Author Interview with children’s author Emily A Steward

It’s been a while since I last interviewed an author on here, but today I’m excited to be joined by author Emily A Steward who has just released her new book, Penelope Gilbert and the Children of Azure.

Emily, welcome and congratulations on your new book release. Shall we jump right in with the questions?

Q1. What kind of books do you write? When do you feel you went from aspiring writer to writer, and how did it feel?

I write primarily middle grade fiction. Fantasy is where I am comfortable, but I also recently finished thepresentation2 first draft of a middle grade mystery/horror novel.

As for the second part of the question, I think I finally felt like a writer when I got my first rejection letter from an agent. Instead of being discouraged, I felt elated. All authors experience rejection to some degree. I felt like once I’d been rejected, I’d officially joined the club.

Q2. What were your earliest influences? What did you read as a child?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve liked books with a dash of humor and spooky or magical elements. Some of my favorites have a little of all three.

As a really young child I enjoyed the Little Monster books by Mercer Mayer. When I got a little older, I loved The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner, and books by Betty Ren Wright, Ruth Chew, Roald Dahl and R.L. Stine. I’d like to think that some of these early influences helped shape my writing today, even if just a little.

Q3. What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I’m in the editing stages of my middle grade mystery/horror novel. It’s about three siblings staying in an old abandoned mansion while looking for clues to solve their parent’s disappearance. All sorts of creepy and unusual things happen to them, leading up to an intense showdown between the children and… Well you’ll have to read it to see! It was really fun to write and I actually scared myself a few times while writing it. I am really excited to see it coming together.

 Q4. What can we look forward to in the future from you?

I just started writing the next book in the series to my new release Penelope Gilbert and the Children of Azure. I’m pretty pumped to share with everyone where their adventure leads next.

I’m also stepping out of my comfort zone and writing a middle grade realistic fiction along the lines of a more contemporary Harriet the Spy.

Q5. Who are your favourite authors?

I really like J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis, Lemony Snicket, Lewis Carroll, and L.M. Montgomery. My all-time favorite author would have to be Roald Dahl. He is so imaginative and I love his characters and the quirky sense of humor in his books.

Q6. What do you do when you’re not reading?

I’d like to say something cool here, like doing fancy things with fancy people. Honestly? Most of my time is spent running after my three girls. They are pretty great, but they’re not very fancy. They are… what is the opposite of fancy? I’ll say blancy (I can create words because I’m a writer you know). They all keep me pretty busy, but we also have lots of great adventures.

I’m also constantly trying to conquer the laundry creature who lives in our home and somehow creates double the dirty laundry we actually wear, and the dish demon who laughs when I think I’ve beaten him, only to attack me viciously and without mercy the very next day.

Q7. What is your writing process?

My process begins with major brainstorming. Most of my writing isn’t on the page but in my head. I brainstorm best when I’m in the shower or out jogging with my husband shooting ideas off him. He has some great input! He is the smartest person I know. He is like really buff and can bench like 600 pounds. Also, he told me to write those last two sentences.

When I finally sit down to write, I like to stare at the screen for about ten minutes hoping something brilliant will leap on to the page. When that doesn’t happen, I write a few sentences, delete them, then repeat the process till hopefully I’ve written more than I’ve deleted. Some days I write a chapter or even two. Other days I’m lucky to get a paragraph. I try not to worry about daily word counts. As long as I’m making progress, I consider the day a success.

Emily, thank you so much for coming along and talking to me today. I will definitely look out for your books, and wish you lots of success with the new book, Penelope Gilbert and the Children of Azure. Here is a short ‘teaser’ extract from the book:


“Come on!” she yelled to Haldor who was wriggling out from under the spider corpse. She ran to the spot where she saw the creature enter as Haldor hurried to catch up. She scrambled through the brush until she came to a stream. There she saw the spider. He was across the water under a large tree.

Above him were several objects swinging in the breeze. It took her a moment to realize that they were rotting bodies strung up by their necks. Their unseeing eyes stared eerily into the darkness. Upon closer inspection, she saw that there were at least thirty of them. She wretched silently as she tried to think of a way for Crane to not become one of them. The spider was already trying to wrap a strand of webbing around his neck.

A thought occurred to her. An outrageous, outlandish thought. I can do this, she assured herself. She tried to picture every last detail of her slain foe—every creepy crawling, hairy, shiny detail. Penny could feel the energy pulsing through her. Her hands were no longer her own. Her teeth had become fangs, and her eyes were the eyes of a killer.

Author biography:

Emily Steward spent the better part of her childhood dressed as a ninja and trying to convince others to call her ‘Ace.’ When she wasn’t saving the world from evil samurai, she could usually be found in the branches of a tree reading a good book. She now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, three daughters, and dog Bentley. Though she seldom dresses as a ninja now, her adventurous spirit remains as does her love of tree climbing and reading good books.

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Where to buy Penelope Gilbert and the Children of Azure:


Old School – life writing and memoir


I’m people watching again, and a guy at a table near me is telling his girlfriend (in a really loud voice) about how his teacher used to throw his keys at the kids in the class when they misbehaved. Oh the heady days when casual violence was an everyday part of the teaching curriculum; when it was the teachers, not the pupils, who were the tyrants of the classroom.

Teachers have such power to inspire and form young minds.

I went to a church school. My mum was a divorcee, fairly unusual in Britain in the late 1960s, and I suppose out of fear that I would become a prostitute or a druggie, she sent me to a school that she felt would keep me on the straight and narrow, even though she was not a religious woman herself.

I started at St Wotsit on the Sussex coast when I was about 8, and stayed there until we moved away when I was about 11. These are the years of the impressionable spirit and mind. And whilst I do have memories of earlier, and obviously of later schooling, those I have of St Wotsit are some of the most vivid, some of the most traumatic and horrid, and wonderful and freeing of my life. Happily St Wotsit closed down a few years after I left.

Every Friday the whole school went across the playground to the High Anglican church for a mid-morning service. We each had a big card with The Creed typed across the top, containing everything we needed to say and do and hear for the whole service. This was a really pretty long session. The cards had a distinctive, love-it-and-hate-it smell. I loved the church and the slightly tedious service – I loved singing and I believed God was listening to me. I was fascinated by the statues and the pictures and the high, high ceiling. Of course that didn’t stop me and about half of the rest of the school spending most of our lunch-time play scraping away at the crumbly mortar between the bricks of the church in the hopes that the edifice would fall down before the next Friday.

Every week we had RI – religious instruction – and we were taught by Anglican priests. They wore the long black coats with buttons all down the front. And they had the knotted rope around the waist. They took it in turns to teach each class. One of the priests was a baby-faced chap of about 40. We knew him as Father Herbert. The boys in particular liked him, he talked with enthusiasm about football, was loud and temperamental and sued to throw chalk or the board-rubber, or threaten to throw us out the window if we misbehaved. He was generally liked, and kept the class in order for the most part.

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Then there was another young priest whose name I have to admit I have forgotten. This man was the single most beautiful male I have ever seen – a young Gregory Peck but even gorgeouser. When he walked along the road the women used to actually turn and stare after him. Mainly sighing and shaking their heads and saying it was a waste. Which I didn’t understand until mum explained that the knotted rope meant that he couldn’t get married. I always thought the rope just meant he was ready for any rope-related emergency. After all priests were there to help people. At that time I was an avid reader of Enid Blyton books, and I had come to believe that one should never leave home without a rope, a pair of binoculars, a box of matches and a torch and spare batteries.

Thing is, all I can remember about him is his ravishing good looks. I can’t remember his name, his teaching style, one single thing he ever said that made a difference to my life in those three years. I don’t know if he was kind or funny or intelligent.

And then there was Old Father Wotsisname, the grizzled old bad-tempered one with one foot in the grave, who hated children, and who wittered on and on inaudibly and bored us all silly. He also presented me with my one prize from Prize Giving one year. It was the ladybird book of The Holy Land. I remember being excited about winning a book (I

LOVED books even then) and slightly disappointed by the dull contents. Oh well.


I remember the headmaster. I won’t say his name. I hated him with a passion, and he certainly didn’t like me. To be fair, if there was trouble, I was always there in the thick of it; if anything happened somehow I turned up like the proverbial bad penny. But he lost my respect by proving himself stupid and unwise in the ways of kids. He had three of us lined up once in his office. He asked the first two in turn if they had been the ones to instigate the latest brainchild of disaster. When they said no, he turned to me and said, ‘then it was you.’ When I said no, his sole argument was, ‘well it wasn’t them because they told me so, so it had to be you.’ You just can’t argue with logic like that. I detested him from that day.

The lights of my life were two of the teachers. Mrs Osborne, my class teacher for the first two years (due to a quirk of staff reshuffling) I was at the school. She was kind, she believed in me ad tried to encourage me. And when I got into some rather more serious trouble, she visited me at home to try and talk to me and my mum. She was the first one who encouraged my love of books and story-telling. She used to read some intoxicating stuff to us at the end of every day: Stig Of The Dump, Tom’s Midnight Garden, The Witch’s Daughter, Oliver Twist, The Wind In The Willows, The Silver Sword, Emil And The Detectives, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Paddington – wonderful, wonderful stories.


And then, when I was 10 I went up into the top class, and we had a new teacher, Mr Rafferty. He had travelled the world and Seen Things. Like Mrs Osborne, he actually seemed to love kids and love teaching. He kept order, inspired us, encouraged us, pushed us and gave us Ideas. He read and critiqued, in a very serious way, my first two ‘proper’ stories. He told us tales about his friend who was killed by barracudas, described the blood in the water, made us feel the glorious terror of it from the safety of our classroom. He made everything about life seem like a huge adventure. He was such a breath of fresh air compared to the rest of the teaching staff.

Sadly the events I’m remembering were so long ago now – over forty years – so I feel that probably many of these characters are no longer with us, but in a kind of Mr Holland’s Opus way, hopefully the impact they had is still out there in this world, living on in the children whose lives they touched.


Interview with Author/Illustrator Jenny S Burke

Recently I did a little foray into the wonderful world of asking other people to write my blogs for me in the form of an interview, and it seemed pretty popular so I asked the delightful Jenny S Burke to come along and share a glimpse into her life and creativity.

J. S. Burke Q1. Hi Jenny, thank you so much for agreeing to be interrogated! Could you please tell us what kind of books you write?

I write books with science, art, adventure, and a twist of fun! My first books were Crystal Geometry and Crystal Colors. These are hands-on activity books with kits of beautiful crystals to help youngsters (and adults) have a deep understanding of math, chemistry, and organic chemistry. I learned to draw cartoons to help make this clear. These book/kits are used in schools. Then a science fantasy book began to grow in my mind with adventure and some unusual art; this eventually became The Dragon Dreamer. My dragon-ladies grew huge fantasy snowflakes in the clouds and made them into amber ornaments. So I drew what I saw and finished another art/science & colouring/activities book: Fantasy Snowflakes Activities.

I recently published The Dragon Dreamer by J.S. Burke (Lind Press) for middle grade and young adult readers. It’s a fast-paced science fantasy/adventure with flying dragons, an undersea world, and an unexpected friendship. Arak is a young, insecure dragon who is taunted by other young dragons. He leaves the clan, crashes on ice at sea, and is seriously injured. Scree, a fearless, shape-shifting octopus, finds and heals him. When an undersea volcano erupts it triggers a towering tsunami and a deadly chain of events. Can Arak use his unique talents and friendships to save the dragons? The Dragon Dreamer is also a story with unique characters learning to accept and appreciate their differences. You can see it on Amazon (paperback and e-book) and on Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

Type “octopus and dragon” in the Amazon search box and The Dragon Dreamer appears at the top. Dragons are well-known in literature, but the incredible octopus has been sadly ignored by most writers. I worked as a marine biologist and have seen that the octopus is amazingly suited to the  imagination! Octopuses are very intelligent beings with distinct personalities, and they have more brain neurons than  humans.  Octopuses have formed strong friendships with people. One octopus became concerned after feeling the illness in her human friend, using the sensitive sensors in her arm suckers.

FRONT2LowDPI Octopuses can taste with their arms and change the shape of their bodies. They have two eyes similar to ours and  thousands of tiny eyes in their skin. These skin-eyes allow an octopus to camouflage; octopuses can change the colour and  texture of their skin to match what is behind them. The mimic octopus can shape-shift to perfectly resemble at least a  dozen other species, including crabs, stingrays, and jellyfish. If an octopus can choose to mimic others so realistically, why  not choose to communicate with Arak, The Dragon Dreamer?

 Q2. What were your earliest influences? What did you read as a child?

There was no library in our town when I was young and the school books were boring . . . but our retired next-door-  neighbours had a huge collection of comic books! They let me sit in their home and read for hours. I loved the story lines  and creative cartoons. I read the dictionary and devoured tasty new words. An amazing elementary school teacher  started a poetry club that I joined, where I learned the challenge of choosing the perfect word.

During middle school I made friends with a boy who read sci-fi. He let me borrow his Andre Norton books! From that point on I was hooked on science fiction.

 Q3. What are you working on at the moment?

I’m writing a sequel. Black Lightning continues the adventures of the characters we got to know in The Dragon Dreamer. We meet the anticipated ice dragons and they are not what Arak expects. I was afraid I had run out of inner story, but it’s growing! Which is good, because this time I have a deadline.

 Q4. What can we look forward to in the future from you?

I’ll write more science fantasy books and maybe another science/art/math book. I want to be more involved in groups that help the environment and people. And I probably can’t really stay away from art!

Jenny, I know being an artist you do your own covers, and I have to say, I love the one you did for The Dragon Dreamer, it’s so vibrant and eyecatching.

 Q5. Who are your favourite authors?

I love the alien worlds and adventures in Alan Dean Foster’s Pip and Flinx books. I like the respect for life and appreciation for the connectedness of everything in Rachel Carson’s Silent SpringThe Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Spears has wonderful imagery and an accepting, intrepid heroine. The rabbit characters in Watership Down by Richard Adams are memorable, the world is real, and I want to be there. I’ve read many wonderful books. Why did I enjoy a book so much? What makes a great character? Dialogue? Pacing? Story arc? Plot twist? As a writer I’ve re-read books to hone my craft, asking these questions, but I still feel the magic. I want my books to bring magic into the lives of my readers.

 Q6. What do you do when you’re not reading?

I’m writing! Or working on art of various sorts. I draw stylized scrimshaw on large display conchs and tiny abalone necklace shells. I paint and make pen-and-ink drawings. I was strongly influenced as a child by the simple elegance of the jewellery in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. Now I make affordable jewellery with gemstones, sterling, pearls, Swarovski crystal, and more. I use proper Fibonacci proportions (i.e. math! It IS useful!), weight the design for colour density, and balance by historic gemstone meanings. What could be more fun? Then I’m back in my imaginary/real worlds . . . writing what I experience.

Q7. What is your writing process?

I keep paper and pens everywhere so I can jot down ideas at any time. I make a rough story outline, short character biographies, and start typing. I remember my own dives and adventures, and research anything I need to understand better like volcanoes. The world grows in my mind and flows down my arm into my fingers. I keep typing, revise as I go, and type notes for what I want to expand or add. I seek feedback from readers. After many edits, more feedback, and professional edits, it’s almost done!


Jenny, thank you so much for sharing your innermost secrets with us and introducing us to an amazing world. I wish you huge success with The Dragon Dreamer and all your future projects.

 THE DRAGON DREAMER e-book will be on sale for $0.99 through January 18, 2015.