Monday, August 4, 2014

Fido and Friend in Five: Patricia Hruby Powell and Lil!

I know, I know...I haven't done a Fido and Friend In Five in ever so long! What with this and what with that, the time just seemed to slip away. But then I read Patricia Hruby Powell's extraordinary young biography, Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker, and I knew it was time to (at least for now) resurrect Fido and Friend! Plus, I've never had anyone on my blog who, in a previous professional life, was a trapeze artist. I'm not kidding. Patricia was a professional dancer and choreographer for many years, as well as a mime and librarian. Now, lucky for us, she writes splendid nonfiction for kids.

Her latest book, Josephine, is a passionate, volcanic, rhythmic, stunning biography about the African American dancer and singer Josephine Baker.  I tell you, when I read it, I just wanted to leap
out of my chair and dance! To say Patricia has brought Josephine Baker to life in this wonderfully illustrated book is an understatement. And I'm not the only one who thinks so. Josephine has won the Boston Globe Horn Book Nonfiction Honor 2014, Parents Choice Gold Poetry 2014, and the Bologna Ragazzi Nonfiction Honor 2014, plus loads of starred reviews.

I've actually known Patricia for several years. She writes book reviews from time to time for her local newspaper in Champaign Urbana, Illinois, and has reviewed A Dog's Way Home and The Dogs of Winter. As so often happens with dog people, we connected. Let's meet Patricia and her rescued Tree Walker Hound, Lil, in the return of Fido and Friend In Five!

1. How did you and Lil find each other?  I "overnighted" Lil, volunteering for Mobile Mutts, a dog rescue operation that transports dogs from deep south high-kill shelters to far north no-kill shelters. Lil was found in a Kentucky field and then slated for euthanasia when she got spayed and then the next day put on a volunteer's van. She arrived in Champaign (Illinois) looking like a bag of bones, weak, submissive--love at first site. I actually had to put her back on the transport early the next morning. We both cried, but they brought her back to me late that morning.

2. What makes Lil's tail wag?  Anticipation. She sees me approach and knows she's going to get loved and starts thump thump thumping. When we arrive home, her whole body wags. A different kind of wag starts when she catches hold of a scent, nose to the ground. Lil is a Tree Walker Hound. She doesn't actually climb trees, she jumps straight up and pushes off a tree, so it looks like she's running up the tree. Spectacular! Everyone wants to see a video. I've only managed to get a photo of her jumping 7 feet straight up off the ground.

3. If Lil could change just one thing about you, what would it be?  If I let her run for 24 hours. I wish I could. If not that, I could pet her for 24 hours. Either would suit her.

4. What's your all-time favorite dog story?  A Dog's Way Home and The Dogs of Winter--both by you, Bobbie Pyron. Can't decide which. I was planning on writing a dog story from Lil's point of view, so I thought I'd read dog stories. When I read your novels, I realized you'd done it. I didn't need to do it. They're the best since my childhood reading of Jim Kjelgaard's Big Red and The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford.

5. In five words, tell us what Lil means to you:  love, independence, intelligence, wag, sensitivity. Actually, this is what Lil is: dance, empathy, fast, funny, sweet.

Thanks so much to the lovely, talented, interesting Patricia Hruby Powell and her Lil for inspiring me to another Fido and Friend in Five. Be sure to visit her website to find out more about her life and her books. And be sure to read Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker. If it doesn't make you want to get on up and dance, I don't know what will!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Resurfacing for Writing Blog Tour!

Greetings and many apologies for not blogging in a very long time! I have LOTS of excuses--most of them boring--but now I'm popping back in to be part of a writer's blog tour, thanks to author Patricia Hruby Powell. I'm such a great fan of her nonfiction, particularly her latest book, Josephine: the Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker, I couldn't say no.

So here are the four question on writing we're answering:

1. What are you currently working on? Well, now that all the revisions and edits are done on my middle grade novel, Lucky Strike (Scholastic), coming out next spring, I have a couple different projects I'm working on. I'm about half way through a young adult novel tentatively titled Pink Slip. It's about what happens when The Infinite Mysterious (God to some people) decides that the human race has not passed its probationary period and is about to be given the pink slip. I'm also working on a picture book biography about the last black jockey to win the Kentucky Derby, Jimmy Winkfield. The more I work on it, the more admiration I have for people like Patricia who write such excellent biographies for kids. It's hard!

2. How does your work differ from others in its genre?  That's a tough question. As far as Pink Slip goes, the idea came to me in response to my bafflement with the whole trend of dystopian fiction, and also from my life-long contemplation of religion and spiritual beliefs. After reading The Hunger Games and Divergent, I just couldn't understand why, if the majority believe there is a god who influences everything we do, why he/she would allow the human race to become the way they are in these dystopic worlds. Besides, who needs to create these violent worlds when we're killing each other at such a vicious rate? The book about Jimmy Winkfield will hopefully live up to the other wonderful picture book bios out there!

3. Why do you want to write?  I often ask myself that question as I stare blankly at my computer on a beautiful summer day! I think more than "want to write" it's that I "have to write." I just feel better about my self and about the world when I write. Plus I have all these little voices yakking away in my head. The only way I can get them to shut up is to write! Finally, I write because I LOVE connecting with readers. There's no better high on earth than to meet or get an email from a young person who passionately loves what you write. Nothing can beat that.

4. How does your individual writing process work?  I tend to think about a story for a long time before I sit down to actually write it. That time period can be a couple of months, like with A Dog's Way Home, to five or six years, as with The Dogs of Winter. If I'm still excited by the story after the initial first blush has faded, then I make notes about the story, setting, and characters. This is not an outline! I am NOT an outliner before the first draft. Once I do start writing, I try to get that first draft down a fast as I can. Again, though, that can vary from nine months to four months. I try to write most every day but that doesn't always happen. I'm very happy if I get three to four fairly good pages written when I do write. Because my brain gets tired when I work on fiction, I like to have a nonfiction project to work on at the same time. So a lot of times, I'll work on my fiction project in the first half of the day and then on the nonfiction the second half. All of my books, even fiction, require a lot of research. When I  came up with the idea for The Dogs of Winter, I researched for five years before I wrote the first draft. The irony, though, is that before I actually sit down to write the story, I have to forget all the things I've learned! In a novel, you don't want your "research seams" to show. I try not to get too hung up on "process" though. It seems like the process for each book is different. The two things that are consistent with my process is I always write in my office and have music on when I write.

Okay, that's it! Next you'll hear from my good friend, Becky Hall. She's the author of A Is For Arches and Morris and Buddy: the story of the first seeing eye dog.