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.