Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Susan Hill Long is in the House!

It's a book birthday!!

 I'm thrilled to have my pal, Susan Hill Long, stop by to talk to
us about her new middle grade novel, JOSIE BLOOM AND THE EMERGENCY OF LIFE, which Kirkus calls "entertaining and emotionally resonant. 

Publishers Weekly said, "Long nails the voice of a kid trying as hard as she can to tackle adult problems on her own when the adults in her life fall short." 

What's the story about?

Josie Bloom discovers the first wad of money stuffed inside a packet of bologna, and the second hidden between the trash can and the bin liner. That money comes in handy when she finds the PAST DUE  notice from the heating company. 

Seems like Grandpa has been spending more time feeding squirrels than paying the bills. But when a bill arrives that's too big to handle, Josie's going to need a plan to get more money - while keeping Grandpa's odd behavior a secret.

And here's a link to the first page. I always open a book and read the first paragraph before I commit to pulling it from the bookshelf. Do you? 

That's a terrific cover. What's with the squirrels in your books?

I love it, too. The art is by Sara Mulvanny. Thank you and ah, yes. There are squirrels on the cover of this new book and there was a squirrel on the cover of my last book, THE MAGIC MIRROR: Concerning a Lonely Princess, a Foundling Girl, a Scheming King and a Pickpocket Squirrel. [Note from O'Connor: I ADORE this book!!!]

Where I live, the squirrels are bigger than my dog. It's true
Susan's dog, Pippin
my dog is small, but these are some big squirrels. I'm telling you. I don't even like squirrels.

Then why do you put them in your books?

Good question. They just appear. As in real life, Squirrels Are Everywhere. In the case of JOSIE BLOOM, Grandpa starts feeding the squirrels to an extreme degree, yet another item on his list of odd behaviors.

What is Stargardt Disease?

Stargardt is a disease of the eye. Josie's best friend, Winky, is losing his vision to it, and with that his ability to play baseball, the game of his heart. There is a lot of marvelous research being done using stem cells to cure this disease.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Susan! I love this book.

Thank you for having me! I'm excited to have his book out in the world. I hope your readers will enjoy JOSIE, and if they do, that they'll write me at my website, www.susanhilllong.com. (I will gladly write back!) 

Susan Hill Long's books include JOSIE BLOOM AND THE
EMERGENCY OF LIFE, THE MAGIC MIRROR: CONCERNING A LONELY PRINCESS, A FOUNDLING GIRL, A SCHEMING KING, AND A PICKPOCKET SQUIRREL, and, WHISTLE IN THE DARK. Special recognition for her work includes a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year; Bank Street Best Books; Oregon Book Award and the Katherine Paterson Prize. She lives in Oregon with her husband, two daughters, and their dog, Pippin.


Monday, November 4, 2019

Bobbie Pyron is in the House!

Today I'm thrilled to have my friend, Bobbie Pyron, here to talk about her latest middle grade novel.

1.     Tell us a little bit about your new novel, STAY.

      STAY is the intertwined stories of Piper and her family, and a little dog named Baby, and his person, Jewel. Piper’s family has fallen on hard times and have just moved into a shelter for families experiencing homelessness. Piper misses her home and friends back in Louisiana and hates being called “the homeless kid” in her new school. Baby and Jewel are also experiencing homelessness. They can’t live in a shelter, though, because shelters don’t allow dogs. And Jewel would never give up Baby! But when Jewel gets sick and is taken away from the city park where she and Baby live, Baby is left on his own. Piper is determined to do everything in her power to get Jewel and Baby back together.

2.     You dedicated STAY to Girl Scout Troop 6000. Why?   

      One night after I’d started writing the first draft of STAY, I saw a story on the national news about a Girl Scout troop in Brooklyn, New York. All the girls in this troop live in a family shelter. Before they came to the shelter, some had lived with their families in cars, slept on relative’s couches, or lived in subway stations. Despite this, the girls were bursting with pride and enthusiasm! They were so strong, brave, and yet compassionate—just the way I wanted Piper to be.

3.     In all your books, geographical place plays an important role. In STAY, though, you never say where the story takes place. How come?   

      That’s very observant of you! The reason I didn’t ever say exactly where the book takes place is because I wanted the reader to feel like this could take place in any place, any city. Because that’s the way homelessness is: it can take place everywhere.

4.     Now that you’ve written six books, do you see a reoccurring theme in your stories?  

       I think I tend to write a good deal about loss and what makes a home, and how we define family. I experienced a great deal of loss at a young age (my father died in a car crash when I was seven), and we moved around a lot too. I think these early experiences in my childhood keep informing my stories. I probably always will, in some form or another.

5.     Half of STAY—the dog’s chapters—are written in free verse. What was that like?  

       It was fun! I love poetry and I love reading books written in verse, so I wanted to see if I could write that way. I like to challenge myself as an artist. I also feel like dogs probably think in free verse, don’t you?

6.     Since most of your books have adorable dogs on the cover, show us a picture of your adorable dog!    

       I’d love to! This is Sherlock, my 14-year-old rescued Shetland sheepdog. He’s my baby!

Thanks so much for stopping by, Bobbie!

Bobbie Pyron is the author of the award-winning A DOG'S WAY HOME, the critically acclaimed THE DOGS OF WINTER, among other popular middle grade books. She lives in Mars Hill, NC, with her husband and incredibly sweet Shetland Sheepdog, Sherlock. To find out more about Bobbie and her books, visit her website at www.bobbiepyron.com

Monday, October 28, 2019

Constance Lombardo is in the House!

 Today I'm celebrating a fabulous new picture book by Constance Lombardo: EVERYBODY SAYS MEOW, hitting bookstore shelves on November 5!
And what a treat that Constance stopped by to answer some questions!

How does it feel to have your debut picture book coming out soon?
It feels as wonderful as being in a room full of puppies! And kittens, of course. And they’re not even fighting, it’s just one big love-fest.

Describe the story of Everybody Says Meow in ten words or less.
A kitten learns that everybody really does say ‘Meow’ – not!

Another book about cats, huh? Tell me about some of the cats in your life, past and present.  
1.     Childhood cat: a tuxedo named Max, who once bit my mother’s toe because she wasn’t feeding him fast enough.
2.     A kitten found in a garden who was so small we had to feed him milk with a Q-tip. We named him Phantom.
3.     A roommate’s gorgeous long-haired barley-colored cat named… Barley. Would sit on the kitchen counter surveying his domain.
4.     A yoga studio cat named Peanut who would meow along with our Ohm.
5.     Myrtle, the sweetest cat ever. Very vocal, especially when I was about to feed her.
6.     Gandalf the Grey, aka, G. G., the mischievous grey tabby. As a kitten, he never said a peep. When I fed them, and Myrtle would MEOW like crazy, I’d say, “See, G.G., everybody says meow!” That was the seed of this book. 


Gandolf the Grey, aka G.G.

The illustrations for Everybody Says Meow were called “…simple but zestily cartoonish…” by The Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books.  Did you use traditional media or digital?
First of all…yay!! I wanted the art to be playful, above all. I used a technical pen and watercolor washes – totally traditional media. But I’ve recently been learning Procreate, a digital art-making app. I love working in watercolor, pens, colored pencils, and markers. But I must admit that Procreate is super fun!

What are some of your favorite picture books?
Classic favorites include The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf with amazing black & white art by Robert Lawson, Shrek by William Steig, and A Fierce Bad Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. Some contemporary books I adore are Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise by David Ezra Stein, I am a Cat by Galia Bernstein, and Fox and Chick by Sergio Ruzzier.  

There are some non-felines in Everybody Says Meow. Which animal was the most challenging to draw?
I found it surprisingly difficult to draw the duck. But once I put him in a purple top hat, it all made sense.

What about dogs? Do you even like dogs?
I LOVE dogs!!! My big news is I adopted a dog last year. He’s a 10 year old beagle named Louie. We love roaming around the neighborhood, while Louie smells all the things, and eats whatever he finds, even if it’s not exactly edible. I even did a cartoon about it using Procreate!

Thanks for stopping by, Constance!
Thanks for hosting me on your blog, Barbara O’Connor! 

Constance Lombardo is the author/illustrator of the middle grade Mr. Puffball series (HarperCollins.) Her first picture book, Everybody Says Meow, publishes on November 5. She loves visiting classrooms and talking to kids about writing and drawing. 

Friday, September 13, 2019

Jo Hackl is in the House!

 Today I'm celebrating the summer publication of the paperback edition of Jo Hackl's terrific middle grade novel, Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe.

Set in an overgrown Southern ghost town, Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe takes readers on an adventure with 12-year-old Cricket, who sets out to survive on her own in the woods of an overgrown ghost town to try to solve a clue trail left by an eccentric artist, with a logic all his own, all
to try to find a secret room that may or may not exist. Cricket must use her wits and just a smidgen of luck to live off the land and solve the clues. With the help of a poetry-loving dog and the last resident of the ghost town, maybe, just maybe, she can do it.

Jo stopped by to answer some great questions. Enjoy!

What were your favorite books as a child?

My two favorites were My Side of the Mountain and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I admire how My Side of the Mountain draws readers into the natural world and makes surviving in the wild a quest of its own. Spending time outdoors also changes the main character. I love how From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler immerses readers in the intriguing setting of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and takes them into an art mystery. For Smack Dab, I challenged myself to combine those two elements—outdoor survival and an art mystery clue trail—in one novel. 

How did you go about crafting Smack Dab

I began the first draft in a class offered through Emrys, a local literary arts organization in Greenville, where I live. I attended writing workshops and read books about the craft of writing. I studied and wrote poetry. I wrote the first draft in five months and spent seven more years revising, refining and polishing. I completed at least nine full drafts. I was on at least the fourth draft and several years into the project before I started sending it out. 

What kind of research did you do for the book? 

I trained on everything from fire starting, shelter building and water gathering, to foraging for edible and medicinal plants. I camped out in the woods and recorded information about sights, sounds, and textures. I studied which edible foods are available during each part of the year. I researched the behavior and diet of woodland animals, the migration patterns of Southern birds. I reached out to entomologists and experts on human behavior and the natural world. I studied information about Leonardo DaVinci, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and used that all in constructing the clue trail. 

What kind of a response to Smack Dab have you gotten from readers?

I love to hear from readers and I’ve been thrilled with their response to the book. One reader reported that she read the book 14 times. Many others have written to say how much reading about Cricket’s journey has helped them in their own. So far, half of the readers from whom I’ve heard have been students and half have been adults. The book has layers and it’s interesting to see what layers spoke the most to each reader. 

What are you reading these days? 

I read mostly middle grade and I have about five books going at once. I’m currently reading Shadows of the Lost Sun, the latest in the Map to Everywhere series by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis, The Law of Finders Keepers by Sheila Turnage, Serafina and the Seven Stars by Robert Beatty, Grenade by Alan Gratz, and re-reading When I Crossed No-Bob by Margaret McMullan.

What advice can you give to aspiring middle grade authors? 

You can do it! Start an idea journal and use it write down ideas for things such as character names, quirks, details that help show character traits, and plot ideas. Give yourself permission to write a really bad first draft. The goal of the first draft is just to get your ideas down on paper. If you get stuck, leave a blank. You can always brainstorm with a friend and fill in the details later. Once you have your draft, you have something to work with. Go line by line and look for ways to make your work better. Try to imagine how each character would feel in each scene and give your readers details to make them feel as though they are right there in the scene with your characters. Make sure that each word is the best word and that each scene keeps the story moving. Cut any unnecessary words. Read your story aloud to make sure that the rhythm of the language feels right. Keep writing, looking for ways to make your work even better. Don’t be afraid to take risks. As my character Cricket would say, “sometimes it’s time to start taking chances on yourself.” 

Thanks so much for stopping by, Jo!


Jo Watson Hackl was born in Biloxi, Mississippi, not far from Ocean Springs, where her favorite artist,
Walter Anderson, lived and once painted a secret room. When Jo was eleven, she moved to a real-
life ghost town, Electric Mills, Mississippi. Mr. Anderson’s secret room and the ghost town were Jo’s inspiration for this debut novel. She lives with her family in Greenville, South Carolina. You can find her online at JoHackl.com. Jo is also the Founder of Outdoorosity.org


Monday, April 15, 2019

Adventures with Flat Avery

I received a "Flat Avery" from a charming 3rd grader in Kansas.

She asked me to take Flat Avery along on some adventures with me.

Here is Avery with my dog, Rocket
Here is Avery at a tea room in Asheville, NC

Avery at the airport

Avery on a flight to Houston, Texas, with me
Avery flying to Houston
Avery at a hotel in Houston
Avery in the library of an elementary school in Houston
Avery in the library
Avery helping me sign books in Houston
Avery with students in Houston

Hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Monday, July 30, 2018

An Interview with Myself to Celebrate Wonderland

Author Cynthia Surrisi has hijacked my blog today and is forcing me to answer hard questions. Because she has promised me many fish tacos, penny candy, and trinkets, I am going along with this crazy scheme.

Cynthia, take it away.

Cynthia: Ah, such POWER!!! I am delighted to be commandeering Barbara’s blog for the issue leading up to the publication of her newest middle grade novel, Wonderland

For those of you who are her fans and followers, I promise you will adore this new book. I wondered whether this adorable author could pull off yet another super winner, and sure enough, she has. See, this is why I am doing this. Barbara is useless at tooting her own horn. 

So, let's get started.

On sale 8/28/18

Cynthia: Here's an easy one: What five words best describe Wonderland?

Barbara: Friendship, confidence, dog-love, funny, heartfelt

Cynthia: What is one question you’ve never been asked at a school visit that you would like to be asked, and what is the answer to that question?

Barbara: What do you want young readers to learn from your books?

The answer: I write books to entertain young readers, not to teach them. But, I'd like to think that readers either come away with a better understanding of a character or situation they weren't familiar with - or - relate to a character or situation and find some degree of comfort or hope. 

Cynthia: Which of your books do you most like to read aloud? What part and why?

Barbara: The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis, especially the scenes with Starletta and Elvis. Starletta is so strange and funny and who wouldn't want to hear about Elvis's Spit and Swear Club? 

Cynthia: What is your writing process? Do you write every day?

Barbara: Call me weird, but every story starts with a title. From there, I spend a lot of time thinking about and getting to know my characters. When I have a hazy idea about the story, I just jump on in. I wish I could outline. I'd love that. But I rarely know where the story is going until the act of writing, which can feel like torture sometimes. I write by hand. I love the freedom of that. I revise constantly as I go along, never leaving anything too messy behind me.

I don't write every day unless I'm on a deadline. Some days I'd rather be walking my dogs. But that gives me good thinking time, which is an important part of any writer's process. 

Cynthia: What were the best and worst moments of your publishing journey so far?

Barbara: The best moments have been the times I've won a state book award voted on by children. That's the best validation there is for a children's writer. 

Another moment was when I found myself on a panel at a conference with Sharon Creech. I had adored her books for many years and felt so honored to actually be on that panel with her. A "pinch me" moment.

As for the worst moments, I'll fill you in over a glass of wine some time.

Sharon Creech (left) and me

Cynthia: Tell us about a book you wrote a long, long time ago that was so bad that it didn't get published.

Barbara: I wrote a book called Surf's Up, Nicky Weaver. It was my first attempt at writing for children - long before I discovered my voice. So, of course, it had no voice. It was bland and blah. The only good thing any editor had to say about it came from editor Richard Jackson, who liked that the dog in the story was named Jackson.

Cynthia: Show us a picture of your dogs and tell us what each one would say about the other: something positive and something gripe-y.

Barbara: Here are Ruby and Rocket.

Ruby (left) and Rocket

Ruby would say that Rocket annoys her by wanting to play all the time but also that she loves playing with Rocket (just not all the time).

Rocket would say that Ruby gets more attention than he does and won't play with her all the time.

Cynthia: I heard that an artist made a sculpture of one of the characters in one of your books. Can you tell us about it and show us a picture?

Barbara: A fabulous artist named Karen Hawkins made this amazing sculpture of Bird from Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia. I love it.

Cynthia: What's your favorite herb and how do you use it?

Barbara: Ha! I have no sense of smell so not a very sharp sense of taste. Herbs are just useless little specks of green to me.


Cynthia: Well, there you have it, friends. We’ve gotten the inside scoop from Barbara O’Connor. 

I hope it encourages you to get a copy of Wonderland from your favorite bookstore. I guarantee you’ll love it. 


Cynthia Surrisi is the author of a fabulous series of middle grade mysteries set in Maine: The Quinnie Boyd Mysteries (The Maypop Kidnapping, Vampires on the Run, and A Side of Sabotage) - as well as the hilarious picture book, The Best Mother, illustrated by Diane Goode.  You can learn more about her at her website.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Constance Lombardo is in the House!

It's a Book Birthday!!

 Today I'm celebrating the publication of

 Mr. Puffball: Escape from Castaway Island
Constance Lombardo

Being on Celebrity Birthday Cake Wars as El Gato was okay, but now Mr. Puffball is going on reality TV as himself! 

He’ll finally earn the fame and fortune he’s dreamed of since kittenhood. But what happens when the fame wears off and the fortune is spent? What happens to a Hollywood stunt cat has-been? (Hint: tropical island adventure!!)

In this third book in the series, Mr. Puffball and the gang find out just how real reality TV can be. Read all about in Mr. Puffball, Escape from Castaway Island, in stores today! 

Constance is here to answer some questions about her hilarious new book.

Why did you send Mr. Puffball into the world of reality TV?
 My kid and I watch our fair share of reality TV. It’s almost like a ‘get famous quick’ scheme for people (or cats!) Also, reality TV brings out the best and worst in people (and cats!) It was fun to drop Mr. Puffball and the whole gang onto Celebrity Castaway Island (think Survivor – with cats!) and see what happens. 

What was the hardest part about writing this book?
 Mr. Puffball is such a good cat, and a loyal friend, it’s been hard to watch his dream of being a star turn into an obsession that overshadowed all his good qualities. But that’s exactly the kind of thing that happens on Cutthroat Kitchen. I figure if it’s good enough for Alton Brown (whom I love,) then it’s good enough for Mr. Puffball. 

A scene from Celebrity Birthday Cake Wars

 What was the best part?
 So many opportunities to be silly! Baking shows, Feline Ninja Warrior, tropical island weather maps, bug eating, quicksand, etc. Not only do I get to write about all this fun stuff, I draw it. I discovered I like drawing old lizards and monkeys of all ages.

 Any reality TV show fun facts from your own life?
 I’m glad you asked me that. My sister-in-law was on Wife Swap. She’s a belly dancer in New York City, and she traded places with a pig farmer from Wisconsin. With her larger-than-life personality, her episode was amazingly fun and inspiring! 

What kind of reality TV shows would your cat G. G. like to see more of? 
 Well, he’s very into chasing rabbits, so maybe Cats v. Bunnies? And he likes to keep it real, so Real Housecats of Asheville would be very popular at my house. Also, with his competitive nature, I think Cutthroat Kitten would be a hit. 

What’s next for Constance Lombardo?
I’m hard at work on my first picture book (yay!!) Surprisingly, it’s not about cats. It’s about kittens.


Constance Lombardo began drawing when she was 10 years old,
inspired in part by the Illustrators Annuals her dad brought home from the ad agency where he worked, and in part by the fact that
her sister did a drawing and got lots of attention. 

She is the proud author/illustrator of the middle grade Mr. Puffball series (HarperCollins): Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat to the Stars, Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat Across America, and Mr. Puffball: Escape from Castaway Island.

Currently, she’s working on her first picture book, Everybody Says Meow (HarperCollins, 2019.) She is represented by Lori Nowicki of Painted Words. Plus she likes cats. 

Thank you for stopping by, Constance.