Author Interview: Bianca Turetsky on The Time-Traveling Fashionista On Board the Titanic

Bianca Turetsky (photo credit: Sarah Shatz)Bianca Turetsky is here today to talk about her delightful first novel The Time-Traveling Fashionista On Board the Titanic. This book came out in 2011 and is the start to a truly enjoyable series that blends history, time travel and fashion in some very fun ways when twelve-year-old vintage junkie, Louise finds a very unusual traveling vintage sale. Louise’s vintage-fueled adventures continue in The Time-Traveling Fashionista at the Palace of Marie Antoinette and in The Time-Traveling Fashionista and Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile. This week is an especially timely time for Bianca to visit the blog as this week also marks the release of the third installment in paperback. If you were waiting to get this series, now is a great time to get a shiny paperback set (which still includes gorgeous interior page designs and illustrations by Sandra Suy)!

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for The Time-Traveling Fashionista On Board the Titanic?

Bianca Turetsky (BT): The idea for the book came to me after visiting this amazing vintage shop in New Haven CT, called Fashionista Vintage and Variety. It’s owned by these two fabulous women, Todd and Nancy, who know everything and anything about vintage clothing.I tried on this pink tulle party dress that belonged to a Mrs. Baxter from Newport Rhode Island, and I couldn’t help but wonder what her life was like, what the last gala or fancy event was that she wore this to. Was she in love? Was she happy? And how in a way, her memory was being preserved through this garment.

MP: You and Louise both share a love of vintage clothing. In the book we learn that one of Louise’s first vintage finds is colorful knit dress that looks like a classic Missoni piece from the 1970s. What was your first vintage piece?

BT: I wish it were a Missoni! At Louise’s age (12), I was always dressing a bit odd compared to my middle school classmates, but at the time there weren’t really any vintage stores in the small CT town I grew up in. (And we were a few years away from eBay and etsy!) I spent a lot of time combing through the racks at the local Salvation Army and Goodwill stores looking for discarded treasures, which ended up being more from Ann Taylor than Anna Sui. I have to admit that ½ the reason I love living in NY is that there are so many great vintage shops to explore!

MP: What is your dream vintage find either in your closet or waiting to be purchased?

BT: When I was writing the The Time-Traveling Fashionista at the Palace of Marie Antoinette, I went to this amazing vintage store in San Sebastian, Spain and found a gorgeous long white tiered dress with handmade lace trim. The dress probably dates back to around 1910- just the period I wrote about in The Time-Traveling Fashionista on Board the Titanic, and the intricate buttons require another set of hands to help you put it on. (Luckily Louise had Anna for this purpose!) It fit me perfectly, and I got a bit of a chill when I tried it on, it just seemed like some sort of sign that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. The fabric is so delicate that I’m afraid to wear it out of my apartment, but I love it.

MP: Although Louise is a modern girl, much of the story is spent aboard the Titanic on its fateful voyage. What research was involved in bringing the Titanic to life for both Louise and your readers?

BT: I took the research part of the book very seriously as I wanted it to be as historically accurate as possible. I spent a lot of time at the library reading every book I could, watching documentaries, and there was a really cool and informative Titanic exhibit that coincidentally came to Times Square when I was writing the book. Also one of my friends was an assistant director on the Titanic movie, and ended up being a huge resource to me. He had this great illustrated book that James Cameron gave to the crew which really helped me get an idea of the layout of the ship, and what it would be like to actually have been a passenger on the boat. From what I would have eaten in the first class dining room, to how I would have spent my free time, to who I would be traveling with. Through these pages and drawings, I really felt like I was there.

MP: If you were able to time travel with vintage clothes the way Louise can, would you want to? If yes, where would you like to go?

BT: Absolutely!  Writing this book was an exercise in wish fulfillment for me. There are so many eras I’d love to visit, but I think first I’d go back to the roaring 20’s. I adore the bobbed haircuts, shift dresses and t-strap heels. There is a scene at the beginning of the first book where Louise is imagining that she’s wearing a flapper dress and dancing in a speakeasy. That’s pretty much my fantasy.

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

BT: It sounds so obvious, but read and write as much as possible. Like with everything, you need to practice, whether it’s the piano, soccer, French, whatever. I write every day, and am very disciplined about my schedule. No one else will make you do it; you have to be accountable to yourself.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project? Will readers be seeing more of Louise and her vintage adventures?

BT: I hope so! I have infinite ideas of where Louise could go next. (And my readers do too!) Right now I’m focusing on getting a film or television version of the series going. Fingers crossed that you will be seeing Louise on the big screen!!

Thank you to Bianca for taking the time to answer my questions today about her series. You can find out more about all three books (so far) and Bianca at her website: http://timetravelingfashionista.com/

Author Interview (#6): Sarah Beth Durst on Chasing Power

Sarah Beth Durst author photoSarah Beth Durst is here today to talk about her latest novel Chasing Power and answer some questions about it. Chasing Power is Sarah’s latest novel for young adults and features a master thief with telekinesis, romance and adventure!

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for Chasing Power?

Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): Telekinesis.

Really, the whole novel started from just that little seed.  I’ve loved telekinesis ever since I was a kid and read The Girl With the Silver Eyes and watched Escape to Witch Mountain.  And the X-Men cartoon on Saturday mornings.  So I wanted to write a story about a girl who could move things with her mind.

My idea for Kayla was that her power would be very, very limited.  She’d only be able to move things as heavy as a piece of paper.  So she’d have to be clever.

MP: How did you decide which places to include in the story?

SBD: I chose places that captured my imagination.  One of the best things about being a writer is that you get to be the ultimate armchair traveler.  I got to explore catacombs and visit the rainforest without ever being far from my refrigerator.

A lot of the places were inspired by National Geographic articles that I’ve read over the years, thus justifying the towering stack of those magazines in the basement.  (They’re just too pretty to throw away!  Okay, yes, I’m a bit of a pack rat…)

MP: You mentioned that the story started with Kayla and her telekinesis. When did you know the story would also include a teleporting boy?

SBD: Pretty early.  Just glanced at my brainstorming notes from when I started working on the novel, and at the end of my first day of brainstorming, there’s a single line: “He’s a teleporter!!!!!!!!!”

Apparently, I brainstorm with lots of punctuation.

MP: Which scene are you especially excited for readers to get to in Chasing Power?

SBD: The whole plot is designed to ramp up.  It starts with a small heist to introduce Kayla and her powers, and then it builds and builds and builds…  Personally, I’m excited for readers to get to Spain.  Had a lot of fun writing that scene.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

SBD: Yes!  I’m working on a middle-grade novel called THE GIRL WHO COULD NOT DREAM.  It’s about a girl whose family owns a secret store where they buy, bottle, and sell dreams, but who can’t have any of her own, and the adventure that she and her pet monster go on when someone starts kidnapping dreamers.

It’s coming out from HMH/Clarion Books in fall 2015, and I’m really, really excited about it!

Thanks so much for interviewing me!

Thanks to Sarah for taking the time to answer my questions!

For more information about Sarah and her books you can also visit her website.

You can also check out our previous interviews discussing Sarah’s other novels Enchanted Ivy and Drink, Slay, Love, Vessel and Conjured and The Lost.

If you want to know more about Chasing Power be sure to check out my  review.

Author Interview (#3): Gabrielle Zevin on In the Age of Love and Chocolate

Gabrielle ZevinGabrielle Zevin’s Birthright series has been one of the rare series that I followed closely as it published. It also has a very special place in my heart for many reasons including my love for the series, fondness for the author, and the fact that these books saw me through some really difficult moments in my own life. I truly can’t overstate how special these books are.

Gabrielle is here today to talk about the final book in the trilogy, In the Age of Love and Chocolate, as well as the conclusion of the series in general.

***Because this interview focuses on the final book in a series, it may have some spoilers for books 1 and 2***

Miss Print (MP): This series has undergone a few changes since we last spoke about Because It Is My Blood and All These Things I’ve Done. Can you tell us anything about the decision to shift Birthright from a four book series to a trilogy?

Gabrielle Zevin (GZ): This isn’t a pretty answer, but I’ll give you a candid one. The decision to shift from four books to three was in part determined by the fact that the series hasn’t been as popular as my publisher (and I!) hoped it would be. I made the decision to shift to three books pretty much as soon as the first book came out in September 2011. The readership is passionate, but small, and seems to mainly consist of strong, loner types, not unlike Anya Balanchine herself. However, the events that were going to happen in In the Age of Love and Chocolate are very similar to my conception of book three even when it was a four book series. And book four, when there was going to be one, was always going to push the series in a different direction. I could at some point decide to write a book four if the fortunes changed for the series. However, and perhaps I should have led with this, I feel like Anya’s story is emotionally resolved by the end of the third book. She has learned what she needed to learn. She has “come of age.” And the first three books of the series, when taken together, are a bildungsroman. (Also, the sentence formed by the three titles can safely have a period.) What I feel about the three books as they stand is that they form the complete Anya Balanchine story. They form a novel about her, but there are perhaps loose ends left in the world (and the other characters of the world) that I could explore at a later time. On a side note, I almost wish I’d written all three books at once and had just published a standalone 1,000-page novel called Anya Balanchine.

MP: Working off the last question: In condensing a projected four book story arc into three did you end up losing scenes? How did you go about making this transition?

GZ: On some level, I think I was wrong to ever think this WAS a four book series. This series is about a character, not a world or a high concept premise. (I’ve probably said this about a million times since the first book came out, but it’s true.) This is about a character growing up and becoming a woman. In a way, even if the books had been wildly popular, publishing the fourth book wouldn’t make any sense for the publisher, because it would be an adult novel. I mean, YA novels don’t tend to be about characters in their 20s and 30s and beyond. (Frankly, the third book, in terms of its themes and storyline, is probably an adult novel already!) I would love to see Anya as a mother, as a widow, as a grandmother like Nana even. So, no, I didn’t particularly lose scenes because I had to rethink the whole thing. The ideas I lost don’t particularly feel like losses because they wouldn’t make sense in the series as it exists. But yes, you might for instance notice, that Anya and Win are on the verge of making a trip to Russia at the end of ITAOLAC – that was definitely something that was going to happen.

I keep circling around your question a bit. And I’m still not sure that I’ve answered it. Something I want to say is that Anya’s journey is not unlike mine in writing the series. She starts off thinking her life will be one way – recall that she wants to be a Crime Scene Investigator in book one! But life happens, and she learns to make the best of the situation she finds herself in. Perhaps, this is adulthood: getting some things and living without others.

MP: Over the years these books have also had a few title changes. In the Age of Love and Chocolate was initially going to be called In the Days of Death and Chocolate. What prompted the title change?

GZ: By the time I went to write the third book of the series, the first book had already come out, and the reception, as I already mentioned, had been somewhat disappointing. When I started writing the third book, I was in a dark place and that came through in every decision I made for Anya. In the Days of Death and Chocolate was filled with darkness and poison. I made a lot of decisions in it that were transgressive (and perhaps even interesting), but didn’t necessarily honor the characters or the foundation I’d built in the previous two books. I suppose I almost wanted to punish Anya. The original third book was almost out of copy editing when I began to have a recurring sense of anxiety. I dreamt of Anya and began to fantasize that I was seeing her places. I wanted to avoid her because I felt she was angry with me. Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I called my editor and I cried a little and I decided to write the book again. I threw out all but one section. The only prose that’s the same from In the Days of Death and Chocolate is a couple paragraphs of the Yuji Ono storyline. Once I began to write the book again, I realized that the major theme of the new version was what it means to love someone as a flawed adult versus as a “perfect” teenager. Thus, In The Days of Death and Chocolate became In the Age of Love and Chocolate. Series are typically written at such a fast pace that there’s no time to pull a move like that. I was fortunate that my publisher was supportive. On a side note, I feel certain that some of the things I did to Anya in the original book three would shock (and possibly appall) you!

MP: Given all of this upheaval, it seems like the book itself went through a lot of change itself. Is there anything you’re particularly happy to have fixed or otherwise changed in the final version of In the Age of Love and Chocolate? Is there anything you’re sorry readers won’t be able to see?

GZ: I mentioned that the previous version of the third book was rather transgressive. In rewriting the last book, I began to think that the most transgressive thing would be to write a “dystopia” (and I think we’ve already discussed my problems with that word) that was hopeful. So, no there isn’t much I miss. And in a way, writing that other version was enormously helpful. I learned things about the characters in going down that road, and some of those things definitely inflected and deepened the relationships of the final book. But to answer your question: Through a series of unusual circumstances, Nana appeared in the original third book, and I miss that a little. And there was a storyline with Mr. Delacroix that I had grown a bit attached to. But I don’t truly miss either of these elements, because I believe they both transformed into something better.

MP: I have never made a secret of my love for Yuji Ono or Mr. Delacroix or Anya herself in my reviews of  these books. As I read this final installment, I was especially struck by the evolving relationships and dynamics Anya has not just with the obvious suspects like Win or Natty but also with these not-always central characters like Yuji and Mr. Delacroix. Anya, in fact, grows a lot in terms of her relationships and interactions throughout the story. Was this a character change you always knew would be in store for Anya?

GZ: Thank you, and no you haven’t! Yuji Ono and Mr. Delacroix are some of my favorite characters to write, too.

I had always known Mr. Delacroix would be important. In my initial conception of the story, I wanted to play with the idea of what a “parent” is in a love story with teenagers. Parents so often come off as simple, mustache-twirling villains. I knew that he would go from Anya’s enemy to her friend by the end of the story. I thought it was a good lesson for a teen reader (or an adult reader) – the idea that enemies can become allies can become friends and that life is long.

And I loved writing Yuji Ono. I wanted to write a love story that was about something other than romantic love. And – I think we’ve spoken of this before – it was a goal of mine in the series to depict cultures outside of America. So often series seem to depict America, but don’t imagine the world outside of it. I want my readers, and particularly my young readers, to get a sense of how very large the world is. It was the same reason I sent Anya to Mexico (and to the Marquez family) in the second book.

One last thing I’ll say. I think there’s a great deal that can be learned from the people we consider to be antagonists in our lives.

MP: There is a lot of talk about this series being “dystopian” which isn’t quite accurate for a few reasons although the story does start in the future and, in some ways, it is not the best version of the future. Can you talk a bit about how you feel about the dystopian label here? Did it influence your choices in writing this final book in the series?

GZ: Yes, the dystopia label bothered me the entire time. I asked my publisher not to refer to it that way, and I think they tried to honor my request. But it was too late. 2011, the year ATTID came out, was the year of the dystopia! “Chocolate is illegal” was what got emphasized, because that was the simplest thing to sell and to talk about. But for me that was never the heart of the story. The reason the dystopia label bothered me was because it made readers expect a certain thing from the series, and the series didn’t end up being like that thing they were expecting. I think those who disliked the books often disliked it for that reason — a gap between what the cover suggested (recall that the hardcover of the first book had a jacket that mentioned the paper and water scarcities, chocolate and caffeine being illegal, and the year 2083). It is a Dickensian family saga. It’s, as I’ve said many times before, a book about characters, more than it ever was about the world.

However, my difficulties with the dystopia label didn’t particularly influence the third book. I had to disregard everything outside of the story and the characters. I particularly thought about the characters a lot, and that was what was really important in approaching the third book. Something that occurred to me: characters don’t ever know they are living in a dystopia. For them, it is just the world.

I did have some fun with the word “dystopia” in the book however. At one point, I think Anya tells Natty that she’s the only person she loves in this whole lousy dystopia, or something like that.

MP: This series has always made clever use of its futuristic setting (the series, for readers who aren’t aware yet, starts in 2083) by reinventing familiar places notably including the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. In the Age of Love and Chocolate once again brings Anya to some new and slightly familiar areas. How did you decide what to reinvent this time around? Throughout the series do you have a favorite location that Anya visits?

MP: Your question just made me remember something I cut! At one point in the original third book, Anya finds the head of the Statue of Liberty. Someone had stored and saved it.

I knew the most important locations in the third book would be the places where Anya opens nightclubs, and as I conceived of the book, I kind of kept thinking what landmark might I reinvent as a club? I like Leo’s club at Alacatraz and the Dark Room at the NYPL, of course. I’m also partial to the brief trip Anya and Theo take to Hershey, Pennsylvania. I liked Anya getting to experience chocolate from a different perspective. For the third book, I’d say my favorite location is not a retrofitting at all. I loved writing Anya’s trip to the farm in Niskayuna. It’s probably my favorite part of the whole series.

MP: Another fun thing about this series is that, because paper is scarce and books are rare, Anya references a lot of classic books. Dickens and Austen are two that are quick to spot in the text, however it seems that an entirely different book was your inspiration for this series. Can you tell us a bit about that and how you decided which books to reference in the story?

GZ: I’m not sure that this book had one primary reference, but I thought a lot about stories where the love takes a long time to work itself out. I’m thinking of Persuasion (probably my favorite Austen novel) and Sense and Sensibility, Jane Eyre, and Anne of the Island (the third Anne Shirley book). A theme of all these books is what it really means to love someone over time and through many obstacles. I thought about what it was to love someone even when you are certain that things can never work out, when love is beyond hope. I thought about what it was to love someone when they were no longer physically perfect, too. To answer your question: most of the references you’ll find in the third book, I chose for thematic resonance more than anything else.

MP: Now that the Birthright series has ended, can you tell us anything about your next project?

GZ: I have a book out for adults right now called The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. It’s very different from the Anya Balanchine books, but in an odd way, I know I would never have written it if I hadn’t written Anya first. Anyway, the new book is about a curmudgeonly bookseller who finds a baby in a bookstore.

MP: I want to end on an up note saying that I really appreciated the determination with which Anya faced her challenges and also the hopefulness that can be found throughout In the Age of Love and Chocolate. I was proud of Anya’s changing outlook and I loved the continuing theme of moving forward–especially Mr. Delacroix’s pronouncement to Anya that “We are where we are.” Since that has become one of my favorite quotes it only seemed appropriate to ask if you had any quotes or thoughts you returned to when looking for encouragement or optimism.

GZ: Thank you. I like this question very much. Maybe I’ll refer you back to the epigraph of In the Age of Love and Chocolate, which is excerpted from the poem “Sweetness” by Stephen Dunn. Simply put, the poem is about how we get through tragedy, and it’s one of my favorites: “Often a sweetness comes/ as if on loan, stays just long enough/ to make sense of what it means to be alive,/ then returns to its dark/ source. As for me, I don’t care/ where it’s been, or what bitter road/ it’s traveled/ to come so far, to taste so good.”

-

Thank you again to Gabrielle for taking the time to answer all of my questions so eloquently here. (Thank you also to her for being so kind when my email ate the original answers and I had to ask her to resend them!)

For more information about Gabrielle and her writing you can also visit her website.

If you want to know more about In the Age of Love and Chocolate be sure to check out my review.

You can also see my reviews of All These Things I’ve Done and Because It Is My Blood as well as reading my first and second interviews with Gabrielle.

Author Interview (#2): Tessa Gratton on The Strange Maid

Tessa Gratton’s Songs of New Asgard has quickly become one of my favorite series. These books are smart, sharp and a perfect blend of myth and fantasy elements. After reading The Lost Sun, I was hooked. The Strange Maid came out earlier this year (you might remember Tessa’s wonderful guest post here about strong women that feature in the book) and Tessa is here today to talk about this latest installment in the series.

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for The Strange Maid?

Tessa Gratton (TG): The Strange Maid grew out of the world of The United States of Asgard, so the answer to this is really about what inspired the world itself. For a more complete answer, here’s a link to the author’s note of the first book, The Lost Sun where I talk about that: http://tessagratton.tumblr.com/post/97224307338/the-lost-sun-authors-note

Briefly: I wanted to write stories about American religion, politics, and war, and realized that I could use an alternate US founded by Vikings and their gods like a giant metaphor to do that. Soren’s story from The Lost Sun is all about a young man who fights his berserker nature, a nature he thinks is dark and violent and dangerous (it is), who fights against what Odin Alfather stands for: madness, sacrifice, poetry, death. I wanted to write the second book about a person who embraces everything Soren fears and denies, and I wanted that person to be a girl. Girls are taught we can’t be violent and dangerous, we shouldn’t love those things or be drawn to them for their own sakes. We’re only allowed to fight for our children – like mother lions – not for ourselves or our rights or sexuality.

That’s how Signy was born. And she was so difficult to work with! But worth it.

MP: In addition to Signy, you mention the other Valkyrie throughout The Strange Maid. Did you always know that the valkryie (both present and long past) would play such important roles in this book’s plot?

TG: I knew I couldn’t write Signy’s story without using the Valkyrie. When I first started reading about Viking mythology (and Anglo-Saxon poetry, which is intrinsically linked to it), I was fascinated by two books: Woman as Hero in Old English Literature by Jane Chance and Beowulf’s Wealhtheow and the Valkyrie Tradition by Helen Damico. Both discussed women’s roles in epic poetry, as warriors, queens, goddesses, and many other things. I became a little obsessed with images of Valkyrie-like women in Old English literature, like Wealhtheow from Beowulf, who became Valtheow in The Strange Maid for pronunciation purposes. The Valkyrie were always part of Signy’s story – she always was some kind of Valkyrie figure – though in the 17 different drafts they played very different roles.

MP: The Strange Maid seamlessly integrates elements from Beowulf and references to the classic poem into the text. What drew you to this source material? How did you go about adapting elements to fit with your more modern Asgardian world?

TG: Oh! Well, thank you! I love Beowulf something fierce. It’s such a gorgeous, passionate, fantastical poem, with amazing heroes, monsters, magic, and morality. I translated it myself when I was in grad school about ten years ago, so was pretty familiar with it. I spent the summer of 2008 writing a historical novel from Wealhtheow’s point of view I loved the source so much – and stole a lot of that for The Strange Maid. (Like Unferth). It wasn’t actually very difficult to integrate because I’d been thinking about the themes and characters for so long it felt natural – I built the story around it instead of trying to shoe-horn it in.

MP: Signy is an original narrator who tells her story frankly and with a fair bit of poetry thrown in. How did you go about writing Signy to create her unique voice?

TG: It was a disaster. A messy, ferocious disaster. It took me 2.5 years to write and rewrite and rewrite. I blew 3 major publisher deadlines and drove 2 editors crazy. I think I was both too close to Signy and also not sure exactly what I wanted from her. Every time I detected even a whiff of something not true enough or raw enough in character or tone I scrapped it in order to dig deeper, with the help of my amazing editor.

I’m glad her voice seems to work for so many readers, because I worked excruciatingly hard for every word!

MP: This story features some overlap between The Lost Sun with characters like Soren turning up in this installment. The Strange Maid also has a timeline that overlaps with The Lost Sun. Did you always know these two stories would intersect in those ways?

TG: This series has always been built around Soren. He’s the narrator of book one, and though he won’t narrate anything else, he plays a major role in every story. I also knew a major part of Signy’s story was the troll massacre mentioned in The Lost Sun, but I did not know that it happened in the middle of Signy’s story instead of the very beginning. It was a surprise to me when I finally realized I had to start Signy months before the events of The Lost Sun in order to tell her story right.

MP: Is there any scene that you are particularly excited for readers to discover in this novel?

TG: My favorite scenes are all pretty spoilery, and all have to do with Signy and Ned Unferth “discussing” things. There are three conversations they have that have ALWAYS been in every draft of the book. Sometime they took place in different locations and at different times, with different contexts, but they always existed in some form. I’ll give you a line from each:

- “If I can have a prayer, this is it: may Signy Valborn never regret.”

- His eyes drift closed. “Finally.”

- “Make yourself deserve it; rise up to meet me if you want me.”

MP: This story again spans much of New Asgard, even bringing your characters into Canadia. Which was your favorite location to reimagine as it would be in the world of New Asgard?

TG: New Orleans, definitely. It’s one of my favorite cities, so I loved thinking about how it might be different (or the same) with a very different history of religion in the area. I liked playing with holidays and the layout, and especially using the cemeteries as set-pieces. I indulged myself by using the character Rathi, who loves history, to tell the reader a little bit about it.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

TG: I’ve got some USAsgard novellas coming out this winter, first of all, and the third book in the series in May or June 2015. After that: I’m working on a few YA Fantasy stand alones right now. I need a break from working on a series!

Thanks again to Tessa Gratton for a great interview. You can also read my review of The Strange Maid here on the blog and visit Tessa Gratton’s website for more info about her and her books. (Be sure to stop by the badass United States of Asgard section while you’re there. It’s awesome!)

Author Interview: Mike Curato on Little Elliot, Big City

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Mike Curato_Author Photo credit Ruth ChanMike Curato is here today as part of the Little Elliot, Big City blog tour to talk about one of my favorite 2014 picture books. After the interview you can also comment on this post to enter a giveaway for some awesome Little Elliot goodies! (You can jump to the end to enter now but please come back to read!) For more details about Mike Curato be sure to stop by his website: MikeCurato.com. You can also find out more about Little Elliot at LittleElliotBigCity.com.

Miss Print (MP): You wrote and illustrated Little Elliot, Big City. Can you tell us about what your creative process for this picture book looked like? Do you start with the text or the artwork?

MC: The first two books both spawned from images. In fact, there was art before there was a story, and there were doodles of Elliot before there was art. I often jump back and forth between the two modes of writer and illustrator.

MP: In addition to a very special elephant, Little Elliot, Big City features some beautiful illustrations of New York City (including my mom’s favorite building the Flatiron Building!). Did you always know this story would take place in New York?

MC: Oh yes. I grew up outside of New York City, and I’ve always been enamored with its old grandeur. When I started working on finished art of Elliot years ago, it quickly became the backdrop. There was no question.

MP: Working off the last question: The cars and people in your illustrations make it pretty clear that your book is not set in present day New York. How did you decide what period to use as the backdrop for this story?

MC: I love the aesthetic and romance of the late ‘30s/early ‘40s: the cars, the buildings, the clothes. It’s also a time before TV and smartphones and internet. Things were slower, but I think more intentional.

MP: What was your favorite part of this story to illustrate? Which part was the hardest?

MC: I think my favorite piece is the one of Elliot staring in the bakery window, though I thoroughly enjoyed drawing (and researching) all the cupcakes throughout the book. The hardest was probably the scene of Elliot in the crowded subway. Also, Mouse’s trash can was quite time consuming with all of that garbage and twisted wire.

MP: What medium do you prefer to work with for your illustrations? How do you decide where to start with each illustration?

MC: Each piece is hand-drawn in pencil, scanned, and colored in Photoshop. I always start with very simple sketches with just enough information to communicate what is going on in the image. Once I narrow in on a composition that works, I gather my reference, and then it’s off to the races.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

MC: I actually just finished the second book in the series, Little Elliot, Big Family, which comes out next Fall! It expands on Elliot’s friendship with Mouse, and has even more New York City scenes.

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

MC: Create what makes you happy. Create what you think is missing from the world that could make it better.

Thank you again to Mike for taking the time to chat with me!

Now here are the giveaway details:

Thanks to Mary Van Akin at Macmillan Kids, you can win a copy of Little Elliot, Big City, a coveted Little Elliot tote and some adorable Little Elliot stickers!

Giveaway is US only and open to any readers aged 13 or older. Giveaway will run from today to September 5. (Winner will be notified on September 6. If I don’t hear from the winner by September 7, I will pick another winner.)

Comment below telling me your favorite kind of cupcake to enter!

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You can also check out the other tour stops for even more Little Elliot fun:

Tuesday, August 26: Librarian in Cute Shoes | @utalaniz

Wednesday, August 27: Teach Mentor Texts | @mentortexts

Thursday, August 28 : Read. Write. Reflect. | @katsok

Friday, August 29: Kit Lit Frenzy | @alybee930

Saturday, August 30: Daddy Mojo | @daddymojo

Sunday, August 31: The Trifecta: Sharp Reads | @colbysharp / Connect. Read. | @mrschureads / Nerdy Book Club | @nerdybookclub

Monday, September 1: Miss Print | @miss_print

Author Interview (#2): Ame Dyckman on Tea Party Rules

Ame DyckmanAme Dyckman returns to the blog today to talk about her Ezra Jack Keats award winning sophomore picture book: Tea Party Rules.

Miss Print (MP): How did you come up with the idea for Tea Party Rules?

Ame Dyckman (AD): I’ve adored tea parties since I was very little, when I first heard of… ya know, that particularly mad one. I was (and am!) crazy about Michael Bond’s Paddington, which taught me a little bear could drop into my life at any moment. And I really, really love cookies. I think all these things rolled about in my brain for a bit, finally bumped into each other, and said, “Hey! Let’s write a story together!”

MP: Who came first in this story? The girl or the bear?

AD: Cub came first. If there were no one to desire the cookies, it wouldn’t matter if there were no cookies, right? (I think I read this in philosophy class. Or in a fortune cookie.)

MP: Which part of Tea Party Rules was your favorite to write? Which was the hardest?

AD: My favorite part to write was Cub’s interaction with the teddy bear he usurps at the girl’s backyard tea party. It was the hardest part to write, too. How much did Cub understand about his new acquaintance? What would his reaction be? And most importantly (always!), would kids get it/love it/laugh? My Super Agent (Scott Treimel) and genius Viking editor (Leila Sales) were a huge help with this.

MP: Was there a particular part that you were particularly excited to see illustrated?

AD: I couldn’t wait to see Cub dressed up and miserable in the girl’s tea party finery. (Sorry, Cub! Way to take one for the team!) Illustrator Extraordinaire K.G. Campbell captured this scene perfectly. I still laugh out loud every time I see it, and it’s a riot at book signings! The kids crack up when I crack up!

MP: Would you consider yourself more like Bear or more like the little girl?

AD: I used to be more like the little girl, especially when it came to the way I thought something should play out. I’d get an idea in my head, and be terribly disappointed when the reality wasn’t as fun as I imagined it to be. But lately, I think I’m more like Cub, willing to roll with things more—at least until I hit my breaking point. (Like when I see cookies I can’t have.)

MP: Ending with a hard-hitting question: What is your favorite kind of cookie? What would you want served at a tea party?

AD: I have an absolutely-can’t-resist-zero-willpower weakness for Oreos. (The scene where Cub gobbles the cookies? I think someone slipped K.G. footage of me with a package of Oreos!) But for a tea party, you can’t go wrong with chocolate chip cookies, especially homemade ones. They’re bliss-inducing and fantastic for sharing down to the last cookie—so long as each half has roughly the same number of chips!

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

AD: My next book, Wolfie the Bunny, hops into bookstores everywhere on February 17th. It’s the funny sibling story of a baby wolf adopted by a family of rabbits. Mama and Papa are thrilled with the new addition to the family, but daughter Dot is certain, “He’s going to eat us all up!” It’s adorably illustrated by the amazing Zachariah OHora. I’m over-the-moon to work with him and the fabulous folks at LB Kids, and can’t wait for everyone to meet Wolfie and the fam!

Thanks again to Ame Dyckman for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find more information about her books on her website.

If you want to read more about Tea Party Rules check out my review!

Author Interview: Nova Ren Suma on Imaginary Girls

Nova Ren Suma is here today to talk about her novel Imaginary Girls. This year also marks the three year anniversary of the book being published. To celebrate, in addition to our nifty interview, Nova is running a blog series with guest posts from authors about the “book of their heart” so be sure to check that out. (You may also want to enter to win a copy of Imaginary Girls! Just saying.)

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Nova Ren Suma (NRS): It’s a long and convoluted story about how I came to be a published YA author—because writing YA wasn’t my original intention, and I started off writing novels for adults. During those years I worked a series of day jobs in book publishing in New York City—I was a production editor, the in-house person who handles the copyediting of the books. It was at one of these day jobs that I started reading YA novels that blew my mind. Novels by Laura Kasischke. Laura Ruby. Rita Williams-Garcia. Bennett Madison. I realized what was possible in YA, and I wanted to be a part of it. I took a short story I’d written and shifted and reshaped and expanded it, and it became Imaginary Girls. That’s one part of the story, but I’ll leave it at that.

MP: What was the inspiration for Imaginary Girls?

NRS: Place and a person. Most of my novels start out that way. The place is my hometown and the reservoir where I used to sneak swims with friends when I was a teenager. And the person is my little sister, Laurel Rose. I wanted to write about the bond between an older sister and her baby sister, and throw in some magical thinking to see what happens…

MP: Obviously, Imaginary Girls is a story about sisters among other things. You have written on your website about this book being written largely for your sister and also interviewed your sister about the book. When you started Imaginary Girls did you always know this story would center around two sisters?

NRS: Oh yes—that’s the heart of the book. Imaginary Girls first started off as a short story about two sisters, Ruby and Chloe. They were always there, from the beginning. My little sister was born when I was nine and a half years old, and I delighted in helping take care of her, so it felt like she was mine. I guess this makes me the Ruby of the story, but actually Chloe is more like me and my sister is a lot more like Ruby—beautiful and magnetic. We both see ourselves in the book in different ways, and I would never have written it if not for my sister.

MP: Although ultimately fictional, the town Ruby and Chloe call home is based on a real one. Did any actual locations make it into this novel? What was it like writing about a real place where you spent some of your formative years?

NRS: The town in Imaginary Girls is taken and distorted from the Woodstock area in the Hudson Valley of New York, which is where I lived during high school. The reservoir is the Ashokan Reservoir, which was a short walk across the highway and through the woods from one of the houses where I lived back then. The Town Green, in the center of Woodstock, where I wasted many hours waiting for something interesting to happen on weekend nights is there in the book. The rec field and the artists’ cemetery are both there. The Youth Center, where I hung out with my friends, is there. Cumby’s, the convenience store at the edge of town, is there. Sweet Sue’s in Phoenicia, where I’d get strawberry-banana pancakes on weekends is there… I can’t even remember all the places that ended up in the book. Yet at the same time, I shifted and distorted and played with the place. It’s totally real and yet entirely made-up.

I often take real things, places, and people and distort them for my novels. The weirdest—and yet coolest—thing is when people from my past recognize things, like a night we went skinny-dipping in the reservoir and ran from the cops. We’re immortalized in a way, even if the story took a magical turn none of us lived through.

MP: During the story Ruby (and sometimes even Chloe) manages to say something strongly enough to make it true. If you had the same power of conviction, what would you say into being?

NRS: If I had that kind of power, I would save those pronouncements for the people I love. There is someone I want to be healthy. I would speak those words for her. And there is someone I want to be recognized for his talent. I would make that happen for him and then I’d step back and applaud.

MP: Is there any character or scene in this story that you especially enjoyed writing? Is there any character or scene you were excited to introduce to readers?

NRS: I loved writing about Chloe swimming across the reservoir. In reality, I am too afraid to swim far, and I’m not such a good swimmer—I would never have attempted that, no matter who asked me. I also loved imagining what might be under that water, still breathing beneath her, after all these years. Those were the most exhilarating pieces to write.

MP: You describe your books as including elements of magic realism and have written about the subject of magical realism in YA on your website before. What is your favorite part of writing magic realism into your stories?

NRS: I like playing with the surreal, and twisting a bit of the fantastical into the everyday world. I guess I’ve always believed there could be more than what we see out there, even if we’ll never understand it or know for sure. It all feels perfectly realistic to me.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

NRS: My next book is a ghostly story of suspense called The Walls Around Us, set partly inside a girls’ juvenile detention center and partly in a ballet school, and told in two voices, one living and one dead. It’s coming out in Spring 2015 from Algonquin Young Readers.

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

NRS: The first manuscript you write may not always be the one that gets published. Or the second, or others beyond that. As someone who wrote and tried to publish two novels before my first book deal and securing an agent, I will tell you that I was very close to giving up. I reached a moment when I thought it just wasn’t going to happen for me, that maybe publication wasn’t in my future. I thought I’d failed.

So I took some time to wallow—I’ll be honest here, wallowing was part of it—but after that, I realized I could never give up, and so I reinvented myself, and I tried again.

Successes are all the more delicious when you’ve struggled to get them. I’m glad, now, that it wasn’t too easy.

Thank you again to Nova for taking the time to answer these questions and happy 3 year anniversary to Imaginary Girls!

To find out more about Imaginary Girls you can read my review.

You can also visit Nova’s website for more information about her and her books or read her blog for more smart thoughts on writing from her and guest authors.

I’m also giving away a copy of Imaginary Girls. Details here!