11 years I’ve been writing: He said “Everybody has an idea for a story. Everybody says that one day they’re going to sit down and write the Great American Novel. But the difference between writers and everybody else is that writers actually do it. They write. Even when the muse is gone, even when they’re feeling sick, even when they have writers block, or tendonitis, or anything else, they write.”
Q:  Do you have a writing ritual – a particular location, a certain time of day, etc?
A:  I have a small office that I rent. I bring my dog, Annie, to work with me. She’s a therapy dog (because I’m a mess of mental illness–I only need one more for BINGO!–I usually get to work by seven and work until seven in the evening. My desk is usually very clean, other than a can of Diet Coke. I have a very nice lamp from the Arts-and-Crafts movement that my wife got me for my birthday. I also have a model locomotive, because I’m obsessed with trains. This one was a gift, but I dropped it and it doesn’t work anymore. But it really looks pretty–it’s a BNSF (Burlington Northern and Santa Fe) orange and dark green.
Q:  What do you do when you aren’t writing?
A:  Well, I play with my model trains, and I build models generally: tanks and trucks and spaceship and monsters and old sailing ships in the Spanish Armada. I like cooking–I love watching the Food Network, and my goal one day is to be famous enough to be a judge on Iron Chef America. But for now, my cooking skills mainly come out at Christmas and Thanksgiving.