October 14th, 2011

Inside the Writer's Studio with Tess Hilmo

Today at Inside the Writer’s Studio we welcome debut author Tess Hilmo. Tess is a member of The Class of 2k11 and writes in the genre I most love: Southern Middle Grade!
About the book:
From the Publisher--FSG
When Ollie’s daddy, the Reverend Everlasting Love, pulls their travel trailer into Binder to lead a three-day revival, Ollie knows that this town will be like all the others they visit— it is exactly the kind of nothing Ollie has come to expect. But on their first day in town, Ollie meets Jimmy Koppel, whose mother is in jail for murdering his father. Jimmy insists that his mother is innocent, and Ollie believes him. Still, even if Ollie convinces her daddy to stay in town, how can two kids free a grown woman who has signed a confession?  Ollie’s longing for a friend and her daddy’s penchant for searching out lost souls prove to be a formidable force in this tiny town where everyone seems bent on judging and jailing without a trial.
Welcome, Tess! Thanks for being with us today!
Is there a story behind the story that you wish to share? (Ie: the ah-ha or lightning moment where the story inspiration struck.)
I grew up loving southern gospel music and have memories of singing songs like Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Let My People Go and This Little Light of Mine as a little girl.  I'd sing them while I was walking home from school or doing my chores.  I'd sing them in the shower or after an argument with a friend.  Now you should know that I am a terrible singer but that didn't matter. Those songs made me believe in myself.  Fast forward many, many years and you would find me, now a busy mom, trying to write novels for kids.  I decided that I wanted to write a novel that would embrace these songs I love so much.  With A Name Like Love is that story.
How do you stay inspired to face the dreaded blank page? Is it something you dread? Look forward to? Share a bit about your writing process.
I'd love to tell you that I have a strict writing schedule...that I follow the good advice to sit down and write some every day, but I don't.  My creative process takes a lot of musing.  I need to go on long drives and sit in parks.  I need to gaze out windows and let my mind wander.  Sometimes I even need to eat whole tubs of Ben and Jerry's ice cream.  It's a hard life, but someone's got to live it :)
How does “place” come through in your writing? How important is place in this current novel/picture book? Is it tied to a place you once lived or are familiar with or is it a new world entirely?
I knew this story would need to be set in the south, but really had little experience of the south myself.  Generations ago, I did have distant relatives in Arkansas and a great uncle who was an itinerant preacher.  I honestly believe those angels looked down from heaven and guided my writing.  I read some of their journals and lots of books on Arkansas.  I combed the internet.  I wrote key facts on paper and taped them all around my workspace.  I did my best to imagine the world they lived in and make it come to life for Ollie and her family.
Writers love books; we love reading. What book do you turn to over and over again and why do you love it?
Anything by Gary Schmidt is a favorite.  His writing style is very different from mine, but it inspires me.  I can imagine myself dancing on the rocky cliffs with Lizzy Bright from Lizzy Bright and the Buckminster Boy or tossing a baseball with Doug Swieteck in is most recent (and amazing) novel, Okay For Now.  Everything he writes encourages me to strive for real characters living in a real world.  No one does characterization better.
If your protagonist and antagonist were competing on American Idol what songs would each sing? And who would have the better voice?
I couldn't pass this question up! Ollie sings old gospel songs that her daddy teaches her and her sisters ... at one point in the novel she sings Let My People Go, her daddy's rich voice guiding her in her head.  If she were to be on the American Idol stage, she'd sing that song and rock the house!  There are a few antagonists in the story...I'll chose Esther Roberts for this question (a pinch faced shop keeper who is mean as they come) and say she'd stand on the stage and start singing I'm A Little Teapot --- but about two sentences in, she'd stop singing and tell everyone how dumb the whole competition is before stomping off stage.  That woman is a pain in the hind end!
In ode to Maebelle, the main character in my new book Truth with a Capital T, who keeps a book of little known facts about just about everything, please share a wacky piece of trivia that has stuck with you or please share a little known fact about YOU.
 I used to be terribly superstitious as a child...always careful never to step on cracks in the sidewalk or pick up "tail side up" pennies.  I even recall separating all of the silverware in the dishwasher because I was afraid the knives would hurt the forks and the forks would hurt the spoons.  It may have been extreme, but it was for their own good.
Tess, thanks for being with us and thanks for keeping those forks and spoons safe!

Fabulous Fall Friday

The temp here in Austin is now reaching a high of 87 with evenings in the cool 60s. This is fall for us--so I am going to take it. I do miss the fall foliage of upstate NY, the crisp apples, donning sweaters andwalking to my beloved Brooklyn bagel shop and having coffee with friends on park benches. But, Austin has brought other Indian Summer pleasures--taking a walk with AK down at Town Lake, writing outside at The Place with the ladies and as K.A. Holt said bogarting a picnic table for 5 hours, and finally opening The Writing Barn to friends.

This last Sunday, a rainy Sunday which the drought ridden soil so desperately needed we held the opening of The Writing Barn. (Also, a birthday celebration for my 39th.) The day before Dave Wilson, a wonderful photographer, who just happens to be married to Austin author Nikki Loftincame to take professional shots of  The Barn. It may have been gloomy outside but Dave, with his wide angle lense, and his talent made The Barn look bright and welcoming.

A fancy shot merging three solo shots.

Guest bedroom, queen sized bed

Cozy loft space to read or write

A place to rock and read

Screened in porch

Lovely courtyard in front of The Barn

The rain continued to fall for the Barn Warming on Sunday afternoon but friends came--ready to eat, drink, and be merry! Abou Sylla and band were incredible!

Jeff Crosby, Shelley Ann Jackson, and E. Kirstin Anderson chat.

Gather ye round for cake. From R to L, Vanessa Lee, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Jenny Moss, and Don Tate and his lovely wife.

Abou Sylla breaks it down. Pic by Jen Bigheart.

The birthday carrot cake ala Central Market

It was a wonderful to see so many friends, old and new, and to break in
the barn the right way--mud and all--before The Barn's first event this
weekend, a book launch party for HARNESS HORSES, BUCKING BRONCOS & PIT PONIES: A HISTORY OF HORSE BREEDS at the Writing Barn on Sunday, Oct. 16th from 2-4 pm. Written and illustrated by Jeff Crosby and Shelley Ann Jackson.  (For an excellent interview with Jeff and Shelley see Donna Bowman Bratton's blog.

Lots of other goings on this week, In Austin

Don't miss Cynsations interview with Tu Books (Lee and Low) Editor Stacy Whitman and Author Karen Sandler. Comment and you will be eligible for a 10 page critique by Editor, Stacy Whitman. 

Publisher's Weekly featured BookPeople in this week's Children's Bookshelf. Meghan Goel, book buyer for BookPeople was asked 3 Questions. To find out what they are--go here. 

Outside Awesome Austin

The National Book Award nominees were announced. A big congrats to all nominees but a special congrats to friend Debby Dahl Edwardson for My Name is Not Easy, and the two other VCFA names in the mix--the wonderful Lauren Myracle  for Shine and current VCFA faulty member Franny Billingsley for Chime!

Over at Hunger Mountain

The annual print edition is DONE, which means new content to the YA & Children's section for the fall issue, The Art & Insanity of Creativity will be launching soon. Look for content by Bobbie Pyron, Ron Koertge, Lindsey Lane, Debby Dahl Edwardson, Uma Krishnaswami, Jennifer Hubbard, Sarah Aronson, J. Patrick Lewis, and more.

I  was invited by Claire Guyton to write an essay for the Hunger Mountain Voices series going on at the blog, Another Loose Sally. The first essay was written but nabbed up for a future Writer's Life, Inc piece. So I began drafting a new one--that effort YA Is Not a Genre--I hope clears up some of the misinformation about YA. Thank you to my Hunger Mountain colleagues--the woman at the head of the ship, Miciah Bay Gault, and our extraordinary social media intern, Kris Underwood for their participation in the conversation.