Kat Yeh: Mad Scribbles, Big Feet

297310_10150320631406460_1375238351_nA couple years ago, Kat Yeh and I were attending the same writer’s conference. I was in the middle of a conversation with a well-respected agent, when Kat walked by. Immediately, the person I was speaking to went silent and his eyes followed Kat as she walked away. When he finally remembered that he was supposed to be speaking to me, he turned back, shrugged, and said, “She’s very striking.” The funny thing is that this guy had no idea that, as striking as Kat is from across the room, she is so much more so in person. Kat has a warm and endearing personality that has you laughing and feeling like you’ve known her for years, even when you first meet. This explains why I’ve spilled so many secrets to her despite our relatively short friendship!

Magic-Brush-Yeh-Kat-9780802721792You're Lovable to MeKat is a graduate of Villanova University and she worked in sports marketing for many years before discovering she really is a wonderfully talented writer who needs to be putting books into the world for the rest of us to read. She is the author of the picture books YOU’RE LOVABLE TO ME (Random House Books for Young Readers) and THE MAGIC BRUSH A story of love, family and Chinese Characters (Walker Books for Young Readers) and the forthcoming novel, THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE (Little Brown BYR, coming 2014). She’s also the recipient of the 2012 SCBWI Sue Alexander Most Promising New Work Award.

Thank you, Kat, for joining us today on Nerdy Chicks Rule. Let’s get started! If you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be?

I actually think I received the perfect piece of advice already at that age (though I was not really able to figure out how to use it till much later) A dear and wise-beyond-her -years friend gave me a little card with a tiny painting and the quote: “Being myself includes taking risks with myself, taking risks with my behavior so that I can see how it is I want to be” I think we were 13 or 14 at the time. She knew I was struggling and feeling stuck, so she made the card for me. I still have it.

And I wish I could honestly say I have other advice that I would give myself, but I kind of feel that all that stumbling and confusion was sort of necessary. Even the big plastic glasses and ill-advised outfit choice for my first 9th grade dance (brown cowl neck sweater and full-length a-line plaid skirt). I wouldn’t change any of it. But maybe I’d just go back and give myself a big hug.

If it makes you feel better, I never even went to my 9th grade dance (though had I gone, I’m sure my wardrobe choice would have been equally unfortunate). Let’s move on…You’re one of my favorite authors!

Funny, you’re one of mine 🙂

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Here are the Nerdy Chicks with Kat (and Joyce Wan) in Princeton (after that conference where Kat was declared “striking”)

My favorite things to read…Books that lush and literary and brave and unapologetic and a little bit strange and completely committed to the world they create: example anything by Franny Billingsley.

 How do you see the books that are being published today as helping to empower girls to be smart (or, as we like to call it, nerdy)?

I don’t think it is necessarily about what is being published today as much as it is about allowing a pretty free reign. Showing a lot of options, but then letting them make their own reading choices – and THEN being there to talk. Answer questions (or even better come up with more questions together!). Start discussions. Think of alternate endings. Be stumped. Be frustrated. Be in love. Then wonder and wonder and talk about why you both are feeling all these things. I love the George Carlin quote:  “Don’t just teach your children to read…Teach them to question what they read. Teach them to question everything.”

That is a terrific quote from a fairly smart (and nerdy!) man. But we’re called Nerdy Chicks Rule, so let’s re-focus on girls…Tell us about a fictitious nerdy chick you admire and why you admire her.

Is it too typical to say Jo March? I don’t think that I was ever as brave as she was as a teen, but I wanted to be. And of course, I always connected to her passion for reading and her utter desperate Need To Be a Writer – as well as her big feet and awkwardness and temper and fierce love and mad scribbling.

Your feet are not big! (Well, at least, not that big.) Moving on, though…What’s something you like to do that might be considered a little bit nerdy, but is actually really fun?

I love, love spending hours in used book stores or in the used book section of my local indy. Looking for old art books. Hidden overlooked early editions of favorites. I love finding books with quirky titles and wonderful content. It’s like a treasure hunt. I recently found a ratty copy of a book titled, LOVE & DROLLERY – A SELECTION OF AMATORY, MERRY AND SATIRICAL VERSE OF THE 17TH CENTURY for $7. Happiness.

That was totally going to be the title of my next book! I guess that’s why I should do more market research, especially in used book stores. You’ve convinced me to follow in your (normal-sized) footsteps! Now, what is one of your favorite achievements that you can credit to being a nerdy chick?

easy: without a doubt, it is only when being absolutely myself (and therefore, embracing the nerdy in me) that I have been able to Find & Be Found and Get & Be Gotten by like-minded souls who have become life friends.

527286_10151155108171460_496397820_nI love the way you describe that: Find & Be Found and Get & Be Gotten. Beautiful. Guess that’s why you’re an award-winning author, huh? 🙂

Now, for the fun part: if someone gave you $75 and you could only spend it on you, what would you do with it?

That’s hard. As a mom, I tend not to think about spending money on myself. I’d probably buy drinks and a load of appetizers somewhere yummy (and hopefully with music) where a friend and I could have long, leisurely talk-ish time together.

And, finally, can you tell us one thing you buy at the grocery store that you cannot live without?

For several months now it’s been baby arugula. I know – it’s not glamorous or decadent, but it makes me crazy. All dark and peppery and perfect.

Thank you again, Kat! If you want to find out more about the fabulous and fashionable Kat Yeh, visit her at katyeh.com (still under construction, but coming soon!) and follow her on Twitter: @yehface

Karma Wilson: Better Today than Yesterday

novprofileI can’t imagine there’s anyone in the world who doesn’t know who Karma Wilson is. After all, she’s a bestselling author and all-around interesting person. Who, by the way, trains in Mixed Martial Arts and calls a dog, a cat, and a chicken her pets. But just in case you’ve been living under a rock and have never heard of Bear Snores On, Frog in the Bog, or Hogwash, here’s a little about Karma.

Karma never really thought about being a professional writer because, growing up, it seemed so boring. But that’s only because her mother was a professional writer – and who wants to do what Mom does? (By the way, the answer to that is usually EVERYONE. But only secretly.) But as children all over the world are grateful for every day, Karma eventually came around and started writing books for kids. The first one(Bear Snores On)  came out in 2002. Since then, she’s written 30 books which have collectively received numerous state and national awards, been translated into dozens of languages, and a few have made an appearance on the New York Times bestseller list. 

I wanted to interview Karma for this blog because not only is she a great example of a Nerdy Chick, but many, many years ago, she became one of my KidLit idols (that’s a secret, too. I don’t want to look like a lame fangirl). So, please welcome Karma to Nerdy Chicks Rule!

So, Karma, you’re an award-winning author! What are your favorite things to read?

Fantasy is numero uno and always has been, followed by historical fiction with plucky characteres, and sci-fi if it’s original.

How do you see the books that are being published today as helping to empower girls to be smart (or, as we like to call it, nerdy)?

Oh no, not sure how to answer this. I don’t think all of them are for one thing.

(I agree with you. But do go on.)

A lot of pop fiction is depicting girls as helpless princesses waiting for a hero, or bullies, or cliquish mean girls.  I like books that help give girls a voice, that help them see themselves as capable people able to think and reason. Laurie Halse Anderson’s work, for instance. I think that for me it’s the books that are written about genuine, strong characters set in a good story that will automatically set the right examples for girls.  And I’m not the kind who thinks that only girl characters can set examples for girl readers. I love strong boy characters and think there is a gap in fiction that appeals to boys and girls. A timeless treasure like Freak the Mighty can go a long ways to teaching anybody how to be a more capable, compassionate, thinking person–boy or girl. A book depicting a boy character who values women and treats them as equals can help a girl recognize a good guy. Good stories, good characters–the rest falls into place.

Those are really good points. I think people are coming around to the idea that there shouldn’t be “girl books” and “boy books.” But speaking of girl characters…tell us about a fictitious nerdy chick you admire and why you admire her.

Anne of Green Gables. I admire her for taking her fantasies and not just using them as an escape from her harsh reality, but to improve herself as a person.  She learned from her mistakes, she grew as an individual, she was caring, unique and plucky.  I love her!

Me, too! Reading is obviously very important to you, which totally makes sense since Nerdy Chicks love to read! What is one of your favorite achievements that you can credit to being a Nerdy Chick? family

Teaching my children to value words and literature. All three are excellent readers who enjoy words and writing. WIN!

In fact, I want to give a thanks to my kids, Michael, David and Chrissy for continuing to be my most successful endeavor….

That’s not only fabulous, it’s something that parents everywhere should try to emulate. Brava! How about this: what’s something else you like to do that might be considered a little bit nerdy, but is actually really fun?

I like to take pictures of food and post them on facebook. Yep, I’m one of those! lol. To be fair, I like and comment on other people’s food photos.

Mmmmm. There’s nothing wrong with that. Speaking of food, Can you tell us one thing you buy at the grocery store that you cannot live without?

Coffee.  And toilet paper. In that order? Oh, just one. Sorry! lol

OMG, I just snorted my Pepsi all over my desk! You are too funny! If someone gave you $75 and you could only spend it on you, what would you do with it? 

Buy a special treat from a local artist or craftsman. That way it would be a gift to them too! Probably pottery, which I love.

I’m starting to get goosebumps. I love pottery, too! Could we be long-lost sisters? (Wait, too fangirl-y? I’ll stop.)

IMG_2566Last question: tell us a four-word descriptive phrase you would like people to associate with you.

Better today than yesterday.

I’m not sure we could have ended on a better note than that – those may become words I have to live by. Thank you so much, Karma, for joining us.

If you want to learn more about Karma, find her on the web at www.karmawilson.com. There you can find great resources for teachers, parents and lovers of children’s books. 

Aimee Winner: An Interview with a Real Winner

mama cruiseOne of the things I’ve been looking forward to about this interview is the opportunity to write the following sentence: Aimee Winner is, well, a real winner. (No more puns about winning, I promise!) I met Aimee on one of my first visits to Howard County, Maryland, where she is an award-winning music educator. But more than that, Aimee is the kind of woman a lot of us hope to be when we grow up – accomplished (she has a Bachelor’s of Arts in Music Education with a voice principal from Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ), professionally successful (one of the choirs she directs is routinely seen singing in the opening ceremonies of the Baltimore Blast Soccer games at Mariner Arena, singing the National Anthem at Camden Yards for the Baltimore Orioles and competing at The Festival of Music in the Parks at Hershey Park), personally successful (she is married with a beautiful 2 ½ year old son, Jonah), and just overall fun.

 Something Aimee is fond of saying is, “Be kinder than necessary today, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” Well, if that’s not advice from a winner, I don’t know what is. (OK, I lied about not making any more winning puns. It’s my interview, I get to do that!) Thanks for joining us today, Aimee!

Let’s start with the obvious question: how awesome is it to be an official Winner?

The students get a kick out of my last name being Winner. They say I always win. I love that, even though that isn’t necessarily true, but because it is my last name.

Well, I think it’s true. 🙂 As a “winning” music teacher, what are your favorite things to listen to?

Geesh, this is such a tough one. Being a lover of music makes it hard to pick a favorite. On any given day I could find myself listening to Claude Debussy, JS Bach, Stephen Sondheim, especially “Into the Woods” or Leonard Bernstein, Ella Fitzgerald and more recent artists like Fleet Foxes, Carla Morrison, Sufjan Stevens, Kings of Convenience, Coldplay, Alicia Keys, and Adele!! I could go on and on.

Recently, I have been rocking out to Ra Ra Riots new album “Beta Love”. I can’t get enough of them (all of their albums are great), and I had the privilege to see them for my birthday in January at the 9:30 Club in DC!! What a fun night with my hubby!

How did you become interested in music?

I was inspired by my mother, who is also a lover of music and has taught elementary music for many years. I grew up in a musical home and starting singing at a very young age. I also began to learn piano and violin in elementary school. I continued singing in choir, playing in the orchestra and performing in the musicals and plays through high school each year. And now, I’m devoted to making music and sharing her love of music with others forever and ever. 🙂

What’s one of your favorite experiences as a musician? jelly profile

My absolute favorite experience was during my senior year of undergrad while attending Westminster Choir College in 2004.  I had the amazing opportunity to perform in Westminster Symphonic Choir at Lincoln Center when Broadway and operetta united in the New York Philharmonic’s semi-staged performance of the musical “Candide” by Leonard Bernstein. The cast included Broadway’s “Wicked” Kristin Chenoweth as Cunegonde, Patti LuPone in a star turn as The Old Lady, Paul Groves as Candide, and Sir Thomas Allen as Dr. Pangloss/Narrator. “Candide” featured Bernstein protégé Marin Alsop conducting the New York Philharmonic, Wow! I still get goose bumps and smile when I think about how incredible it was rehearsing and performing on the stage at Avery Fischer Hall. I have such fond memories that I will remember for my lifetime from that week in NYC.

Any memorable experiences teaching music?

Well, in 2007 I was the silent music teacher for 5 weeks while I was on vocal rest. Yep, silent. I carried around a notebook or my laptop to communicate.  It was quite and interesting experience that I hope I never have to do again! I was able to teach music using a lot of technology and focusing on a student lead classroom. It was actually a tough time in my life because I didn’t talk at all for 5 weeks and my voice was in danger of being damaged for life. I chose not to talk at home or in the classroom and I couldn’t sing in fear of hurting my voice and losing my livelihood. But in the end the voice rest saved my voice!! You don’t really realize how important or special something is until you almost lose it forever.

Wow! That’s pretty amazing! I can’t imagine teaching without talking. (But I’m not surprised that you found a way to do it!) But it goes to show how important music can be…so tell us, how does music help kids to become nerdy?

Music is such an amazing outlet that reaches everyone young and old!!!  I find that music really allows kids to express themselves and have fun. Music meets you where you are at any moment. I love that kids can just soak it all in; laugh, play, move and make music. “Music expresses what words cannot” I love teaching music to kids because we have so much fun and nothing else matters when they walk in my classroom. Just right now and that moment, to be free and have a good time.

How do you see the music that is being produced today as helping to empower girls to be smart (or, as we like to call it, nerdy)?

Music today totally empowers girls to be smart. I love it. There is so much inspiration and fun in music that is being produced today. These songs make girls realize that whatever life brings you are going to be okay. There are so many messages about believing in yourself, finding beauty in yourself and moving on when you are stuck, keep trying, standing tall.

Tell us about a musical nerdy chick you admire and why you admire her.

There are so many wonderful and inspiring ladies out there, but I think the first one that comes to my mind is the beloved and much-honored star Julie Andrews. I grew up watching her in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. There is just something about her natural elegance and beautiful singing voice that has always drawn me to her.  As a child she helped me find my love for music at such a young age. I would still love to play either of those roles on stage because of her! She is simply amazing.

Do you have a personal “theme song,” perhaps one that speaks to your inner nerdiness? So, I have two…. Or hundreds… right?! Again, such great songs to choose from, but…I would have to say “Defying Gravity” from Wicked. It’s about doing everything in your power to fight for what you believe in. Elphaba sings of how she wants to live without limits, going against the rules that others have set for her. We are unlimited. No one will bring you down. If you haven’t heard it, or better yet, seen the show Wicked, it is a MUST see/hear!

IMG_0405And/or

“Get on your feet” by Gloria Estefan not only because it is so energetic and gets me moving, but there was a particular Parks & Recreation episode that was especially funny, with the highlight of Amy Poelher and posie on thin ice during her character’s campaign. Amy is brilliant and stunning! Love her!

What is one of your favorite achievements that you can credit to being a nerdy chick?

One of my favorite achievements is that I get to direct a musical with my 4th and 5th graders each spring. It is amazing to watch the transformation of the students over the six months on working on the show. This year I am working on Winnie the Pooh, KIDS. Each year seems like it will be the best experience, but it just keeps getting better and better each year. I am so proud of the kids for taking a risk to perform on stage and work so hard. It is so much fun building the relationships and experiences with them and seeing them transform during our time together, building memories of a lifetime. Shows in the past have been: Emperor’s New Clothes, Jungle Book Kids, Honk Jr. Aladdin KIDS, A Year With Frog and Toad KIDS, Willy Wonka Kids, 101 Dalmatians KIDS, Aristocat KIDS.

This has been such a fun and thoughtful interview – thanks for all your great answers! But now for the fun part…If someone gave you $75 and you could only spend it on you, what would you do with it?

I would go to NYC and see a show on Broadway in a heartbeat! I don’t get there enough to enjoy the talent and magic of the stage. I sure miss it.  

Can you tell us one thing you buy at the grocery store that you cannot live without?

There are not many things in life that are more enjoyable than a nice cup of tea. We always have few different choices in our cupboard for morning, noon or night.

What kind of music have you taught your son Jonah? aimeejonahhay

He and I are always making music together, playing guitar, banjo, violin, piano, drums and singing – usually marching too. There is never a dull moment in the Winner house!

What’s one thing musical you’d like to do in the future?

I would love to direct a treble boy’s choir. That would be something I haven’t done yet and would love have in my life as a director. Treble boys is such a pure and rich sound.

Thanks again, Aimee, for talking to us today. To learn more about Aimee, visit her on the web at http://web.hcpss.org/~aimee_winner/. And, in her honor, go sing something!

Leeza Hernandez: Fueled by Sour Patch Kids

leezaI met Leeza Hernandez years ago, and I’ve always felt she was waaaaaaay cooler than me. That’s hard for me to admit. Add to that her incredible artistic talent and way cool accent (she hails from the south of England), and I almost don’t want to talk to her. Except you can’t help but talk to Leeza — she’s too much fun, she’s got too much energy, and she’s way too smart. Read her interview — you’ll see what I mean.

As I said, Leeza is originally from England, but has been living in the USA since 1999. In 2004 she switched from newspaper and magazine design to children’s book illustration and writing. 2012 marked a milestone for her as she celebrated the release of her debut-authored picture book Dog Gone! (G.P. Putnam’s Sons).

Leeza is currently working on revisions and sketches for two new books due out in 2014 and just finished final art for a picture book written by John Lithgow (wow!!!!!!), due for release in fall 2013. She’s also the Regional Advisor for the New Jersey SCBWI chapter.
In her spare time, Leeza can be found either playing school, carpet picnic-ing or making art with her daughter, or cleaning the litter box. Coffee and Sour Patch Kids fuel late deadline nights which is also when the the cat likes to present her favorite fur balls under the art table!
Thanks for joining us, Leeza! Let’s get started…If you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Middle school: DUCK!

(Oh, that’s hilarious. sorry for interrupting!)

High school: You might not be good at that and that’s okay. It in no way means you are a failure, simply do your best!

That’s great advice — I wish someone had told me that in high school! Moving forward in time, though, you’re now a professional artist. What are your favorite things to draw?

I love drawing chubby chickens wearing boots, scarves and/or earmuffs. There’s something very funny to me about that image. Makes me smile.

That’s made me smile, too! How do you see the books that are being published today as helping to empower girls to be smart (or, as we like to call it, nerdy)?

Showcasing any female character who, when faced with adversity, finds victory and overcomes chaos in clever, articulate and intuitive ways is a sure fire way to empower girls. I think that society is more open to embracing these types of characters and therefore today’s books have become the perfect platform to inspire nerdy chicks, help them be smart and know that anything in life is possible.

I agree — finding great examples in literature is a way to inspire girls to go after their dreams. Can you tell us about a fictitious nerdy chick you admire and why you admire her?

Roald Dahl’s Matilda has to be one of the first “fictitious nerdy chicks” I ever remember having an impact on my life. There’s so many things to love about her- in spite of a difficult home life and an atrocious headmistress, she sought and found solace in books. With an insatiable appetite for learning she discovered the power of knowledge. Two other fictitious nerdy chicks whom I admire are Alice Pleasance and Violet Beaudelaire- smart girls who knew how to keep it together!

I love those characters, too! (See — I told you Leeza is waaaay cooler than me!) You truly are a Nerdy Chick, Leeza. What is one of your favorite achievements that you can credit to being a Nerdy Chick?

Oh wow, now you’ve put me on the spot! Okay, sorry if this sounds cheesy, but getting in to college was a big deal for me. Going through high school, and knowing that there was an exciting world filled with mystery and yet-to-be-discovered opportunities beyond the waters that surrounded the island I grew up on, were what made me more determined to study and get to college. That was my gateway to a new world. I absorbed myself in my art especially, and getting into art school will always be one of my favorite achievements. Debuting as an author/illustrator last year felt pretty good too!

I think college was a pretty big deal for a lot of us — doesn’t sound cheesy at all. It’s very inspiring to hear how you used college to open up a “new world,” as you put it. I think that’s what college is supposed to do.

Let’s shift gears a bit and have some fun…Do you have a personal “theme song,” perhaps one that speaks to your inner nerdiness?

Hmm, I never thought about a theme song. Ziggy Marley’s “Believe in Yourself” perhaps?

Love it! If someone gave you $75 and you could only spend it on you, what would you do with it?

No brainer! Books and art supplies.

Can you tell us one thing you buy at the grocery store that you cannot live without?

Cheese: a good strong cheddar. (Hate to think what my cholesterol levels are like though!)

Ha! LEEZA HERNANDEZ, LOVER OF CHEESE. I think I love that even more! And finally, is there anything else you want to share with us that has made you who you are today?

Well, aside from art, sports and French were my favorite subjects throughout most of my school years. I was terrible at science. Also, I played cello for three years in middle school, but only because all the flutes were taken in the school orchestra. I can’t play cello anymore, but I do still play descant and tenor recorder.

Thank you, Leeza, for this great interview. I will never look at chickens without boots or earmuffs the same again!

If you want to know more about Leeza and her work (and who wouldn’t?), you can find her on the web at www.leezaworks.comHer books can be found at www.doggonethebook.com and www.eatyourmathhomework.com. Follow her on Twitter: @leezaworks

 

Dana Alsup: Co-Founder and first President of the Salisbury Quidditch Club

Dana Alsup is awesome. I’ve known that since the moment I met her, and now that I’ve interviewed her, I have empirical evidence. She is AWESOME. Listen to this: In college, she participated in a prison book club where she went to a medium security prison with other students to discuss philosophy and other topics such as race and even women’s rights. People talk about giving back to society in ways like that; Dana actually did it.

Thank you, Dana, for joining us today and being the newest Nerdy Chick. Let’s start with a speed round — tell us some awesome things about yourself.

I have a Bachelor of Arts in history from Salisbury University and a Masters of Library and Information Sciences from University of Pittsburgh.  I love libraries and think the world would be a lesser place without them.

Oh, we here at NerdyChicksRule.com definitely agree with that! But, do go on…

I have a very active imagination and am constantly creating scenarios in my head that will never happen.  Most are about how my skills as a librarian have been overlooked and every place that has ever rejected me as a candidate comes crawling back to me.

I’m a Mama’s girl.  I love my mom and think she’s the coolest lady out there.

My best friend and I dream that one day we’ll have a party planning business.

I’m an avid crafter but never know what I’m doing.  Every sewing project I’ve ever done has been made up as I went along.  Yes, I have given those sewing projects as gifts before.

Christmas is the best time of the year and I start planning and buying gifts starting in August.

Can I join your party planning business, too? What? Now’s not the time to ask? OK, well, then…next question: if you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Hooray for high school crushes!

I think everyone thinks the same thing when it comes to talking to your younger self: don’t spend so much time worrying about what everyone else thinks about you!  I spent far too much time doing that and not enough time actually caring about school.  When I was a senior in high school I only went to school until 10:30 every day.  I told the high school I’d rather work than take more classes so I got an early release to go to my job…my shift didn’t start until 3 pm.  I wanted to look the rebel and fit in, but I am far from a rebel.  I’m the one that always has a band aid in her wallet just in case someone in the vicinity needs it.  (And a side note on band aids, I currently have Cynthia Rowley themed and The Muppets themed band aids in my bathroom).  I was always terrible at math, but I think if I had just put more effort into really understanding it, I wouldn’t be freaked out every time I have to give a tip or figure out how much those shoes would be if they are 30% off.  If I had to write a letter to my high school self, it would go something like this, “Dear Dana, You turn out awesome.  Forget what they think of your style and embrace your love of all things British, books, dinosaurs, and history!  Love, Dana.  P.S.- you end up dating your high school crush.  Yipee!”

Oh, that makes me smile!  How about this: do you have a personal “theme song,” perhaps one that speaks to your inner nerdiness?

I had three roommates in college and I love them dearly.  Whenever we would go to a party and introduce ourselves, I found that everyone would remember their names and never mine.  By the end of the night fellow partygoers would say, “Goodbye Lauren, Goodbye Sarah, Goodbye Corey, Goodbye….”  Then they would start guessing, “Diana?  Donna?  Dina?”  I did not like this.  I hate when people can’t remember my name.  It’s short and simple and two of the letters are the same.  So after a while when someone couldn’t remember my name I would say, “Forgettable Dana”.  I even turned it into a sad little tune when I would say it.  So it became my theme song.  I still sing it from time to time and my boyfriend enjoys teasing me about it.  We always say it would be the saddest sitcom in the world.

A real nerdy tune that always makes me feel good about myself is the Star Wars theme song.  I’ll put it on right now and explain how it makes me feel…I can take on the world!  To be more specific, the Empire.  It makes me feel good.  I really enjoy listening to it in the car because then I pretend that my car is the Millennium Falcon, which is the best!  I also feel like my brother is with me.  He’s a huge Star Wars fan and I can’t even count the amount of times we have watched the movies together.  So there’s a bit of nostalgia going on as well.

Here’s a secret: sometimes I pretend I’m on the Milennium Falcon, too. But usually that somehow involves Han Solo. But I won’t ask if that’s true for you, too…Let’s shift gears and get a little serious for a bit. You’re a professional librarian! What are your favorite things to read?

I am technically just trained to be a professional librarian.  My job title is Library Media Paraeducator.  No one knows what a “paraeducator” is outside of the school district I work in.  I’m the assistant in an elementary school library.  There is never a dull moment in an elementary school.  Nor a quiet one.

PANDA VEST!!!

I love reading so many things!  But my favorites are nonfiction, specifically history and biographies, and mysteries.  I studied history as an undergrad, focusing on Colonial and Revolutionary American history.  This does not mean that I get all American history trivia questions right, but it does mean that I can yell about how Ben Franklin is not actually a good man at all.  Yes, yes, he did lots of good things, but my history friends and I like to claim that he invented adultery.  I once said this to a tour group visiting Ben Franklin’s gravesite.  They were not amused.  My mom and I snickered.  Back to books, my favorite series is Harry Potter.  Those books changed my life an brought my nerdiness to a whole new level.  Looking at my bookshelf right now, I see Junie B. Jones, Bossy Pants, Candide, The Journals of Captain John Smith, a Choose Your Own Adventure, Man’s Search of Meaning, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, and Sherlock Holmes.  Sherlock is one of my all time favorite characters.  He is just amazing and I like to pretend that I am him sometimes.  My favorite book is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  I can never get enough of that book.  I also love The Great Gatsby.  I had to read that in high school and didn’t care for it at all.  Then I read it again in college for my 1920’s lit class and fell in love!  In my opinion, it is one of the best books ever written and I recommend it to everyone.

How do you see the books that are being published today as helping to empower girls to be smart (or, as we like to call it, nerdy)?

Girls and women in literature today are amazing.  There are far more role models and characters featuring women then there ever have been before.  Working in a library I see so many books that embrace who women are and who they want to be.  I see many more children’s books than I do adult, but that’s where we need to start when it comes to empowering girls.  I love seeing books that show it’s okay to be the girly girl, like Fancy Nancy.  Nancy is an amazing character that loves being girly and fancy and expressing herself through using fancy words, mainly French words, and actions.  If you feel fancy, be fancy!

I love seeing books now that have groups of kids where girls are the leaders.  So many books show boys as the one who knows what to do and they will get it done and aren’t you lucky, girls, that he was here?  Harry Potter would have been dead without Hermione.  She did all the research and had those boys ready to go in case of an emergency.  I bet she also carries band aids in her wallet.

You are absolutely right — nerdy chicks do awesome things. How about you — what is one of your favorite achievements that you can credit to being a nerdy chick?

Co-Founder and first President of the Salisbury Quidditch Club.  My friend Emilie and I started the club our senior year of college.  I had seen other colleges online and my brother said I had to do it.  It was the nerdiest thing I have ever done.  And the greatest!  It was amazing!  I would play again if I had a team to join.  It is just like the game in Harry Potter novels except for we never leave the ground and the snitch is attached to a person.  In fact, the snitch is a tennis ball in a tube sock hanging out of the back of someone’s shorts.  We run with brooms between our legs and try to get the quaffle through the hoops without being hit by a bludger.  I have my own broom still.  it hangs in my room above my closet.  I graduated college in 2009 and it is still a club.  It’s even on my resume.

Tell us a four-word descriptive phrase you would like people to associate with you.

Really Effing Awesome, Dude.

Umm, see above. Any other phrases?

Mrs. Justin Timberlake = Me.

Always a lady, sometimes.

Awesome answers, as expected. Now tell us this: if someone gave you $75 and you could only spend it on you, what would you do with it?

Shoes!  I love shoes!  I also have weird feet- I have bunions at the old age of 25 so now I have to buy expensive shoes that won’t hurt me.  I also buy shoes that are just for occasions where I’ll be sitting a lot, like gold glitter flats!

I’d buy shoes, too! I knew we were soul mates!  OK, last question. Are you ready? Yes?

Can you tell us one thing you buy at the grocery store that you cannot live without?

My first thought is tampons, but I can get those at Target, too.  The hardest part of the grocery store for me to walk by is the cookie aisle.  I love cookies.  Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster is actually based on me.  My favorite cookies are Lu’s Pim’s cookies, specifically raspberry.  I will not share them and they will be gone within 20 minutes of me having them.  I don’t even pretend that I can keep them for any longer than that.  It’s impossible.

Who doesn’t love cookies? And after this interview, who doesn’t love awesome Nerdy Chick Dana Alsup?

Thanks again, Dana, for stopping by. You get a cookie the next time I see you, unless of course I can’t find you or I forget. (Who’s nerdy enough to know the source of that quote?)

Tara Lazar: Picture Book Writer and PiBoIdMo Creator

In honor of PiBoIdMo (you do know what that is, don’t you?), have we got a treat for you. The fabulously nerdy and brilliantly fabulous Tara Lazar is joining us today for a special bonus interview. Let’s hear what this Nerdy Chick has to say…

 

I’ve known Tara for several years through NJ-SCBWI. Not only is she a great writer and a super person, she’s also as into shoes and fashion as I am. Tara’s first picture book, The Monstore is forthcoming from Aladdin in June 2013, with two more picture books following soon after. She has inspired hundreds of picture book authors with a program she created called PiBoIdMo or Picture Book Idea Month. Visit her blog (http://taralazar.com/piboidmo/)to read more about it… or to join up!

Thanks for joining us Tara! We’ll start off with a question we ask everyone: If you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be? Baggy pants and permed hair is not a good look.

I remember that look! At least we can say it looked better on the chicks than the dudes! You’re a professional writer – can you share some of your favorite things to read? I love short stories. I subscribe to One Story and I buy the Greatest American Short Stories anthology every year. But I also read a lot of novels, both for adults and kids. I prefer quirky stories with a sprinkling of magic—nothing too fantastical or surreal, just enough magic so it’s still plausible. And who can forget picture books? I read at least two hours every day.

Wow. That’s a lot of reading, but everyone says reading makes us better writers. Since you are so well read, how do you see the books that are being published today as helping to empower girls to be smart (or, as we like to call it, nerdy)? When I was growing up, I only remember Judy Blume books as speaking to me directly as an adolescent girl. Now there are hundreds of books aimed at young girls’ unique experiences: having an autistic sibling, losing a parent, wanting to excel in a talent, being a super-genius, coming from a poor family, dealing with bullies… The choices are endless. There’s a book to ease concerns over every embarrassing and mysterious dilemma inside every girl. She can feel confident knowing she’s not alone, giving her the courage to be herself.

I didn’t look so good, so Tara started grooming me — I can always count on her to have my back!

I agree. Thankfully, there are more books than ever for girls these days. Besides reading, what’s something you like to do that might be considered a little bit nerdy, but is actually really fun? Teaching! I love to teach new writers; I enjoy sharing my knowledge. I get a kick when I see their faces light up in an “aha” moment.

I also love studying rocks and minerals, Hubble space telescope images, literature of the 1920’s, and Discover Magazine. I wanted to be an archeologist when I was a teen. C’mon, discovering buried treasure for a living? Awesome!

Do you have a favorite achievements that you can credit to being a nerdy chick? I was on the high school physics team. We even had a cheer: P-H-Y-S-I-C-S, physics, physics, yes, yes, YES! (OK, I didn’t say it was a good cheer.) I also scored leading roles in my HS plays and directed the senior year play. I was a drama geek, too. This was BEFORE “High School Musical” and “Glee”, when it was really uncool. But I didn’t care, I loved it.

Hahaha! There’s probably a reason the physics club isn’t the cheer squad, right? Thanks again for showing us your nerdy side! And may this be the biggest PiBoIdMo ever!

To find out more about Tara, visit her blog (taralazar.com), like her Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/authortara ) or follow her @taralazar on Twitter.

 

Christy Agner: Turning up the Volume of Women’s Voices

Christy Agner works for the state of North Carolina in the office of the Secretary as the Liaison for Productivity and Legislative Affairs. I met Christy about two decades ago when we were working at a summer camp. Christy is several years younger than me, but she impressed me then with her eloquence. After that summer, those who knew Christy would occasionally get an email urging us to vote, and later we received Facebook messages with the same content. Yet Christy never told anyone which way to vote. She never pushed a particular agenda on her friends. She just feels passionately, that our voices should be heard. Because women lawmakers are still in the minority, she has a special interest in getting women to the polls. Given some of the things being said about women and women’s issues by politicians today, I am thrilled to welcome Christy to Nerdy Chick Rules. I think you will find her answers heartfelt and timely.

 Hi Christy! I’m going to start with what I think is the most important question in this interview. While you’re not a politician, you work in politics. Why do you think it is important that more women become active in politics? Government is by the people, for the people.  Yet if only men step up to be involved in public office, then its men’s perspectives, men’s experiences, men’s issues which are prioritized in public discourse and decisions.  Issues such as contraception, child care, medical research, and aging are very different from the ‘lens’ of a woman.  If women sit out or are kept out, then our voices are silent and public policy overlooks those aspects of our lives and the lives of our families.

I have witnessed legislative debate for many years and no matter the Party in charge of the proceedings, the few women legislators have had to carry the voices of 54% of this State (women) onto the floor of the House and Senate.  The House of Representatives now has over 20 women (of 170 members) but the Senate has less than 5 (out of 50).  Ladies, we have work to do!  I can tell you the women legislators of all political persuasions work hard, study the issues, listen to their constituents and don’t get into the ‘ethics’ controversies that have marred government in recent years.

I love the way you said that! You told me most of what you do involves facilitating information requests to and from the legislature branch, to your department in the executive branch. It seems like your role as Liaison for Productivity and Legislative Affairs requires excellent communication skills. What is one of the most important things you’ve learned about helping groups of people communicate?  The most important thing you can do to assist citizens in understanding their government is to ‘demystify the process.’  As a public servant, I can offer transparency about the process to seek a permit, bid for a contract, obtain public information, or learn about a grant application.  You shouldn’t have to pay a lobbyist or law firm to help you understand how to access a public service.  A Legislator needs information to help them make decisions quickly.  If I can provide accurate, contextual and timely information then the legislator is poised to make a more informed decision.  If folks know that you are willing to answer any question that you can (and some you won’t know), it helps to foster trust and understanding versus frustration.

With any type of group communication, that element of ‘demystifying’ the process is critical.  If everyone knows the rules, knows each other, knows the goal, etc then trust and openness emerges and some real accomplishments can emerge.

For you, what is the most rewarding aspect of your career? Watching young women come behind me and not having the same barriers I did.  Watching working women balance kids and public service and knowing that is possible because of supportive spouses and workplaces.  Seeing older women retire from rewarding careers and finding it possible to continue serving their community through elected office.  Seeing better public policy emerge because women stepped up to serve their communities.

Can you share a career success where you helped a group achieve their goals by effectively communicating with the NC Legislature? In my private life, I am a founding Board member of a group called Lillian’s List.  A group of community women came together in 1997, concerned about the lack of women’s voices in our State Legislature.  After several discussions, it became clear to us that we wanted to increase the number of pro-choice, progressive women in the Legislature and to do that we needed an organization that could help erase the main deterrent to women running for office – access to early money to fund successful campaigns.  Fast forward 13 years and the group is still going strong and focused not only on raising ‘seed’ money for women’s campaigns but also recruiting, training and supporting women as they run for the State Legislature.   Lillian’s List has effectively added women’s voices to the public process and because of their shear presence of more women in the Legislature, there has been enhanced communication on environmental, reproductive choice, aging and health care issues in North Carolina.

That is awesome that you all took action in such a rational way, and that it has been so productive. What a great model for a way to make sure our voices are heard.

Now I’m going to ask you some of my standard Nerdy Chick questions. I usually start with this one: If you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be?  Don’t be afraid to be passionate about the things you are good at and for the groups you want to serve.  That passion will help you open doors and create credibility to make change.  Life does not end at graduation from the microcosm of high school; it begins.

Great advice! What’s something you like to do that might be considered a little bit nerdy, but is actually really fun? I love to register voters.  I have family in the military so the right to vote is precious to me.  As someone who originally went to school to be a high school civics teacher, I celebrate democracy and want everyone to participate in it.

And I love to promote voting to women.  Did you know that more older (65 and over) women vote than younger (35 and younger) women?  Did you know that more married women vote than unmarried (widowed, divorced or never married) women?  As a single woman, I make a point to know when I can cast an ‘early’ vote in case I’m busy on election day.  Since I’m on my own financially as a single woman, I want the financial and government systems to work for me and others like me and not just women who have a spouse.  Recent statistics show that nearly ½ of all women are single head of household, but we don’t vote at the same rate as married women.

In North Carolina it is super easy to check your registration, register for the first time, or quickly re-register in case you have moved since the last election (THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT SO YOU ARE NOT TURNED AWAY AT THE POLL).  This site has all the details:  http://www.ncsbe.gov/content.aspx?id=1&s=1

Thanks for sharing those stats, Christy. Are there any social norms that you’re fond of flouting? Being a decent person.  I believe in karma and that God gives you no situation you cannot handle without his strength.  I wish more people would be proud to be – or at least strive to be – decent people who treat others kindly and ethically in business as well as family.  I am also genuinely excited and motivated by my job and never hesitate to tell folks about that.  I’ve had people roll their eyes at me when I communicate that, which I find sad.  I’ve felt a calling to public service my entire life and I’m excited to have had opportunities to work in public and private roles that promote civic activity in our country.

Can you tell us about a well-known nerdy chick you admire and why you admire her? I really admire State Treasurer Janet Cowell.  She is just a few years older than I am but has accomplished so much and been very devoted to public service throughout her career.  Treasurer Cowell invested in her education, in her community and now oversees one of the largest public pension funds in the country as NC State Treasurer, as well as manages the issuance of several billion dollars of public debt each year.  I have really liked her focus of offering financial education to students across the state.  Janet studies her issues and works really hard in an industry that hasn’t traditionally been led by women. 

It’s great to hear about women like Janet Cowell! Do you have a favorite song that speaks to your inner nerdiness? I’m sure this is so cheesy, but there is a favorite camp and spiritual song ‘This little light of mine.’  It’s like a theme song when you are down, when you doubt, when you wonder about a certain decision or pathway.  I just think about the simplicity of having a ‘light’ that can inspire you to step forward and say ‘Hey, Here I am.’

Oh yeah, that’s plenty nerdy! 🙂 J Do you have a favorite hobby? Details please! Yes, I volunteer at the local animal shelter.  I match available animals with families looking to adopt.  I love when I see a cat or dog going home with a new family, especially the older animals who are going to be great pets.  It’s a blast, it’s rewarding and you meet some really great folks from your community.  http://www.spcawake.org/

Awww. now I am wondering how many pets you have! Thanks so much for your answers. I can tell you thought about each one!

To find out more about Christy, visit this link to The North Carolina Department of Administration.

You can find out more about Lillian’s List at www.lillianslist.org.

Christy also shared this link for state by state voter registration. If you haven’t registered yet, now is the time!  http://www.voterparticipation.org/