A creative writing podcast featuring stories, writing tips, and author interviews to help listeners write their own tales. Hosted by Catherine Austen. 45 minutes.
Author Interview with Frieda Wishinsky
It's the final Cabin Tales interview! With Frieda Wishinsky, award-winning author of more than 70 books for young readers, both fiction and non-fiction. Hear about her aversion to horror, her fondness for chronological order, and the similarities she finds in writing and gardening. 20 minutes, all ages.
A full transcript is available at CabinTales.ca.
[1:20] Interview with Frieda Wishinsky
CA:… Are you a planner or a pantser?
FW: Used to be much more of a pantser; I'm more of a planner. … I don't really do an outline for a picture book, but I usually think through where it's going…. Because you can really get into complications. Even with planning, you get into complications if you don't have a sense of where you’re going.
[2:00] CA: Do you have any advice for young writers who might have started something and got … stuck in the middle?
FW: Yeah. … do an outline from the middle. …and see if you can figure out where it goes from there. …Or put it away, stop thinking about it, and come back to it later. … Your mind works while you think it's not.
[2:45] CA: Is there a way that you like to start books?
FW: Probably all over the place. I'd have to look. … I do believe in the overriding rule of getting yourself into the story. ‘Where's Papa going with that axe?’ is such a great opening because… there's so many questions in that one sentence. … you get tons of information from that opening conversation. … It's a provocative question. …
[3:50] CA: What kind of endings do you like? And do you have any faves? …
FW: Sure. I don't know if this is a favourite ending. This is from my Emily Roebling book…. I started off with “When Emily Warren Roebling was growing up in Cold Spring, New York, in the 1850s, many girls were told they weren't smart, especially in math or science.” She became the really driving force with building the Brooklyn Bridge. And my last line is “In 1899, she graduated in Law from New York University. She was 56 years old. Her final essay focused on equal rights for women.” … it kind of ended with her fulfilling that promise that she made herself, that she was going to pursue something even though she was told she shouldn't.
[5:00] CA: Have you written sad endings?
FW: No, I don't think so. I don't write YA. … I’ve written profiles of people who had kind of sad endings… like Emily Roebling. I didn't end the book with “And then she died of cancer,” which is what happens actually. … That was really sad to me. …But I didn’t end the book like that… I tried to end it with the moment where she graduated, which was a positive thing. I'm okay with a somewhat sad ending, as long as it doesn't end with complete despair. Because that's too hard for anyone to cope with….
[6:20] CA: So when you’re drafting, do you tend to revise while you draft? Or do you try to just get it out and then come back to it and revise?
FW: … A bit of both…. let’s say I’m writing a picture book. I'll get up to a point, leave it for a day, go back, and then revise what I've done. I may continue or I may not like it. … I usually don't write a whole thing out at once. That's hard. But sometimes… I'll go with whatever I'm feeling at the moment.
CA: So how much time do you typically spend revising versus drafting? …
FW: Much more time revising than drafting. I like revision.
[7:00] CA: Do you tend to start at the beginning of the story and then proceed chronologically?
FW: Yeah. I like chronology. Because it’s easier. I don't like flashbacks that much. … I've never written where I'm really going back. …. What do you do?
CA: I tend to go start to finish, yeah. And in terms of writing, I proceed scene by scene. …
FW: I'm like you. A few times I've stumbled on a place where they're filming something. And they will take things completely out of context. …. I don't know how pe
Author Interview with Karen Bass
An interview with Karen Bass, award-winning author of 8 young adult novels including Graffiti Knight, The Hill, and Blood Donor. Hear about her favourite fictional monster, her preference for third-person point of view, and her memory of growing up on a farm telling herself stories. 25 minutes, all ages.
A full transcript is available at CabinTales.ca.
[1:15] Interview with Karen Bass
CA: Are you a planner? Do you know the ending of your story when you begin?
KB: No and yes. I almost always know the ending but I don't always know how I'm going to get there. So I will sort of free-flow through the middle quite often…
[2:35] CA: Do you tend to have the voice that you want to write this book in when you begin to draft? Or does that develop as you go?
KB: My agent has made me rewrite a couple whole books into first person. …. Usually I have to fiddle around and find it. You know, do the usual character interviews, get to know the character…
[3:10] CA: So you do that sort of character exercise yourself?
KB: I do sometimes…. With a contemporary story, for example, you should know what their favorite pizza is and sort of what their typical day looks like you know how much time they spend on the Internet or whatever. All those little things really come through even if they're not relevant in the story.
[4:00] CA: And is there a place where you get your best ideas?
KN: No. Actually, I get ideas from all over the place. … Although I guess if there is any one thing that sets my imagination off, it’s traveling…. When you are in a new environment, you are more aware and paying better attention than your everyday environment and so you see that story potential more….
[4:35] CA: Do you work on one project at a time?
KB: Mostly, yeah. Although you know, you always have that thing when you're working on a project and then the shiny new idea comes along …
[5:00] CA: Do you write at certain times of the day? …
KB: …. I often find that my best writing time starts early afternoon… normally I'll just put in a solid couple hours in the afternoon. My brain is too unfocused in the mornings…
[5:35] CA: Are you part of a critique group or a writers’ support group… ?
KB: There's a group of writers in Hamilton and Burlington and I'm part of that, and we are all traditionally published. … I would highly recommend it to writers. And I would recommend that, if you're in a writing group, it's really good if you're not by far the best writer there. …It really helps you grow by leaps and bounds when you have someone who knows a little bit more about the craft than you do. …
[6:40] CA: Yeah. So you must have been good at receiving constructive advice? …
KB: Yeah. At that level I could. It was a whole different thing when I first started publishing. …The editorial letters really just sort of ripped me apart. …Learning that editors are on your side, and aren't trying to rip you to pieces, was a process for me at the professional level. .... Now I'm much better with it.
[7:30] CA: What is the process like for you in terms of drafting and revising? …
KB: I probably spend more time revising because the first draft will come out fast. And I think that's the difference between the sort of pantser versus the plotter. I think we spend the same amount of time on every book; it's just where the time is spent. …
[8:15] CA: Right. And do you have any advice for young writers who maybe are pantsers and they write themselves into a corner or they get stuck?...
KB: … There are times when I've had to go back a couple of chapters and change things because, you know, there's no realistic way my characters could escape that situation or whatever it is. … You really have to be more open to revision and to letting it sit for a while and then looking at it with fresh eyes, so that maybe you can see those holes. And don'
Author-Illustrator Interview with Chris Jones
An interview with Chris Jones, illustrator of 25+ picture books and leveled readers plus multiple magazine features, and author-illustrator of graphic novels and comics for all ages. Hear about his love of wild settings, his resistance to the bound pages of a sketchbook, and his method of creating narrative tension by putting his characters through emotional workouts. 25 minutes. All ages.
A full transcript is available at CabinTales.ca.
[1:15] Interview with Chris Jones
CA: So you're working on a project right now with your wife writing and you illustrating?
CJ: Yes, my partner. I started a book about a ladybug …. I really wanted to draw the bugs but I just couldn't get the plot to go. So I said, Do you want to take a stab at it? Because she’s a writer. So she came up with a really good treatment for it. …. So it's been fun…
[2:10] CA: When you work on your own projects, do you write as well as illustrate sometimes?
CJ: Yes I do. …. It's rare that everything is clear at the beginning. For me, it takes a lot of revising and exploring to kind of find out how I want the story to go. …
[2:45] CA: …. And do you have any favorite plot twists, or the ways that the story turned around as you were working on it, that sort of surprised you? …
CJ: Yeah. I love plot twists. … always unexpected twists in the story are coming up, new angles. .... You get an aha moment and you’re like, Oh, this would work…. That's inspiring when I'm working on stories. And I love twists in movies and books as well. …
[3:25] CA: And in terms of narrative and just getting a reader to turn the page, do you have any advice for young writers on pacing or building tension?
CJ: … I usually can centre it around strong emotional reactions. So I put my characters through stuff and their reaction, their emotions, create the tension. You know, they’re feeling really sad or they're feeling really desperate or some other strong emotion. And then that drives them through the story….
[4:10] CA: And what about settings... Do you have any favourites? …
CJ: My style is kind of irregular and organic. …. I love drawing jungles, alien planets. … because I love the organic feel of all the vegetation and the rocks and all that stuff. That's my go-to setting.
[4:40] CA: … Do you have any advice for young author-illustrators for either character or setting?
CJ: I focus it around, What do I want to draw? Or what kind of setting do I want to tell a story in? …. And then I'm like, How can I tell a story around that? And then I think back to my childhood, some strong emotions or some things I went through. And then say, Oh, the grasshopper could be nervous about going to school in the jungle or something. …
[5:35] CA: And do you keep a sketchbook where you just sort of doodle?
CJ: I used to. In high school and college, I used to sketch a lot. But now I find sometimes I’ll use it just for really rough notes and stuff. But I've always found sketchbooks, for me, too precious. … I find I don't use sketchbooks very much, only for like really rough jotting down stuff…
[6:30] CA: And what about endings? How do you feel about sad endings? …
CJ: I love sad endings. I have done some adult comic stuff where I’ll immediately go for all sad, all hardship. I love it. Adversity -- I love it. …In kidlit typically, … you end it on a happy note. But any chance I have to do non-kidlit stuff, I'm always like going for dreary and sad when I can. Because it's that strong negative stuff that brings out all the good juicy emotions…
[7:10] CA: Is there any activity or place that you tend to get your best ideas from?
CJ: …Usually my best ideas come when I just sit down and doodle. I'll just let it be free. Try not to edit – like that's hard for me because of all the years of client work. … And then when I do that, I'll connect different thi
Author-Illustrator Interview with Katherine Battersby, Peggy Collins, and Christine Tripp
An interview with Katherine Battersby, Peggy Collins, and Christine Tripp. Chris has illustrated more than 50 children’s books for educational publishers; Peggy has illustrated over a dozen books and she’s the author-illustrator of several. Katherine Battersby has illustrated 12 books, 7 of which she authored herself. Hear about their delight in touching young readers’ hearts, their early days of drawing and writing stories, and their disciplined ways of carving out time for their heavy workloads. 20 minutes; all ages.
A full transcript is available at CabinTales.ca.
[1:40] Interview with Katherine Battersby, Peggy Collins, and Christine Tripp
CA: Did all of you start drawing when you were young?
CT: I did, yeah. Mostly I stayed in my room and I just drew pictures for myself. That was probably as long as I can remember. Definitely five and six years old. …I was not very academically inclined. But the teachers always enjoyed my drawings….
[2:45] CA: And what about you, Peggy? Did you start as a child?
PC: Yes. I wrote and illustrated my first book in grade one and told my teacher that this was what I was going to do…. You listen to guidance counselors briefly and they're like, ‘Yeah, you're good at science; you should do something meaningful with your life.’ And then, then you realize, No, this is better. …
[3:30] CA: And Katherine, did you start young as well?
KB: Yeah, I sure did. … So as soon as I could hold a pencil I was creating stories. … I was sort of creating funny little cut-outs and things that you could flip through or that you could unfold or they were always kind of interactive and upside down. Yeah, I've always been obsessed with words and images and the way they work together…
[4:30] CA: Is there someone who mind taking thirty seconds to say the process of illustrating a picture book?
PC: Sure. I thumbnail like crazy … I start really small and I think about my composition and my pacing and what … absolutely needs to go on the page. And then my art director can’t understand what those are usually. And so then I have to develop them a little bit further so I work a little bit bigger. … I do most of my thumbs on paper, because I can do them while I’m watching TV with my kids. And then I move into digital.
CA: Okay. So you storyboard while watching TV?
PC: Yes. … So right now, with the three books I'm working on, the series that’s almost always on is Sons of Anarchy…
[5:35] CA: And do you have a regular practice?
KB: Yes I do. I am very diligent with keeping working hours. …Creative work can really sneak into everything … So I have gotten very very strict with myself in keeping business hours… Often my most creative time is in the morning because that's where my energy is. …. I often put Mondays aside-ish for business-type things like invoicing and emails … And then I always try to finish up half an hour before the family gets home. …
[7:45] CA: And Chris, I know you're not working on a book right now but when you are working on a book, do you have a certain practice?
CT: I did more early on. I would get up and … get dressed and do even make-up to almost psych yourself into thinking you're going to work. … And then I would take breaks just like as if I were on a job, and then come back and work, take lunch, back to work. Then there were times when I would end up working all night …But mostly I would not work weekends … I need to be alone. …But you definitely have to be disciplined… It just doesn't work otherwise.
[9:30] CA: And Peggy, you juggle teaching and your books. So how do you find a practice, like simply hours, timewise?
PC: I struggle with it. … I teach at two different colleges. … The week that my kids are not here I work, I work a lot. And I try and manage all of the things when they're not around so that when they are here, I am
Author Interview with Marty Chan
An interview with Marty Chan, playwright and award-winning author of 18 books for young readers. Hear about his intricate revision process, his deep appreciation of young readers and writers, and his delight in making things hard for his characters. 25 minutes, all ages.
A full transcript is available at CabinTales.ca
[1:10] Interview with Marty Chan
CA: Are you a planner? Do you know the endings of your stories, or some of the major plot points, before you begin?
MC: I’m a bit of both. …If it's a mystery, I definitely need to sit down and plan everything out because I need to know where the plot twists are, I need to know the solution so that I can write toward it. But if I'm doing something that's more of a character exploration, then I feel like I can just sort of jump in and improvise and discover the story as I'm writing. So … it really depends on the story.
[2:00] CA: Do you have any advice to young readers who might be stuck in the middle of a story?
MC: That's the classic problem…And it leads to what they often call writer’s block. And I always think that where you notice the problem is not where the problem started. It probably started a few scenes or a few pages earlier, where you made a decision that pushed your character into the problem that they’re in now or the dead end that they've reached. … Go back a few pages, go back a few scenes, and then make a different decision for your character and see what that does to the story. It might push you to another dead end, but at least it'll start to inform you about what the character can do and who they are. …
[4:00] CA: Do you have a favorite first line?
MC: Oh, one of my personal favorite first lines from my work is from the very first book I wrote, The Mystery of the Frozen Brains. And the opening line was: I hated secrets. …The opening line instantly raises the question of who hates secrets or how bad is the secret that this main character hates it?
[4:35] CA: Do you tend to write in first person?
MC: Generally I like writing in first person for younger readers. … My middle grade fiction is often first person. …My steampunk fantasy series The Ehrich Weisz Chronicles, that goes more into third person because I have to cover a lot of different settings and subplots. So having third person gives me the latitude or the ability to jump from one to another.
[5:15] CA: And have you ever opened with dialogue?
MC: … I know that when I work with kids and their writing, their natural instinct is to start with dialogue …. Just remember that if you don't identify or describe the people who are speaking, it's just a jumble of words flying at the reader. …So, if you start with dialogue, always remember you've got to give an anchor to the readers so they kind of know where we are, where we're situated, and who's talking and why we should care. That is when revision comes in handy …
[6:30] CA: …. Do you tend to edit yourself as you draft? Or do you sort of get it all out on the page and then go back and revise?
MC: When I started writing, I was constantly going back to the beginning… And then I discovered that because I focused so much on second guessing myself and reshaping those opening few paragraphs, then at a certain point I started to lose the spark for the rest of the story. … Once I started seeing the pile of stories that I never finished, I started thinking, “Well maybe the approach is wrong for me.” … So what I often do is I will just work all the way through to the end of the first draft before I'll even start second guessing what's happening, because I just want the joy of discovery for myself to get to the end of the first draft. What that means, though, is that I spend more time revising than I will spend writing a first draft. …
[9:00] CA: And when did you start writing? Did you write as a kid?
I started writing when I w
Author Interview with Jeff Szpirglas
An interview with Jeff Szpirglas, author of over 20 books for all ages, including scary novels, short story collections, and “choose your own ending” adventures. Hear about his love of the horror genre, his interest in dramatic ironing and shifting points of view, and the inspiration for his scary stories. 20 minutes. All ages.
A full transcript is available at CabinTales.ca.
[1:10] Interview with Jeff Szpirglas
CA: You do write spooky stories.
JS: I do. I mean, I love scary things. … And in terms of plotting, sometimes I go off on my own stream of consciousness. There's like different types of scary stories. The ones that I wrote late at night and feel like they were written late at night… I actually find there's something nice and almost jazzy about them. …
[1:50] CA: And then what about with a novel? do you know the ending when you begin?
JS: …The first novel I did, it's called Evil Eye. It actually began as a short story that ended up in Tales from Beyond the Brain. … I didn't really know where it was going to end. The other one I published with the same publisher, Star-Crossed Press, was called Sheldon Unger versus the Dentures of Doom. It’s about an ancient demon that … chews the teeth out of your mouth while you're sleeping. So it's pretty gruesome. … I’m attracted to a lot of body horror…You will notice that my answers are tangential and that is probably how I write a lot of my stories, that they start in one place and very quickly go someplace else.
[4:10] CA: So you would not say to young writers that you have to know where you're going when you start out writing.
JS: I don't. In a lot of the projects that I've been working on of late, I have struggled with knowing the ending and plotting everything out.
[4:25] CA: And do you have a favorite plot twist?
JS: … I didn't know where Evil Eye was going to go. … It was nice when I thought a story that was really spiraling out of control turned itself around. …
[4:55] CA: And how do you feel about tormenting characters?
JS: I seem to have had success with books when I have been tormenting characters. “Oh, it's really awful how you died in that ending of the story.” … You know, you can address a real tangible scary thing that could happen, but in a way that is unlikely to happen or is so ridiculous that it's a little safer. …
[6:20] CA: Do you ever write for adults?
JS: I've done a couple of books about movie soundtracks that have just come out. … When I'm writing for young people, I'm still writing for me. My wife and I have collaborated on children's books for emerging readers in grade one and grade two. … But they’re still coming from an authentic place…. And they feel authentic to me as they would if I had written for an adult.
[7:20] CA: And how do you typically begin your stories? Like, do you begin with setting the scene? or do you begin in the middle of an action?
JS: …. I have a story called “Colonel takes Root” in Tales from Beyond the Brain. The first line is: There was definitely something stuck between Jamie’s teeth. And it’s literally about something stuck between your teeth taking over your body and your mind. This was a story that was written while my children, my twin children, were infants and I was getting zero sleep. …I can't replicate the feeling of that story without having more kids and not sleeping. …
[8:25] CA: And do you have a favorite POV to write from?
JS: Yeah, you know, with horror, I think sometimes first person perspective. I remember Richard Matheson writing, saying something that he didn't invent a lot of characters; he just pretended that he was the character, and what would it be like for him to be in that situation. Because you can always be authentic to yourself. … I write a lot of stories from the perspective of a character, but maybe partway through the story, it shifts and i