C. G. Watson – Author/Activist Interview

CG headshot1I connected online with Carrie (aka C G Watson) not just because she is another cool YA author, which she is, but because of a sense of simpatico, which I believe is totally transmissible online. It wasn’t just the cute cat pics either, but this creative shares similar passions and goals and an awareness of the impact of good books and mentoring. Read on to find out more.

[JM] Where are you from/have you lived, and how has that influenced your writing?

[CGW] I’ve lived exclusively in California my entire life, but I’ve traveled to lots of other places. One thing about only living in one kind of place is that it makes me want to know and write about other kinds of places. So I try to set my stories in a variety of locations.

[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an author?

[CGW] I’ve always been a writer in one form or another, but in 2005, I went to the page to work through some feelings of helplessness I was experiencing as a classroom teacher – watching a culture of meanness play out among my students and realizing I had almost no power to change it. In processing my concern through story-telling, I ended up creating an early draft of my debut novel, QUAD.


[JM] Do you have a favorite social media platform, and if so, why?

[CGW] I still crush on FB. I know! I do flirt with Twitter, but it intimidates me. I have a few followers but have literally only posted like five original tweets ever. Whereas FB, for me, is more like: “I live in my own little world, but that’s okay. They know me here.”

[JM] Please would you share your agent story with us? 

[CGW] In 2008, I found myself without an agent, and by providence met Erin Murphy at an SCBWI sponsored event later that year. We were both panelists at the event, so we had a chance to get acquainted the night before. My first impression was that she was super-nice, and so real. Once she gave her presentation, she hit agent-crush status. I asked her if I could query her, and she said yes. The initial pages I sent her weren’t polished enough to make her sign me, but they did make her want to sign me. It took two years, but in the end, it was definitely worth the wait.

CG & EMu

CG & EMu

[JM] Thanks for the encouragement to persevere when we think we have found the right agent. I recently read your latest YA novel, ASCENDING THE BONEYARD, over a weekend because it was that good. As a non-gamer, I could follow the fast-paced gaming world plot with ease. Did this story come from personal experience or the experience of teens in your life?

[CGW] Why thank you! It actually morphed from a totally different initial concept, but one in which the main character was always Caleb Tosh and always a gamer. Once it became clear that the game played a major role in his journey, I had to enlist the help of gamer friends (including my then-14 year old daughter) to work those parts out. But as you probably discovered, this is not a gaming story. The video game, Boneyard, is a metaphor for struggle, for unhealthy coping mechanisms, for getting lost in the landscape of loss and grief. And those are things I drew from, both in my own experience with loss-related pain, and from being a high school teacher for the better part of 30 years – from asking about and listening to the way young people relate their stories of loss.


[JM] What was the first book you ever bought with your own money? 

[CGW] Oh dear. Hmm. I confess to not having been an avid reader as a young person. I was definitely a “reluctant reader,” although there was no word for it at the time. My experience with reading was that if the text was too dense, it intimidated me, and if it wasn’t dense, it was probably too sanitized or boring to hold my interest. I think my first book purchase was M.E. Kerr’s Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack, about a girl whose mother is a drug crisis counselor who fails to see that her own daughter is in serious emotional crisis. Way ahead of it’s time.

Dinky Hocker

[JM] Tell us a little about any writing groups or communities you are involved in.

[CGW] This may sound odd because it’s so rare, but my main writing community is populated by my agency-mates. We don’t operate like a classic critique group, although we do sometimes lean on each other for help in that way. It’s more of a support community for everything from publishing challenges and victories to personal life stuff. I’ve never known a more caring or embracing group of people. On a personal level, they’ve carried me though some profoundly tough times in my life.

[JM] I confess to a healthy envy of the EMLA community! What artwork do you have on the walls of your home? 

[CGW] There is SO much artwork on the walls of my home! Inspirational quotes, one-of-a-kind pieces (including my daughter’s stained glass and mosaics), lots and lots of sugar skulls and Day of the Dead art. We have one wall of nothing but photos/art signed by our artistic heroes. Oh, and a Hamilton print that I hope to also get signed one day. But I’m most proud of my dad’s art. I have several of his pieces on display, like this statement he made on the Viet Nam war.

Dad's Vietnam art

Dad’s Vietnam art

[JM] In following you online, I have been very impressed with all I have seen about the non-profit Never Counted Out that you have pioneered with YA author/filmmaker e.E. Charlton-Trujillo. How did you connect with e.E.? And please tell us about your goals/hopes for this non-profit.

[CGW] We connected on Facebook in 2008, but moved from periphery to social sphere in 2011. The mutual respect for one another’s work was immediate, and we always knew we’d eventually collaborate on something. That opportunity came in 2013 when e.E. went out on her Fat Angie “book tour,” which led to the creation of her documentary film At-Risk Summer, which led her to the realization that there are so many young people around the country whose powerful creative voices are stuck in neutral without creative mentors in their lives. Never Counted Out is the articulated vision of that awareness. Our goal is three-prong: get books into the hands of programs that serve at-risk youth (we ship out dozens of donated books each month and are always open to donations); connect at-risk youth around the country with creative mentors, writers, musicians, and artists who are willing to donate one hour a year of mentorship to a program in their community – we’ll facilitate the process by creating and curating a database of programs and artists; and offering creative mentorship camps for young people around the country to come and workshop with the best writers (and eventually other artists) in the field. The first of those camps will go live this December, in partnership with the Highlights Foundation.

[JM] What is your main writing fault/flaw?

[CGW] Okay, here it is. I’m not a good plotter – I prefer taking a more organic path. Unfortunately, free-range characters will often do something ridiculous, or will wander off and take the plot with them. That’s the problem with being a reluctant plotter. Too often, my story sees something shiny, like “Pretty butterfly!” and away it goes. It’s a constant battle.

Oh, I’m a pantser (reluctant plotter) too! Five Fun Ones to Finish

[JM] What’s your favorite park in the world? (national/state/urban…) 

[CGW] Guell Park, Barcelona Spain. Funktastic! Designed by Antonio Gaudí, and just a straight-up visual mind-trip.

Guell Park

Guell Park

[JM] Cats or Dogs? 

[CGW] Cats. Although our cat is actually part dog, so it’s like having the best of both worlds.



[JM] Fact most people don’t know about you?

[CGW] Back in the day, I was a brilliant water-skiier.

[JM] What was your first paid job (aside babysitting)?

[CGW] I worked at a Texaco in the middle of nowhere (but right off a major interstate) for a hot minute when I was 16. Serious ick.

[JM] Ick! Go to snack and/or drink to keep those creative juices flowing.

[CGW] Coffee! And Trader Joe’s Partially Popped Butterscotch and Sea Salt Popcorn. And Hot Tamales.

Carrie, thanks so much for sharing your world and hopes with us today. Wishing you every success with your present and next writing project and look forward to hearing more about December’s first Never Counted Out camp.

To connect with and find out more about C. G. check out the following links:

Website: www.authorcgwatson.com
Facebook: Carrie Gordon Watson
Twitter: @cgordonw                                                                               www.nevercountedout.com
Instagram : antiquecarrot

Surf’s Up – Perfect Picture Book Friday

surfTitle: Surf’s Up

Author: Kwame Alexander

Illustrator: Daniel Miyares

Publisher: North South, 2015

Ages: 4-8

Themes: Surf, summer joys, reading


Surf’s up, Bro!

Not yet, Dude.

Books’ are boring.

Not this one.


Bro and Dude have very different ideas about how to spend the day at the beach. But as Bro continues to gasp and cheer as he reads his book, Dude can’t help but get curious. Before you can shout ‘Surf’s up!’ both frogs are sharing the same adventure, that is, until they get to the beach.

Why I like this book:

Dude and Bro are such perfect surfer names for these two frogs! Bro draws Dude into the book with his enthusiasm and exclamations. The bright summery illustrations reveal Moby Dick as the book in question and the two frogs get caught up in this whale of a story on their walk to the waves, so much so that when Dude finishes on arriving on the sand and won’t tell Dude the ending, Dude has to start it himself.

The combination of a love for reading and surf is a cool juxtaposition and told with short Californian slang, the story is told as much in the imaginary illustrations as the crisp text. Text is colored to match the frogs’ hues so you know who is speaking (black font for the book being read or actions). A hint of the book being read is shown in Bro’s bedroom with a ship hanging from the ceiling and a whale on the bed. The end papers play a part as well with the beginning showing waves and the end with ship paraphernalia on shore


Ask the students what picture books they would recommend to their classmates as great beach reads?

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Thyra Heder – Illustrator Interview & Book Giveaway (Blog Tour for Penny & Jelly)


I love participating in blog tours for new book releases. This is a round two for me, as I participated in Maria Gianferrari’s first Penny and Jelly release last year. When she asked me if I would like to join in again for Book #2 (PENNY AND JELLY SLUMBER UNDER THE STARS) I said, “Absolutely, but please can I interview your illustrator, Thyra Heder?” You see, every book takes a village to create! (I guess next time I will need to interview Maria’s agent or editor!) We also hope you will take part in the book giveaway at the end of this interview.

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator? If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

[TH] I’m an author and an illustrator, and when I’m writing my own books I start with pictures. Very tiny scribbly pictures.

[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?

[TH] I’m grew up in Cambridge, MA and have remained living in east coast cities. I love to travel, but there will always be something about a drafty wood frame house that makes me feel right at home.

[JM] [JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[TH] My parents are both artists, so my beginnings as an artist literally start at the beginning. I was lucky to have two successful examples of art being a career, so even though I wasn’t sure of exactly what kind of artist I wanted to be, I never had to battle the idea that art couldn’t be a “real” job. I went to school for film and film theory and started storyboarding straight out of college which eventually led me in a roundabout way towards picture books.

[JM] What is your preferred medium to work in?

[TH] Pencil, ink and watercolor.

[JM] Do you have themes or characters you return to in your art?

[TH] I love drawing people, and I love drawing specific materials and objects from daily life. I get such a kick out of painting elmers glue bottles and crayola markers…I don’t know really know why. But I think recognizing something as small as a marker can be a powerful way for a kid to connect themselves to the world of the story.

[JM] Please share a piece or two with us from the new Penny and Jelly book and tell us a little about your process?



This was my first sketch for the text. It was actually a tiny drawing that I scanned and blew up in photoshop and added to. I try to draw things very fast and loose to get my first instinct out. In this case, I thought my first instinct was pretty right for the spread so I did a slightly more detailed drawing.


Then I do a sketch painting, to figure out my color and strategy. Watercolor really requires thinking before starting and I often do a bunch of sketch paintings. I often think my sketch paintings are better than the finals because they are so free. This one I loved:

PJ2_06-07 2

Then I paint a final and either I tweak in photoshop effects or use it to add other parts of new paintings if I didn’t get it right in the first one. In this case, I did both, but photoshop especially helped me boost the glowing light effect.


[JM] Which is your favorite spread/scene from this book and why?

[TH] Definitely the end spread of the slumber party.


It just looks like so much fun. Even though it was probably the hardest to paint, I was excited to tackle it. There were lots of little moments with the pets that I was looking forward to. It’s pretty rare for me that the excitement for an illustration trumps the stress, but I found myself very focussed and happy while painting this one.
Though I must mention, i loved drawing the guinea pig in the fanny pack detail. When you draw something that makes you laugh out loud in your studio it makes your day so much better.


[JM] What is it like working on a character/characters in a series? How do they evolve?

[TH] They definitely get easier! Once you know the character it is more fun to draw them doing different things, because they just kind of flow out. On the second book, I didn’t really have as many “how would she do that?” moments. I was much more confident. Jelly over time has started to feel a lot like my own dog, Toby. I don’t know how because they are a completely different size and shape, but I was obviously influenced by my studio mate and there is something Toby-ish about Jelly’s gestures in book 2. Here is Toby and his friend Lucy-the original inspiration for Jelly


[JM] At what point in the process do you start considering the design of the end pages?

[TH] Maria, the author, had the vision for the endpapers at the beginning. I often don’t come up with them until the very end.

[JM] What does your workspace look like?

[TH] My studio is always changing and is never in order. But here is what it usually looks like while I’m painting

IMG_4252and while I’m doing other things. (This is my friend Abby helping me build animal costumes)


[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your house?

[TH] Lots of art by friends and family. Lots of little objects that I think are funny.

Five Fun Ones to Finish?
[JM] What’s your favorite park (state/urban..) in the world?

[TH] This is so hard because they are all so different! Villa Borghese in Rome and Joshua Tree National Park are two of my absolute favorites for very different reasons…but I could probably go on and on about favorite parks. I love a good city park for people watching and state and national parks for exploring. Does the entire country of Iceland count?

[JM] Cats or dogs?

[TH] I guess I chose dogs, because I’m pretty obsessed with my own. But, also, why aren’t turtles a third choice?

[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?

[TH] I love watching singing competition shows. I hope that most people don’t know this about me but I think they do.

[JM] What word best sums you up?
[TH] Sneakers?

[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?
[TH] Almonds and clementines.

You can check out more of Thyra’s work here: http://www.thyraheder.com/

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Processed with VSCOcam with a5 preset

The author, Maria writes both fiction and nonfiction picture books from her sunny, book-lined study in northern Virginia, with dog, Becca as her muse. Maria’s debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder, was released in July 2015 (HMH Books for Young Readers); a companion book, Penny & Jelly Slumber Under the Stars, will be released in June. Her debut nonfiction book, Coyote Moon, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, will be published by Roaring Brook Press in July, and Aladdin Books for Young Readers will publish Officer Katz & Houndini: A Tale of Two Tails in October. Maria has five additional books forthcoming from Roaring Brook Press, Boyds Mills Press and GP Putnam’s Sons. To learn more about Maria, visit her website: mariagianferrari.com and on Facebook.

And you can visit Penny & Jelly at their website: http://www.pennyandjelly.com/

Don’t Forget to enter the giveaway for a chance to win a copy of this picture book (North American addresses only, please!

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