Inside Creative Minds: Jenn Castro, Children’s Author

Well, I know it’s not summer anymore, but this blog series seemed too good to truncate when I got an interview with Jenn Castro, author of the charming picture book MOM ME. Listen in as she talks about her writing process, urban homesteading, and how to get kids to love reading.


1.     Welcome, Jenn! So tell us–how did you first discover that you loved writing?

When I was 10, I read Marjorie’s New Friend by Carolyn Wells. Reading about her red diary made me want to keep one. That year, I bought a diary. It’s green tweed and has a lock. Since then, I’ve kept many many journals, quote books, and scraps of paper in boxes. When I get an idea, I have to write it down. Eventually the need to write the story is so strong, I have to tell the story.

2.     What are some of your favorite books/authors?

My favorite children’s picture book authors are Margaret Wise Brown (Wait Til The Moon is Full), Leo Leonni (Swimmy), and Marie Hall Ets, (In the Forest). I love these authors because they respect and honor children’s imagination and intelligence. In elementary school, Beverly Cleary was a favorite. As an adult, I enjoy reading her books because she is very skilled at structuring a story. In high school, I liked books about seemingly real teen experiences (i.e., Mr. Pigman, by Paul Zindel). As an adult I am pulled to books about day-to-day life. Barbara Kingsolver’s series including Pigs in Heaven still top my list because of her fresh use of metaphors.

3.     How did you develop the idea for MOM ME?

I can’t say I developed the idea for MOM ME because the story came directly from funny things my kids did, including wiping their noses and mouths on my clothing! Some of the material came from how I played as a child: adults offering their shoulders as diving boards and carrying me across a pool on their backs name two.

4.     What’s one thing you wish someone had told you before you started the book publishing process?

Since publishing MOM ME and starting Hippowl Press, I’ve developed huge respect for the publishing industry. The writing, illustrating, front and back matter, printing, marketing, distributing, etc. is a huge endeavor. I think if anyone had told me all the steps, I might never have done it. So perhaps it’s better that I jumped in without knowing all that.

5.     Which came first for your book–the words or the illustrations?

The words came first. When my youngest was learning to sleep through the night, I’d wake to help him. While awake, I’d grab any nearby piece of paper and scribble a memory from the day. Images for illustrations followed quickly. I loved working with my illustrator on the story images because we saw the story so similarly.

6.     What divides your time from writing? How do you balance it all?

Without my kids, family, and community commitments, I’d have nothing competing for my time. Having so little time to write forces me to become very efficient and put any free time I have to writing. The stronger the story, the more compelled I am to sit and finish. My husband is very supportive and encouraging.

7.     What are some of your hobbies?

Coloring with magic markers on vellum paper is relaxing. I also enjoy painting fabric, bike riding with my teenager, playing cards with my youngest, and urban homesteading with my husband.

8.     What’s the best thing about being a published author? The hardest?

The best thing about being a published author is the satisfaction of finishing my first project. The hardest is finishing my next one.

9.     What do you think is the best way to help a child develop a love of reading?

Children learn to love reading when they see adults in their lives who enjoy reading. Kids (and adults) like to talk about books. I frequently ask kids what they’re reading and talk to them about the books. My own kids tell me about the stories they’re reading and I stop and listen to them. Showing I’m interested, shows them that discussing books is important and valuable. When they see that I value reading, it develops their love of reading.

10.    Are you working on another book project now?

Yes, I’m working on a young adult novel. I also keep a regular blog,, where I write about daily life as a mom, including searching for termites under my house, hiring myself to pull weeds, and many seemingly mundane activities like cooking pancakes for dinner and hanging laundry to dry.

11.    What’s one piece of advice you would give to aspiring writers?

When you have an idea, write it down. Inspiration is fleeting and it’s important to hang on to it so it doesn’t slip away.

Thanks for stopping by, Jenn! 

To find more information about Jenn or MOM ME, check out her website!

Inside Creative Minds: Shelley Adina, Author (on steampunk and chickens)

I’m so excited to welcome author Shelley Adina to the blog! Shelley is the author of a mind-blowing 30 books, from steampunk to romance to Amish fiction. Her book, Lady of Devices, was my introduction to steampunk, and I’m now gobbling up the series, cheering for the spunky Lady Claire as she dominates at engineering and chemistry in between making witty Victorian retorts. Listen in as this prolific writer talks costume design, chicken rescues, girl power, and teatime with the Duchess of Devonshire.

Shelley 2

AS: Welcome, Shelley! We all know that good writing comes from good reading. So tell us–what are some of your favorite books?

SA: The list is so long I hardly know where to start! I cut my teeth on English authors like Elizabeth Goudge (The Little White Horse and Linnets and Valerians were my favorites). Then I read the grandes dames of suspense, like Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, and Phyllis Whitney. When I got into publishing, I read books by people I knew and liked personally—Jennifer Crusie, Kristin Hannah, Bella Andre. Now I read all over the place—mysteries by Donna Leon and Linda Castillo, steampunk by Scott Westerfeld and Devon Monk, urban fantasy by Jim Butcher.

AS: You wrote your first novel when you were 13. What was it about?

SA: Since I read all the Nancy Drew books one after the other, my first novel was a total Mary Sue/Nancy Drew, with international art thieves and cruise ships and three teenagers who solved it all. My happiest hours were spent writing that book, on yellow typing paper with dots of white correction fluid. Sadly, when I sent it off to a publisher, my budding genius was not recognized and it came back with such speed I wondered if they’d even opened the envelope. But inside was a letter saying that while they were declining, they could see I knew how to tell a story, and to keep going. So I did.

AS: What are some of your non-writing hobbies? How do those inform your writing?

SA: I like to do creative things. I’m a costumer, and really enjoy making dresses related to the books I’m writing. When the Magnificent Devices series goes back in time to Lady Claire’s ancestors in the Regency period, I’m going to have such a good time! I also play the piano and the Celtic harp, and I rescue chickens. There is a chicken somewhere in every book I write, even if it’s only a pattern on the kitchen wallpaper 🙂

Shelley 1
Shelley in a Victorian costume of her own making!

AS: You’ve done quite a bit of traveling. Is there a place that’s particularly inspired your writing?

SA: So far I’ve been to 27 countries. But London inspires all kinds of steampunk ideas—which isn’t surprising, since many books in the genre are set there. I’ve been there four times, I think, the most recent in 2012, when I was researching the locations in the Magnificent Devices series, like Bedlam, and Wilton Crescent, and Vauxhall.

Book 1 of the Magnificent Devices series, set in an alternate London

AS: What’s the best thing about being an author? The hardest?

SA: The best thing about being an author is hearing from readers who enjoy living in my world as much as I do. I say, the more the merrier! The hardest thing is curbing my impatience to write everything all at once. I have books laid out for the next two years, and it’s like reining in the mental horses when I want to do it all at once!

AS: You write in a variety of genres: steampunk, romance, young adult, even Amish women’s fiction. Do you see common themes that link your books together?

SA: Oh, yes. After 30 books, I’m discovering that writers often have a “core story” that they can’t help but express on the page, no matter what the actual plot of the book is about. My core story is the young woman breaking free of the cage of other people’s expectations to find her own path. It seems that no matter what genre I write in, some aspect of that core story comes out. Maybe that’s why people like them—because it’s a kind of universal experience that’s at the same time specific to that book and that character.

AS: As a hybrid author, you’ve self-published some of your books and had others traditionally published. How would you compare the two experiences? Do you prefer one over the other?

SA: My current publisher, Hachette, has been very good to me and I adore my editor, Christina Boys. The tradpub and selfpub experiences are very different, but these days, most of the marketing falls on the author no matter which path you take. I love the control that I have with self-publishing, in scheduling the books, in writing them, in not worrying about whether this or that will be acceptable to someone in marketing. All that matters is whether it’s acceptable to the reader, and I love that direct connection.

AS: If you could have tea with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

SA: Wouldn’t it be lovely to have tea with the Duchess of Devonshire (1757–1806)? She was such an influential woman in a time when women were only expected to be decorative and produce children. She had star power, that girl. And a difficult life, for all her wealth.

AS: What’s one piece of advice you would give to aspiring writers?

SA: First of all, read widely. One of my biggest fears is that I’ll be derivative, so I love to read what others are coming up with. I’m amazed at the power of the imaginations out there. And secondly, don’t be afraid to pull out all the stops and push your own limits. Stretch yourself so that you can find your own space in which to create worlds and people that are unique to you.

AS: What’s next for you?

SA: I’ve got a bunch of things going on. Here’s a partial list—

Shelley 3

• Herb of Grace, book 1 in my Healing Grace series written as Adina Senft, comes out on August 5. I turn in book 3, Balm of Gilead, on August 15.
• Immediately afterward, I begin work on The Leftover Bride, a romance set in Lucy Kevin’s “Four Weddings and a Fiasco” Kindle World.
• Once that’s done, I begin work on A Lady of Integrity, book 7 in the Magnificent Devices series, which will take me to the end of the year.
• In between all these, I’m re-releasing my All About Us teen series, which will be renamed the Glory Prep series, with all new covers and updated content.

A busy remainder of 2014!

Thanks for stopping by, Shelley!

Find Shelley online at and Sign up for her newsletter or friend her on Facebook. Or chat with her on Twitter @shelleyadina !

If you have a question for Shelley, leave a comment! She’ll be around to answer it today! 

Inside Creative Minds: Hannah Jayne, Ninja (I mean, writer)

This week’s creative mind is a real treat. Meet Hannah Jayne, a multi-published author of urban fantasy and YA thrillers who’s wickedly funny and maybe also the nicest person you’ve ever met. I had the privilege of meeting her at California Bookstore Day, and she broke the ice and had me laughing in seconds. Join us now as she reveals her secrets about writing, penguins, SWAT teams, strong heroines, and the Disney channel.

L to R: A.R. Silverberry, Amalia Hillmann, yours truly, Hannah Jayne, and Erica Goss. Photo credit: Rebecca Hillmann.

AS: So excited to have you on the blog, Hannah! So tell us–what are some of your favorite books to read?

HJ: I am the most weirdly eclectic reader. I love YA mysteries–anything by April Henry or Barry Lyga especially, thrillers, Southern lit like Jill McCorkle, funny memoir stuff from Celia Rivenbark and Jen Lancaster, psychological nonfiction, short stories, hard-boiled detective novels, new author discoveries…have I covered everything? lol!

AS: How did you first fall in love with writing?

HJ: I was in the 2nd grade and was assigned to write a 3-page story. I wrote 12 pages. Stayed in through recess, just kept going. I loved the idea that I could create my own world. Granted, it was a horrible world with penguins or time travelers or orphans or something, but still.

AS: You seem to find (or create) humor wherever you go. So what is one of the funniest things that’s happened to you as you’ve spoken to audiences about writing?

HJ: I was doing a school visit and talking about how I get to do such cool research for my books. I think I was actually talking about the time I got to kick in doors with the SWAT team and I said something like, “but my mother doesn’t know that part” because we were in a location on a case. My cell phone rang immediately and I went to turn it off–then realized it was my mother calling! I actually answered and the crowd said hello to her. It was really funny. And no, they didn’t rat me out!

AS: You are a prolific writer and have a new book coming out! Tell us about it.

HJ: My latest novel hits shelves July 2nd and is called THE DARE. Brynna Chase dared her best friend to jump off a pier one night at an end of the school year party. The girls, Brynna and Erica, jumped together but only Brynna came back to the surface. Erica’s body was never found but 18 months later, Brynna gets a tweet from the account of EricaNShaw with the simple message: Remember me?

Hannah’s latest novel, coming July 2

AS: You write in multiple genres: urban fantasy, romance, and young adult thrillers. Do you see a common thread that links them together?

HJ: I think ultimately, I like to write about women finding their strength. In my Underworld books, Sophie Lawson starts out quite the sniveling weakling, but book by book she evolves to a pretty bad-ass chick. Each of the teens in my YA are put in some pretty horrible situations, but it’s always their brains that get them out of it.

AS: Love it! You’re now a full-time author, but what are some of the other jobs you’ve held along the way?

HJ: Ha! Good question! I folded towels at a home superstore; I made hand-painted (God-awful) sweatshirts; I worked as a bookkeeper (this after very nearly failing every math class ever); a very bad personal assistant; a cheerleading coach…

AS: Wow. So what’s the best thing about being a published author? The hardest?

HJ: The best thing is all the people I get to meet and connect with. The fans are amazing and meeting other writers is awesome. The hardest part can be the loneliness since writing is such a solitary thing. Also hard is the fact that I write from home where the refrigerator lives. It’s not so much hard on me as it is on my pants.

AS: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

HJ: When am I not writing?! 🙂 I love to hike and basically do anything outdoors. I’m a world-class napper. I love to cook, adventure, travel, spend time with my family and friends. I watch Investigation Discovery like it’s going out of style and pretend I watch the Disney channel for research purposes.

AS: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

HJ: Keep knocking until someone opens the door!

AS: What’s next for you? 

HJ: I just sold a new YA thriller called Out of the Woods and I’m working on a middle grade paranormal and an adult thriller that changes by the minute! And I’m totally DVR’ing the new episodes of Wives with Knives on Investigation Discovery.


Thank you so much for stopping by, Hannah! I feel lucky to have one of your books signed in orange Sharpie 🙂

Check out Hannah’s books for a dose of heart-pounding action mixed with wonderfully off-the-wall humor! You can connect with her on her websiteFacebook, or Twitter.

Inside Creative Minds: Erica Goss, Poet

Please welcome Erica Goss to our Creative Minds series! Erica is the Poet Laureate of Los Gatos and a lovely person who’s as elegant as she is whimsical. I’ve always loved reading and writing poetry, but meeting Erica at California Bookstore Day inspired me to work on my craft (and teach it to my students). Listen in as she talks about incurring traffic tickets, juggling multiple jobs, and finding inspiration in parking lots.

Erica Goss
AS: Delighted to have you, Erica! So let’s go back in time: as a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

EG: Lots of things: a dancer, an artist, a scientist, a mother, besides being a writer.

AS: How did you end up in poetry (versus fiction or nonfiction)?

EG: I starting writing poems as a young child. Poetry was always the most attractive literary form to me, the one I most enjoyed writing and reading. I also write non-fiction, as in creative non-fiction or memoir, but poetry was and is the most natural fit.

AS: What are some of your favorite books?

EG: That’s a hard one! The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson, Anna Karenina, Wuthering Heights, Beowulf. I’m drawn to 19th century fiction. Virginia Woolf’s essays, Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, Wanda Coleman’s Mercurochrome – these are books that feed me. A novel that I read about once a year is Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson. I think Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is one of the best non-fiction books of the last five years. I read poetry constantly, and a current favorite is Terrence Hayes. As a child I loved Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, and the fairy tale collections edited by Andrew Lang.

BEOWULF: one of Erica’s favorite poems! Public domain image courtesy of the British Library

AS: Do you have another job (or more than one)? How do you balance it with your creative writing?

EG: In addition to writing, which includes poetry, blogging, magazine articles, etc., I work as a grant writer and as a freelance teacher.

AS: Wow, that’s quite a load to juggle! So when you’re writing, what are some of the most unusual places you’ve gotten ideas for poems?

EG: I have a secret muse: parking lots. For some reason, I find these sad stretches of concrete more inspiring than Yosemite. I think it’s because I like the idea of claiming a neglected space as my own, a place no one has seen the value in yet. I advise my students to find some place like that – an alley, or a dumpster, or the back of a building – and embrace it. Describe its climate and inhabitants. Do research about your place. Visit it often and note the change of seasons. Immortalize it in poetry.

AS: What is one of the funniest things that’s happened to you as you’ve spoken to audiences about poetry and writing?

EG: At Village House of Books’ Author Day, I made exactly enough selling books to pay for the parking ticket I received that day.

AS: Ooh, ouch. So do you have a daily creative routine? What does it look like?

EG: I try to be at my desk every day by 8:00 a.m. I catch my best ideas early in the morning. I write until noon, eat lunch, and then switch gears to more mundane tasks. Often I will have a burst of energy late in the afternoon.

AS: One of my other jobs is tutoring students in writing. So why do you think it’s important for students to learn to write poetry, as opposed to just essays?

EG: Poetry is a lot more fun than essays. Poetry can get students excited about writing. They know that the poem they write is a true expression of their inner life, and for that reason alone writing poetry is valuable.

AS: Anything new coming down the writing pipeline for you?

EG: My first full-length collection of poetry, titled The Museum of Moving Parts, is making the rounds of poetry publishers. I’m working on a series of poems based on the previous year of my life, tentatively called “Time Lapse.”

Erica’s published book, “Vibrant Words,” is a collection of prompts ideal for teaching poetry.

AS: What’s one piece of advice you would give to aspiring writers?

Turn off all distractions and read. Read widely. Start with classic fiction, then read great works of non-fiction like In Cold Blood by Truman Capote and Black Boy by Richard Wright. Read a poem every night before you go to sleep. Find an author you enjoy and read all of his or her books. Try more challenging work. Read the poetry of many eras and countries. Read travel writing, food literature, science fiction and fantasy. Read children’s books. You can’t become a writer without reading. Visit your local library and discover its gems.

Here’s a great quote from Ray Bradbury about the importance of libraries: “I spent three days a week for 10 years educating myself in the public library. You can get a complete education for no money. At the end of 10 years, I had read every book in the library and I’d written a thousand stories.”

Thank you so much for stopping by, Erica! 

To connect with Erica, visit her website or Facebook.

If you’re interested in learning more about poetry, Erica will be starting monthly poetry readings at the Los Gatos Library on Sunday, September 21. They’ll be called “The Poetry Kitchen,” and each session will open with a poem about food. There will be a featured reader and an open mic.

Inside Creative Minds: A.R. Silverberry, Author

With Memorial Day behind us and summer around the corner, it’s time for something new on this blog. Which is why I’m launching a summer series, taking us “Inside Creative Minds.” Interviews with writers, artists, and other creatives will give us a peek inside their lives and creative habits.

Our first guest is novelist A. R. Silverberry. We became book friends after swapping titles at California Bookstore Day.

Photo credit: Amalia Hillmann

Welcome, A. R. Silverberry! So tell us–how did you first fall in love with writing?

Well, I’m in love with other people’s writing! I’m pretty hard on my own. What I love is the creative process, discovering things I never planned or anticipated, discovering connections that were completely unconscious on my part. I especially love when a character steps on stage and announces herself, fully born. All I have to do is get out of the way and let her speak! Other characters, I have to really work at to know, and I better pray they aren’t main characters or I’m in for a tough time. I love writing the first draft. I don’t love writing the final draft. By that point, I’m aware of what I call my Waterloo chapters, those spots where I just can’t complete things to my satisfaction. Ironically, it may be a single sentence that’s hanging me up.

Do you hear that scream? It’s my wife after I’ve asked her for six months straight which permutation of a passage she prefers!


What are some of your favorite books to read?

A Tale of Two Cities, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Lacuna, and all things Tolkien. I grew up on fairy tales, myths, and the Oz books. Nowadays, for pure fun, I read Dean Koontz.


You publish both paper books and e-books. As an avid reader yourself, which medium do you prefer and why? 

I had the good fortune to go into a Shakespeare museum and got to look at a book written in 1606. Imagine! Shakespeare could have touched the same book! Physical books are an art form. As long as there are people, art won’t die, and neither will physical books. I’ll always prefer them. How do you cozy up to an e-reader? But darn if those e-books aren’t kind on old eyes. I love that I can enlarge the font, look up words I don’t know, and most surprising, my reading speed increased.

You can’t get a signed e-book…

What are your two novels, Wyndano’s Cloak and The Stream, about? Are they related? 

They’re unrelated. Wyndano’s Cloak is a fantasy adventure for children. The Stream is tale for adults, in the same genre as Siddhartha by Herman Hesse and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

Wyndano’s Cloak in one word: Empowerment. More specifically, girl power, though the message to believe in your inner gifts applies to all, young and old alike.

I asked one of my beta readers what she thought The Stream was about. She replied, “Good heavens, what is it not about?!” Here’s the best I can do:

What if your world was six miles wide and endlessly long?

After a devastating storm kills his parents, five-year-old Wend awakens to the strange world of the Stream. He discovers he can only travel downstream, and dangers lurk at every turn: deadly rapids, ruthless pirates, a mysterious pavilion that lures him into intoxicating fantasies, and rumor of a giant waterfall at the edge of the world. Defenseless, alone, with only courage and his will to survive, Wend begins his quest to become a man. Will tragic loss trap him in a shadow world, or will he enter the Stream, with all its passion and peril?

Part coming-of-age tale, part adventure, part spiritual journey, The Stream is a fable about life, impermanence, and the gifts found in each moment.

Stream Small Cover 2


Wow! Two powerful books, quite different from each other. So who or what inspires your writing?

Ideas tumble into my mind from every conceivable corner. Take The Stream, for instance. The initial impetus was a conversation I was having, where I used the metaphor of a stream. I kept thinking about that metaphor. In a few hours, the character of a small boy, alone, defenseless, trying to understand the ways of the world, popped into my mind. I saw images of him confronting the challenges we all face in life: love, loss, pain, losing your way. The next morning, I put aside the novel I was working on (it wasn’t working anyway), and started writing. It pretty much tumbled out of me and didn’t let go until it was done.


What appeals to you about fantasy stories?

The unique thing about fantasy as a genre is that it’s not limited by the laws of physics. Anything can happen. Magic exists. Unexpected things can and do occur. Conflicts are painted in bold, broad strokes. The hero or heroine is up against unspeakable power, power beyond human ken. If they can triumph over that, I can triumph over the foibles of my life.


What’s one piece of advice you would give to aspiring writers?

Be wary of advice, except mine of course! And here it is: read a lot; write a lot; learn the craft, but don’t be a slave to it; and break the “rules” if it helps the story. Don’t try to write like anyone else. There is only one you. Let the beautiful voice inside you sing.


Do you have another job? How do you balance it with writing?

I’m a psychologist, working primarily with children and adolescents, though I see adults too. I try to write every morning while my mind is clear and closer to the dream world. I wrote Wyndano’s Cloak while commuting on Cal Train! It worked out great. The sound of the train triggered me into writing mode. I wrote three hours a day, five days a week. Between the train and work, I walked for twenty minutes, taking notes about snippets of dialogue or description. The biggest loss to my writing was when we moved away from that train! I have to drive now, but I’m listening to a lot of audio books!


Are you working on a new book now? Can you tell us anything about it?

I never reveal the plot of anything until I’m ready to release it, but I’ll say this: It’s a dystopic young adult sci-fi fantasy trilogy. Say that five times as fast as you can!


Thank you for joining us! It’s been a pleasure! 

A. R. Silverberry will be answering questions in the comments today, so ask away! Check out Wyndano’s Cloak and newly released The Stream on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Peter Adler


About A. R. Silverberry:

A. R. Silverberry writes fiction for adults and children. His novel, WYNDANO’S CLOAK, won multiple awards, including the Benjamin Franklin Award gold medal for Juvenile/Young Adult Fiction. He lives in California, where the majestic coastline, trees, and mountains inspire his writing. THE STREAM is his second novel. Visit his website or connect with him on Facebook or Twitter!