An interview that I did with Katherine Shields is now up at Education.com. Katherine and I discuss proud literacy moments, tips for encouraging both avid and dormant readers, and "the importance of creating a home for your child in literature." I hope that you'll take a few minutes to check it out!
Becky Levine, who I have met in person, really became my friend through our interactions on our blogs and Facebook. She has always been particularly supportive of my efforts to raise my daughter to love books. When Baby Bookworm was born (nearly 3 years ago), Becky gave us Caps for Sale and In A Blue Room for Baby Bookworm's library. We adore them both.
Becky recently interviewed me about my reading with Baby Bookworm. She asked insightful questions like this:
"I know from your Facebook posts that BB definitely spends time on her own with books. Is there a difference between the books you and she read together and the ones she reads to herself? Do you think her self-reading times are mostly when you’re not available, or do you see her choosing times to read by herself and times she wants you to share a book with her?"
First up, Aaron Mead, who blogs at Children's Books and Reviews, recently featured me in his ongoing series of children's book blogger interviews. You can find the interview here. While Aaron asked a number of interesting questions, my favorite was: "If you were standing on a soapbox full of children’s books, what advice would you give your audience?" You'll have to click throuugh to read my answer (though regular readers won't find it a surprise, and Reach Out and Read was kind enough to tweet the soundbyte). Aaron also interviewed Marya Jansen-Gruber last month, and has more interviews to come.
Second, and much more important to the Kidlitosphere at large, the Cybils (children's and young adult bloggers' literary awards) just issued the 2010 call for judges. For all you children's and young adult book bloggers who have seen the amazing Cybils shortlists and winners, and envied the bloggers who select them, this is your chance to get involved. It's a lot of work, but participation is a tremendous opportunity to participate in the Kidlitosphere, and read and recommend excellent books. I'll be continuing my somewhat nebulous position as Literacy Evangelist for the Cybils (something along the lines of a cheerleader and promoter). I'll start that by saying: isn't the new logo, designed and updated by Sarah Stevenson, beautiful? You can download it here in various sizes. To participate as a judge, please follow the instructions here.
And that's two posts in one day, which makes me very happy. Wishing you all a wonderful week!
They all write from the heart, and from the heart of Texas. Their emphasis on "seeing the joy in the face of a child discovering a love of reading" makes it clear that they are kindred spirits of mine.
Today, I am honored to report that the Texas Sweethearts are featuring/interviewing me. They asked some great questions (thought-provoking questions, too, like "how do you see the future of books for kids and the importance of the Internet in that future?"), and gave me the chance to share a few photos. I hope that you'll check it out!
I'm extra-pleased to be connected to the Texas Sweethearts, because I spent 3 1/2 enjoyable years living in Austin. I was in grad school for engineering at the time, and had no idea of the thriving and welcoming KidLit community in Austin. But knowing that this community is there now just adds to my already fond feelings about the area. Thanks, Jessica, P. J., and Jo!
1. What made you turn your attention to early chapter books, after publishing picture book, middle grade, YA, and adult titles? Was it just time for a change for you, or do you think there's a particular need for new books for this early reader age range?
JB: I like challenges. And I never write because I think there's a particular need in the marketplace, although maybe it's foolish not to consider that. I write from someplace deep inside. I can't really explain it. I first wrote about the Pain and the Great One when my kids were six and eight years old. I've always wanted to write about these characters again, but this time in a longer book where I could get to know their family and their friends. I wrote one story a couple of years ago just to see if I could do it. I liked it and thought, "This is going to be fun!" But then other projects got in the way so I had to put the Pain and the Great One aside. Finally, I said, "It's now or never!"
2. In the Pain and the Great One books, you demonstrate a keen understanding of the older sister / younger brother dynamic (this is clear from the very title of the series). I especially loved when The Great One flew to her brother's defense in Cool Zone, after a bully took something from him. Did you have a younger brother, or is your insider knowledge based on something else?
JB: I have a daughter and son, two years apart. Originally, they were the inspiration for the Pain & the Great One. They're grown now and my daughter has a son of her own. The brother and sister duo in these books have taken on their own lives, though some of the story ideas came from memories (don't ask what my son did with his first magnifying glass - ouch!) and others came from spending time with my grandson -- the Gravitron at the Fair, the boogie-board (he was a whiz, like Abigail). But most of the stories and characters are imagined. It is, after all, fiction!
3. What made you decide to alternate first-person chapters between The Pain and The Great One for this series? Was it about expanding the accessibility of the series, or more about showing the sibling relationship from both sides? Or something else?
JB: The original prose poem, which became a picture book, was from both points of view. I never thought of not writing from both points of view in the chapter books. Although you don't get both viewpoints in each story I hope you come away feeling that you know both Abigail and Jake. Each has endearing qualities, each has annoying ones. Hey, that sounds like real life. Did I say I have an older brother? Four years older but five years ahead of me at school. We were definitely not Jake and Abigail.
4. As an author, was it difficult to keep pesky younger brother The Pain distinct in your mind from pesky younger brother Fudge, from your earlier series? I notice that they are both fans of Superman...
JB: Wow…this is something I never thought of while writing. Fudge is an over-the-top little brother, while Jake is rooted in reality. I had no idea until reading your question that they're both fans of Superman. I know Fudge is obsessed by Superman in Superfudge but without going back and reading the 4 Pain&Great One books I can't think of a story in which Jake talks about him, too. Help me out here. But to answer the bigger question - I had no trouble keeping them apart while writing because to me, Fudge is Fudge, and Jake is Jake, and they're very different.
(Editor's note: I had trouble remembering this, too, and I gave away the books already. But I found a review that said that in Cool Zone, when Abigail rescues Jake from a bully, he says that she's like Superman's sister. Scroll to the bottom of the page on the review for the quote.)
5. From your perspective as an author, how do you write books that keep kids eagerly turning the pages, even when you're (sometimes) tackling serious issues? How do you maintain a light touch, and keep the message from overwhelming the story (something that I think is a hallmark of your books)?
JB: I never think in terms of sending messages. I think only of character and story. Plot isn't my strong point so it was hard to come up with 28 stories for the Pain&Great One books. I did it one story at a time, praying another would follow. (I've never been a natural short story writer though I enjoy writing episodic fiction). Humor comes naturally to me. I learned early on it can help you get through life. But if I'm trying to be funny, forget it. Humor comes at unexpected times. You put your characters in tough situations. What are they thinking vs. what are they saying. This is a hard question to answer because I write instinctively and I don't really understand how it works.
Thanks Judy for sharing such great insights! Here's the complete schedule for the tour:
Twice a year, Colleen Mondor organizes a fabulous team of bloggers in a week-long extravaganza of interviews. Most of the bloggers conduct multiple interviews, and sometimes the authors who participate are interviewed multiple times. The bloggers work together to ensure, however, that the interviews are not redundant. The blog blast tours have been a huge hit. This year's Winter Blog Blast Tour begins tomorrow. Here is the full schedule (I am filling in direct links as they appear):
Martin Millar at Chasing Ray John Green at Writing and Ruminating Beth Kephart at Hip Writer Mama Emily Ecton at Bildungsroman John David Anderson at Finding Wonderland Brandon Mull at The YA YA YAs Lisa Papademetriou at Mother Reader
Mayra Lazara Dole at Chasing Ray Francis Rourke Dowell at Fuse Number 8 J Patrick Lewis at Writing and Ruminating Wendy Mass at Hip Writer Mama Lisa Ann Sandell at Bildungsroman Caroline Hickey/Sara Lewis Holmes at Mother Reader A.S. King at Bookshelves of Doom
Last month Marjorie Coughlan from PaperTigers ("a website about books for young readers, with a special focus on the Pacific Rim and South Asia") interviewed me about my passion for getting young readers interested in books. The interview is now available. Marjorie asked me some great questions about what gets kids reading, reaching reluctant readers, the Cybils, and blogging in general. She also dug up some other supporting links, including my Just One More Book! interview. If you're interested in reading the results, click here. My thanks to Marjorie for putting in so much time with this interview. I love the PaperTigers site, and the work that they do to help young readers, and I am honored to be playing a small part there.
Jon Bard was also kind enough to feature my blog in this week's Children's Writing Update, an email newsletter companion to the Children's Book Insider. I've been hearing from lots of children's book authors over the past couple of days as a result. If you are here from Children's Writing Update, thanks so much for clicking through.
And finally, many thanks to everyone who commented on my recent post about when a hobby becomes something more. I'm just overwhelmed by the tremendous support that people from the Kidlitosphere show one another. This is such a wonderful place to be, and you've all reminded me of that this week, and a time when I'm struggling (yet again) to find the right balance for myself in blogging. It's so nice to know that I'm not alone, and that people understand, and even have constructive suggestions and offers of help.
Thanks again, to Marjorie and Jon, and to everyone who commented or emailed me in response to this week's post. I appreciate you all very much. It's been quite a week!
As I commented over there, I'm generally quite self-conscious about hearing myself speak aloud - I much prefer print, where I can edit, and take more time to think about what I want to say. However, it's a testament to Mark's skill as an interviewer, and Andrea's skill behind the scenes in suggesting questions, that I did enjoy listening to my JOMB podcast interview. Mark made me feel comfortable when we were talking, and Andrea has been a strong supporter of my Growing Bookworms newsletter, and I relaxed because I was chatting with friends. Mark is clearly also an excellent editor, and put together the production seamlessly.
Anyway, if you'd like to hear Mark and I chat about raising readers, enjoying children's books as an adult, and the very preliminary plans for a possible Kidlitosphere portal, tune in to Just One More Book!
Welcome to the final day of the Winter Blog Blast Tour, featuring Blake Nelson at The Ya Ya Yas. We hope that you have enjoyed the fantastic authors featured at the WBBT blogs. Thanks so much for joining us!
I'm pleased to welcome Rick Riordan for his only stop on the Winter Blog Blast Tour. Rick is the author of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series: The Lightning Thief, The Sea of Monsters, and The Titan's Curse. Book 4 in the series, The Battle of the Labyrinth, is scheduled for publication in May of 2008, and is eagerly awaited by kids everywhere. The Percy Jackson books are among my favorite books, and are my top recommendation for middle grade/middle school readers who are looking for adventure stories.
I was a fan of the Tres Navarre series first, exchanging titles in the series with a friend from Austin. When I learned, around the time of starting my blog, that Rick had written a title for kids, I scooped it up right away. You can read my Lightning Thief review (one of the very reviews that I ever posted) here. I knew right off that these books were something special.
The Percy Jackson books blend fast-paced, modern day adventures with Greek Mythology. The premise is that the Greek gods are still around, being immortal and all, and that they periodically connect with human partners to produce Half-Blood children. These Half-Bloods have special gifts, but also face unique challenges (like being targeted by monsters, and being prone to dyslexia and ADHD). The Lightning Thief existed first as a series of bedtime stories that Rick, a middle school history teacher at the time, told his older son. Fortunately for us, Rick's sons encouraged him to write the stories down. And the rest is history.
On his blog, Myth & Mystery, Rick is an outspoken advocate for publishing books that are enjoyable for kids to read (see also here), and books that will appeal to boys and girls. He's also passionate about making books accessible and interesting to kids who have learning difficulties such as dyslexia, and about the need to mentor teachers to stay in school. He describes his experiences, with his wife Becky, in homeschooling his older son, Haley (here's the post about why they decided to undertake the great home-schooling experiment). He even published a multi-part short story about the half-blood universe on the blog (part 1, part 2, part 3), to help tide fans over until the next book is ready. I've asked Rick to comment on some of these topics in this interview, and also asked a few questions about the Percy Jackson series. As you'll see, he's been very generous in his responses.
Q: I've been a fan of your books since before the Percy Jackson books were even available. I love the Texas authenticity that you bring to the Tres Navarre series, and the hard-edged plots. I won't go into details about the Tres series for this audience, but I do wonder if you could comment on the challenges of writing books for kids vs. books for adults. Which is harder? Which is more fun? Is it difficult to shift gears to switch between one and the other?
I enjoy writing for adults and kids, though over the last few years I have discovered I'm better at writing for kids. I suppose that's because of my background as a school teacher. I know the young audience much better than I know adult readers. Or perhaps it's because I never grew up myself. My wife would be the first to tell you that!
Conventional wisdom seems to say that writing for kids is easier than writing for adults. At least I've heard a lot of adult writers say, "Oh, I should write a kids' book. How hard could that be?" I certainly have not found that to be the case. If anything, writing for kids is more demanding, because kids are a tougher audience. They don't have patience for extraneous information or long pointless descriptions. They will let you know if your narrative is getting off track! I have to run a tight ship when I'm writing a children's book. The payoff is tremendous, however. When kids get excited about a book, they get REALLY excited. They are not as reserved as adults.
And when I'm writing for kids, I get the sense that I am making a real impact on their lives. I love it when the Percy Jackson series turns kids into readers. The teacher in me just thinks that's the greatest reward possible. When I only wrote adult mysteries, people would often ask me why I didn't quit teaching, and I would always say that I'd make more of an impact as a teacher than I ever would with mystery novels. Now, writing Percy Jackson, that equation has changed. I'm still teaching, but as an author, and my "classroom" has hundreds of thousands of kids in it!
As for switching gears, yes it can be tough sometimes remembering what world I'm inhabiting, but the skill set for creating an adult mystery and a YA fantasy is pretty much the same for me. I tend to write in simple compact sentences with punchy dialogue and lots of action. I tend to use first person. I like humor and quirky characters. That's true of all my work - for adults or kids.
Q: You've talked how the Percy Jackson series stemmed from your attempts to keep your older son interested in Greek Mythology, at a time when he was having some difficulties getting excited about school. And I know that you are very focused on writing books that will engage reluctant readers of both genders. Were you a reluctant reader yourself when you were a kid? Or does this come more from your experiences as a teacher and parent? Do you have any advice for other parents or teachers around getting reluctant readers interested in books?
Oh lord, yes. I was a very reluctant reader until I hit middle school. I remember other kids being excited about reading incentive programs in elementary school, like 'read twenty books and get a gold sticker!' That just left me cold. I liked comic books and looking at photos in nonfiction books, but the idea of reading a novel was just too daunting. I would get bored easily. Nothing grabbed me. In middle school, I discovered the Lord of the Rings, and that was the first thing that I read for pleasure, but I couldn't find anything else as good. (The same complaint many kids have today after finishing Harry Potter.) I had a great English teacher in eighth grade who found out I liked Lord of the Rings and showed me how all the archetypes in Tolkien came from Norse mythology. That opened my eyes to mythology, and I've been a mythology fan ever since. It didn't make me receptive to the kind of books we typically teach in school, however.
Even in high school, I avoided the required books. I basically faked my way through every English class by listening to discussions. I was a good writer, so I could give the teacher a decent essay without ever having read the book. I didn't read a single required text in high school. Of course, my karmic punishment was that I became an English major. I had to go back in college and read all that stuff they tell you to read in high school.
Anyway, this very much informed my attitude as a teacher and later as a writer. I have great sympathy for reluctant readers, because I was one. When a kid says a school book is boring . . . I don't automatically discount that. Sometimes, the student needs to build up his patience and learn to appreciate literature. But sometimes he's right. The book IS boring. My goal as an English teacher was very simple: Each student should leave my class with a more positive attitude about reading and writing. They should feel successful and enthusiastic. They should have at least one experience where they read a book they simply couldn't put down. If I couldn't provide that, it hardly matters whether they have learned to recognize a metaphor or Classical allusion. If you look at statistics, it's painfully clear that we are losing kids as readers. The older they get, the less they read. Is that just because they are spending more time on MySpace? I don't think that's the whole answer. I think it has a lot more to do with what we expect them to read. The older they get, the more painful reading becomes in school. It stops being fun. It starts being work. I think that's a shame. I wish we could get away from the canon of great literature "must reads" and allow young readers some latitude to find books that actually speak to them. As Mark Twain famously observed, a classic is a book everyone agrees is great but no one has read.
As a parent, I have two boys who are also reluctant readers. Fortunately, they've made some amazing strides in the last few years. Haley, my dyslexic son, will now sit for hours when he gets involved with a book, forgetting that he only needs to read thirty minutes a day. Patrick and I have a great time reading together and discovering new fantasies. Both boys help me with my manuscripts. We will sit on the bed together whenever I've finished a new book and they'll let me read it to them. I'll find out very quickly which parts are funny, which parts are confusing, which parts need to be tweaked.
My biggest advice to parents: get involved with your kids' reading. Read with them. There is no such thing as being too old for reading aloud! Find out what they're interested in and let them pursue it. Make friends with a librarian or a local bookseller. Expect your children to have a reading time at home every day, but let them decide what they will read. Model this behavior by being a reader yourself! If you're too busy to read, guess what . . . your children will be too. And don't worry if your child isn't reading Harry Potter when she's five, or War and Peace when she's in eighth grade. This isn't a race. It isn't for bragging rights. It's about getting connected with a good story, and learning to become a lifelong reader and learner.
Q: The Percy Jackson books have won lots of awards and honors (I was personally thrilled when the Lightning Thief was the first pick for Al Roker's Book Club for Kids on the Today Show). I've seen you write about this a bit on your blog, but I wanted to ask you here: What do you think are the attributes that make a "best book for kids"?
To me, it's pretty simple. Do kids enjoy it? Does it make them want to read more? Does it make them run down to the library and say, "What else have you got by this author? What other books do you have like this one?" Now that's a good book for kids.
Not every book works for every kid. That's a good thing, because it keeps more of us authors in business! It's great that we have a wide variety of books for kids to read. I truly believe that we're in the middle of a YA literature Renaissance right now. So many wonderful books out there! The publishers are willing to take a chance on new voices. They have decided kids will read if you just connect them to a book they love.
The only time I get worried is when adults push books that seem written for adults under the thin guise of being a "children's book." I know, as a child, I learned very quickly to run away from any book that sported an award medal, because that book was likely to bore the pants off me. My students, more often than not, had the same reaction whenever I tried to recommend an award-winning title. The kids would say, "Um, no thanks, have you got any other Harry Potter books?" The parents, on the other hand, would see it as a seal of approval. I even remember one colleague trying to prove how rigorous she was as an English teacher by telling me, "Oh, I don't allow my students to read the silver medal books. Only the gold medals are good enough!" I wonder how many of her students are big readers today? To be fair, I am not knocking every award-winning title by any means. There are many wonderful award books. However, I think the mark of a true award-winner is a book that manages to be both brilliant and accessible to kids.
Q: You seem to do a lot of school visits. Do you have any advice for new authors on making school visits successful?
School visits are wonderful! It's a win-win situation. The author gets to promote his or her books. The students get the chance to meet a real writer and get an inside look at the writing process. I wish we'd had author visits when I was a kid. I had the advantage of teaching middle school for a long time before I started doing author visits, and it was immensely helpful.
Being in front of a young audience was second nature to me. For writers who are just starting down that road, I would start small and local. Find some librarians and English teachers who are willing to have you come in. Talk to individual classrooms first, then work your way up to large assemblies. Try to engage the kids. Keep the presentation short, interesting, interactive, and if possible funny! I like to bring a lot of visuals and show-and-tell items like manuscripts and cover art. I play a Greek mythology game and give out little prizes. Practice your presentation, and if the kids like you, word will quickly spread. Other schools will start inviting you.
Q: I think that one of the best things about Percy Jackson as a character (besides his humorous voice) is the way he turns his ADHD into a positive force, and the way his dyslexia is a side effect of this whole cool thing by which he's a half-blood. Have you had a lot of feedback from kids who have ADHD or dyslexia about the books?
My son was the model for Percy, since he's ADHD/dyslexic. My father is also dyslexic, a fact he did not discover until he was an adult. So clearly, the condition runs in the family. I doubt I'm fully dyslexic, but I do have some of the markers, and it may be one reason I came so late to reading. I am still a very slow reader and an indifferent speller at best.
The thing about dyslexia/ADHD is that these conditions turn into strengths later in life. ADHD/dyslexic kids tend to be extremely articulate and fun to be around. Above all, they are creative thinkers, because they have been forced to find unorthodox ways to solve problems their entire school career.
This makes them highly valuable employees once they find a career that engages their interest. I've gotten many emails and letters from dyslexics and their parents. One child told me she now wears her dyslexia as a badge of honor. Another parent told me that her child was told he would never be able to read a book. A few months later, he discovered Percy Jackson and was reading all night under the covers until he finished the series! Another child without learning disabilities said she was really bummed not to have dyslexia, and was is okay for her to be a half-blood anyway!
Q: I know that the Percy Jackson series as a whole is inspired by and immersed in Greek Mythology. Are the specific characters of the half-bloods in the book (Percy, Annabeth, Thalia, etc.) inspired by any existing myths, or did they spring from your more modern-day experiences?
The main characters in the series are not based on mythological characters or on any particular people in real life. They are more composites of many different children I've taught over the years. Percy, Annabeth, Thalia, Clarisse - really all the campers - are kids I know well, because I've spent a lot of time with middle schoolers. I appreciate their sense of humor. I feel for their embarrassment and frustration. I love their enthusiasm and their quirkiness.
Q: I don't like to ask too many book-related questions, because I'm strongly anti-spoiler. But I can't resist asking: Will we see Rachel Elizabeth Dare again?
I love this question, because it tells me that I did something right! Yes, Rachel Elizabeth Dare was not just a random encounter. You will definitely be seeing her again.
Q: Potentially related question: will we see more romance in the last two books of the series, as the half-bloods get older?
Not giving anything away, but yes, as the characters get older, this issue will certainly come up. After all, Aphrodite in book three promised she would do her best to make things interesting for Percy in the romance department . . . and that can't be good!
Q: Can you tell us any thing about Percy 4?
Very little! The book is top secret. There will be no advance reader copies, and booksellers will be required to sign affidavits that they cannot sell the book before the release date of May 6. I will reveal the title and the cover in Publisher's Weekly (and on my website) on Oct. 4. Until then, I can only hint that the plot involves the most dangerous place in all of Greek mythology - the Labyrinth. (Editor's note: This interview took place in late September. See the Book 4 announcement here and here.)
Q: What cabin would you live in, if you were at Camp Half-Blood?
Oh Hermes, definitely. That's where all the action is!
Q: And one final, frivolous question: What would the music sound like for you, if you were at a party on Olympus? And what would ambrosia taste like?
Music on Olympus would probably sound strangely like the Grateful Dead. Ambrosia would taste like fresh corn tortillas with a little butter and homemade salsa.
I could go on all day, but I know that you're very busy. And I, for one, would hate to pull you away from too much time that could be spent working on Percy's further adventures. Thanks so much for your time! I can't wait to read Book 4.
Elsewhere is about a fifteen-year-old girl named Liz who dies in a sudden accident, and finds herself headed for "Elsewhere". In Elsewhere, people age backwards, until they are seven days old, at which point they are bundled up and sent back to be reborn. It's much more upbeat than it sounds. Liz is a strong, engaging character who goes through some struggles, and learns a great deal about life from her death.
Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac is about a seventeen-year-old girl named Naomi who, after a sudden fall down the front steps of her school, can't remember the past four years of her life. Not certain she's pleased with the person she's become during adolescence, Naomi embarks on a quest to solve the mystery of her own life.
As you can see from the above, Gabrielle is a master of developing intriguing premises. What makes her books worth coming back for, however, is her knack for humor, and her three-dimensional characterization. I've asked Gabrielle about both of her YA books (she also has an adult title, Margarettown, which I haven't had a chance to read). I think that you'll enjoy her responses.
Q: Your website says that you were a big reader as a kid. Was there an unusual place that you liked to read? (For example, I used to read up in a tree in my yard, and sometimes on the roof when I could get away with it).
I read in the greenhouse at my elementary school in Chappaqua, NY. It was warm, and plants make for excellent reading companions.
Q: Who would you rather hang out with: Liz from Elsewhere or Naomi from Memoirs?
Naomi -- deeply flawed people make for more interesting friends.
Q: Who do you think would be a better boyfriend: Owen from Elsewhere or Will from Memoirs?
Definitely Will. He's smarter and more verbal than Owen.
Q: Both Elsewhere and Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac deal with identity, explored in different ways. Liz looks back at her family via the Observation Deck, and gets a perspective on the hole that she's left behind. Naomi looks at herself in the mirror, and looks through her things, to figure out who she's become in the past four years. Do you think that figuring out who we are is a universal compulsion? Or is it more of a teen thing?
I think we "come of age" our whole lives which is why I find it hilarious that we tend to refer to novels about teenagers as "coming of age" novels.
What is Madame Bovary, for example, if not a coming of age novel? There are only two great subjects for books and for life: the first is how to grow up and the second is how to die.
Q: I think you might be a bit young for it, but did you ever watch Pretty in Pink? Because the 7-Imps and I kind of thought that Will reminded us of Duckie from that movie. He's delightfully unconventional.
I watched Pretty in Pink again for you! I hadn't seen it since I was really little. I think Will is both smarter and more ambitious than Ducky. When I was in high school, my dad used to always tell me, "The nerds make the best boyfriends." Will, like Ducky, was that guy you should have dated.
Q: I think that you have a real knack for interesting premises. What comes first for you: the premise or the characters?
The premise comes first. And then I have to forget the premise, as strange as that probably sounds. Once I have the characters, I must write for them or everything in the story will be false. And to further complicate matters, I find that the characters usually change the premise as I go along.
Characters don't tend to care about my initial thoughts for the premise at all.
Q: Is it hard to write about your characters when they're difficult, or making bad decisions? Like when Liz is thinking about going back to Earth early, and when Naomi is thoughtless towards Will regarding the mix tape he gave her. I think that these things give the books tremendous depth, but it just seems like it would be tough to write, because you'd want your protagonists to be smart and nice all the time.
It isn't particularly hard -- except that every bad decision makes the book longer! I'm not "smart and nice all the time" and so I don't expect my characters to be either. Sometimes, it seems like the worst quality a girl is allowed to have in a YA novel is a charming clumsiness. Or occasionally yells at her brother. Or something else that isn't really a flaw at all.
Q: I loved the concept of people finding their avocation in Elsewhere. You touched on this again in Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac (when Naomi muses about how Will is passionate about the yearbook, and Alice her play). And your other interviews suggest that you've found your avocation as a writer. Where does this come from for you as a necessary theme? Do you think that people in general would be happier if they went after their avocations/passions earlier, and with more directness?
You might get the idea from ELSEWHERE that I believe in reincarnation or multiple lives -- well, I don't. I really believe that you only go around once, and we must must must fit all of it in. On the other side of that, I don't necessarily think that work and life are the same things. My dad and mom both worked in computers, but had incredibly creative "after 5 PM" lives.
Q: Another theme that recurs in your two YA books is loss. Liz loses her family (and they her), Owen loses his wife, Will loses his father, and James loses his brother. Naomi loses herself in amnesia, and learns that she's estranged herself from her mother. And yes, despite all this loss, the books are both essentially upbeat. How do you pull that off?
Well, book writing is a cheap sort of therapy for me. This is to say, most of my books have been a sort of elaborate pep talk to myself. I usually start a story because I've been asking some question in my personal life.
With MEMOIRS, my grandmother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and the question I was asking was, Is a person more than his or her memories and experiences? With ELSEWHERE, September 11th had happened and my dog had a lump and I had a series of other personal tragedies, and the question I was asking was, How do we live in the world when it is filled with so much loss? So, I write books to find answers. ELSEWHERE could have gone many ways -- I didn't necessarily think when I started that it would end up as hopefully as it did.
Q: Amnesiac has lots of flashes of humor (Elsewhere may, too, but I don't have quotes, because I only have it on MP3). Does the humor come naturally for you as you're writing, or is that something you add in on revisions?
I'm always looking for the humor in a situation. Life is better with laughter, and so are books.
Q: Any progress on the possible prequel to Elsewhere that you mention on your website? Or was that not serious? Is there anything else that you're working on that you can tell us about?
No progress to report, my dear -- if I should every write a prequel to ELSEWHERE, I think it would be interesting for me to be MUCH, MUCH older when I did it -- I was twenty-five when I wrote ELSEWHERE. Currently, I am in the midst of a book for the grown ups and in the glorious beginning of something for the children.
Thanks so much for your time, Gabrielle! It's been wonderful getting to know you better, after enjoying your YA books so much.
Do go check out these amazing interviews! Thanks to Little Willow for direct links to today's interviews (clicking on the author name goes to the direct interview, clicking on the blog name goes to the main page of the blog).
The schedule is now available for next week's Winter Blog Blast Tour, brainchild of Colleen Mondor from Chasing Ray. The Winter Blog Blast Tour (WBBT) is a series of nearly 50 children's and YA author interviews taking place across some 20 blogs during the same week. As you can see below, it is going to be amazing! Here's the schedule so far, as taken from Chasing Ray. A few other interviews may be added at the last minute, but these should all be good to go. I'll be posting interviews with Gabrielle Zevin and Rick Riordan. I hope you'll all stop by.
Here is the final recap of the Summer Blog Blast Tour, with thanks to HipWriterMama and Lectitans for compiling and organizing the links. And of course, huge thanks for Colleen Mondor for conceiving of and organizing the whole thing. You might enjoy reading Colleen's post about the logistics of the enterprise. Here's the recap by author, with direct links to each interview.
By all reckoning, the SBBT was a success. Lots of great interviews, lots of great exposure for a wonderful and diverse set of authors. Thanks so much to everyone who participated, to the people who read the interviews, and especially those of you who took time to comment. I hope that everyone found new and interesting book recommendations. As for the team of bloggers who brought you the SBBT, we're not done yet. We'll be back with other exciting projects. Stay tuned!
Today have the final interview of the Summer Blog Blast Tour, in which Readergirlz diva Justina Chen Headley wraps things up at Finding Wonderland. Overall, we've had more than fifty author interviews, with a variety of authors, covering a variety of genres. It's been thought-provoking and inspiring. Huge round of applause for Colleen Mondor and the other bloggers, and for all of the wonderful authors who showed their faith in the Kidlitosphere by participating. Thanks for visiting with the SBBT team. I'm sure that we'll be back in the future with more to say.
The Summer Blog Blast Tour is nearing it's close, at our sixth out of seven days of fabulous author interviews, but still going strong. Today we have ten more interviews, including a first appearance by Tim Tharp. I can't wait to go read more books by our participating authors, can you?
I'm pleased to welcome Jordan Sonneblick today as part of the Summer Blog Blast Tour. Jordan is the author of Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie (review) and Notes from the Midnight Driver (review). Both are laugh-out-loud funny books, despite being based on serious underlying topics. Drums, Girls is about a 13-year-old boy whose pesky younger brother is diagnosed with cancer. Midnight Driver is about a 16-year-old boy who steps out of line and is sentenced to community service visiting with a crusty old man. What makes them funny is the wry, self-deprecating and utterly believable voices that Jordan brings to each of his characters. My questions are in bold.
Thanks for being here today, Jordan. First question, did you read a lot as a kid?
The DARK IS RISING sequence, by Susan Cooper, was the big turning point. After I read her books, I was hooked for life.
Tell me about a favorite and/or unusual place that you've read books (as a child or an adult)?
No special spot -- I will read ANYWHERE!
When did you start writing? Or did you always write?
I always wrote when I was a kid. Then I basically took a break from the end of high school right up until the day I started writing DRUMS, GIRLS & DANGEROUS PIE. Apparently, the fifteen-year hiatus was a necessary part of my development.
Your website says that you are a middle school English teacher. Are you still teaching full-time?
I am on a two-year leave of absence, but I am planning to go back in fall 2009. I meet tons of kids on school visits, but I miss having my OWN students.
Both of your books feature musicians. For Steven from Drums, Girls, especially, music is his thing - what he can get lost in, and know that he's doing something great. Your website picture shows you holding a guitar. Do you play drums, too? Have you ever played in a band? Or the school band?
I play drums, guitar, and bass. If I just had some more arms, I could be a fairly decent rock band.
Both Steven and Alex go through significant personal growth in their respective books. They each start out not quite doing the right thing, and even railing against what they know they're supposed to be doing. Steven has trouble being there for the sick younger brother who adores him. And Alex starts out feeling quite sorry for himself for having to spend time with the crusty Sol in a nursing home. Did you, as the author, always know that they would evolve to do the right thing? Or were you figuring it out along the way with them?
I'm a big pre-plotter. Both DRUMS and NOTES were very heavily outlined beforehand. I don't generally know how characters are going to interact in each specific scene, but I do know, in broad strokes, how the protagonists will change, and I always know the last line of the book before I start writing. I sort of think a good analogy would be to a road-trip vacation: you have roadmaps, or Mapquest directions or whatever, and you know the kids are going to fight in the car -- but you have no idea how and when each fight will arise. Even within a tight outline, your characters will surprise you just as your kids do.
One of my favorite thing about both of your books is their narrative voice, in each case wryly sarcastic, sometimes self-deprecating, and utterly believable as the voice of a teenage boy (though there are certainly > differences between Steven and Alex). What I'm wondering is, does this voice stem more from your own internal 14-year-old, or from spending time with kids as a teacher and visitor to schools?
I have certainly learned a ton from my students in the 14 years I've spent as a teacher, but I think that mostly comes out in my plot details. My continued sense of teen-boy voice is almost totally a result of my general immaturity.
Your books make me laugh out loud, and I heard that same feedback recently from a 12-year-old girl who I know. Does this humor come naturally in your early writing, or is it something that you add more on revision? I find it especially interesting because both of your books deal with such serious topics.
For me, funny is easy as I'm drafting -- I was always the smart-mouthed kid who got kicked out of class. The serious parts are the challenge. Truthfully, I think that the reason I couldn't write for fifteen years before DRUMS was because I needed some life experiences -- marriage, becoming a parent, being a teacher -- so that I could become a person who could handle being serious in print.
I love the character of Sol from Midnight Driver. Was Sol, and/or Alex's relationship with someone elderly and different from him, inspired by some real-life person or event? I remember reading that you wrote Drums, Girls at least in part in response to a girl from one of your classes, who had a younger sibling with cancer, and wondered if that was the case with Notes from the Midnight Driver.
Sol is a composite character: he's basically a combination of my favorite grandfather's vocabulary and personality, the illness (and reaction to it) of a roommate my grandfather had in the hospital a week before I started writing NOTES, and a totally made-up musical career. The biggest of those three components is my Grampa Sol, who was always extremely crusty and snappish with everyone else in the world, but endlessly warm and attentive with me. He was also a teacher and writer, so obviously his influence on me was just huge. Grampa Sol is 96 years old now, fairly docile, and quite senile, so it was really important for me to capture some of his old fierceness on the page.
Are you working on another book? Is there anything that you can tell us about it? Will we find out more about Alex and Laurie in the next book? (It was such a pleasant surprise to see Steven from Drums, Girls, show up in Midnight Driver.)
My next two books are finished already, so I'm just chomping at the bit for their pub dates to roll around. ZEN AND THE ART OF FAKING IT will be published by Scholastic in October, and is about an 8th grader who lies to his whole school, mostly to impress a girl. Then, in the spring, a new division of Holtzbrinck, called Feiwel & Friends, will publish my first middle-grade novel, tentatively titled DODGER & ME. I wrote D&M for my 9-year-old son; it's about baseball, an imaginary blue chimp, and what happens when girls stop being yucky.
And here we are with Day 4 of the Summer Blog Blast Tour. Are you beginning to get a sense of the care and effort that have gone into putting together all of these interviews? Of course most of the credit goes to the SBBT's creator and organizer, Colleen Mondor of Chasing Ray. Lots of new authors to hear from today, not to mention a few you should be getting to know fairly well by now. Happy reading!
Today's Summer Blog Blast Tour guest is Kirsten Miller, author of Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City (review) and Kiki Strike: The Empress's Tomb (due out in October). The Kiki Strike books are about a band of intrepid young girls (they are 12 in the first book) who fight dangerous enemies and guard a hidden city beneath the streets of New York City. Here, Kirsten discusses some of the inspirations for the books, and gives us just a few hints about what's coming in The Empress's Tomb. She also shares a fascinating ghost story. Read on! My questions are in bold.
Did you read a lot as a kid?
Oh yeah. I grew up in a very small town in the mountains of North Carolina, so there wasn’t much else to do. Fortunately, my parents had a fairly large library, and nothing was off-limits. So I transitioned to adult books early on. I went straight from Dr. Seuss to the Amityville Horror. It was only later (when I was in my early teens) that I went back and gobbled up all the children’s classics and realized what I’d been missing. Even today, if I’m looking for something to read for pleasure, I’ll pick up a YA book before just about anything else.
(However, I’ll admit that if video games were as fantastic back then as they are now, I would have spent a lot more time hunting for treasure and kicking bad guy butt as a kid.)
Tell me about a favorite and/or unusual place that you've read books (as a child or an adult)?
I often read in the bathtub, and I’m incredibly clumsy, so it’s never a good idea to loan me a book. Every single book I own has significant water damage. But I firmly believe that a well-worn book is a well-loved book. (At least that’s what I tell my friends after I’ve destroyed their books.)
When did you start writing? Or did you always write?
I’ve always written, I guess. A few years back, my parents moved house and shipped all of my childhood belongings to me. (Quite a cruel thing to do to someone who lives in a New York apartment.) I found all sorts of adventure stories that I’d written as a kid. Apparently I was obsessed with aliens and ghosts—surprise, surprise. As a college student I went through a terrible phase of writing morbid stories about my life’s trials and tribulations. Very dull stuff—especially given the fact that I haven’t experienced that many trials or tribulations. Oddly enough, I’ve now come full circle and am back to penning the same sort of tales I wrote when I was ten.
Have you thought about starting a blog of your own? Or are you content with Ananka's blog?
I’ve thought about writing a blog of my own, but as I’m sure you know it’s really hard work. I couldn’t possibly do two at once. Also, I find the stuff posted on “Ananka’s Diary” at kikistrike.com far more interesting than anything I could write about myself. I really am fascinated by giant squid, Bigfoot-like creatures, and Japanese television, so I get a kick out of introducing kids (and adults) to them. And of course, it’s all fodder for writing more crazy books.
Where did you get the idea of writing about the Shadow City beneath New York?
I’ve always been a big fan of underground places. Whenever I visit a new city, I’ll hunt through the guidebooks for subterranean sites to visit. (They’re surprisingly common.) But I suppose my interest in forgotten worlds dates from my childhood. There were mines in the woods around my family’s house, and my sister and I used to play in them. They weren’t the dangerous underground variety, unfortunately, but rather large pits that had been dug in the nineteenth century. We felt as if we’d found the traces of lost society. As far as we knew, we were the only ones who were aware of their existence.
As an adult, I became fascinated by New York history. In the course of my reading, I discovered that there are, in fact, tunnels beneath Manhattan. (Though not quite on the scale of the Shadow City.) Put two and two together and . . .
Ananka is the narrator of Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City, even though she's more side-kick than main superhero. Do you identify with Ananka more than with Kiki yourself, because she's a writer/researcher? Or is this more a way to make keep Kiki mysterious?
Both. The book isn’t a “whodunit” in the classic sense—though it is a mystery. (I’ll argue that one to the death!) The mystery is the nature of Kiki Strike’s identity. Who is she? What makes her tick? Why has she formed the Irregulars, and what does she intend to do with them? So while Kiki was the first character to pop into my mind, I knew from the beginning that it would be difficult (if not impossible) for her to tell her own story.
That’s not to say that Ananka was invented as a means of addressing a narrative challenge. I do identify with her quite a bit. Kiki’s the cool, mysterious character most of us would like to be, but Ananka’s the sort of person we all have a chance of becoming. She’s the book’s true hero—its real “girl detective.”
My favorite parts of the book are the little "spy handbook" sections, like "How to follow someone ... without getting caught" at the ends of the chapters. Did those come to you early in the writing process, or were they something that you added on later? Do you think that you'll ever publish a pure "spy handbook" with suggestions like these?
Ooooh—good idea! I love the idea of a spy handbook for girls. There are tons right now for boys, which doesn’t seem quite fair, does it?
The “how to” sidebars were one of the first ideas I had. I thought it would be cool to combine an adventure story with information that readers could use in the real world. Although they’re funny, they were also meant to underscore the book’s main messages, (doesn’t that sound grand), which are essentially:
1) There’s no excuse for boredom. The world is a fascinating place if you bother to pay attention. 2) It’s possible to be girly and dangerous. 3) Low expectations can be a blessing in disguise. 4) Always keep a roll of duct tape handy.
Were you ever a Girl Scout? (this question was suggested by a 12-year-old friend) If so, were you a rebellious Girl Scout?
Heehee. Yes, I was a Girl Scout. But I’ve always had problems with authority, (a trait I inherited from my mother, who shares much in common with Luz Lopez), so I didn’t last very long. I remember feeling quite disappointed that we were making (and selling) cookies instead of learning how to rock climb, survive in the woods, or track dangerous animals. (Which makes me sound like a tomboy, I guess. I really wasn’t. I’d have been the one doing all of that in lip gloss and fancy shoes.)
When you set out to write these books, were you deliberately looking to provide strong, action-oriented examples for middle school age girls, or is that just what came out?
Not long after I started writing the book, I saw a clip on CNN about a ten-year-old girl who’d been kidnapped while riding her bike. As she told it, a man had stopped her with “that boring old I lost my puppy dog story.” Of course she didn’t believe a word of it. So when it became clear that she couldn’t be fooled, the man forced her into his truck. The girl (I wish I could remember her name) proceeded to scream, shout, and beat the living hell out of him. (Judging by her smirk as she recounted the incident, the girl enjoyed herself thoroughly.) Eventually, the man figured he couldn’t kidnap such a pain in the butt and kicked her out of his truck.
That’s the kind of girl I wanted to portray. The world would be a much safer, more enjoyable place for girls if we knew when to mind our manners—and when not to.
I've heard a bit of feedback about the Kiki Strike books that although they are wonderful in terms of featuring strong girl characters, they aren't very boy-friendly. Did you think about that at all? Would you ever give male characters a stronger part to play in one of your books?
You know it’s funny—some of the most positive response I’ve gotten have been from males (young and old). And whenever I’ve read to groups of kids, the boys have been extremely enthusiastic and engaged. (As one boy put it, the book had “just the right number of explosions.”) If fact, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by boys’ reactions. When I was in middle school, my male classmates would have turned up their noses at any book with a girl on the cover. Talk about progress!
That having been said, there are boys in The Empress’s Tomb. (My favorite is a boy genius who lives in Central Park.) So to the fifth grade boy who once asked me if I thought “boys could make good Irregulars,” the answer, of course, is YES!
The six Irregulars are all quite different from one another, in both strengths and nationalities. Did they each appear to you, demanding to be written about? Or were you, in some cases, looking for particular traits, and you kind of went looking for the characters. Kiki, especially, is such a unique character that I wonder if she popped up in your mind first.
In many ways, the book is a love letter to New York, and I wanted the Irregulars to reflect the fascinating ethnic mix you find in the city. (As well as represent my favorite neighborhoods.) And I thought it would be interesting to see how six girls from different walks of life (rich, poor, royal, non-royal) would come together to fight the forces of evil.
Kiki was the first character to arrive, but the rest of the girls weren’t far behind. Some of them (namely Oona) demanded my attention more than others, but I found all six fascinating in their own ways. I knew I’d be spending a great deal of time with them, so each needed to be a person I was curious to learn more about. In the end, I guess I created my ideal group of friends.
It was neat seeing Oona get more of a central role in The Empress's Tomb. Did you know in the first book what her parentage was going to turn out to be?
(Hmm. Let’s see if I can answer this without giving too much away.) I’ve known Oona’s secret for quite some time. The plot of The Empress’s Tomb took shape as I was writing Kiki Strike, so it was easy to slip in a few clues about Oona’s background here and there. (In fact, there are clues about the other girls in the first book, too.)
In The Empress's Tomb, Ananka notes that "Any person who believes in ghosts has at least one good story to share." Do you have any real-world ghost stories? Or, have you ever personally tested out any of the methods in the "How to Summon a Poltergeist" section?
I haven’t tried my hand at impersonating a poltergeist yet—though I had a lot of fun writing that particular section. I have, however, seen a ghost. When I was quite young, my family lived in an old farmhouse, and until I was six, my sister and I shared a room. Unfortunately, my sister was already well on her way to becoming one of the biggest slobs in the known universe, and I eventually demanded my own clutter-free space. So my parents let me move to a small chamber at the back of the house that had previously been used for storage. A few days later, I was making my bed when I looked up to see an unfamiliar man leaning against my dresser. He wasn’t particularly frightening—in fact he seemed rather pleasant. As soon as I started screaming, he vanished.
That wasn’t the last time I saw him. Over the next few months, he randomly appeared in my bedroom. I’d be playing with my toys or reading a book, and I’d look up find him watching me. At first, my mother made light of the situation. But one day she came home and insisted that I move back into the room I had shared with my sister. As much as I hated to admit defeat, I didn’t argue. I later discovered that my mother had just been to see the woman who had sold my parents the house. She’d discovered that the woman’s husband had died in our house’s back bedroom. The woman showed my mother a picture. It was the same man I had described seeing in my room.
That’s a true story!
Are the giant squirrels in Empress based on real animals? Have you ever seen them?
Yes, the Black Giant Squirrels of Malaysia are very real. They have black and yellow fur, and they’re as big as cats (around three long feet, including tail), but their behavior is much like that of the squirrels you’d see in any American park.
I’ve always been intrigued by squirrels of all shapes and sizes. Few other species manage to inspire such love—or loathing. I’m always blown away by the number of anti-squirrel sites one can find on the Internet. There are people who seem to devote their entire lives to exposing squirrels as a menace to mankind.
People who know of my interest in squirrels will often send me videos or website links. I first saw a Black Giant Squirrel in one such video and immediately knew it would have a place in my book. Someday I’d like to see one in the wild.
You can ignore this one if you've already answered it for other blog tour participants, but: Will there be a third Kiki Strike book?
You’re the first person to ask so far. The answer is . . . maybe.
We can only hope. The second book is, if anything, better than the first.
I'm still digging through yesterday's wonderful Summer Blog Blast Tour interviews. And today there are eleven more. Talk about an embarrassment of riches! My own interview of Kirsten Miller is coming out today. I'm very excited about that because she gave some GREAT responses to my questions. Enjoy!
Welcome to Day 2 of the Summer Blog Blast Tour. This is when things start to get really exciting. We have ten interviews with eleven fantastic authors (including a husband and wife team) and twelve amazing interviewers (7-Imp and Finding Wonderland are each team blogs). I can't wait to hear what everyone has to say.
I'm pleased to be participating next week's the Summer Blog Blast Tour (SBBT), organized by the fabulous Colleen Mondor of Chasing Ray. The SBBT is a week-long series of author interviews, designed (as Colleen says) "to rock the literary world", and show what great things kid lit bloggers can do. Tons of amazing authors and bloggers are participating. I'll be interviewing Kirsten Miller (on Tuesday) and Jordan Sonnenblick (on Thursday), and I look forward to seeing everyone else's interviews, too. Here's the full schedule:
Today I have the unusual distinction of welcoming a fictional character to my blog for an interview. I'm pleased to greet Sameera (Sparrow) Righton, daughter of fictional Presidential candidate James Righton. Sparrow makes her first appearance in First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover, which is being published TODAY! She also blogs at Sparrowblog, where she discusses the real 2008 First Kid wannabees and their parents. I highly recommend that you check out both book and blog, to experience Sparrow's unique and dynamic personality. But first, you can meet her here. My questions are in bold. First Daughter was written by the Kidlitosphere's own Mitali Perkins.
What's your favorite book?
Sorry, Jen, I know how much you love books, but I prefer getting my story fix at the movie theater.
Do you think we'll hear more from you about Bobby? Or perhaps more about Tom Banforth???
You've been all over the world. What's the nicest, and/or most unusual, place that you've ever read? Or blogged?
Probably the orphanage in Pakistan that closed down after I was adopted. I'd love to go back and see it someday. Now I'm wondering if and how that's ever going to work out, especially with my father's ... public situation. Wouldn't the press have a great time tracking my journey "home"? Yow. Scary.
You clearly love to write on your blog. Have you considered writing fictional stories? Or are you more of a "write to change the real world" sort of girl?
My cousin Ran and I might write a screenplay for a flick. Good stories can change the world -- take Uncle Tom's Cabin, for instance.
In terms of your blog, how do you think that your words can help affect positive change in the world?
I hope it will be a fun, safe place where people can read about the First Kid wannabes. I'm not out to tear anybody down (I know how THAT feels), but I think it's fun to find out stuff about the candidates' families. If people come to sparrowblog first, they'll get a positive "purple" take on ALL the candidates -- not just a "blue" or "red" view that tries to rip apart the oppposition.
Do you think you'll be able to pull off your burka disguise when your father is in the White House? Or do you think it's too risky? You could be kidnapped, after all.
You'll have to wait for Book Two to find out what happens to me and my burka. It's exciting.
When you do get into the White House, will you try to broaden the menu to include more South Asian food? Or, to make that question more general, now that you're come out with your personal blog, do you expect to portray more of your true self, with less worry about portraying yourself as the all-American girl?
You bet I am. I don't stress much about that anyway -- the campaign staff got a little freaky about me being Pakistani, not me. Besides, All-American girls these days are dancing bhangra, the hula, and cool urban funk, we're eating samosas, tabouli, and burgers and fries, and we're wearing our hair under burkas, in rasta locks, and long and loose. I'm sure the White House chefs cook a lot of international food, so I'm not planning to change the menu.
How are you adjusting to those high-heeled shoes? You mentioned that you in general liked the makeover, because you felt less invisible with a bit of polish, and more fashionable (if artificially shaped in some cases) clothes. Do you think that the glamour girl clothes and makeup will come to seem natural to you? Or will you always be most comfortable in the clothes that you wear on the farm? Will you go back to buy more clothes from Muhammad's Attire?
Clothes are like costumes -- they tell people something about who you are, so if you change them, you can manage people's perceptions of you. I like being able to switch it around, go glam, farm, South Asian, or a fusion of all three depending on who I'm going to be with and what I want to say about myself. As Ran says, why get stuck in a fashion rut, anyway?
You've expressed concern about your cousin Ran from the country spending time with you in the media spotlight, and losing her innocence. Yet you can't exclude her from it without hurting her feelings, and I'm sure that it's more fun for your to have her around. Do you have any plan for how to shield her?
Turns out Ran can handle herself pretty well, as you'll find out in Book Two.
I've enjoyed reading about how your "circles" have grown, strengthened, and linked with one another, from your MyPlace friends to your SARSA friends to Muhammad's family. Do you think that it will be a challenge to keep your tight connections with people once you are in the White House? How will you work towards that?
That's what I love about blogging, Jen, as you know yourself. You can hold a circle around you that stays tight, even as it gets wider and wider to include more people. It doesn't make sense, I know, but things are weird in the virtual world.
I just want to add that I love the fact that one of your MyPlace buddies, and the only one over the age of twenty on the list, is a librarian. I can't think of a question about that, but Mrs. Graves is great.
Wow, you're right. Just turned out that way. I wasn't trying to sweet talk any librarians reading the book, I promise.
Thanks so much, Jen, for your great questions. Come visit me in the White House via Book Two!
I'm thrilled to be participating in the first ever blog tour by Sameera "Sparrow" Righton, protagonist of First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover, by Mitali Perkins. Yes, Sparrow is a fictional character, but I figure if she has her own blog, she can go on tour, too. Here's the agenda, in which she visits several wonderful blog friends of mine:
I'm pleased to be the third stop for Margo Rabb's blog tour, in promotion of her fabulous new young adult novel, Cures for Heartbreak. I learned about Margo, and the blog tour, from Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray, and I'm so glad that I was able to participate. It's been wonderful getting to know Margo a little bit, and I hope that we'll have a chance to chat in person one of these days.
Here's an excerpt from my very positive review of the book: "Cures for Heartbreak is about how 15-year-old Mia Pearlman copes with her mother's sudden death from melanoma, and her father's subsequent hospitalization for heart problems. Which might make you think that it's a sad or depressing book. But it isn't. Cures for Heartbreak is funny and compelling, with a heady mix of the philosophical and the absurd." And then I went on and on in praise of the book. It was a book that made me think, and continues to make me think. About loss and grief, but also about living life to the fullest.
I also recommend that you check out Kelly Herold's review at Big A little a and Colleen's reaction to the book at Chasing Ray. I completely agree with Colleen's statement that "I can not stress enough how her new book will appeal to both teen and adult readers and I strongly recommend adults to seek it out." If you'd like a chance to review the book yourself, Margo's publisher is giving away a book a day during the tour. Just email email@example.com. One winner will chosen at random each day.
And now, on to the interview.
Q: I noticed that you aren't afraid to use colons and semi-colons in your writing.Is this something that you picked up in college? Are you a real stickler for grammar?
A: I've always had a thing for semi-colons and colons—I love varying the structure, pace, and rhythm of a sentence until it feels exactly right. I'm a painstaking reviser—barely any sentence present in the first draft remains in the final draft. (Oh—and I seem to like dashes lately too.)
I'm not a huge stickler for grammar, but my mother was a copy editor, so the importance of grammar and spelling was instilled in my sister and me from an early age. She kept a postcard of a cartoon picturing vigilante proofreaders correcting "Kwik Mart" and "While U Wait" signs with spray paint, which always seemed hysterically funny to me—so maybe I am a stickler after all.
Q: Have you always wanted to be a writer? Have you always wanted to write specifically for and about teens?
A: I've wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, and I've always loved young adult novels. I'm drawn to teenage narrators since those years still feel so fresh in my mind. As a teen you have so many of the problems an adult has, but no experience or knowledge of how to cope with them. When I was writing CURES, however, I didn't actually think of it as a young adult novel. I thought it was an adult book until the day it sold to a young adult publisher. Even though it featured a teen narrator, I thought the structure of the book (a novel in stories) and the retrospective tone made it adult. I'm convinced that for many novels, the designation of adult vs. young adult is the publisher's decision. The same is true for short stories—the chapter "Seduce Me" in CURES appeared both in Seventeen and the literary magazine Shenandoah, which has an adult readership.
Q: Are you as much of a junk-food addict as Mia? What's your favorite form of chocolate?
A: Well, as I was typing this I just finished off a Kit Kat. (And I wouldn't mind washing it down with a Yoo-hoo if I had one on hand.) My favorite chocolates of all time are made by a shop called MarieBelle in New York City—each one looks like a miniature work of art.
Q: I loved Mia's day playing hooky with Kelsey. It reminded me of sitting on the grass one day outside my high school with a friend, eating vast quantities of M&Ms, and talking about everything and nothing. Did you have a friend like Kelsey in high school?
A: Kelsey is based on my friend Julien, who has been one of my closest friends since our freshman year of high school. Even though it's been over fifteen years since high school, when we spend the day shopping together it feels like we're still sixteen.
Q: I'm in awe of your bravery in putting your own grief up for public viewing through this book. I think that the afterword contributes a lot to the emotional punch of the book. Was it hard for you to actually add that afterword to the book, given the way it kind of removes the veil of fictionalization?
A: My editors suggested that I write the afterword—they thought it might add a lot to the book. I'm glad I wrote it. The funny thing is that while I'm writing, I usually convince myself that no one else will ever read what I'm working on—I think that lets me be more honest and unself-conscious. It's only during final drafts that I think of others reading it and having it on public view—a thought which makes me revise everything even more heavily. The one drawback of writing something that has any base in reality is that people will assume everything is true. The character of Fanny Gluckman is completely invented (as are many other characters in the book), but a friend once said, "You're so lucky that you have that good friend of your mother's around!" Indeed.
Q: Have you given any thought to starting a blog yourself?
A: I have a few blog entries on my newly created myspace page. I'd love to have a real blog, and maybe I will at some point, but at the moment I have so little time to write that I'm afraid a blog would take away from writing fiction. Also, with my revision habits it would probably take me six months to finish one blog post.
Q: What book on your "to read" stack are you most eager to get to?
A: I can't wait to read Alice Munro's The View from Castle Rock. I'm also looking forward to Daria Snadowsky's Anatomy of A Boyfriend—I was a huge fan of Forever by Judy Blume (Ralph, of course, is permanently imprinted in my brain) and I hear that this is sort of an updated version.
Q: Are you working on another novel? Is there anything that you can tell us about it?
A: I'm working on a new novel that's about halfway finished. It's a bit more lighthearted than Cures for Heartbreak, and there's a lot of food and New York City in it. At least that's what it is now—after five thousand more drafts, who knows what it will be?
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