The DMS was lucky enough to interview Karen Pokras Toz, author of the middle grade novel Pie and Other Brilliant Ideas. Fairday reviewed this charming book, and it was great to share our thoughts about it and hear yours! We are excited to learn a little bit more about the story behind the story. So, without further ado... take it away, Karen!
What inspired you to write Pie and Other Brilliant Ideas?
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).
What are some of your favorite books from childhood? Were there any specific authors who inspired you?
Oh absolutely! Judy Blume was and still is one my favorite authors – I loved all of her books, it’s really impossible to pick one favorite. As an adult, I have been enjoying re-reading her books with my own children. She is my inspiration and my mentor. I’ve had a few people compare Nate Rocks the World to Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing (stylistically... to me, that is a huge compliment).
Do you have any writing rituals?
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.
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…
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?
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!
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.
Where do you like to write? Do you listen to music while you are writing?
I love music, but not when I’m writing – for that I need total silence. My husband and I just renovated a small room in the back of our house so that I could have a “real” office. It’s lovely, but I cannot write in there lol! I guess I’m just used to all these years of having to write with my laptop propped on my legs either in my bed or on the couch.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? Why?
I don’t know! I’ve traveled to some wonderful and beautiful countries; it’s hard to pick just one location! There are also some equally fabulous places here in the US. I would love to live somewhere that has fabulous views, plenty of culture, mild/dry climate, and friendly people (oh – and hi-speed wifi!)
Check out Mille's interview with Georgie- it's deliciously on pointe!