Angie Azur is a YA Sci-fi Writer.
Writer for PALEO Magazine.
Former Intern at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
SCBWI & COWG Member.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Interview with David Johnson: Songwriter & Musician

I met David on the tennis courts. He was teaching a beginners tennis group and I joined. 

Over the course of a few months, I got to know him as not only a funny, forgiving tennis coach, but a talented songwriter, and musician. 

I knew David was working on his website, and his next album. So I asked him for an interview. He obliged.

I believe in David's talent...and I think you will too. You can check out his website to listen to a selection of his songs @

Below are the questions I asked him: 

1. How many songs have you created? Favorite one?
I have created lots of songs (probably in the upper hundreds). I’m particular about what I share now. Some are  completed, some are in the works.
 I would like to cut another album. I have the material and I’m ready to record but I wouldn’t do it like the last one. The last one was an amazing experience and taught me so much. 
I will do the next one with a band that I have played with extensively. The last one was made with an amazing producer that could have produced an album by The Who in the 70’s. That’s not my style though, and I think I could be better represented with a more homemade approach. 
I really like “High Tide in the Streets”, as well as some of the others that need to be recorded.

2.     Why the title Eights and Aces? What does it mean to you?
That is the poker hand Wild Bill Hickock drew when he was shot and killed by Jack McCall in the Black Hills of the Dakota region. 
It's now known as the "Dead Man's Hand". It’s the title track on the album. The song speaks of fall and redemption. It’s an outlaw theme. It’s about living life to its fullest, not trying to make mistakes but not being afraid to make mistakes. 
In the end it all gets sorted out as long as you do your best and try to do what’s right. 

My favorite definition of the word outlaw came from Tom Robbins book “Still Life with Woodpecker”. The protagonist was a modern day hero who said that an outlaw is someone who has the courage to act as if the world was a better place. 
Essentially meaning that if you think the world should be better, your actions should reflect those beliefs. If you don’t believe people should sleep on the street when it’s really cold out, invite them in your home. 
There is a lot of freedom if you are able to do that. It’s also a good way to scare the shit out people who you live with. As I get older and have more responsibility, it’s also harder to do. 
Romantic ideals are lovely but the innate parental tendencies of protecting property and safety are very strong. It’s not as easy to just say “fuck it” anymore. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

3.     When you think of Ry Cooder and John Prine, what one word comes to mind?

4.     What time do you get up and what do you eat for breakfast?
It depends on the day and if it’s raining or not. I’m not a fan of waking up. I usually have a juice that my lovely lady makes with spinach, kale, beets, carrots and pretty much any organic produce that she wishes to transform into liquid form. Liquid comprises most of my diet. Hahaha. It takes a different form at night.

5.     Where's your favorite country bar, and why should we visit?
My favorite country bar in in Austin. It’s called Momo’s. Besides being in a great city with great people, it has great musicians that you’ve probably never heard of. 
Second place goes to the Continental Club in Austin. Third goes to Cinema Bar in Los Angeles, where I found most of the musicians for my album. If anyone wants to show me a good venue in the area, I would be much obliged.

6.     What age did you first start singing? Writing music?

 I sang along with songs in the car by myself when I was young, I couldn’t help but let my soul sing along with the great music I heard. I never thought I had a great voice. I still don’t. I’m working on it though. 

I only started singing as a way to have the songs that I wrote shared with other people and performed for an audience. I think that is very common with songwriters. My singing, especially at the start didn’t do the writing justice. I’m getting better though thankfully. 
Mostly I am trying to let my soul come through what I’m trying to express. I started writing songs after being exposed to a wonderful musical congregation called Pickathon, which is the greatest music festival I have ever been to. I started going there in my early twenties and was smitten by all the talent. It was then that I thought “I can do this”. That and really listening to Johnny Cash made me start writing music.

7.     Who is your biggest cheerleader?
Myself. I have a lot of support from everyone around me (my family especially) but if it weren’t for the deep burning desire within me, I would have stopped trying to do anything with music a long time ago. 
Sheri Gallo might be my biggest fan outside of my family. She’s an amazing friend from Austin.

8.     Did you ever want to give up? What kept you going?
 I never wanted to give up. I’ve been discouraged a lot, and have had a lot of other things take time away from what I really want to do which is perform and record, but that desire will always be there. I just keep adapting to situations. It would be very easy to give up. It’s so hard, and to have any sort of success requires a gigantic amount of effort and patience and luck. It’s really an inconvenient passion.

9.     It's pretty amazing when the stars line up – you had this happen when you me Duane Jarvis. How did you meet him?
I met him in the studio when we were recording part of the album. We cut a few tracks and he came up to me and told me he really liked my songs and the cover song that I picked which was John Prine’s “Everything is Cool”. 
He told me he recorded that song with John and played live with him regularly in Nashville. There were some very magical experiences I had recording that album and that was one of them. 
I found out that he passed a short time after we recorded together. I didn’t spend a lot of time with him but I felt really comfortable around him. He was one of those warm, welcoming people that make you feel close to them immediately. I wish I could have developed more of a relationship with him.

10. Have you found that when you tell people what you do, people offer up help to get you closer to your dream?
I do, I have met so many great people who are giving and really want to help. Even when my music is something foreign to them or they wouldn’t ordinarily listen to it, they are very generous and willing to help.

11. Describe your debut album in 5 words.
Premature, honest, great musicianship, fun!!!

12. Where does your song inspiration come from?
Observing life. 
More and more, I am inspired by people’s situations and inequality. I believe that with all the resources available, the planet should live in a near utopia. The fact that we don’t weighs heavy on me, and inspires me to write. Good music and lyrics always give me ideas as well.

13. Are there any voice exercises you do?
I do, but not as much as I should. I sing scales up and down and when I sing along with songs I am attentive to tone and pitch.

14. Have you played in front of a live audience? If so, how do you keep your nerves in check? 
I have played live a lot. I have played in front of hundreds of people at a time, and opened for one of the biggest country festivals in the country. 
I am always nervous before a show. The more intimate the setting, the more nervous I am. I grew up as an athlete and tried to battle nerves. It comes down to preparation. The more you prepare, the more confident you are, but the nerves are always there. 
My first performance in the San Francisco area will be soon.  I am currently booking dates so check the website.

15. If your dreams came true and you could choose where you would perform, what venue or stage would it be?
Since I was a kid, I have always dreamt of putting together a playlist of all the songs I'd love at my funeral. It would be a big party where everyone was dancing and singing and drinking. Then people might understand where I am coming from. It would include some of my best songs too. Then, I would rise out of the ashes and play one final song. LOL. I haven’t written it yet but it would be a grand send off. Hopefully it would be in Colorado in the fall.

16. What one word best describes you?

17. What types of music do you listen to? Who is your favorite artist?
Everything. Artist: John Prine or Paul Simon. Band: Led Zeppelin

18. Singers and artists use past experiences to create passion in their work. What one past experience do you use to push you deeper into your lyrics?
Anything where the proletariat is abused. The collapse of the economy, Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans, pretty much inequality and abuse in general all inspire and create passion. The seemingly easiest sources like loving relationships don’t really do it for me. I wrote some really bad songs about break up and broken hearts. Haha. But like Frank Zappa said, “broken hearts are for assholes”

19. What do you think about musicians selling their songs to commercial makers?
It can be done in a positive way, I think Randy Newman has done a good job. It’s hard to say though. I think marketing and advertising in general as far as TV and mainstream media is concerned as a whole doesn’t have humanity’s interests at heart.

20. What's your style? Are you a blue jeans guy? Suit?
My style is laid back and contemplative. I wear what’s comfortable. I could be very comfortable in a suit with a tight Jazz quartet.

21. What hobbies do you have outside of music?
My Wife (although we are not married), my son, tennis, basketball, alien presence on Earth, Flying, philosophy, cognitive psychology, beer, good literature, human interaction.

22. How can my blog readers help you to become an even bigger success?

Listen, if you like the music, come to my shows, buy album, tell your friends, requests shows.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Interview with Margot Finke: Children's Book Author


    I met Margot through my Facebook children's writer's group: Teazurs. She'd been posting a lot of interesting blogs. So I reached out to get an interview. 

  She's got a lot of writing advice to share. Pay attention, this could help you, even balancing writing and time with your spouse. You can learn from this amazing writer. 

Below are the questions I asked her:

  1.   How many books for the children's market have you written? Which one is your favorite and why?  
  I have written eleven books.  10 are rhyming picture books, and my latest is a mid-grade adventure,
  Taconi and Claude – Double Trouble, set in the Aussie outback.  This is my favorite book, because my latest is always my favorite.
Wild and Wonderful - rhyming e-series

4x Soft Cover Books -

My website has Video links to me reading snippets from each of my books + great reviews and trailers.

2.   Why do logos help promote books?

A Logo is a STOP PRESS notice,  or a sassy tease that points readers to your book.  I love making logos for everything. They are fun to make, and really draw attention. I have one or more for each book + my critique service.  They are terrific promo tools.

3.   What is the funniest thing a child has ever asked you about writing?
 During a school visit, one small boy asked me if I was old.  When I told him I didn’t FEEL old, he said, “But you have white hair, you must be old.”

4.   What time do you get up and what do you eat for breakfast?

 I am retired and so is my husband.  So to compensate for the small aches and pains that maturity often brings ( note: I did not say old age!!) I go to bed late and get up when I feel like it.  I am more of a night person, so retirement allows me this luxury.
Breakfast is whatever I feel like that morning – French toast, lox and bagels, oatmeal or scrambled eggs.  I love my morning coffee and orange juice too.  If the weather is warm and sunny ( you never know in Oregon), I sit out in the garden and admire 32 years of our handiwork, on approx an acre of land.  The birds, bees, skunks, squirrels and deer know me intimately.  The deer and I fight over the rose bushes, and whether they should be on the deer’s breakfast menu or not.  If I am late out of bed  the deer dines on rosebuds!

5.   Describe your book Taconi and Claude: Double Trouble in 5 words.
  Awesome Down-under adventure for boys.
 I wrote Taconi and Claude with the idea of  HOOKING boys on reading.  A sequel to it will be out later this year.  Boys want action, fun and a fast pace.
6.   Which one of your books has sold the most and why?
   I am not sure at the moment.  I think my rhyming,  Horatio Humble Beats the Big D-dyslexia,  might be the winner, but the new Taconi and Claude is catching up. 
   So many kids today have dyslexia or reading problems.  Teachers and parents find  Horatio encouraging and helpful – especially the included parent/teacher guide.  It is a fun book even for kids who read well.
7.   What is your favorite thing about visiting a school?
   Asking kids about what they like to read and what they write.  Then answering questions about what it’s like to write books, do research and find a publisher.  
   The older grades ask really in-depth questions.  And it’s always fun to help them write a story if the teacher wants that.
8.   When did you start writing and why?
    I have written since grade school.  The answer is simple: to not write is absolutely unthinkable!
9.   If a newbie writer wanted manuscript help, what do you offer?
    I have run a Manuscript Critique Service for years.  Thanks to the Internet my clients are global.  Most come recommended, or after finding my website and reading about my Manuscript Critique service.  
   I am also on Linkedin, a terrific place for contacting those with similar interests.  I have a raft of recommendations from happy clients on my page there.  If prospective clients have nor looked over my M.C. page I send them the link, and they can see what I offer, + a basic list of my fees – subject to change if a lot of extra time and work from me is needed.  
 VIDEO Introducing my Manuscript Critique Service
    Prospective clients e-mail me, we chat, and I ask them to send me their MS as a Word document attachment.  After I read and evaluate their MS,  I quote a fee for my services, and the help and guidance I can offer them.  I work with picture books, easy readers, mid-grade books, YA and adult books.  It is always a thrill when I hear that a book I worked on has been published. YEA!

 10.   How successful have you been in using SKYPE for school visits?
   I spent some time researching how to go about it.  I joined Edutopia and the Skype Newsletter.  I also set up a Google Alert for anything to do with Skype. The Google alert sent me a ton of information, and combined with what I already know about actual school visits, I am ready to “rumble” as they say.
    I have one school wanting a Virtual School Visit in October, and I am working on finding more schools that might be interested.  Teacher and Librarian lists on some of the Social Networking sites have proved a good source of information.  

    Skype Virtual Visits are great for out of the way schools, or those not on the big name author routes.  Be prepared to fit in with class needs and times.  Negotiate everything, so that both the class, the teacher, and you get what you need from this fun way to reach out to future readers and writers.  This is a link to my Blog page about VIRTUAL School Visits:

11.   What's the oddest thing a fan has sent to you in the mail?
     Well, one little girl e-mailed that she had named her new doll after me.  
    Mostly e-mails that say they love a particular book.  One daddy had readRuthie and the Hippo’s Fat Behind to his daughter, and then asked if I would read a story he wrote for her.  I did: and with a little help from me it ended up tight, terrific, and so cute it was eventually published.
12.    How many rejections did you receive before you got published?
   Way too many to count.  Not all on the one book, I hasten to add. There is a saying among writers that you never become published until after you receive enough rejection letters to paper a small room.  My bathroom wallpaper is a great conversation starter – all those rejections are now where they belong!

13.   Do you have an agent? If so, would you recommend having one and why?
      No, I do not have an agent.  When I was first published I longed for an agent, and sent out reams of query letters begging to be taken up and touted to publishers everywhere.  No takers.  Now that I am well published and have Critique Clients popping into my IN box daily, I don’t have time to look for one.  My spies (other writers) tell me that agents are harder to snare than publishers.  They now have their own slush piles, and are so picky that Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and Khaled Hosseini would probably receive fast rejections.
    If you write YA or adult books, I think having an agent is vital.  It also helps for some midgrade fiction, especially if you have a series.  If the right agent came along I would definitely be interested, but so far I have done pretty well without one.  An agent can help you get a better deal in your contract, and possibly more overseas interest and book translations.  But a bad agent is NOT like a bad haircut – fixed in a couple of weeks. You can have a book stuck with them forever.  The right agent, one that has the same goals for your career, is a treasure to hang onto – truly golden.

    14.   What do you think of the state of publishing today?

    I love all the new innovations and technology – may it grow and prosper.  Of course for anything great to develop there are upheavals in the establishment, and publishers that balk at the thought of change.  But there is room for ALL to survive and thrive – paper books, eBooks, eReaders, POD and traditional.  It will just take time to shake out.  Look at the industrial Revolution.  Or when Ford brought out the first automobile.  “Ye gads.  What twaddle is this?  Nothing will replace the horse and buggy!”  Talk about famous last words: – but it WILL take a while.

Do you own an e-reader?
           Now that my young teen adventure “Taconi and Claude” is on Kindle Fire and my Rattlesnake Jam (PB) is on Nook - YES!!

16.   What's your blog about?
      HOOK Kids on Reading –  is where parents can find great books for their kids, and writers can pick up a few clues about writing books that will HOOK kids on reading.
Margot’s Magic Carpet –   is where all my books, irrespective of publisher, can be viewed on the one page.

17.    How can my readers help you to become an even bigger success?

   That’s easy, mate.  Buy my books, read them to your kids, and then e-mail me what they loved, and what went right over their heads.   Constructive criticism from kids is really eye opening.  I wish publishers had a panel of kids they ran prospective books through, before they published them.  Those editors might get a rude surprise.

18.    What do you do outside of writing for fun?
       Travel, garden, spend time with my wonderful husband and 7x grand kids, and of course read, read, read.  It is so easy to become immersed in your writing, promoting etc… that all else fades from your consciousness.  So my husband and I have a deal.  I quit every night at 8pm and spend the rest of the evening with him.  He in turn (now retired) takes a lot of the daily chores off my hands so I have more time for my passion.  It must be a good plan, because it has worked for 40 happy years.

19.   Who is your biggest cheerleader?
       Not my kids or my husband.  They think it is great I am published and happy helping others become writers, but you won’t find them helping me promote my books. 
      Writing is Mom’s thing!   Other children’s authors make up my cheering squad.  Writers I have known for years.  We support and celebrate our successes, and mourn every rejection letter and book that fails to sell as we had hoped.  A terrific band of mates who are very generous with the time and effort they put in on behalf of others.

20.      What authors would you recommend to your readers?
      Dotti Enderlie,  Madeline L’Engle,  Bev Cook,  Roald Dahl, Nicole Weaver, Avi, Mayra Calvani, Kevin Collier, Mary Jean Kelso, Bill Kirk, Jane Yolen, Tomie DePaola, Kate DiCamilo.  
    There are many more...

21.      What one word best describes you?

Thanks for letting me visit with you and your kind readers.

Books available through Amazon, B and N, Target etc.
*Autographed books through my website.

*HOOK Kids on Reading:
*Margot’s Magic Carpet:

*Virtual School Visits SKYPE makes it happen: