Five Questions: Jodi Kendall

I have this theory that baby anything is cute. Puppies, kittens, piggies, scorpions…

Okay, any baby mammal is cute.

Hamlet is no exception. She is the runt of a litter and eleven-year-old Josie Shilling’s big brother sneaks her home from college over Thanksgiving. From the first moment the wee piglet enters the already cramped Shilling household Josie’s life is transformed. She convinces her parents to let her keep the pig until she can find a proper home for Hammie, and they give her until New Year’s Day.

Josie already has a busy life with four siblings, school, and gymnastics. Add in the rapidly growing pig that needs feeding, bathing, and exercise and Josie’s already full plate is overflowing. Can she manage everything and still find a safe place for her darling pig to live a long, happy life?

I can’t tell you how much I loved this story. Josie is a great character–earnest, sweet and awkward. The descriptions of her relationship with Hamlet are adorable, and I could really hear the pigs little grunts of contentment when they curl up in front of the fireplace. Add that it’s set during the Christmas season and this book just about explodes with fuzzy good feelings. But nothing is contrived, or overly sentimental. I think this book has Newbury Award written all over it. Everyone needs to read it.

Jodi Kendall is an agent sibling. This means she is another client of my agent, Alexander Slater of Trident Media Group. I’ve been following her publication story for a while now and I am so pleased to tell you The Unlikely Story of a Pig in the City was released this Tuesday to great reviews. Here are her five questions:

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

It was actually my husband saying an off-hand comment like, “You know your childhood pig? You should write about that.” That seed started the wheels turning in my mind, and memories flooded back from when I was a kid and my brother rescued a runt piglet from certain death at a nearby farm. He brought it home on break during college, and it lived with us in our house for about six months.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I’m a pantser that’s a wannabe outliner. I usually only know a few things before I open up a blank document, and as I get further into the draft, I’ll have some notes with characters and opening problems and closing resolutions. Then I try to thread it all together. But so much of my process is an organic, surprising mystery to me.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

As someone passionate about nature and human-animal connections, I absolutely love the work of Katherine Applegate, Kate DiCamillo, Peter Brown, and Sara Pennypacker. I’m in awe of Leah Henderson’s beautiful debut ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL – Her writing has such a lush, lyrical quality to it, almost like music. Studying her prose has recently inspired me to develop the loveliness and cadence of each sentence when I’m writing and revising.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

Most of the time, yes. While I was writing THE UNLIKELY STORY OF A PIG IN THE CITY, I blasted holiday music. The story takes place between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, so I listened to Pentatonix albums on repeat.

5. What are you reading right now?

I’m reading ENGINERDS by Jarrett Lerner, which recently published. It’s hilarious, and fast-paced, with short chapters and great voice. I imagine it’ll be a new, funny favorite book for reluctant readers.

Please check out this book. Anyone who has ever loved an animal will get all the feels.

Jodi Kendall grew up in the Midwest with her family of seven and their household of countless pets, including hamsters, ducks, dogs, rabbits an iguana and yes…even a farm pig! As a freelance writer, Jodi once followed  a secret nighttime transport of a manta ray over state lines, swam with seven species of sharks, got up close and personal with venomous snakes, and motored through a saltwater crocodile breeding ground. These days, you can find Jodi typing away at home in New York City, where she’s still an animal lover at heart. Jodi holds an MFA from the University of Arizona and is an active member of SCBWI. This is her first novel. Visit Jodi online at

Chelsea Sedoti: Five Questions

Hawthorn Creely is the true essence of awkward. She doesn’t interact well with her peers, she is the total opposite of her golden jock older brother, and she always says the wrong thing. She might be a little self-absorbed too, but she’s too busy thinking about how awkward she is to notice.

But then Lizzie Lovett, a girl who graduated with her brother disappears on a camping trip and Hawthorn’s focus narrows to a point. What happened? Did her boyfriend have anything to do with it? Obsessively following the story, Hawthorn decides to do her own snooping around, including finding out more about Lizzie’s boyfriend and what he might know.

Chelsea Sedoti writes a fascinating tale of obsession, mystery, and danger. Hawthorn gets tangled in a web of her own making and must learn some hard lessons to extricate herself. The marvelous thing about this book is that even though there is darkness and despair there is also humor and light. Sedoti does a beautiful job of balancing the two.

Five Questions
1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

Several years ago, I saw an article in the newspaper about a missing girl. Though I didn’t know her, I became oddly interested in the case. I started following it closely, checking daily for updates. After a few weeks of this, I stopped and asked myself why I was so obsessed with the missing girl. I didn’t have an answer, but decided I should pull back a little bit.

But the incident made me think about putting a character in the same situation. A teenage girl who gets wrapped up in a disappearance that has nothing to do with her. Only this girl wouldn’t know when to stop. She would let herself get drawn in to the disappearance more and more.

And just like that, the main character in THE HUNDRED LIES OF LIZZIE LOVETT was born. The rest of the story followed.

2.  What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I tend to fall somewhere in between plotting and pantsing.

If I begin without knowing where the book is heading, I get lost along the way. It’s not fun to realize halfway through that a good portion of your story doesn’t make sense.

On the other hand, if I know every single thing that’s going to happen in a book, the writing process becomes much less exciting. I miss out on the moments where the characters surprise me.

So before I start writing, I know how the book begins, I know how it ends, and I know the key moments that happen along the way. Beyond that, I just wait and see where the story and characters take me.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

My favorite writer is John Irving, and he’s been influencing my writing since I was a teenager. That might seem odd—he writes literary books for adults, I write strange books for teenagers. But my favorite thing about his writing has always been how he blends comedy and tragedy. Life is never entirely dark or entirely light. Most of the time it falls somewhere in the middle. And sometimes humor is the only way to get through tough situations. This is something I’ve tried to emulate in my own books.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I generally don’t listen to music when I write. I get very influenced by the mood of music. So, if I were trying to write a lighthearted scene and a gloomy song came on, it would completely change the tone of the story. Rather than always trying to match the music to what I’m working on at the moment, I opt to write in silence.

5. What are you reading right now?

I’m currently reading DARE MIGHTY THINGS by Heather Kaczynski, an upcoming science fiction book about a competition to join a mysterious space expedition.

Chelsea Sedoti

Chelsea Sedoti fell in love with writing at a young age after discovering that making up stories was more fun than doing her school work (her teachers didn’t always appreciate this.) In an effort to avoid getting a “real” job, Chelsea explored careers as a balloon twister, filmmaker, and paranormal investigator. Eventually she realized that her true passion is writing about flawed teenagers who are also afraid of growing up. When she’s not at the computer, Chelsea spends her time exploring abandoned buildings, eating junk food at roadside diners, and trying to befriend every animal in the world. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she avoids casinos, but loves roaming the Mojave Desert.

Five Questions: Frances Hardinge

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge


Frances Hardinge came onto my radar last spring when I was deep in research mode as to the pulse of historical fiction in the young adult category. Was it dead? I found through this book that indeed it was not. I wrote a full review of The Lie Tree back in May and you can read it here. I was thrilled when she answered my request to be interviewed. So here we go. May I introduce Frances Hardinge?


1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

The original seed was the idea of the Lie Tree itself – a plant that would feed on lies, and bear fruit that could be eaten to learn secrets. The notion came to me when I was out walking along the Thames path, and I remember stopping halfway across the bridge of Richmond Lock, knowing that I had the heart of a story.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I am very definitely an outliner, and I tend to do a lot of planning and research. In the case of my first novel, I had a chapter by chapter outline! I haven’t planned the others in quite such precise detail, but I always know in advance the main things that are going to happen, and how the book will end. Having said that, my books sometimes surprise me, and I’ll realise halfway through them that I want to take the plot and character arcs in a different direction. It’s still helpful to have the original outline, though, otherwise I feel like I’m setting out on a journey without a roadmap.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

There are too many to count! I know that I’m influenced by the authors I loved as a child – Susan Cooper, Nicholas Fisk, Alan Garner, Lewis Carroll, Catherine Storr, Richard Adams, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Conan Doyle, etc. I suspect I’ve also been influenced by writers like Wilkie Collins, E M Forster, the Brontes, all the mystery novels I gobbled during my teens and twenties, and many others.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

Sometimes I do, and often it’s because I associate a particular track with a specific character or scene. This does tend to mean that I will listen to the same track over and over again. My significant other has bought me some very good headphones, so that this habit of mine doesn’t drive him insane…

5. What are you reading right now?

I’m reading a non-fiction book called “Thinking: Fast and Slow” by Dr Daniel Kahneman.

Frances Hardinge at home in London September 9, 2009

Frances Hardinge

Frances Hardinge was brought up in a sequence of small, sinister English villages, and spent a number of formative years living in a Gothic-looking, mouse-infested hilltop house in Kent. She studied English Language and Literature at Oxford, fell in love with the city’s crazed archaic beauty, and lived there for many years.

Whilst working full time as a technical author for a software company she started writing her first children’s novel, Fly by Night, and was with difficulty persuaded by a good friend to submit the manuscript to Macmillan. Seven of her books have now been published, all aimed at children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Lie Tree, won the Costa Book of the Year Award, the fiction category of the Boston Globe Hornbook Award and the 12-16 age category of the UKLA Awards.

Frances is seldom seen without her hat and is addicted to volcanoes.

So there you are. Award-winning and awesome storytelling. Get your copy here:

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Five Questions – Nathan Hill

The Nix by Nathan Hill

The Nix by Nathan Hill

I’m a little bit giddy about this one, I must confess. I met Nathan Hill at the Sanibel Island Writers Conference last November and even took his class on X-Ray writing, which was fantastic. He lives in Naples like me and I was delighted to find out we had friends in common. So I asked him on a whim if he would participate and he said yes!

Nathan Hill

Nathan Hill

Nathan Hill is kind of a big deal. His book, The Nix, was on the NYT Bestseller list and made quite a few “Best Books of the Year” lists for 2016 as well. The Nix is about a college English professor whose estranged mother is arrested for throwing rocks at a controversial conservative politician. In order to fulfill his obligation to his publisher,  Samuel decides to write a tell-all about his mother and her political activist past. But in order to get the dirt he has to go see her, and he hasn’t spoken to her since she walked out on the family when he was just a kid.

This book is packed with so much – the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the riots that ensued, Norwegian urban legends, a violin prodigy love interest, gaming culture and a very special freak named Pwnage who is a master at the fictional Elfscape. Plus add in a cheating college student who turns the tables on Samuel and leads to an academic investigation, and I didn’t even mention the tangent on feminine hygiene advertising from the 60s. Sound crazy? It is, but somehow it works into an interesting dissection of the relationship between mother and son.


1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

I had just moved to New York City in the summer of 2004, and one of the things that happened during my first month there was that the Republicans held their presidential nominating convention at Madison Square Garden. And people were coming in from all over the country to protest it. So I went into Manhattan and watched all the hubbub. And one of the things that I kept hearing in the run-up to the 2004 convention—from the talking head cable news type people—was that it was going to be the most contentious since the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. That’s how I was originally drawn to the subject. It gave me the idea to do a book about two generations of protest: a mother who attend the one in ‘68, and her son who attended the one in ’04.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

Definitely a “pantser.” I began writing the book in 2004 and I didn’t make an outline until like 2011. I had no idea where the story was going. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have a plot. I had a basic situation and two characters (Samuel and Faye, who for years were named “the boy” and “the mother”), and so the writing I was doing was more like exploration. I wasn’t writing to describe things that happened. I was writing to discover them. Which is much slower. And yes, I hopped around a lot, even after I had an outline and a plot, there were whole sections of the novel that I skipped because, frankly, I didn’t think I was good enough yet to write them. I remember noting in my journal: “This will be very hard.” Then when I came back to those sections a year or so later, I realized that I’d learned how to write them. Writing the novel taught me how to write the novel, if that makes sense.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

My favorite authors are the ones who are able to burrow deep into the psychology of a character, whose prose sounds like the brain-voice of a character from the inside. David Foster Wallace does this. So does Virginia Woolf. I like to think that fiction is the best invention we have to understand what it would feel like to be somebody else, and so I especially enjoy authors who are committed to that kind of writing.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I do listen to music, but it can’t have words or too much dynamic range (the sudden jolts of energy in a symphony, for example, would be too distracting). I find myself most drawn to quiet pieces for piano or cello. I highly recommend “The Chopin Variations” by Chad Lawson, or the Bach cello suites performed by Yo-Yo Ma.

5. What are you reading right now?

I’m reading some nonfiction that I suppose is “research” for the next novel. Also a few editors have asked me to blurb some books that are coming out later this year, so I’m reading those. And I’ve been delighted to read my fellow Knopf debut authors: in particular, Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter and Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing were amazing books.

Nathan Hill, y’all. His book was the best adult fiction I read last year. Get your copy here:

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Randomly, on a Saturday

The week flew by and that was not necessarily a good thing. Here are the reasons why I am startled to find myself at Saturday:

  1. Dad was in the hospital again. You might remember he had triple bypass surgery last summer. He landed there again this week because of a kidney infection that got into his bloodstream. He’s home now, after three days of IV antibiotics and doing better, though he’s kind of wrecked from the experience.
  2. Crazy week at work. We were short-staffed and it is high tourist season, which made for a creative scheduling for reference desk coverage. The highlight of the week at the library was someone came in asking for the book Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. Instead, the patron asked for Hillbilly Allergy. It’s a wonder I can keep a straight face.
  3. Editing the novel. In all my spare time (my what?) I worked on rearranging events and consolidating chapters 4-8. Yesterday I was working at lunch and got a good hours’ work done. But then I got distracted with something and left my computer open. When I came back I shut down the file and it asked me if I wanted to save my changes. And, dear reader, I CLICKED NO. What the hell is wrong with me? Now I have to see if I can replicate the changes I made all over again.

That’s my week. I am super excited about my author interview on Tuesday. I won’t tell you ahead of time who it is, but he is kind of a big deal. Next Saturday I am going to take pictures at the Farmer’s Market and show you our delightful weekly ritual. I’d do it today but I am at work. And I’m barely awake so if any of my local friends want to bring me a double latte I’d be forever grateful.

Happy Book Birthday, Dana Langer!


Welcome to my very first author interview! I plan on introducing you to a new author each week and asking them the same five questions. And to kick things off, I bring you Dana Langer, debut author of the middle grade novel Siren Sisters, which is out TODAY! Congratulations Dana! I am so excited for you!

Lolly Salt has three beautiful sisters. When they’re not in school or running their small town’s diner, they’re secretly luring ships to their doom from the cliffs of Starbridge Cove, Maine. With alluring voices that twelve-year-old Lolly has yet to grow into (not that she wants to anyway) the Salt sisters do the work mandated by the Sea Witch, a glamorously frightening figure determined to keep the girls under her control. With their mother dead after a mysterious car accident, and their father drowning in grief, the sisters carry on with their lives and duties until a local sea captain gets suspicious about the shipwrecks.

On the day before her birthday, Lolly watches in helpless horror as her sisters are lured themselves by curse-reversing fishermen–and suddenly it’s up to her and her best friend Jason to rescue the sirens of Starbridge Cove.

Dana Langer

Dana Langer

Dana is a teaches Creative Writing and English to high school students and recently moved from New York City to Ramsey, NJ.


1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea? 

The first image I ever had in my head of this book (which isn’t an image that made into the final version, actually) was a group of sisters scavenging items from a shipwreck, and one of them not participating, wandering away and doing cartwheels instead.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser? 

I start with images and pieces of dialogue floating around in my head. And sometimes a setting or myth that interests me. I try to think how they can all fit together. Then I write down all these scenes and conversations and try to impose some kind of chronological structure on them that I hope eventually becomes a plot. I like to restrict the time-frame of the story in order to keep from getting too lost, like “This all has to take place over the course of one week. Go!” My first drafts are usually too short and contain a lot of uninterrupted dialog. In revising, I tend to need to add more.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style? 

My adviser in college was Jayne Anne Phillips, who is an incredible author and person. One of our other professors, Jill McCorkle, once referred to her, with a very charming southern accent, as “The Queen of the Line Edit.” She made me pay attention to the rhythm and meaning of every sentence. In terms of current middle grade authors, I re-read Doll Bones (Holly Black), Rules for Stealing Stars (Corey Ann Haydu), Akata Witch (Nnedi Okorafor), and a lot of Claire Legrand’s books while I was writing Siren Sisters.

4. Do you listen to music when you write? 

I don’t listen to music while writing, but I do listen to it while thinking about and planning the story, especially while driving to work. Some of my own creative writing students recently made me a playlist of music they thought I’d like, and it’s pretty perfect. Elliot Smith, The Velvet Underground, Bon Iver… It’s like they read my mind.

5. What are you reading right now? 

I’m just finishing Code Name Verity (Elizabeth Wein), which I loved. I’m also reading The Turner House (Angela Flournoy) in order to teach it this semester, and I’m about to start The Secret Horses of Briar Hill (Megan Shepherd).

A big thank you to Dana Langer for taking the time to talk to me! Now that I know you are dying to read Siren Sisters, or can think of a middle schooler who would love this, you can buy it here:

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