Category Archives: author interview
Nancy Grossman is the author of A World Away, a story about an Amish teen named Eliza who wishes to experience the modern world. I recently listened to this book and couldn’t stop thinking about Eliza and the difficult choices she must make between her home and her new life. Nancy Grossman sheds some light on the inspiration for the story, how she researched the Amish community, and of course, her favorite writing snack.
Where did you get the idea for A World Away? Do you have any personal ties to the Amish community?
Every year I take a trip with two of my girlfriends from high school. One year we chose Lancaster, PA, because (frankly) we were curious about the Amish. The inn where we stayed offered guests the opportunity to have dinner at an Amish house, and there I met a 15-year-old Amish girl who talked to me about her love for reading. That dinner (described in the first chapter of the book) was a revelation to me. The house was dim and rustic, but so comfortable, and I remember how the mother carried a lantern outside to guide us to our cars because the darkness was so absolute. I was quite taken with this world, and the young Amish girl I met at the dinner, and after I came home the images of the kapps and aprons and lanterns stayed with me. I imagined what it would have been like to take this girl home and show her our world, and I tried out a few narrative ideas that would place an Amish teenager here. One day my husband showed me a newspaper article about Rumspringa, the time when Amish youth are allowed to run wild before deciding to join the church, and I felt that I’d found the premise for my story.
How did you research the Amish community? Did you have the opportunity to interview people or visit an Amish village?
I read a lot of books and articles about the Amish culture, including one text specifically about Rumspringa. This research helped me understand some of the history and ideology of the Amish way of life, while providing me with some practical explanations of how they go about their daily lives without electricity. I also viewed the documentary “The Devil’s Playground”, about Amish youth during Rumspringa, and I watched the movie Witness about thirty times! I didn’t have the opportunity to interview any Amish, but I did read several interviews as well as first-person accounts written by Amish people. And I also recalled my conversations with the Amish girl and her mother (though those occurred before I knew I’d be writing the book.)
In the book, Eliza keeps a journal of all of her “first experiences” living in a new world. Which one of these is your favorite?
The journal portions of the book went through many revisions. Originally, I wrote the book in third person, so the journal was an important means of hearing Eliza’s voice. Then, on the excellent advice of an agent, I rewrote the story in first person from Eliza’s point of view. This change was critical for the narrative, but I found that it made the journal passages a bit superfluous. We were already hearing her voice as the narrator, and there was no need to have more than one version of how the events were unfolding for her. But the journal was still necessary as a device through which Eliza learned about her mother’s secrets (sorry for the spoiler!). So my editor and I brainstormed about how to best convey Eliza’s experience through the journal without being repetitive, and we came up with the idea of the “new experiences” list.
My favorite parts of her list were the references to the Cubs. I grew up in a Cubs-obsessed family, and I have many childhood memories of going to Cubs games, and watching games on TV, and hoping each year that it would be the Cubs’ year, and lamenting at the end of the season that it wasn’t. My dad taught me how to keep a scorecard at the games, and I later taught my son, who is now a sports journalist, how to read the box scores. I enjoyed incorporating that part of my experience in the book.
What was the most challenging part about writing this story?
I loved imagining Eliza’s life at home, and those scenes were so much fun to write. But once I got her to our world I found it a bit challenging to see this place through her eyes without boring the readers with information they already knew. The “fish out of water” passages were a central part of the narrative, but they had to be handled with care so as not to be tedious or overdone.
I have to admit that I also struggled a little with the romantic scenes in the book. I was a shy and awkward adolescent, and I never had a teenage romance or went to a school dance. While I was never an Amish girl either, I was at least able to research that life. For Eliza’s scenes with Josh and Daniel, I had to imagine what those interactions were like, so those parts of the book took a different type of writing effort.
I always like to ask authors: do you have any favorite reading (or writing) snacks?
I always have a bag of 5-flavor lifesavers with me when I read and write. Cherry is my favorite.
Thank you, Nancy! For more information about Nancy Grossman’s book A World Away, please visit her website: http://nancy-grossman.com
This spring I was lucky enough to hear Donn Fendler, Lynn Plourde, and Ben Bishop speak about their graphic novel, Lost Trail. Most Mainers are familiar with Donn Fendler’s story as told in Lost on a Mountain in Maine. Lost Trail brings this amazing tale to a new generation of readers.
Here’s my interview with Lynn Plourde:
How is writing a graphic novel different from writing a picture book?
There are several differences. One is length. A typed picture book manuscript is usually 3-6 pages, but the Lost Trail manuscript was about 50 pages. My picture books are fiction (other than a biography I did of Margaret Chase Smith) so I get to make up those stories. Lost Trail is a true story and it’s Donn Fendler’s story—so that meant working closely with him to make sure the story was accurate as well as researching the rescue efforts to add that information to the book. Finally, writing a graphic novel is more like writing a movie script. Instead of paragraphs, there’s line after line of dialogue, thought bubble words, along with brief text in narration boxes. The words have to add to but stay out of the way of all the illustrations in a graphic novel. Also, when I write, I always read the words aloud over and over to hear if there are places where I need to make changes. But reading just the words aloud for Lost Trail didn’t really work—graphic novels aren’t read-aloud stories. They need the illustrations to complete the story.
What did you think when you first read Lost on a Mountain in Maine?
I read Lost on a Mountain in Maine as a grown-up, not a kid. But I remember thinking that was one lucky 12-year-old to survive all those days alone in the Maine wilderness. Actually, I considered it a Maine miracle that Donn Fendler survived. I still get goosebumps when I think about the moment he came out of the woods to see the McMoarn’s cabin—because I know that if one little thing had happened differently he wouldn’t have made it. But he did!
In your opinion, why is Donn Fendler’s story perfect for the graphic novel format?
Donn Fendler’s story is perfect for the graphic novel format because it is so visual—a mighty mountain versus a small boy, a sleet storm in July, the Pamola creature, deer and bears. With the illustrations in a graphic novel, readers can feel like they are looking over Donn’s shoulder as the story unfolds. It’s like a movie on paper. Also, Stephen King put it well when he said this is a graphic novel “about a real American superhero.” Donn is the hero in his own story—you can’t help but root for him.
What was the most challenging part and most rewarding part of collaborating on this project with Donn Fendler and Ben Bishop?
The biggest challenge was trying to match Donn’s memory in the words and illustrations. We did eight drafts of the story as we went back-and-forth working to get the story to say what Donn still remembers in his mind. Then Donn and I didn’t meet the Illustrator Ben Bishop until the book was almost finished. In hindsight, we wished we’d worked with him from the beginning. Ben had done graphic novels before and we had not so he was the expert on that format. He could have told us to put in more illustration notes to make things clearer for him when he illustrated. He could have pointed out places where less words were needed and the illustrations would move the story along without words. Working with Ben from the beginning would have made the process easier. I understand the process of creating a graphic novel much better AFTER finishing Lost Trail.
The most rewarding part of doing Lost Trail was becoming better friends with Donn Fendler and making friends with Ben Bishop. It’s been fun to travel and do events with both of them. Donn is a living legend, and it’s so much fun to see people swarm him and hear their stories of how their grandfather was one of the searchers or of the times Donn talked in their classroom. Ben mesmerizes kids when he shows them how he creates a graphic novel and then draws an imaginary creature right before their eyes as they shout out the names of random animals. It’s so much fun to be on the trail with these two men!
What is your favorite graphic novel? (besides Lost Trail, of course!)
Well, my favorite I-thought-it-was-a-graphic-novel-but-have-since-learned-it’s-a-variation-on-a-graphic-novel (shows how much more I still need to learn about graphic novels!) is Brian Selznick’s Wonderstruck. I loved how he wove together two stories seamlessly and that he celebrates deafness. I was a speech-language therapist for many years and worked with many kids who were deaf. Selznick visually paces the story perfectly with his illustrations. I hope Wonderstruck will be made into a movie just as his book The Invention of Hugo Cabret was.
I agree. Wonderstruck is one of my favorite books and it would be incredible on the big screen. Thank you, Lynn!
If you would like to hear Donn Fendler and Lynn Plourde speak about the true story Lost Trail, come to the Ellsworth Public Library on Thursday, August 9th at 6:00 p.m. A book signing will take place after the presentation. For more information, please call the Ellsworth Public Library (667-6363). Hope to see you there!
- Meeting Donn Fendler (bangordailynews.com)
Barbara Walsh is a Pullitzer Prize winning journalist and the author of the picture book Sammy in the Sky and the memoir August Gale. I am very excited to welcome her to The Lupine Librarian! Here is my interview with Barbara:
Sammy was our family’s first dog. He was a lovable, loyal hound and my daughter Emma’s best friend. When Sammy turned twelve, we learned he had cancer. Emma was not yet five and had no idea what cancer or death meant. I began writing down Emma’s thoughts and emotions after Sammy died. “Why can’t he come back?” She asked. “Can’t he visit, just for a little while?”
My younger daughter Nora did not understand why Sammy went away. She looked up at the sky and scolded Sammy, “You come down here!” She also thought “Maybe if Daddy gets a really tall ladder he can go get Sammy.”
As I wrote the Sammy book I wanted to capture the emotions involved in losing a pet or a person. It’s difficult and sad and I didn’t want to diminish that. But I also wanted readers, both young and old, to know that they will always hold memories of a loved one in their heart.
Emma and Nora often searched for Sammy in the clouds after he died. I used those scenes to end the book with the young girl spotting Sammy in the sky declaring, “I love you Sammy. You’re still the best hound dog in the whole wide word!”
Many families have told me that the Sammy book is helping their children cope with losing a pet, which is satisfying. Before the book was published I explained to Emma and Nora, “One day the Sammy book will comfort other children.”
Teachers, parents and children often say they cry when they read Sammy in the Sky and Jamie Wyeth even cried when he painted some of the illustrations. But that’s okay. Grief means that you have loved a pet or person deeply.
The book is divided into two storms: the 1935 gale and the tempests that my grandfather created. The 1935 hurricane was the worst tragedy to strike Marystown, a small Newfoundland outport where my grandfather was born. Twelve Marystown fishermen and two boys died when a “devil danced on the water.”
Though I love the ocean, I had no clue about schooners, dory-fishing and the “iron men who sailed wooden ships.”
I interviewed dozens of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia men who had sailed and fished in the early 1900s. I also traveled to Newfoundland three times and spoke to more than 200 people. I talked with Marystown historians, people who had lived in the Newfoundland community when the gale descended. I interviewed several men and women who lost their fathers in the storm. I also talked with a hurricane expert who helped me recreate the 1935 gale.
And I spoke to dozens of family members about my grandfather, who died before I had the chance or desire to meet him. My father also shared stories about Ambrose with me for the first time.
Reporting and writing August Gale tested me more than any other story in my newspaper career. A journalist for many years, I had reported on corrupt cops, bad politicians and mothers who lost their children to cancer or car accidents. I had reported on Massachusetts’ first-degree killer Willie Horton’s prison furlough escape, a story which affected the 1988 presidential election and earned my newspaper a Pulitzer Prize. But I had never written about family.
How does a daughter tell her father’s story? How does she recreate a past that he never wanted to talk about? Writing about my father’s childhood pain overwhelmed me.
“It’s okay,” my dad told me. “I trust you.”
I cried when I hung up the phone. Despite my father’s words, I would fret for nearly a decade while I researched and wrote about the 1935 August gale and my grandfather.
But I later learned that I agonized for nothing. My father loved the book and he is one of my biggest fans, relentlessly selling August Gale at book stores, the golf course, airports, pizza parlors and even to telemarketers.
Both Sammy in the Sky and August Gale are true stories from your life. Would you ever consider writing fiction or do you prefer to write non-fiction?
Because I worked more than 25 years as a journalist, I gravitate toward true stories. My next books will likely be non-fiction, but I wouldn’t rule out writing fiction in the future.
What is your favorite place to read during the summer months?
Reading on our dock is one of my favorite spots. It’s even better when Emma and Nora are lying next to me with their own books.
I’m always curious about authors’ snacking habits. Do you have any favorite reading or writing snacks?
I love crackers and I am a huge Triscuit fan. Crackers and cheese are usually my favorite snack. When I’m writing, I’m usually too focused to snack. I drink a lot of tea in the winter as I write.
Thank you, Barbara! Barbara Walsh will be at the Ellsworth Public Library tomorrow night at 6:00 p.m. to talk about her book August Gale.
Here is my interview with 2012’s Katahdin Award winner Phillip Hoose. Phillip’s new book, Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95, will be released on July 17th, 2012.
How did you decide to write a book about B95?
My friend Charles Duncan told me of a Red Knot that had been banded in Argentina as an adult bird in 1995, and who was still alive in 2009, when we had the conversation. Identified primarily by an orange band bearing the inscription B95 around his upper left leg, he was rapidly becoming famous. They gave him the nickname “Moonbird,” because he (and he is a he) had migrated during the course of his lifetime a distance farther than that between the earth and the moon. It struck me that by following and learning everything I could about a single charismatic individual, I could put a face to a worldwide loss of shorebirds, which is a great crisis.
What makes B95 different from the rest of his species?
He has some inexplicable combination of toughness, judgment and luck. Some scientists think he has a ‘gift for the middle.’ That means he stays in the middle of the flock, an advantage, say, when a Peregrine falcon flies above you and tries to harry a single individual from your flock. Other scientists think he is more adaptable than others: when one beach is covered by the incoming tide, perhaps he can find the next beach where food is still available faster than other birds. Or maybe it’s good genes. Or great luck. Or all of the above and more. Speaking of genes, who wouldn’t want The Moonbird’s genes? And the good news there is that he’s been a father many times over. At this moment, as I write, he has probably just reached the Arctic, where is staking out a breeding territory. He’s probably very busy right now.
Humans play a part in the disruption of these birds’ food supply. What are some small things we can do to help the situation?
First, learn your birds. Go outside and notice the differences between a robin and a jay. Who gets up first? Where do they nest? What are the markings and behaviors that identify them? Find people in your community who know about birds and go out birding with them. Learn all you can. Get a bird app for your smart phone–there are some great ones that produce bird songs. Go to the beach and learn your shorebirds. Help with efforts not to disturb shorebirds during nesting season. Keep dogs away. Join Friends of the Red Knot, a youth-led program whose goals are to get red knots listed under Endangered Species Act protection, and to ensure that horseshoe crabs–a main knot food source–are not overfished in Delaware Bay. Link is firstname.lastname@example.org
What are some of the challenges you face while researching a non-fiction book?
Different challenges for different books. For example, with Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, a major problem was finding photographs of her. Her family had no camera. Photos others had taken of her had been destroyed or lost. With We Were There Too: Young People in US History, a major problem was finding stories, and then verifying their veracity. And my own stamina was tested–the project took six years and wore me to a nub. With Moonbird, the main problems have been about keeping up with the science that biologists use to find, capture, band, track, and assess the health of shorebirds. Geolocators changed everything. They are these miniature sextants that you can fit on a birds leg. The devices record a longitudinal and latitudinal reading every day. So if you can recapture the bird and remove the device, you can plug it into a computer and ascertain the birds’ day by day journey. It is a revolutionary tool, because now we really know where they go on these unimaginably arduous flights.
What was your first thought when you found out that B95 had been spotted in New Jersey?
It was just so cool!! I was elated. The discovery happened on May 28, which the most frequent day of departure for knots from Delaware Bay to the Arctic. So Patricia Gonzales may well have found him on the last possible day. Had she not spotted and photographed him, we would have had to wait until late summer or early fall to see him again. I mean, can you believe that any creature could be so strong? And I have held many knots in my hands. They seem delicate but they’re not. The Moonbird must be one of the toughest creatures alive.
Thank you, Phillip!
To learn more about Moonbird, click here to check out Phillip Hoose’s blog.
- Moonbird sighting in New Jersey (thelupinelibrarian.me)
I had the pleasure of meeting middle grade author Elizabeth Atkinson at the Library United Conference and she graciously agreed to be interviewed for the blog. Here are her thoughts on the struggles of growing up, the challenges that today’s tweens face, and her favorite snack: popcorn.
At the beginning of “I, Emma Freke” the main character is very insecure about her appearance (especially her height and her bright red hair). I think tweens will relate to Emma’s awkward “growing pains.” As a tween, did you have any physical features or personality traits that made you feel like you stuck out like a sore thumb? If so, how did you overcome these insecurities?
I did! I was very small – and for many years, I was shortest in my class. (I figured that felt pretty similar to being the tallest in a class, how I related so easily to Emma.) I was also quite shy, a bit plump, and blushed easily, which other kids (and some clueless adults!) always teased me about… making the blushing worse. It’s not easy, but the only way to overcome insecurities is to focus on your strengths and your assets. Get out there and participate in life and be successful at something so you’ll feel really good about your whole unique self! Eventually, you’ll outgrow those superficial worries. And you may even discover some special people actually cherish your little quirks and vulnerabilities.
During your MLA conference workshop, “Empowering Tweens though Story” the group discussed the challenges that tween girls are facing in today’s world. What are some examples of challenges that are new for this young generation?
I think the intense social scrutiny has to be the hardest. Kids seem quite pre-occupied with judging their physical selves and each other at school and through social media sites. Consumerism – clothes, cars, homes, technological gadgets, accessories, etc – holds such a high, distorted value these days. There are so many other issues affecting tweens and teens today, such as, rampant bullying, dating and sexuality, diverse family dynamics, intense competition, too much homework, too much structure, over-scheduling, inept parenting…. no wonder so many kids are struggling with self esteem and identity issues.
How do you think the ubiquitous nature of the Internet (social networking in particular) influences tween girls?
Oh my, this is a huge question 🙂 but, generally speaking, I feel it’s a very unfortunate cultural development for tweens and teens. Luckily, my daughter was almost in college when MySpace and Facebook appeared. If I were a parent of a middle school girl now, I wouldn’t allow her to participate or it would be very limited participation (family and maybe a few close friends). In a nutshell, these sites grossly magnify one’s insecurities… even adults have difficulty coping with online social media pressures, so how can children be expected to cope in a healthy way? (Plus they encourage such narcissism among already overly-popular, narcissistic individuals… do these people really need their own online platform to brag more??) But unfortunately for children, these sites are here to stay. So I hope schools will begin to deal in health classes with the effects/consequences and myths created by social media.
Having recently discovered my favorite snack to eat when I curl up with a good book, I like to ask people: do you have any favorite reading (or writing) snacks?
Popcorn! I’ve discovered this delicious organic popcorn called Quinn. I’ve been telling everyone I know about it: http://www.quinnpopcorn.com
What is your next project?
I recently finished my new tween novel with the “working title,” Mountains of Sugar, which is told in two very different voices of two best friends…. I’m so excited about it and really hope it will be out next year! I, Emma Freke came out in paperback this year and is available electronically too. You can follow my news, blog, and schedule of school visits on my website: www.elizabethatkinson.com Thanks for the great questions, Abby!
Thank you, Elizabeth! I can’t wait to read Mountains of Sugar when it comes out 🙂
Who is Claire Legrand? She is the author of the middle grade book The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls (due out this summer), a blogger extraordianaire, and she used to be a librarian! Read on to hear about Claire’s new book, her days as a librarian, and why she believes that “sometimes sanity comes in the form of Chex Mix.”
Your new book, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, comes out on August 28th, 2012. What is this story about? Can you tell us what inspired you to write this book and what you hope that readers will take away from it?
Cavendish is about an impossibly perfect perfectionist named Victoria, her only friend (who goes missing), and the sinister things she discovers about their home town of Belleville while investigating his disappearance.
Here’s the official flap copy summary that will appear on the book!
Victoria hates nonsense. There is no need for it when your life is perfect. The only smudge on her pristine life is her best friend Lawrence. He is a disaster–lazy and dreamy, shirt always untucked, obsessed with his silly piano. Victoria often wonders why she ever bothered being his friend. (Lawrence does, too.)
But then Lawrence goes missing. And he’s not the only one. Victoria soon discovers that Mrs. Cavendish’s children’s home is not what it appears to be. Kids go in but come out . . . different, or they don’t come out at all.
If anyone can sort this out, it’s Victoria, even if it means getting a little messy.
A couple of different things inspired me to write Cavendish, both from real life!
One is the town my dad lives in, which, while it is a perfectly safe, clean, and lovely place to live, can get a little Stepford at times. People care a lot about money and about appearances. I wanted to take those little flickers of superficiality I sometimes saw and exaggerate them for the sake of Victoria’s story. What would happen if the people of a town were so obsessed with perfection that they covered up something horrible in order to achieve that perfection? The answer: Very Bad Things.
The second thing that inspired me was this questionable-looking orphanage on my street when I was an undergraduate student. I sort of became obsessed with it because it was obviously a working orphanage — the sign out front changed every once in a while — but I never saw any kids, social workers, groundskeepers, nothing! And sometimes there would randomly be police tape on the side door. I drove by it all the time to see what I could see, and once a van pulled out of the driveway and followed me and my friend all around town until we lost them in a Walmart parking lot. Seriously! So I knew right then and there that I just had to write a creepy orphanage story.
What do I hope people take away from this book? Well, quite simply, I hope people get deeply, bone-shakingly, skin-chillingly creeped out. I always wanted to write a scary book for children, something that could sit on the shelf beside Coraline, Roald Dahl, and Edward Gorey, and I hope I’ve succeeded!
On your website (www.claire-legrand.com) you describe yourself as a “ninja librarian.” As a Youth Services Librarian myself, being around books all day has rekindled my interest in writing. How did your work as a librarian strengthened your desire to write for middle school students and young adults?
What a great question! One of my favorite parts about working at libraries was matching children and teens with a really great book, that one special book that I knew they’d just love. Now, I didn’t work solely with children and teens, but they were always my favorite patrons. Children and teens have such enthusiasm and excitement for great stories and great characters, and I could always see that in their eyes when I spoke with them. It’s an excitement most adults just don’t have. I had already sold my first children’s book when I started working as a public librarian, but helping those children and teens just reaffirmed my decision to write for this age group. They’re the most vocal, most passionate, and most loyal (to series, authors, and characters) readers out there. Who wouldn’t want to write for people like that?!
Which book do you wish you had written?
I don’t really wish I had written another author’s book, although practically speaking, it would have been nice to write those Harry Potter books and be rolling in the dough right now. 😉 But in all seriousness, the books that I really love? I’m just glad they exist. I’m glad, as a reader, not a writer, to have experienced them. I don’t care who wrote them. I do, however, hope that someday I can write books that have moved me as deeply as some of my favorites, like His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, Graceling/Fire/Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore, and The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle.
I have recently discovered that tea and toast with Nutella is the perfect reading snack (especially when reading depressing stories). Do you have any favorite reading or writing snacks?
Agh, you’re killing me, Abby! Now I’m all hungry! Let’s see. When reading or writing (I don’t differentiate between the two as far as snacking goes), I like popcorn, bell peppers, Granny Smith apples, and saltine crackers (but only the square kind, not that weird new round kind, ew). I know, that’s kind of a weird assortment, eh? That’s just regular reading and writing, though. When I’m on deadline? Whole new ball game: Bold Chex Mix, powdered sugar doughnuts, cookies, all the cheese I can get my hands on. I know, I know! That’s some bad junk food right there. Total stress-eating. I don’t let myself indulge in it too much, though. It’s just that sometimes, when you’re on deadline, you grasp for any kind of sanity you can get! And sometimes sanity comes in the form of Chex Mix.
If you couldn’t write (or be a librarian), what would be your dream job?