One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Garth Nix

Check out previous interviews in the One Thing Leads to Another series here.

I’ve had the privilege of working on these Hub interviews for awhile now, and people who know me will often assume that whatever book I’m currently reading is linked to this series.  They’re often right, of course, though not always, and I won’t lie–it’s fun to confirm that yes, Awesome Author you see me reading really is my next interview.  A lot of the time this leads to excellent book talk and mutual gushing, and sometimes it leads to me energetically detailing all the reasons why they need to read said author, like, yesterday.  And then sometimes I find myself sort of tongue-tied by the opportunity I’ve been given and all I can do is just nod appreciatively along with their exclamations and hope that my slack-jawed bobbing conveys the enormity of my glee and awe.  Usually it’s a combination of all of those reactions, driven partly by where I am in the interview process and partly by whoever I’m talking to about it.

Which is all to say that the last couple months working on this interview with (ahhh!) Garth Nix, I’ve noticed something very interesting and unusual about those interactions: no matter who I shamelessly and giddily gushed with, I got a similar reaction.  Intake of breath, widening of eyes, exclamation of jealousy/excitement/surprise and then some variation of ‘Oh-my-gosh-I-love-him-so-much-I’ve-read-all-his-books-I-can’t-believe-you-get-to-interview-him-that’s-so-awesome-you-have-to-ask him about…”  It was weird, really, not because I didn’t feel the same way, but because literally everyone said this.  My 21 year old nephew and my 12 year old niece both said this.  The mother of my daughter’s best friend said this, as did various other middle aged women (like me!) from book club.  My best friend said this.  My 16 year old friend and book buddy said this.  A random father waiting, like me, to pick up his kid from theater school said this.   People 20 years older and 30 years younger than me said this.  Men, women, little kids, and everyone in between said this.  Everyone said this.

Seriously, I am impressed.

Garth Nix, you clearly have a wide and deeply devoted readership that spans just about every age group and publishing category.  “I don’t usually read fantasy, but since it’s Garth Nix…”  “I don’t usually read kids books, but I loved the Old Kingdom series so much I just had to read The Keys to the Kingdom books.” “I don’t like science fiction but A Confusion of Princes was spectacular.”  You get the idea.  And I’m right there with them, reading and marveling at every book and feeling really, really lucky and grateful at the chance to talk teen years, power, and the importance of being able to convey deep enthusiasm with the remarkable Garth Nix.  Thank you!

Always Something There to Remind Me

garth-nixPlease describe your teenage self.

I think like most teenagers, I appeared differently to different people, or at least wanted to present a different version of myself. My thirteen year-old self was also markedly different from my nineteen year-old self, as you would expect. I guess one thing that stayed the same throughout my teenage years was that even though I was spiritually a complete nerd with my love of reading and role-playing games and doing well at school, I kept this compartmentalized so that I could also remain part of the most socially-acceptable group in school, to which I belonged at least in part thanks to my best friend being the most popular boy (and school captain). I was also a curious mix of a dreamer and a realist, I day-dreamed but never at the expense of ignoring what was going on in real life. In a way this is a very useful trait for an author, to have the dreams but learn how to harness and use them rather than just drifting along with them.

I wasn’t really a rebellious teen, though I drank too much alcohol too frequently and smoked a lot of dope at various times, though I did so mainly because everyone else did, not for its own sake. Fortunately I didn’t have an addictive nature and so was never more than a casual user and got it out of my system quite early, having basically given up everything but alcohol (and less of it) by the time I was nineteen. I was also lucky not to get into more serious drug use or trouble, because some of my friends did and I could have been drawn into it, or just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

At various times I was a somewhat angry teen, though I was never really sure what I was angry about. Bad tempers run in my father’s side of the family, getting progressively better managed with each generation, but I was still working on that in my teenage years. Because I read very widely, I also knew lots of curious facts or thought I did, and so could be a terrible know-it-all which annoyed people, though I got better at not delivering unnecessary information or showing off my knowledge. I was also really quite shy, though people didn’t know I was, because I put on a good front. Even my best friend wouldn’t believe how difficult I found it sometimes in social situations, because I would appear to be fine.

What did you want to be when you grew up? Why?

From about fourteen, I thought I would become an officer in the Australian Army. I planned to go to our military college and get my degree there and have a career in the army. I have had a deep fascination for military history from a very young age, and a family tradition of military service of various kinds. However, I joined the part-time Army Reserve when I was seventeen and still at school and though I enjoyed this and had five years basically spending all my summers either doing a course or in field training, by the time I left school I had worked out that being in the regular army would not work for me, because I had become aware that it really constrained you to do nothing else, it was very much a total lifestyle decision. I also realized that I was much more an individualist than a team player, which tends not to work so well in the armed services, apart from in a few very specialized areas. Continue reading One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Garth Nix

One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Andrew Smith

Check out previous interviews in the One Thing Leads to Another series here.

My mind is still reeling from Grasshopper Jungle (which I read weeks and weeks ago…will its hold on me ever wane I wonder?) so I want to take a moment to talk about some of the disparate thoughts that have connected themselves in my head.

When I think about Andrew Smith, I think about the guys who hung out in the library at the private Catholic school where I was librarian before my daughter was born: my TA, the members of the anime club, the boys who ate lunch in my office and talked about books and video games with me.  I wish so much that I had been able to give them Winger or The Marbury Lens or 100 Sideways Miles then, at that time, because those books…they would have loved those books.  (Luckily, social media keeps us all in touch and it doesn’t matter that they’re all in college now because they’re awesome and we still talk about books.)  I think about my friend Walter and how I pushed other books aside to read Grasshopper Jungle because he raved about it and because I trust his judgement implicitly, and how his wise comments about books offer more than just literary insight, and how he gave me by far the best parenting advice I ever received.  Thinking about my daughter and Walter’s advice and my hopes for her future brings to mind a man, someone connected to the school, who changed the course of my life, and how much I wish I could sit him down with Grasshopper Jungle and A.S. King’s Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, and ask him to reevaluate.  That’s another connection; I read those two books back to back and they are inextricably linked in my brain now and I doubt I’ll ever recover (at least I hope not!)

And more than anything, thinking about Andrew Smith and his books–all his books–makes me think about my brother, who grew up with seven sisters, and our fascinating, infuriating, wonderful, complicated conversations about representation and cultural expectations.  My brother is so awesome.  And you know what else is awesome?  That a book about identity and history and connections and giant insects who eat people’s heads can tease out so many essential connections, creating a through-line that feels genuine and illuminating to me.  And that’s just one book.

Thank you so much Andrew, for writing honest books and giving honest answers.  Reading them was (and is) a very good idea.

Always Something There to Remind Me

andrew smithPlease describe your teenage self.

As a teen, I was pretty much a loner. I had a few close friends, I suppose, but being so much younger than my classmates in high school was a social obstacle that was difficult to overcome. I read a lot, but came into reading later in high school. And I wrote all the time.

What did you want to be when you grew up?  Why?

I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I still don’t know if I can say why. It was just something that I felt like I had to do. Jobs and employment—a means of simply making money—never really mattered to me at all, and I never once thought I would make a job out of writing until I was challenged by a friend into giving it a go.

What were your high school years like?

I attended high school in Southern California. I also played soccer when I was in high school (don’t hold that against me). I will say that I don’t really have any significant or inspiring adult influences in my background, but one time when I wrote a short story for an English teacher, she gave me an F on it because she said there was no way that a kid my age could ever write a story like that, so, therefore it must have been plagiarized. That made an impact on me. Also, I still remember the story. Oh boy! It was terrible!

What were some of your passions during that time?

Well, like I said, I played soccer and tennis when I was in high school. I also did track and field one year for my father, who was a track coach. I hated track. My dad forced me to do it. I had a brother who was quite older than I was, so I grew up listening to bands like the Who, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, and the Doors. And, as far as reading tastes went, when I had money to spend on books, I would buy the thickest paperbacks I could get my hands on because I wanted to get as many pages for my money as possible. So I actually did read Moby Dick, and books like Jude the Obscure and The Idiot when I was a teen. Continue reading One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Andrew Smith

One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Gene Luen Yang

Check out previous interviews in the One Thing Leads to Another series here.

I remember sitting in the audience at the 2007 Michael L. Printz Award ceremony at the ALA Annual Conference in Washington D.C. and waiting a little more impatiently, and with a little more anticipation than normal, for the program to start.  There were a couple of reasons for this, sure, but in large part it was because I couldn’t wait to hear what Gene Luen Yang had to say.  I’d just read American Born Chinese, the first ever graphic novel to be awarded the Printz, and, like the committee, was blown away by the combination of social commentary, Chinese mythology, and American pop culture.  Plus, as an ardent fan of comics and graphic novels, I was really thrilled to see his work recognized.

His speech was so worth waiting for.  Not only did it educate and entertain, it also surprised me (“Two years ago, I photocopied and stapled individual chapters of American Born Chinese to sell by the dozen at comic book conventions, usually to personal friends or my mom. Today, I’m standing here in front of you.” Seriously?!) and offered one of my favorite library-related warnings: “You librarians are all that stand in the way of the entire world turning into one big, no-holds-barred MySpace discussion board.”  I highly recommend you read the entire speech.

Since then I’ve snapped up each new work, and I know I’m not alone.  Boxers and Saints?  I mean, wow.  Just so freaking good.  And now we have The Shadow Hero, which is so cool in every direction and way possible.  If you haven’t yet, go read them.  Probably now.

Thank you so much, Gene, for taking the time to talk to me and for your good humor and thoughtfulness.  I’ve been waiting a little more impatiently, and with a little more anticipation than normal, for this interview.


Always Something There to Remind Me

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPlease describe your teenage self.

I was a standard-issue nerd.  I had asthma.  My nose was always stuffed up.  I read comic books and programmed computers.  I couldn’t catch a ball to save my life.

What did you want to be when you grew up?  Why?

When I was really little, I wanted to be a Disney animator.  I loved stories and I loved drawing.  Animation seemed like a natural way to bring them together.

After I began collecting comics in the fifth grade, I felt torn.  Did I want to become an animator or a comic book creator?  I eventually drifted towards comics.  I wasn’t old enough to know that the animation industry offered things like regular paychecks and health insurance, but I could still sense my parents’ disappointment.  They weren’t all that thrilled about my dream of becoming an animator, but when I told them I wanted to be a cartoonist?  Man.  I might as well have kicked my old man in the stomach.

What were your high school years like?

Overall, I was pretty happy in high school.  Sure, I had my share of sleepless nights.  I got stressed out about grades and romance and finding my place in the world.  I experienced the crushing oppression of the high school social hierarchy.  I suffered bouts of crippling self-doubt.

But when I think back to those years, I remember the fun.  I remember hanging out with my friends, playing mahjong late into the night.  I remember being really proud of this t-shirt design I did for school.  And I remember making the pilgrimage to our local comic book store every Friday to check out that week’s releases.

Mr. Matsuoka, who taught me computer science, had a huge influence on me.  He was a great teacher, but he was also my first Asian American male teacher—really, my first Asian American male role model.  He had a dignity about him that made you trust him.  He spoke with authority.  I remember feeling really comfortable in his class, like I belonged, but not knowing why.  I had an easier time speaking up and asking questions in his classroom than anywhere else on campus.  Continue reading One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Gene Luen Yang

One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Stephanie Kuehn

Check out previous interviews in the One Thing Leads to Another series here.

I credit the 2014 Hub Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge for the motivation to move debut author Stephanie Kuehn’s Charm & Strange to the top of my reading pile, and I’m so glad I did–what an astounding book!  I was thrilled when it was named the winner of the 2014 William C. Morris Award.  Of course credit for the presence of Complicit on the top of the reading pile as soon as it came out last month goes to Stephanie herself and I expect it will happen again with next year’s Delicate Monsters.  If you haven’t had the pleasure (is “pleasure” the right word here? “mind-bending experience” might be more accurate) of reading her work you’ll want to rectify that immediately, at which point I won’t need to remind you to watch out for her next book because you’ll do that on your own.  But if you haven’t had a chance to read some of the wise and thoughtful things she has to say about teens and mental health, go do that too; the world of young adult literature is seriously lucky to have her.

Thank you so much, Stephanie, for taking the time to talk with me, for your honesty and for your thoughtful explanations–I could have asked a dozen more questions based on your fascinating answers!  And I think The Smiths are kind of boring too.  

Always Something There to Remind Me

sk-pic Please describe your teenage self.

When I think back on who I was as a teen, I see a lot of contradictions. I was quiet and awkward. I was loud and gregarious. I was athletic. I was internal. I was lonely. I was social. I was passionate. I was morbidly apathetic. Maybe the only constant is that I’m still the same way. Consistently inconsistent.

What did you want to be when you grew up?  Why?

I wanted to somehow be involved in filmmaking. I’m pretty sure I saw nearly every single horror film that came out on video in the eighties, despite the fact my parents didn’t even own a VCR. On weekends, I would walk to the video store, rent a VCR, along with as many movies from the horror section as they would let me, and then stumble home with my arms full and set everything up. Part of me wanted to direct films or write them, but I was also really interested in special effects.

As for why…well, I’ve always felt a pull to do something creative, and films were an art form that I really connected with at that time of my life. Horror isn’t at all my thing anymore (too scary!), but the films I watched then were stories that explored emotions I wanted to explore: fear and doubt and distrust and disbelief and paradigm shifts about identity and who we are and what the world around us is all about. Continue reading One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Stephanie Kuehn

One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with E. Lockhart

Check out previous interviews in the One Thing Leads to Another series here.

It would be easy for me to jot down a list of my earliest and most formative books, books that resonated in some deep way, that seeped into my subconscious and became part of what I think of as me in my earliest incarnation–books I read (or had read to me) when I was four, five, six years old.  My list would include things like the Green Knowe series by L.M. Boston, the Oz books, Edward Eager and E. Nesbit–you get the idea.   My 5 1/2 year old daughter Nora loves many of my favorite books already, which is wonderful in a whole new way, and sharing my special books with her is one of the best things ever.  But you know what was even better?  Watching her discover a new special series of her own and I have the amazing E. Lockhart, who also writes under the name Emily Jenkins, to thank for that.

The Toys Go Out books weren’t around when I was a kid, so reading them was new for both of us.  Nora was enthralled.  She requested her own Stingray and Lumpy, and after an angst-filled week of agonizing over whether the other kids would understand, she took them in a little backpack to her very first show-and-tell.  She had rehearsed exactly what she wanted to say, including telling them about her favorite chapter, “Chapter Four: The Terrifying Bigness of the Washing Machine,” and it all went perfectly; her love and excitement was glorious.  We read Toy Dance Party and then Toys Come Home, the final book in the series. 

I don’t think I can convey what it was like, reading that last chapter aloud, watching the words sink slowly into her psyche and become part of her in a way that was totally her.  She got it and it mattered to her and it was brilliant and made me want to laugh and cry at the same time.  Sometimes when she echoes the words or sentiment of that last chapter I know she means to quote the book; sometimes the words pour out and they just come from her, because they’re her words now too.  There’s a thoughtful and generous piece of her personality that is pretty much a direct result of Stingray and Lumpy and the wisdom of Plastic.  I mean, just a couple weeks ago I overheard her explain to a teacher that it was important to help a sad friend because “we are here for each other.  That’s the whole point.”  Can you even?

Someday I’ll introduce her to Roo and Gretchen and Cady and especially Frankie and we’ll share that too, and I can’t wait.  But until then, I’m taking this opportunity to say thank you, Emily, for giving me that moment, and for giving Nora those ideas.  If you need us, we’ll be in the linen closet, with our friends.

Always Something There to Remind Me

2013LockhartBlueLowResPlease describe your teenage self.

I was voted worst driver in my senior class. My American literature teacher got angry at me for writing our Thoreau essay as a parody. I wore blue mascara.  I was terrifically ambitious and had no idea what to do with that ambition.

What did you want to be when you grew up?  Why?

I wanted to be an actress but by senior year of high school I realized I didn’t really have it in me to be a good one.  I wrote about this realization in Dramarama.

What were some of your passions during that time?

Boys. I was really interested in boys.

What were your high school years like?

I went to an arts high school in Seattle where I was miserable. Then I went to prep school and was happy.  The one school was dingy and competitive and socially toxic, whereas the other was bright and outdoorsy and charity-minded.  At neither school did my teachers single me out. Teachers have never much liked me. An adult who influenced my life was my boyfriend’s mother. (I know, I told you boys were my primary interest —  and it’s true — but by senior year I had settled down for a bit.)  This woman was a strong character, and she liked me. She used to lounge on her deck in a bikini and drink wine with dinner. Sometimes she’d yell about stuff and she always had cookies in the cookie jar. But she was also a well-known judge, so fierce on the bench people called her “the dragon lady.”  She appeared completely unafraid of being disliked, and in that way was a really fantastic role model.  Continue reading One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with E. Lockhart

One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Marcus Sedgwick

Check out previous interviews in the One Thing Leads to Another series here.

One of the things I love most about doing this interview series is getting a little sideways glimpse of the incredible people behind the books I love.  In order to figure out what questions I want to ask I read a lot of background material–blog posts, interviews, speeches, reviews and such–and I try and read a lot of their work, if I haven’t already.  The whole process is very indulgent, and often quite fun in and of itself.  And then I send off the interview and am further rewarded with lovely answers to my questions and often the additional treat of trading a handful of emails or whatnot in the process.  This is not a terrible gig, that’s for sure.

As usual, I’ve just inhaled half a dozen books, along with years of blog posts and interviews and all sort of other bits and pieces found online, and it’s truly been a strange and wonderful couple of weeks.  I’d read a handful of these books before, and sort of knew what I was getting into, but immersing myself in the language, the ideas, the characters and stories turned out to be a bit of a revelatory experience and one I’d highly recommend.  White CrowMidwinterblood. Revolver.  These books are not easy to shake, and I don’t really want to.  But honestly, the sideways glimpse I’ve been given of the man behind the words, patched together from correspondence and interviews and blog posts, is going to stick with me just as long; being familiar with his books didn’t really prepare me for just how generous and gracious and engaging he is, and I certainly wasn’t aware of his amazing ability to bend time, his excellent taste in music, or his passion for comics.

It’s been one year since the first One Thing Leads to Another post appeared on The Hub, and I feel remarkably honored to start year two, interview 13, with 2014 Michael L. Printz Award Winner Marcus Sedgwick.  Thank you so much, Marcus, for your willingness to share the painful details, for showing us what determination can accomplish, and for indulging my ’80s music obsession.

Always Something There to Remind Me

©Kate Christer
©Kate Christer

Please describe your teenage self.
Oh God, do I have to? Shy, quiet, introspective, shy, gawky, spotty, shy, timid, scared, shy, nervous and did I mention that I was shy..?

What did you want to be when you grew up?  Why?
I had no idea what I wanted to be when I was a teenager. That worried me I think — I had no idea what life was about, what it could be about, what I wanted, what there even was to think about doing. I found the thought of the adult world very frightening, and still do, in many ways. I had no idea about how things work; things like jobs, money, insurance, mortgages, etc. etc. The adult world seemed so complicated but to be honest, I was just struggling with being a teenager to worry too much about the years to come.  Continue reading One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Marcus Sedgwick

One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Laini Taylor

Check out previous interviews in the One Thing Leads to Another series here.

It might be possible to resist Laini Taylor’s words and worlds, but I kind of doubt it.  I didn’t even try.  A friend sent me Blackbringer (book one of the Dreamdark series) and I fell headlong in love from the first sentence–“The wolf tasted the babe’s face with the tip of his tongue and pronounced her sweet, and the fox licked the back of her head to see if it was so,” for the record.  When Lips Touch was nominated for the National Book Award I was thrilled, but not surprised (it was a YALSA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults as well.)  And then came Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Karou and Akiva and Brimstone and Zuzana and finally the not-very-well-kept-secret of Laini Taylor exploded and it was wonderful, because there is no resisting Laini Taylor’s words and worlds.  The detail, the scope, the sheer width and breath and depth of them just sucks you in like a beautiful, deadly, whirlpool.  Here there be marionettes and teeth and pomegranates and spiders and bat wings and blackened handprints and death and hope and courage and, of course, love, and how can anyone be expected to resist that?  My advice is not to try.  Just dive into the maelstrom and enjoy the ride.

Thank you so much, Laini, for taking the time to talk; for sticking with me through travel, technical difficulties, and kid time; and for the really excellent description of teen hair fail (been there.)

laini taylorAlways Something There to Remind Me

Please describe your teenage self.
I was ordinary and undistinguished, probably wearing ill-fitting jeans and exhibiting a lack of hair-styling mastery. If I wasn’t reading, I was daydreaming. I had a very good vocabulary and no sense of when not to use obscure words in conversation, so I got a lot of blank looks, and I’m sure I sounded pretentious. I memorized poetry, loved foreign films, and dreamed of escaping to Europe to pursue some grand, artistic life. I was a decent student and a decent athlete, and I had good parents and a small number of good friends. My high school life wasn’t terrible, but it would make a really boring book.

What did you want to be when you grew up?  Why?
I always wanted to be a writer. This has been a constant since very early childhood, with a few other—half-hearted—interests cropping up along the way, generally due to the influence of some book I was reading at the time. Like, thanks to Gerald Durrell, I wanted to travel the world collecting wild animals for zoos. None of these detours were ever serious. I’ve only ever really wanted to be a writer. In high school, specifically, I wanted to be a writer who vanished inexplicably and was believed dead. Yes, really. I would not be dead, of course. I would be living fabulously, secretly, in Tahiti. People would discuss the mystery of my disappearance in cafes the world over. This fantasy was mostly not serious. Mostly. I’ve always had ludicrous, over-the-top daydreams! Plus, I was under the influence of John Fowles novels at that time.

What were your high school years like?
When I was fourteen, my family moved from Brussels, Belgium to Orange County, California. It was 1987ish. This was not a happy move. I’d been living overseas for six years (my dad was in the Navy), first in a small, southern Italian beach town and then a major European capital. I’m sure I thought I was very worldly, but California was not impressed. I was lacking certain critical skills. For example, I didn’t know how to use a curling iron! In Orange County in 1987, you had to use a curling iron. For my first attempt, I curled in the wrong direction and scorched a kink into my hair. It was awesome. But I learned how to do it, sort of, to this effect: I would start out the school day with giant tidal-wave bangs (success!), but by second period the hair spray would start to give out (failure!) and my hair would slowly lose its structural integrity and collapse into a sad, half-resting state. Thinking back, I’m sure that not all of high school was about hair, but it kind of feels that way. I challenge you to look at my year book and notice anything else! “That hair! Oh my god, that hair!”

Continue reading One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Laini Taylor

One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Shannon Hale

Check out previous interviews in the One Thing Leads to Another series here.

I’ve been trying to write this introduction for a week now and I think the problem is that I live in the same city as Shannon Hale, which means that I see her around now and then, at libraries or bookstores or whatever.  And I like her a whole lot.  She’s exactly as awesome as you think she is (probably a bit more, actually.) 

So I’m jotting down ideas for this introduction but they’re all about how nice she was at Snowbird that one time, or how she graciously smoothed over that awkward situation with the convention, or how much fun it was when she won both the 2003 Utah Children’s Book Award and the 2003 Utah Speculative Fiction Award for The Goose Girl. I’m thinking how much I love reading her blog and how amazed I am at her time management skills, her good humor, and her thoughtfulness about a myriad of issues. 

And those are all true things and good times, but I want (need) to talk about the writing here because seriously, Shannon Hale’s writing.  Her books, whether they’re adult romantic comedy, middle grade fantasy, or YA science fiction, are often called “spellbinding” and “captivating” and “lyrical” (an oft-overused word that is utterly appropriate here) and they are certainly all those things.  She’s one of the few authors I re-read for language as much as for story (honestly, I could have spent most of this interview interrogating her about her metaphor creation process.)

And yet, I’m still thinking about how happy she was talking about her movie Austenland at the Sundance Film Festival and how when she and her husband drove over to my house like normal people to pick up some boxes of books, they made me laugh really hard.  Shannon, if you were less awesome it would be a lot easier to talk about your work.  On the other hand, your work speaks (oh so eloquently) for itself, so I guess we’re good.  Thank you, thank you for taking the time to talk with me, especially during the busiest month ever, and for writing really excellent books. 

Always Something There to Remind Me

shale-lgPlease describe your teenage self.
I was dramatic. As a teen I felt as if I was living in a tragic drama, whereas now I’m in a comedy of errors. I felt everything profoundly. I ached and hoped and daydreamed and regretted and longed. I think I was fairly smart but unmotivated. I’d do homework but forget to turn it in. I rarely dated. My group of friends was all-important, and the ups and downs of friendships consumed me.

What did you want to be when you grew up? Why?
I always wanted to be a writer, but I also did theater and hoped to be an actress. Two impossible dreams!

What were your high school years like?
I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, in a fancy side of town, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I thought we were struggling because my parents were super frugal and while the people around me went on trips and bought new cars and ate out at restaurants, we often dined on poached-egg-on-toast and were lucky if we got to rent a video once in a while (certainly no cable!).

Right before I entered high school, the boundaries changed. I was supposed to have gone to East High (which years later would be the backdrop of High School Musical) but ended up going to West High. Which was on the west side of the city. Across the tracks, like, literally. I heard scary things: “druggie school,” “gang school.” Some teacher had been stabbed. There were shootings.

By the end of our freshman year, I was the only girl from my elementary school friends who hadn’t transferred out of West High. I loved it. I never saw drugs or guns. The school was so diverse, people from all kinds of economic, religious, cultural, racial backgrounds. It was such a breath of fresh air for me. (Though I did become ashamed of my fancy neighborhood and tried to keep my address a secret.)  Continue reading One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Shannon Hale

One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Rainbow Rowell

Check out previous interviews in the One Thing Leads to Another series here.

I don’t mind telling you that I was sophomore in high school in 1986.  I was (as so many of us were) 15 going on confused, and everything was new and weird and cool and hard and sometimes both better and worse than I’d ever imagined.  1986 was not a great year for me (understatement!) and 1987-1989 were only marginally better.  I spent a lot of time working on the school newspaper, almost as much time playing D&D with the Science Fiction and Fantasy club, and I got grounded for going to a Thompson Twins concert on a Sunday night.  I spent what little money I had on books and record albums (yes, I was a snob and only used cassette tapes for making mixes) and I shaved the sides of my head and wore a lot of black.  It was a thing.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.  When I first started to hear the buzz about Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park I was torn.  I’m a genre reader through and through, I won’t lie, and even though I love so many works of realistic fiction, it’s not always easy for me to willingly pull them out of the pile and crack the cover.


So I did, and as soon as Park sat down next to Eleanor it was all over.  I won’t even start on Fangirl, except to point you back to exhibit B (D&D) above and then raise that a couple of Buffy Posting Board parties and more conventions than I can count.

Thank you so, so much Rainbow, for working with me on these questions, for your thoughtful answers, and your books.  I hope you know what I mean when I say you make it better down here.

rainbow_about_headshotAlways Something There to Remind Me

Please describe your teenage self.
Agh. This is so difficult to think about in an honest way.

I had a really painful, chaotic life as a teenager. I don’t think I had much hope for myself or for the future. So, looking back, I’m amazed that I wasn’t more self-destructive.

I was very focused on school, because school was an oasis for me. But I wasn’t every focused on grades. The high school newspaper was my life; I was editor, and I wrote a column – called Of Cabbages and Kings – and I took it all very seriously.

I took everything very seriously. I’ve never been someone with moderate emotions. If I like something, I love it. And if I’m angry, I’m outraged. That was even more true of me as a teenager.

I think I felt like a misfit, but when I look back at those years, my memories are full of friends.

Continue reading One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Rainbow Rowell

One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Maggie Stiefvater

Check out previous interviews in the One Thing Leads to Another series here.

Here’s a personal story. Almost five years ago now I was just finishing up back-to-back stints on selection committees as a member of the 2008 Michael L. Printz Award committee and then the 2009 Robert F. Sibert Information Book Medal committee.  It was a heady time, made slightly more mad by the arrival of a new baby (our first–this is important) right in the middle of the process.  That summer I found myself sitting in Chicago at a dinner hosted by Scholastic, trying desperately to engage in articulate adult conversation while totally consumed by the thought of my tiny daughter being so far away (ok, back at the hotel) in addition to being really, really tired and mostly incoherent.  I was seated next to a very  interesting author whose name sounded so familiar–I was sure I had a book or two waiting for me at home in the stacks of titles I’d had to hold off on reading while I finished committee work.  She was young and cool and her editor was so excited about her forthcoming book (which sounded awesome) that even my unfounded parental worry couldn’t dampen his enthusiasm.

Obviously that author was Maggie Stiefvater, and obviously being completely freaked out about being away from my (new) baby for so long meant that I didn’t take advantage of the moment to hit her up for some awkward dinner conversation or polite small talk, which is just sad.  Mostly I remember (through new mother haze) being sort of jealously appalled that someone who could draw so well (I think she was doing it at the table) was there to be honored for her writing.  (I should also note that Maggie’s editor is David Levithan, who was sitting across from me.  Hello missed opportunity!)

Anyway, after the conference I went home and dug Lament out of a pile of books and felt very sad indeed, because it was Excellent and I was sitting right next to her and could have said so, had I been capable of thought and/or speech.  And that was before The Scorpio Races and The Raven Boys and all the rest.  It was also before I fully realized the extent of Maggie Stiefvater’s ridiculous talent, so maybe it was for the best–I probably would have babbled.  I mean, have you seen her book trailers?

Thank you, Maggie, for taking the time to answer my questions (especially the forty-point ones) and sorry for the terrible dinner conversation back in Chicago.  I love your work.

Always Something There to Remind Me

Maggie Stiefvater. Photo by Robert Severi.
Maggie Stiefvater. Photo by Robert Severi.

Please describe your teenage self.

Sulky. Effervescent. Pugnacious. Push-over. Gloomy. Elated. Musical. Musical. Musical. I was a creature of opposites: black-hearted and belligerent or funny and warm — no one got both sides of me.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

The first thing I remembering wanting to be was a writer — books, especially, because books pleased me, and in my family, there was no difference between consuming a thing and making a thing. But I also wanted to be a screenwriter, because movies pleased me, and a cartoonist, because cartoons pleased me, and an animator, because animated movies pleased me, and a soundtrack composer and a pilot and a radio personality and a pastry chef and a rose breeder and — I wanted to be lots of things.

What were your high school years like?

Technically speaking, I had no high school years. I sort of had high school months, but those barely even counted. I was home-schooled from sixth grade on, and by the time I got to high school I was bored with it — school felt like practice for real life, and I’d wanted to start real life for a very long time. My high school books arrived and I just thought: no. I tested out of school (can you do that now? It sounds fishy) and went to college at age 16. That . . . was a thing.

I had a rather rough time with a lot of the men I encountered in positions of college power at the time, but I did have one history professor who was incredibly influential. I recall that in one of my classes, he gave me a B on a paper, and I marched into his office and hurled it on the desk and said “B!” He concurred. I spat, “Tell me anyone else in that class wrote a better paper than I did!” He said that he couldn’t. I said, “Then why!? Why did I get a B?” And he replied, “Because you could write a better paper.”

I’ve never forgotten that I’m only in competition with myself.

Continue reading One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Maggie Stiefvater