Today we have the pleasure of interviewing Shana Burg, author of Laugh with the Moon. Laugh with the Moon, is a fish-out-of-water story about thirteen-year old Clare, who after the death of her mother, has to travel to the African Jungle with her father for sixty-four days. The story tells about the life-changing experience Clare has and how she adapts to a new culture, as well as how she helps heal herself and others after more heartbreak. Kirkus Reviews called Laugh with The Moon, “A vivid work of art .”
First off, I have to say that I really enjoyed this book.
Thank you! I’m so glad to hear it! And thanks for inviting me to the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. I’m attaching some pictures I took in Malawi in case you want to use them.
And here’s a link to the trailer: http://shanaburg.com/book-trailer-laugh-with-the-moon
Your own history is quite fascinating. I’m sure you’ve been asked this question many times, but for the sake of our readers, how much of your own experience in Malawi has been depicted in this book?
When I went to Malawi, I kept a journal. I referred back to that journal a lot while I wrote Laugh with the Moon. I never ate mphalabungu (caterpillars) or taught my own class of students in a Malawian school like the main character Clare does, but I did visit many schools in the bush and spent time in classrooms interviewing children, teachers, and parents. The characters in Laugh with the Moon are composites of friends I made during my visit and kept in touch with for many years after.
Death seemed to be an ever-present reality in the area. How important to you, was it to show this condition in the book?
Showing that death is everywhere was very important to me. Clare has just lost her mother, and when she’s still at home in Massachusetts, among other things, she worries that she sticks out like a sore thumb among her peers. Then she gets to Malawi and there are kids everywhere whose parents, brothers, and sisters have died. This is the reality of life in one of the poorest countries on earth. And to me, it is shocking.
The life expectancy of a person in Malawi is now 55 years old, while here in the U.S. we can expect to live until our 80s or 90s and beyond. I made three good friends in Malawi, and each one died before they turned 40 years old.
This all sounds depressing, right? So in the face of extreme poverty, it’s amazing to see people who are innovative, resilient, and even joyful, though of course, not all the time.
Your website has a link to an educator’s guide, which was very interesting. I know “message” is a taboo word, but besides wanting to entertain your reader, which you have done, what do you hope your readers get out of this book?
I wanted to show that just because people are poor and might need aid from other countries, that doesn’t mean they need our pity. The Malawians friends I made were stronger in many ways than me, and they had lots to teach me about love and life.
Besides your travels there, how much research was involved for Laugh with the Moon and how did you come up with the name?
I spent a year studying the Malawian primary education system back when I was in graduate school for public policy in 1996-97. More than a decade later, when I decided to write this book, I knew I needed to update my research and find out how things had changed since I’d visited.
I had two AMAZING research assistants, Felicity Charity Mponda and Lovemore Nkhata, both of whom were living in Malawi cities and answered literally hundreds and hundreds of questions online. Also, Dr. Kevin Bergman of World Altering Medicine who works in Malawi helped me with the medical aspects of the book. And of course, I read books, blog posts, articles, and anything else I could find.
How receptive was your editor to the book?
My editor is Michelle Poploff of Delacorte Press, Random House. She absolutely rocks! I had a two-book deal. When I finished writing my first book A Thousand Never Evers, I wasn’t sure what to write next. She said, “What are you most passionate about?” Instantly, I knew I needed to write about the experiences I’d had in Malawi. She enthusiastically agreed.
What books and authors inspired you?
Alexandra Fuller is an adult author who writes memoirs about growing up in Africa. I love her books. Also, well into writing Laugh with the Moon, I read The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, which is set in Malawi and inspired me to make the final push to finish the revisions. And then to help me understand how girls process the loss of a mother I read an excellent book, Motherless Daughters, by Hope Edelman.
What is your writing routine like?
If only I had one! I work full-time in schools teaching kids about community service, so I squeeze my writing in on nights, vacations, and weekends. Also, I have summers off, so that’s my most productive time.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on a dystopian thriller. Stay tuned…
What advice could you give to aspiring writers?
A few things: First and most importantly, live life and have adventures. Meet people different from yourself. Learn new skills. You can’t just hole up in your room reading and writing all the time, or you won’t have anything to write about. Second of all, keep a journal. This will help you find a voice that is uniquely yours. Third, don’t feel like you need long stretches of undisturbed time in a villa off the coast of Italy to write a novel. You don’t, although it sure would be nice! So long as you are consistently grabbing bits and pieces of time when you can find it, eventually you will produce your masterpiece.
Ok, this will be my staple question and how lucky are you to be the first?? Now, who plays Clare in the movie adaptation?
I love it. Seriously, I’m going to cast an unknown. This year, my son switched to a new school. There is this girl in the school who, I swear, is exactly Clare as I picture her in my mind. I haven’t told this girl because I don’t want to freak her out, but I’m sure once I get the movie deal and I let her know she’s the star, she won’t be too disturbed. I just need the movie deal to come through in the next couple of months, before this girl goes off to high school and gets too old for the part. So readers out there, if you happen to know anyone in Hollywood, please tell them to get a move on already!
Thank you again, Shana and good luck with Laugh with the Moon!
You can catch more interviews with Shana Burg at:
7/17: Mr. Schu Reads
7/17: Sharp Read
7/20: Journey of a Bookseller
7/22: Nerdy Book Club
7/25: Read, Write, Reflect
7/30: The Pirate Tree
7/31: The Pirate Tree
One lucky person will win a copy of this book, by posting a comment about this interview below. The winner will be selected randomly or by who I think uses the best example of Times New Roman font.