Interview: Uma Krishnaswami on Treadmills, Knitting, and P.G. Wodehouse

Uma Krishnaswami
Uma Krishnaswami

Uma Krishnaswami grew up in India with writing a distant thought. Now, she’s a writer of novels, picture books, short stories, poems and articles. Her books have been published in 11 languages and won numerous awards. She’s also a teacher, guiding future writers in sharing their own stories.

What’s Uma’s life like now? She told us…

Booking Biz: What does your average day look like?

Uma: I’m usually up early. Coffee. An hour of exercise, breakfast, and my day begins. No more than an hour to get correspondence and other business related tasks out of the way. Then I settle in to work. That means some combination of writing or revision, depending on what the current project needs. I work at a treadmill desk—sometimes standing, sometimes walking. The pace varies. I read at 1 mph, type at 0.5 and revise with the treadmill off. Longhand writing is all in the armchair with a notebook and a fountain pen. After about three hours with a couple of small breaks, I stop for lunch, then put in another four hours or so in the afternoon. Then it’s teatime, followed by an hour’s walk, whatever the weather. Rain? I just throw on the raincoat and head on out. That’s a working day, more or less. I try to keep weekends free. I find it helps to give my writing a chance to simmer on its own without my thinking directly about it. But when I’m working on a book, it’s always in the back of my mind, so in a way I’m always working.

Book Uncle and Me

Booking Biz: When you’re not writing, what do you like to do best?

Uma: I love to hike. We have a regional park close to the house and I walk a lot in there. I’m a knitter. I knit scarves and hats and socks and give a lot of them away. Knitting helps me revise, actually. I like to potter in the garden although I’m better at planting than maintaining, so everything always looks a little wild, which is okay. Finally, I love to travel and have been fortunate enough to be able to visit some amazing places in my life.

Booking Biz: Where do you get the inspiration for your books?

Uma: Everywhere. That sounds clichéd, but I don’t think that inspiration is necessarily a sparkling gold-tipped wand. For me, it comes more slowly, seeps into the mind and refuses to leave me alone. I try to keep myself open to ideas. When one shows up, I test it out by writing around it and asking questions about it. I do this in a notebook, in longhand, sometimes in different colored inks. When those thoughts begin to coalesce, that’s when I know that the idea has come to stay with me and I need to write through it to find a possible story.

Booking Biz: Did you always want to write books for children, or was there another career you wished for as a child?

Bright Sky Starry CityUma: Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine myself becoming a writer. I thought I wanted to be a doctor, then a lawyer, then a teacher, then an actor, then an artist. For a while the goal changed just about every day. But the thing is, I was a writer even then, without knowing it. I wrote constantly in response to things that happened to me. I made up stories. I wrote letters to authors. One of them, British comic writer P.G. Wodehouse, sent me a reply which I still have. I was every bit a writer, from the age of 6 when I wrote my first piece of fiction in green crayon on a wall. I just didn’t know that people like me (brown kids, in India) could imagine themselves as writers.

Booking Biz: If you ruled the world, what would it look like?

Uma: Oh I would be busy! Well, okay, first of all, I’m assuming that world-ruling comes with magical powers. So…here goes. I’d clean up the planet for starters. Mount Everest and the plastic in the ocean. I’d get rid of fossil fuels and adopt clean energy. And I’d clean up the halls of power. You couldn’t be a criminal and rule a country in my world. I’d see that children’s bodies and minds were nourished as they deserve. I’d honor the pursuit of knowledge. By that I mean knowledge across the arts and sciences, including the lifeways of indigenous people, keepers of the planet’s aboriginal cultures. I’d honor the abilities and accomplishments of women. I’d outlaw war and the kind of nationalism that comes at the expense of other people’s humanity. That’s the short list.

Booking Biz: A world of love and respect is a world we would love.

Read more about Uma Krishnaswami on her speaker page.

Interview: Kimberly Willis Holt on Words, Gardens & Libraries

Kimberly Willis Holt
Kimberly Willis Holt

Since her first novel, MY LOUISIANA SKY, Kimberly Willis Holt has won numerous awards for her children books. She writes stories about kids trying to find their place in life when they’re faced with difficult circumstances. Among her books are WHEN ZACHARY BEAVER CAME TO TOWN, which won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and PART OF ME, which won the Louisiana Library Association The Literary Merit Award.

We asked her some questions to find out more about this amazing author.

Booking Biz: What does your average day look like?

Blooming At the Texas Sunrise Motel

Kimberly: I’m an early riser, so the mornings are reserved for coffee and reading, usually nonfiction, short stories, or my book club’s novel selection. Right before dawn, I go into the garden and water and do other garden tasks. It isn’t work to me. I love it as much as writing. When I pull away at the grass invading flower beds, my thoughts always wander back to my stories. After I’m through there, I exercise, shower, eat and get to return to my writing. One exception with this schedule is when I’m writing a first draft. Then the writing comes first thing in the morning. That way I don’t try to revise as I write.

Later I usually cook dinner. After my husband washes the dishes, we watch a show, movie or read. My days begin and end with words.

Booking Biz: When you’re not writing, what do you like to do best?

Kimberly: Garden.

Booking Biz: Where do you get the inspiration for your books?

When Zachary Beaver Came to TownKimberly: Most of my ideas come from my well of life. When I visit schools I tell kids about how they will never run out of anything to write about if they go to their wells. They never run dry. My first book, MY LOUISIANA SKY, came from a moment in fourth grade when my mom and I passed a lady on the way to my grandmother’s house. My mom explained that the lady was mentally challenged and that she had children. That moment stayed with me because I’d never known any kids with parents like that. I wondered about those kids. When I started writing, I thought about that small moment and the voice of a character came to me. It was an idea I cared about. That too, is important. Writers have to care about what they write about. Is it any wonder that my latest book, BLOOMING AT THE TEXAS SUNRISE MOTEL, was inspired by my garden?

Booking Biz: Did you always want to write books for children, or was there another career you wished for as a child?

Kimberly: Ever since I was in fifth grade, I wanted to be a writer. I struggled in school because I was a slow reader. Back then I didn’t think I could be a writer because I wasn’t a perfect student, but in seventh grade three people made me feel like it was possible–two teachers and a friend.  I never made a conscious decision to write for children. The genre chose me.  Funny thing though, a few years back I was reading my journal that I kept in college. In it, I stated that I’d like to write for children. So maybe my subconscious led me here.

Booking Biz: If you ruled the world, what would it look like?

Kimberly: I think reading and being surrounded by beauty changes hearts and lifts our spirits. If I ruled the world everyone would have access to books and gardens.  And while I’m at it, how about a library surrounding a huge garden that could be seen from every window?

Booking Biz: That sounds like an amazing library.

Read more about Kimberly Willis Holt on her speaker page.

Interview: Pablo Cartaya on Jobs, Manatees & Musicals

Pablo Cartaya
Pablo Cartaya

Middle-grade author Pablo Cartaya isn’t just one thing: He’s an author, speaker, educator and actor. And in our interview, we discovered he’s got plenty of other sides too.

Booking Biz: What does your average day look like?

Pablo: My average day consists of looking for manatees in Biscayne Bay while the Miami skyline gleams in the humid sun. My afternoons consist of hanging with my six-year-old Marine Biologist son and ten-year-old dancer, actor, director, writer, producer, choreographer, fashion designer, president daughter. Most days we’re at the library. Some days we’re eating ice cream. Everyday we’re being awesome. The rest of the time I’m writing. Unless I’m travelling. Then my day is totally different. But that will require a much longer answer. NOTE: None of this happens without my morning cup(s) of coffee.

Booking Biz: When you’re not writing, what do you like to do best?

Pablo: See above. Other than that, I love to travel and really dig going on adventures/vacations with my kids. I’m a sports buff so I like to play and watch basketball and soccer. I also love the theater. Like, I’m a secret musical theater nerd. So now it’s not a secret anymore. Les Miserables is prob my fav. “One day more!” (Pablo stands on chair waving the French flag from side to side for the duration of this question.)

Booking Biz: Where do you get the inspiration for your books?

The Epic Fail of Arturo ZamoraPablo: I think of character first. Then I focus on what that character is trying to tell me about his or her world. From there a story plays out and I go from being an observer of this character’s world to an active participant in discovering the events that shape that character’s worldview. In The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, I looked at a character that was deeply connected to his family, specifically his grandmother. His Abuela. From there I built a narrative that showed the deep connection he has for her and the fear he has of losing her. In Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish, Marcus isn’t defined by what he has but rather who he is. A brother. A son. A good kid (even though people don’t always see that). Ultimately, the characters that speak to me when I’m first putting pen to page inspire my stories.

Booking Biz: Did you always want to write books for children, or was there another career you wished for as a child?

Pablo: In Kindergarten I wanted to be president of the United States. In middle school I wanted to be a pediatric surgeon because I liked taking care of my brother when he was sick. I once tried to stitch his head when he got a laceration on his temple and, um, it did not go well. Throughout high school and college I found myself around the theater so I decided I would move to Los Angeles for college and become an actor. I was cast in plays and television shows and commercials. But I really didn’t love it. I had to change too much of my personality to fit what made me “sellable”. So after finishing college with a degree in English I decided to figure out what I really wanted to do in my life. After stints as a catering chef, busboy, server, bartender, general manager (not necessarily in that order), and many other jobs in and out of the food industry, I realized one constant: I was always writing stories. So I decided to go to graduate school to pursue one of the most secure jobs in the world. I decided to become a writer! 🙂

What I have learned is no matter what you set out to do–whether to be come president, a doctor, actor, or writer–do it with the full force of your determination and hard work. Go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning knowing what you want to do in this world. The journey then, no matter how hard or long, becomes totally worthwhile. There’s no point in doing something that doesn’t fulfill you in some meaningful way. Writing was the one thing I knew I could never live without. So I dove into it with every ounce of my soul.

Booking Biz: If you ruled the world, what would it look like?

Pablo: It would be a place where people could spontaneously burst into a musical number and anyone in the surrounding area would know the choreography and dance along with them. They wouldn’t mind because they’re singing and dancing together and that’s what happiness looks like. Conflicts would have deep resonant musical scores with the players walking towards each other singing angrily at one another but after the musical battle was over, they would hold hands and bow together knowing it’s just a musical theater battle and in the end they’re all just part of the same cast. There’s more I can say but I’ve got a manatee sighting and an ice cream date to attend. Thanks for the questions! Hasta luego, P 🙂

Booking Biz: All hail Jean Valjean!

Learn more about Pablo Cartaya on his speaker page.

Interview: Tyler Whitesides on writing, fishing and magical mops

Tyler Whitesides
Tyler Whitesides

Magical mops, strange creatures and janitors? Author Tyler Whitesides‘ fun and adventurous middle-grade series JANITORS was called an “entertaining ruckus” by Kirkus Reviews. And Tyler’s presentations thrill kids as much as his books. But what does Tyler do when he’s not playing in fictional worlds? Read on to find out… Continue reading “Interview: Tyler Whitesides on writing, fishing and magical mops”

Interview: Lindsey Lane Finds Magic in Life

Lindsey Lane
Lindsey Lane

Author Lindsey Lane‘s novel THE EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN contains more than a story—it’s a whole community, multiple characters who jump off the page and demand to be heard. It’s testament to Lindsey’s skill that she can create a novel as detailed and intimate as this one.

We wanted to know more about the writer who could inhabit so many different people for her stories. Here’s what Lindsey told us… Continue reading “Interview: Lindsey Lane Finds Magic in Life”