Friday, May 29, 2009

An Interview with Lynn E. Hazen - Author of Shifty - Chosen for VOYA's Top Shelf Fiction

Please welcome my guest, Lynn E. Hazen. I met Lynn on March 21, 2009 when she co-presented a “how to” social media workshop with Susan Taylor Brown at an East Bay Region SCBWI workshop. Lynn has several educational degrees to her credit. She holds an M. A. in Education from San Francisco State University and a B. S. in Applied Behavioral Science from U. C. Davis. In addition she holds an M. F. A. in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College where she won the Houghton Miffin Scholarship.

Welcome to Carma’s Window Lynn. It is a pleasure to have you as a guest. Before I get started I want to say Congratulations on Seymour Snail’s Pub date. The Amazing Trail of Seymour Snail, that is.

Q: It was a beautiful day for the event. I am sorry I could not attend. How did it go and where can readers find out about Seymour?

Hazen: SEYMOUR's launch party was really fun. You can see my blog post and some fun photos here:
My son and two friends helped me create a really cool window display at Cover to Cover Booksellers, complete with Seymour zipping around and around the window on a hidden Lego train. Many guests wore berets in honor of Seymour who wears a beret on the cover of the book.

Seymour Slimes His Way from Lynn H on Vimeo.

Q: How do you balance all the various aspects of your academic, writing and publishing interests?

Hazen: It is definitely a juggling act, but I just keep moving from one thing to the next. Taking a long nap every few days helps!

Q: I can relate to that. What comes first for you, the title or the story?

Hazen: It depends on the story, but for SHIFTY, and CINDER RABBIT, the titles came very quickly. But of course behind every book, there are years of life experiences and a unique author worldview that bring the author and her muse to ponder and write any given story.

Q: Is Shifty your first YA novel? Tell us about the award for VOYA and Smithsonian Notable.

Hazen: Yes, I had written a middle grade novel, MERMAID MARY MARGARET (published in 2004), but SHIFTY was my first YA novel. I began SHIFTY while in my MFA program at Vermont College. I was a little wary of writing YA, but Soli, my main character seemed to be driving a car in the first scene, so I had little choice but to go along for the ride. I'm glad I did. I'm thrilled with the great reviews, and that SHIFTY is being published in Australia and the UK. I'm jazzed that SHIFTY was chosen for VOYA'S Top Shelf Fiction, as a CCBC Choice, and a Smithsonian Notable.

One of the best things is hearing reviewers’ comments.
As a writer we create our worlds in isolation. So it’s great to hear readers’ comments and know that they’ve connected to your characters and story.
For example, for VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates), where SHIFTY was chosen for their Booklist of "Top Shelf Fiction" for Middle School Readers,

...Christina (8th Grade) would "recommend it to all my friends. Shifty has all the appeal that readers, reluctant and avid, would need—beautiful characters you can relate to, a passionate and expertly crafted story, an exciting plot, and a touching yet unanticipated conclusion. Nothing is idealized; nothing is too ugly. Readers will love it beginning to end."

For the Smithsonian Notable Books for Children 2008, I love the description of their list. “Surprising, inspiring and outstanding titles for youngsters and the grownups that read to them”

Wow, that makes me so happy and quite honored to be included. To see the rest Smithsonian’s 2008 list, click on this link

Q: What are you most passionate about outside of writing?

Hazen: My own kids of course. Working with young children and their families, reading great books, enjoying nature, and butterfly gardening.

Q: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing with your life?

Hazen: I guess, exactly what I am already doing--I've been the owner and director of a preschool for 25 + years. I also enjoy teaching adults. I taught English to adults in Japan for 3 years, I've taught Early Childhood Education at the college level, and now I'm teaching classes in Writing for Children & Young Adults at Stanford Continuing Studies. I'm lucky to have vocations I love.

Q: You have an amazing background rooted in children's writing and education. What can readers expect when they read your books?

Hazen: Whatever audience, from picture books through YA, my books seem to be filled with humor, heart & hope.

Q: Who or what has influenced you the most in your career?

Hazen: Reading great books by authors I admire certainly influenced me to want to try writing. Connecting with people and children in my own family, and in my preschool’s world of families has given me lots of ideas and inspiring characters. Discovering a circle of talented friends in my critique groups has provided me with encouragement and a professional community of kindred spirits. Giving myself the gift of attending Vermont College's MFA program in Writing For Children & Young Adults was perhaps one of the most intense and best positive influences. The amazing faculty and fellow students there, the creative vibe, and the structure of two years of intense hard work all made for a fantastic experience and, I am sure, helped my career as an author. I’d highly recommend the MFA program there. You can visit their site at this link.

Q: Is there such a thing as a typical writing day in your writing/publishing life?

Hazen: Nope. No typical days for me.

Q: What other books or projects are you working on?

Hazen: I'm working on a middle grade novel right now. The title keeps changing so this one is NOT a case of the title coming first. I also have a baby board book and a couple of young chapter books I'm happy with. I'm hoping they find homes soon.

Q: What type of book promotion works best for you? Are there any special strategies you’d like to share?

Hazen: Right now, I'm doing a little bit of everything. Ha--who knows what works? Is there any way to measure precisely what kind of promotion works? For me, writing the best books I can is a start. I enjoy connecting with readers, teachers, librarians & booksellers in person and online. I love doing school visits. Then of course, trying to find time to write the next book is important, too!

Just for fun I've recently been playing with creating short videos like the one shown at the beginning. You can see more at:

You can find a really cool “How to Make a SHIFTY Card” project there, too. Fun for teens and crafty folks.

Q: The use of video's in blogs and websites are gaining in popularity. I love the way you made yours. I am sure you have experienced many memorable moments in your career. Is there one that stands out more?

Hazen: Oh, it is hard to choose one. Here are a few:

....Dancing around the living room in a fit of happiness singing along with the lovely loud music of Joni Mitchell, "…go to the Mermaid Café Have fun tonight…" when I found out my first book had sold (MERMAID MARY MARGARET)
  • A much quieter happy moment many months (years?) later--getting all unexpectedly teary-eyed when seeing the same first book available for check out at my San Francisco Public Library.
  • Meeting so many creative kindred spirits in the sometimes wacky world of children's books--fellow authors, illustrators, editors, agents, booksellers, teachers, librarians and of course, readers, all of whom care deeply about books.
  • Speaking of readers--high on the memorable moments list is meeting children and teens, and getting fan mail, email, and drawings from children and youth who have liked my books.
  • Doing the Bunny Hop with an enthusiastic library full of young children with CINDER RABBIT.
  • Connecting with youth at the San Francisco Juvenile Justice Center and local high schools about reading, writing, and my book, SHIFTY.

Wow, so many memorable moments. I’m thankful to have experienced them. I guess it is good to reflect on these moments from time to time, especially in the inevitable “less than inspiring” times as an author. I might just have to print this list, post it on my bulletin board and reread it in times of “writer frustration” so I don’t forget!

Q: This is an impressive list. Where can readers reach you?

Thanks so much for the interview, Carma.

Lynn it has been my pleasure. You are a motivating force for children's writers.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Never Give Up

"You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don't try."

(Beverly Sills)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


A Book Review

Author: Lynn E. Hazen
Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 188 pages
Publisher: Tricycle Press (September 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1582462577
ISBN-13: 978-1582462578

Shifty is a heart warming story about a couple of hard to place kids in foster care and the precarious situations they have to deal with every day. However, Lynn Hazen melds reality, love, trust and an uncaring social service system that is over burdened and buried in red tape, with compassion.

Fifteen year old Shifty (a nick name he got when in juvie) has finally landed in a home that he can feel good in. His foster mother, Martha, foster sister, Sissy and crack addicted baby, Thaddeus (aka Chance ), are not a typical family but deep down where it counts love shines through. This is the first time Shifty has felt like he could belong and maybe he wouldn’t have to move again until he was too old to be a foster kid. Shifty has been on the move all of his life that he can remember and many of his previous foster parents were in trouble with the law one way or the other, which is why he landed in juvie in the first place, but you will have to read the book to find out what happened. Also, he desired to find out about his biological parents but no one would ever tell him. He didn’t know if he ever had parents.

Shifty is a resourceful kid who looks older than his fifteen years and maybe that is why he gets away with driving Martha’s van all the time with an expired permit in some one else’s name. Besides he is a good driver. But that doesn’t keep Shifty from getting a $275 parking ticket for parking in a bus zone when he stops to buy a burrito.

When the regular social worker leaves to have a baby she is replaced with a worker who is inexperienced, unknowledgeable and treats all foster homes and kids like they are nothing but a case number. Shifty spends some time trying to outsmart her and the results are remarkable. Between befriending a homeless lady and trying to keep himself and Martha out of trouble creates many dilemmas for this inventive teenager. However, it also creates page-turning excitement for the reader.

Hazen depicts the grim circumstances of this foster family on the edge of disaster with hope and humor. I was laughing a lot as I read about various predicaments Shifty managed to escape from with no dire consequences for him or his foster family. Hazen introduces the right amount of suspense to keep you sitting on the edge wondering if Shifty’s luck will fail this time.

The story is not depressing but it is realistic about foster care in the sense that kids in foster care are totally at the mercy of other people. Some who care about them and some do not. When they finally make a good match it only takes one person who can make it all go away. Hazen has created an original fast paced plot that flows smoothly to the end. There are many surprises and many aha’s! I highly recommend this book for adults as well as young children.

About the Author
LYNN E. HAZEN earned her M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College. She is the author of several picture books and a middle-grade novel called Mermaid Mary Margaret that was hailed "a winner" by Kirkus Reviews. Also Kirkus Reviews praised Shifty as a "realistic story that resonates. Smart writing and an engaging narrative...." She lives with her family in San Francisco, California.

Look for an interview Friday May 29 right here at Carma’s Window with Lynn E. Hazen.

Write it down,

Monday, May 25, 2009

Happy Memorial Day

God Bless America!

My most heartfelt thanks to all soldiers in all wars past and present who laid down their lives to give me and others the freedom to write these words!

Let Freedom Ring!

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. (Galatians 5:1)

Write it down,

Friday, May 1, 2009

the little bit SCARY people - book review

The Little Bit Scary People
Author Emily Jenkins
Illustrator Alexandra Boiger
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Hyperion Book CH (September 23, 2008)
ISBN-10: 1423100751
ISBN-13: 978-1423100751

Most children are afraid of something such as the dark or monsters under the bed. But “The little bit Scary People” helps to sooth young children’s fears that some people may not be so scary even if you are only three or four feet tall. Jenkins is able to transfer scary people into warm and loving characters.

I love the way Emily Jenkins uses a child’s imagination to show how perception of other people is not always what it seems to be. Jenkins uses words that speak directly to the children. As I read this story to my seven year old granddaughter she would say “That’s not nice” when I read about the nasty bus driver or the mean cafeteria lady and the school principal who shows a mean face in the hall way.

When the page is turned Jenkins words “But I bet,” prefaces each warmhearted statement that shows a good side of each character. For example: “The bus driver won't let me on if I don't have the right change. She honks her horn loudly, when she doesn't even need to. She’s a little bit SCARY.” (turn the page) “But I bet, she makes fancy breakfasts in the morning for her kids: pancakes, waffles, or English muffins with eggs and chopped tomato."

Toward the end the story takes a turn from imagination to reality through the voice of the main character. Instead of saying “but I bet,” she says “But I know,” I think this story helps children look at the differences in people and learn how to accept them for who they are. Also to realize everyone’s family is full of unusual and loving people too.

The artwork by Alexandra Boiger is gorgeous and vivid. Her comic illustrations of the “scary” pages are just realistic enough and she adds a touch of warmth and humor with each page turn. Kids will relate and the fresh take on subduing children’s fears will be appreciated by parents and teachers.

About the author: Emily Jenkins was born in New York City, grew up in Cambridge, MA and Seattle, WA, studied English at Vassar, and then came back to New York to get her doctorate in 19 th-century English literature at Columbia.

Write it down, Carma