Where were you born? In Salt Lake City – I’ve lived here my whole life.
Did you graduate from college, if so from where and in what major? I have a bachelors in English and Theater from Westminster College, and a masters from Vermont College
What are your hobbies? I love knitting, crocheting, reading, singing in the shower. I don’t know if camping is a hobby, but I really like camping.
What are your favorite all-time books? Paul Zindel’s “My Darling, My Hamburger” was always a favorite; Tim Wynn-Jones “The Boy in the Burning House”; the “Betsy Tacy” series was one of my first favorites; Alison McGhee’s “Rainlight”; Christopher Moore’s “A Dirty Job” – gosh, too many others to list!
When did you start writing your book and how long did it take to get it published? “My Brother the Dog” was written as my creative thesis for my MFA. I finished it in May of 2003. It circulated through several publishers, underwent a few more revisions, and was finally purchased by Tanglewood Press in 2005. It was published in spring of 2006.
Who is your hero/ mentor? I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have many wonderful mentors. Carol Lynch Williams was one of the first people to encourage me and teach me about the world of writing. Tim Wynn-Jones and Alison McGhee were two of my advisers in my MFA program who really guided my writing. Jan Czech was also a great friend and hero to me as I began publishing. And Mrs. Shirley Saenz Lohnes, my third grade teacher is a hero and mentor. She was the person who planted the seed in my mind of becoming a writer. She is still a friend today.
What suggestion would you give young writers? Just write. The market changes, success comes and goes, fads change. Just write. Write because you love it, because you want to, because it’s the only way to express your thoughts. Don’t listen to people who tell you no, or you can’t, or you should find something more practical to do. Just write.
Where did the inspiration for your books come from? “My Brother the Dog” is based on family stories of my mom and my uncle. My mom was 10 years older than my uncle, and he was really a pain in her side. She got so frustrated with him running away from her when they would be waiting at the bus stop that she put him on a leash. One day I just wondered, what if he wanted to be on a leash because he liked pretending to be a dog? And that’s how it started!
The three “Hey, Ranger” books came out of the fact that my family loves camping in the national parks. One day I was listening to a park ranger in Yellowstone talking to tourists and I said, “I bet you get asked some funny questions.” He proceeded to tell me some of the wacky, silly, funny, and interesting questions that he’d been asked over the years, and I started taking notes. I sent the book proposal to several publishers. Globe-Pequot thought it would make a great series for kids, and the one book turned into three.
Are you working on any books right now? I always have three or four books that are in different stages of being written. I’m working on one called “The Afterwards” that is set in the not-too-distant future when the United States Government has collapsed and fallen into a second civil war. I have a picture book called “Tilly the Pirate” about a little girl who wins a pirate ship in a contest that I am sending out right now, too. I have a middle grade novel that currently doesn’t have a title, but is the story of a girl’s adventures at a crazy summer camp, and a young adult novel entitled “Namesake” about a high school girl who tries to solve the unsolved murder of her mom’s best friend.
What do you aspire to do before you die? Write at least one book that wins an award like the Newbury or the Prinz. I would also really like to visit Egypt and see Karnak, the pyramids at Giza, and the Valley of Kings.
How do you fins time to write/illustrate with other responsibilities? I commit to doing something writing-related each day. It might be creating a character sketch, or a plot outline. It might even be reading. I also write at weird hours. I find I’m very productive between 11:00 and 12:00 at night. The last thing is that I bought myself a little laptop (it’s tiny!), and I take that with me almost everywhere. If I have to sit at the doctor’s office for 20 minutes, I write while I wait. If I find a few spare moments while I’m waiting in the car for one of my kids, I write.
What was your road to being published like? It was an uphill climb. I wrote articles for small publications (often for free) just to earn published credits. I wrote for Internet sites such as City Search to earn professional credits (and a little money). I wrote for local publications who would hire me to do freelance writing. I attended every conference, every workshop, every seminar that I could afford to go to. Eventually, I began achieving success. Then, after finishing my masters, I began submitting manuscripts frequently. Every week it seemed I had something going in the mail.
What is your all-time favorite children’s book? It’s a Sesame Street book called “There’s a Monster at the End of this Book.” It features the character Grover. I love this because it is a bit outside the norm – the character actually addresses the kids, and the pages are illustrated to make the kid feel as if he or she is actually interacting with the story. It’s wonderfully fun.
Independent booksellers and why? If you mean do I like them and support them – absolutely! Independent stores represent quality and sanity. Many of the big chain stores have become bland and flavorless, and they offer the same thing to everyone. Independents still take the time to read books, to know what they are recommending, and to give their patrons personal attention. Despite doomsday predictions to the contrary, I think independent stores will survive. The current will shift and readers will once again value that personalized approach.
Do you have a writer’s group?
I’m fortunate to be a member of a wonderful writer’s group which meets once a month. There are nine of us who get together, and we have so much fun, but we are also very productive. It’s an incredibly supportive group that includes: Carol Lynch Williams, Cheri Pray Earl, John Bennion, Lisa Hale, Kerry Spencer, Ann Cannon, Louise Plummer, and Ann Dee Ellis.
To learn more about her books visit Goodfreads at http://www.goodreads.com/search/search?search_type=books&search%5Bquery%5D=kim+justesen
Kim has generously donated a copy of My Brother the Dog to our blog readers!
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