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

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Interview with Alexis O'Neill: Children's Book Author

 I met Alexis at a Tahoe SCBWI writer's retreat. She was fun, energetic, and full of helpful ideas for authors regarding writing and school visits. 

I reached out to her via Facebook, and asked for an interview. And, even with her busy schedule, she said yes! Thank you Alexis. Your advice rocks and so do you!! And, so do your books!!!

Below are the questions I asked her:

1.    Describe your writing in 5 words:  

My stories are verbaliciously spare.

2.    Your children's books have won many awards. Which one surprised you the most?

 The most gratifying awards are the ones kids vote on in their states.  A cool pewter cup that the Virginia Reading Association sent me for The Recess Queen holds my colored Sharpies, so I think of those kids often!

   3.    What are you working on right now? 

A tween novel.

   4.    Have you got to meet the illustrators of your books? And, was it collaboration, or were they chosen for you? 

   All of my illustrators were chosen for me. And my editors all had great taste! I’ve talked with Nancy Carpenter, who illustrated Loud Emily, after our book was published, but haven’t met her in person yet. But I met Laura Huliska-Beith after The Recess Queen came out, and now we’re Facebook friends. She’s as bouncy and fun and her illustration style!

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

   I get up around seven, stumble downstairs with three cats weaving around my ankles, pour the first of three cups of coffee and read the newspaper while watching Good Morning America (mostly to pick up the latest celebrity gossip) and eating a cheese omelet or oatmeal. I usually get to my desk by about 8:30 a.m. on days when I don’t work out in the pool at the Family Y.  

6.    You belong to SCBWI – Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators. Why? How has it helped your career? 

  SCBWI has made all the difference in the world! In addition to finding my “tribe,” the workshops and conferences helped me hone both my craft and business skills.

   7.    What other associations or organizations would you recommend?  

  I believe in supporting teachers and librarians, so I belong to literacy organizations including California Reading Association, California School Library Association and more. On the professional side, I belong to The Authors Guild, an advocacy group that offers fabulous help for authors like me who do not have agents.

8.    What is the funniest thing a child has asked you about your books?  

  This was “funny” in that it was an unusual question from a kid. A second grader in South Central Los Angeles, after a class discussion about revisions, asked, “Have you ever lost confidence in something you were working on?” That question blew me away!

   9.    Why do you think school author visits have gone down in the past five years? 

  When the economy tanked in 2007, that was the beginning of extreme belt-tightening in the schools.  Library services were cut, positions eliminated and teachers and librarians were not being supported to attend conferences, the best places for exchanging ideas and meeting authors and illustrators. 

  But something else happened: during this time, there was a change in the way author visits were valued. The No Child Left Behind program squeezed schools, valued testing above all else, and put teachers on such a tight schedule, they couldn’t take time for assemblies. But with the coming Common Core program, all that is already changing. Authors are being seen as having valuable skills to share with kids. I’m already seeing an upswing in invitations and, frankly, happier teachers!

   10.  What advice would you give to an author going to their first school visit? 

   Practice! Try out your presentation on a classroom first and get feedback from the teachers. Also, read my blog, for lots of advice on how to shape a program.

11. Do you still dabble in theatre? Written any scripts? Plays?  

   I love to attend plays, but I no longer produce, direct or act in them. I get my “performance” kicks from doing school visits and inviting kids on stage to act out stories.

12. What's the best thing about visiting a school? 

   Seeing kids become really excited about reading and writing. And having my own parking spot.

13.  Who is your biggest cheerleader? 

  My husband, David!

14. What words of advice do you have for newbie writers?  

   Write. Be open to feedback. Rewrite. Repeat until you have a great manuscript, worthy of submission. Oh – and join SCBWI.

15. What gives you the most difficulty when writing, and how do you overcome it?  

  Unstitching chapters in novels for revision is a challenge. But I take it a step at a time and try not to get overwhelmed by the larger task ahead.

  16. Was there someone in your past that saw this writing talent in you and helped you along? If so, who was it?  

  One teacher in college wrote on the top of my short story, “I think you ought to submit this to Mademoiselle Magazine for publication.” Until then, publishing was not on my radar. He planted a seed that grew over time.

17. Have you ever written about the airplane crash that you survived? 

   I wrote an article about the crash, illustrated with photographs, for Odyssey magazine for their issue called “Survival,” December 2005.

18. What do you do when you get free time? Other hobbies? Sleep? 

   I swim, make art, play with our three cats, watch Castle and Downton Abbey, and travel with my husband, David.

19. Where is the best place to get a cup of Joe or tea in your town?  

  In our kitchen.

(A: Is that an invitation, Alexis? wink, wink.)

20. Is there anything on your writing desk that is a must have? Favorite picture? Coffee cup? Best pen?  

   Fine point Sharpies. Bic mechanical pencils. All kinds of paper and stationery. Photos of my family. Assorted stuffed animals. Living cats. 

(A: Glad you clarified Living cats...he he)

21. What one thing if you knew then what you know now, would have made getting published that much easier?  

   Nothing. It’s all a journey and you can’t put a timeline on success. I’ve loved every minute of this life and wouldn’t go back to change anything.

   22. What one word best describes you?


   23. Any big news? 

I have a new picture book for older readers coming out in September 2013 from Calkins Creek called, The Kite That Bridged Two Nations: Homan Walsh and the First Niagara Suspension Bridge. It’s historical fiction, a departure from my other books. It tells the true, dramatic story of how an ordinary boy earned an extraordinary place in history, using his kite to lay the first line for the first suspension bridge at Niagara Falls in the winter of 1848.

1 comment:

  1. We love The Recess Queen. Kris, Hilde and Susan have read it to many children. We also love Alexis. Looking forward to the new book.