Karen Pokras Toz has written a number of children's chapter books and has been kind enough to guest post on the topic of writing them both years that ChaBooCha has been running. So when she asked for hosts for the book blast for her new chapter book "Pie and Other Brilliant Ideas," I was more than happy to host it here.
Interview with Karen Pokras Toz
Tell us about Pie and Other Brilliant Ideas.
“Pie” is really two stories in one book. First it is about 12 year old Georgie Harris. Georgie’s family just moved to a new town to be closer to her grandmother, Jane, who recently moved to a nursing home. Because of the move, Georgie’s family can no longer afford to send her to dance lessons. Instead, Georgie spends most of her time baking pies to bring to her visits with her grandmother. The second story in the book is about Eve – Georgie’s grandmother’s roommate, who we quickly learn was a ballerina in Russia “back in the day.” Not only that, Eve studied and danced with a world famous ballerina named Paulina. Georgie loves to visit Eve and hear stories about what it was like to study ballet in a different time and country, and especially what it was like to dance with the great Paulina Strofsky.
What inspired you to write this book?
I grew up dancing and now two of my three children dance. I knew I eventually would write a book about dance – it was just a matter of time. I began writing Pie while waiting for my daughter to go on stage at one of her dance competitions last winter. The book originally was going to be about the competitive dance circuit – but turned out much differently once I got to know my characters (which is usually the case).
Are you working on anything new at the moment?
Of course! I’ve just started writing the 4th (and final) Nate Rocks book – Nate Rocks the City. Normally, I write my Nate books pretty fast, but I find myself procrastinating on this one. I’m sure it’s because I just don’t want to say goodbye. I’m also working on another Adult Contemporary novel called “Woven Wishes” to hopefully be released this time next year.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’m a writer? LOL. It still sounds odd for me to call myself that. I don’t know what I am. I’m a mom, and I write. Sometimes if someone asks me what I do, I’ll say I write children’s books (even though now I also write adult books, too). But I have yet to say, “I’m a writer.” I guess after six books, it’s time, huh?
When and how do you find time to write in your daily life?
All three of my children are in school all day, so I try to squeeze in some writing time then. Of course, I always think I’m going to have hours and hours to myself to write, but after I get done doing the million other things on my “to-do” list, there are some days where it is hard to fit it in. Sometimes I just have to put everything aside, and remind myself that this is my job now. It helps that I love to write.
Any advice to aspiring writers looking to self publish?
Be prepared to put in a lot of time and effort – and time – and effort. You need to think of your book as a product, and yourself as a brand. As such, you need to put out the best product possible, and be prepared to compete in a very competitive market. This means – (a) write the best book you can possibly write, (b) put together a test market/group of beta readers, (c) have your book professionally edited, (d) have a professional cover made, (e) have your book professionally formatted, (f) put together a marketing/business plan – and most importantly, keep writing and improving your craft.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I don’t know if it’s a quirk, but I have to have coffee, I need silence, and I don’t outline. I generally have a very loose story idea and then let my characters guide me. Sometimes (like in Pie and Other Brilliant Ideas) the story goes in a completely different direction, and sometimes (as is the case with most of my Nate Rocks books) I have to steer my characters in a particular direction (Nate tends to get a little out of control.) Also, I always like to have a title in place before I start writing. I don’t know why – maybe that’s my quirky thing.
Of all the characters you have written, who is your favorite?
Well now, that’s like asking me which of my three children is my favorite! So, no, I can’t really answer that one. I will tell you this – I had a great time writing Millicent Marie Is Not My Name, and I get a lot of requests to write more books about her. I don’t think I will, but she does live on with her very own blog on my website.
Is there a writer that you would love to co-write a book with?
It is no secret that I am a huge Judy Blume fan. Whenever someone compares my writing style or one of my books to her, I feel like I’ve hit the lottery (not in a monetary sense, but in a self-fulfillment sense). I recently (as in last year) sent her a fan letter (read – stalker letter) and was thrilled when I received an email back from her assistant wishing me well. However, I’m pretty sure I was put on some sort of ‘crazy lady stalker fan stay away from’ list. But – just in case they are reading this (In a ‘we should really be monitoring this nutjob’ sort of way) well then ... Judy – call me ...
Do people judge a book by its cover? Who makes yours?
Yes, I do think so, and I also hope so! Now before you think I’m tooting my own horn – don’t. I do not make my own covers. I’m not nearly talented enough (in fact, I have zero artistic talent.) It was only by shear luck that I met my amazing cover artist Deana Riddle of Bookstarter.com. She is the genius behind the incredible artwork that I am fortunate enough to have on my covers. Thank you, Deana!!
What is your greatest challenge as an author?
Time. Writing is only half the battle – and if you really want to break down the time, it’s probably only a quarter of the battle. The other three-quarters is marketing and there is not enough time in the day to market and write. If you are also self-publishing you have the challenge of distribution thrown into the mix and the problem of having upfront costs to deal with – as you can see, there are many challenges – but there are also many rewards.
Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Hearing from readers – whether through parents, educators, or the kids themselves. Nothing makes me happier than getting a note (whether it be via email, a tweet, on FB, through my website, through my blog, etc) that says my child usually hates to read, but I can’t get them to put your book down! THAT is what it is all about to me.
What is the best advice anyone has ever given you?
Two things really: When I first started writing my adult contemporary novel Chasing Invisible (titled “invisible” at the time) it was the first anything I had ever written. I hired a writing coach to read through the first few chapters and give me advice. She told me it was awful. (Don’t worry - I have since re-written that story more times that I can count & I am proud to say it recently won an award!) Anyway – she told me that I had a very young voice, and I should consider writing books for kids. I had never considered this before, but I put invisible to the side, and started working on Nate Rocks the World. That was awesome advice, don’t you think?
The next piece of advice I received was when I proudly handed Nate Rocks the World over to my editor – she said, “I know you are tired and want to take a break – but don’t. Start writing the next book.” I didn’t. But, it was great advice, and it’s something I do follow now as I finish up each book.
Can you see yourself in any of your characters?
I get asked this question a lot. Now that I have several books out, you may notice a trend with my kids’ books. They all have moms who have “issues.” For example... Nate’s mom is a terrible cook and homemaker, Millie’s mom is a little bit of a shop-a-holic, and now Georgie’s mom is a little high strung. Let me say this. They may or may not be based on me. That’s all I’m saying.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
While I have always loved to read, writing was always my worst subject in school. I was always a math/numbers person. In college I took calculus and differential equations for fun (and they were!) I worked as a tax accountant until just recently and only started writing a few years ago. I have no explanation for why I suddenly felt the urge to start writing, but now that I’ve started, I can’t stop!
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a little about me and my books – thanks for having me on your blog!
The story will grab you from page one, and keep you mesmerized until the last page. ~ Kristy James
My nine year old daughter and I enjoyed it very much. ~ Gman Writes
From the Award Winning Author of Millicent Marie is Not My Name
Ballet and baking pies – these are two of twelve year old Georgie Harris’ favorite things. When her parents decide to move closer to her grandmother’s nursing home, Georgie quickly learns the bad news: dance lessons are too expensive in this new town.
Georgie spends most of her time baking pies to bring to her grandmother at the Willow Lakes Nursing Home. There she meets Eve, who inspires Georgie with stories of having danced with a world famous Russian ballerina many years ago.
As Georgie and Eve’s friendship evolves, their tales intertwine in this feel good story showing dreams really can come true.
A GWR Publicity promotional event paid for by the author. Giveaway is sponsored by the author who is responsible for the delivery of prize.The Chapter Book Challenge received no compensation for this post.