In the Spotlight: Chris Kurtz

Today I’m starting a new occasional feature on my blog — a series of author interviews called In the Spotlight. I have so many friends who are writing so many amazing, wonderful, stellar books, books that you simply MUST know about and read, that I decided it’s time I got busy and shared them with all of you!

A born storyteller, Chris Kurtz is also a musician and a third grade teacher (lucky third graders, is all I can say). He’s stepping into the spotlight today to tell us about his book THE ADVENTURES OF A SOUTH POLE PIG.  It has a wee subtitle, too — A NOVEL OF SNOW AND COURAGE — which I just adore.  In fact, I adore everything about this book. It’s exactly what I would have wanted to read when I was in elementary school, or have read to me when I was a bit younger. A funny, heart-warming adventure starring a plucky pig named Flora, who dreams of leaving the farmyard behind and becoming a sled pig in Antarctica! Now I ask you, what’s not to love about that?

I bought multiple copies. One for me, one for my wee niece, and one to have on hand to give as a spontaneous present. Because there’s nothing better than being able to give a spontaneous present, right?

Here’s what some reviewers had to say about the story.  First, from Kirkus:  “Out of the way, Wilbur and Babe: Your cousin Flora has ‘adventurous hooves’!” Booklist notes: “There’s humor as well as heart, grit as well as tenderness in the telling of this Antarctic adventure tale.” Horn Book calls it “a rollicking story” and gave it a star.  I call it BRILLIANT, and give it my highest recommendation.

Pull up a chair as we settle in for a visit with Chris, and ask him about writing, his book, and what’s next.

1.  Tell us a bit about how you came to be a writer, and how you came to write “The Adventures of a South Pole Pig.”

I’m a writer because my sister encouraged me.  [Editor’s note — Chris’s sister is Jane Kurtz, who is also a friend of mine, and who I also hope will be In the Spotlight soon.] She said she thought I was good at telling stories in my letters home while I was living in another country.  My daughter has a cat that is completely white and pretty overweight.  That cat made me think about an animal that might live in the South Pole and have an adventure, and I think pigs are cute.  But in the end I put in a couple of cats in my story, too.

Chris with Kalino the cat
Chris with Kalino the cat

2.  Flora is SUCH an engaging character — I love her spunk. Did she come to you in a flash, or gradually?  I’d love to hear a bit about how you developed her character.

I came upon Flora’s character by thinking about myself.  I’ve made lots and lots of mistakes in my life and I’ve done a lot of dumb things because I thought I was smarter than I really was. So I made Flora get into the same kind of trouble as me.

3.  Are there particular writers who have inspired or influenced you?  Favorite books?

I love learning about other authors.  My favorite author is Kate DiCamillo.  But I was a big reader when I was a kid and I loved dog stories and survival stories.  I still love those kinds of stories. My favorite book when I was a kid was called DESERT DOG by Jim Kjelgaard.  I didn’t know how to pronounce his name until I was an adult.  It’s pronounced keel-guard.

4.  How does teaching influence your writing — or does it? Is there cross-pollination between the two?

I teach writing in a real way.  I know that writers get stuck.  I know that writers have to have no one talking to them when they are trying to write.  I know that writers need thinking time.  And I know that writers need lots and lots and LOTS of encouragement.  So these are some of the things I make sure to give my third grade students.

5.  What can we look forward to next from you?

I’m working on another animal book.  I really like my main character and I hope that my editor likes him too so that I get to have another book out there.  But I know that there are no promises and no sure things in the world of books.

6.  If you were to travel to the South Pole, what one item would you absolutely positively not leave home without?

If I traveled to the South Pole I would be sure to take really, really warm boots.  I hate having cold feet.  But please don’t think that I would ONLY take my boots.  I wouldn’t want arrive in the South Pole without my pants!

Thanks so much, Chris, for visiting with us today.  And for the laugh! Now everybody go visit his website for more fun facts (click here), then buy his book and READ IT!


Saturday Story Starter

Welcome to a new feature on my blog!

I had so much fun reading all your stories about the mysterious shoes (click here to check them out), that I decided we needed to make this a regular habit. And so, the Saturday Story Starter was born!

I can’t promise you a story starter every Saturday, but I’ll try to put one up here at least once a month. It’s purely for fun, just as a way to exercise those writing muscles (think of it as Heather’s Literary Gym). There are no prizes, only the simple joy of putting words on paper (well, OK, computer screen). Also, I won’t be offering critiques, just brief words of encouragement, but I will read all entries, that I can promise!

Here’s this week’s photo:

Concord house

This is the house in Concord, Massachusetts, that I lived in from 4th grade through 10th grade. It’s pretty, isn’t it? I know it looks terribly grand, but it was a shambles back when my parents bought it for a song. It used to be painted white, but the current owners changed it to yellow. I like it better, don’t you? Yellow is so cheerful. (Fun fact: for anyone who lives in Concord, or who’s traveling to Concord, the cozy house that I gave to Emma Hawthorne’s family is right next door, just before the bridge on Lowell Road).

STORY STARTER:  Write about home. One that you have lived in and loved, be it large or small, fancy or plain, in a city high rise or out in the suburbs or the country, in a trailer or a hotel room or a tent or wherever else  home took you. Help us see and feel why you love this place, and what makes it home to you.


Ready, set, write!

Fan art Friday

Oh, do I have treats for you today!  I’m *nearly* done answering all my mail (!) — yes, there was a lot — and am eager to share a few more gems with you all this morning.

First up, Vanessa, who is 10:

Vanessa's picture (age 10)

Isn’t this fun?  Don’t you love all the details?  She TOTALLY got each of the characters just right!  Way to go, Vanessa!

Next up, we have Mireya, who sent me her take on each of the book covers:

Mireya's fan art #2

Mireya's fan art #1

Mireya's fan art #3

Mireya Pies

Mireya's fan art #4

Mireya art #6


Aren’t these FABULOUS, as Wolfgang would say?   I love the quotes that you chose to go with each book, Mireya — just wonderful!

I so appreciate ALL the care and effort that go into the gorgeous works of art, believe me!  I’m honored and touched that you take the time to create them and send them. And for those of you who, like me, can’t even draw stick figures, never fear — I’m honored and touched by the beautiful letters that you write to me, and by the enthusiastic comments you leave for me here on my blog.  My heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you, my amazing readers!




Neighborhood mystery

Um, so this isn’t the usual thing I come across while walking the dogs…

Shoes on walk


I think we need a story to go along with this mini-mystery.  Any takers?  How about I kick things off with a title (apologies to Alfred Hitchcock:


Now it’s your turn!


Fan art Friday

Check out Brynlee’s school project!

Brynlee's project

I am SO impressed!  (And humbled to have been chosen as her subject.)  What creativity and flair — I’d give this an A+, wouldn’t you?