Posts Tagged Author Interview

Interview with Author/Illustrator Caroline Palmer

Today, I’d like to extend a warm, Mixed-Up welcome to Caroline Palmer, author and illustrator of Camp Prodigy, a debut graphic novel about two nonbinary kids who navigate friendship and identity at summer orchestra camp. Touted by Kirkus as “an immersive and affirming story that hits the right notes,” the novel is perfect for fans of Victoria Jamieson and Raina Telgemeier. It’s out tomorrow, June 11, from Atheneum Books for Young Readers/S&S.

But first…

Camp Prodigy: a Summary

After attending an incredible concert, Tate Seong is inspired to become a professional violist. There’s just one problem: they’re the worst musician at their school.

Tate doesn’t even have enough confidence to assert themself with their friends or come out as nonbinary to their family, let alone attempt a solo anytime soon. Things start to look up when Tate attends a summer orchestra camp—Camp Prodigy—and runs into Eli, the remarkable violist who inspired Tate to play in the first place.

But Eli has been hiding their skills ever since their time in the spotlight gave them a nervous breakdown. Together, can they figure out how to turn Tate into a star and have Eli overcome their performance anxieties? Or will the pressure take them both down?

Interview with Caroline Palmer

Melissa: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Caroline! It’s great to have you here.

Caroline: I’m very glad to be here!

Melissa: First and foremost, congrats on Camp Prodigy! Can you share the inspiration behind your MG debut?

Caroline: I pretty much took lots of ideas from my own life and threw them together. The main characters being nonbinary violists, orchestra camp, the awkwardness of making connections as a kid… All of those bits, at least, were drawn from personal experience!

Similarities and Differences

Melissa: Camp Prodigy, which focuses on two nonbinary tween violists, Tate and Eli, is loosely autobiographical. (In addition to being nonbinary, you studied the viola.) What are the main similarities between you and the main characters? The main differences?

Caroline: I’d say that Tate and I are similar in how we struggle to open up to others–but for different reasons. For Tate, it’s because they don’t have a lot of confidence. In contract, I’m pretty at ease with myself, but that doesn’t come naturally to me. Eli struggles when they have to play music solo, but by the end of the book they find enjoyment in playing as a part of the orchestra. This is something I relate to. I guess the main difference between us is that I’m not competitive, haha!

Hard Work Pays Off

Melissa: At the beginning of the novel, Tate and Eli seem to have little in common. Eli is a high-achieving viola prodigy; Tate loves to play but isn’t particularly talented. What were you trying to say about achievement—and perseverance—in general?

Caroline: I really liked the idea of this dynamic. A prodigy and a beginner who are worlds away in skill but very similar in motivation. And while Tate’s journey from worst violist in camp to best violist (according to the seating arrangements) is a bit unrealistic, I don’t doubt it can happen in real life. When you’re starting out, even little adjustments can make a big difference in how you play music. Mindful practice and guidance from someone who can see opportunities for you to improve, and then communicate them to you on your level, goes a long way.

This isn’t exclusive to playing music, either! Anyone learning a new skill can go far with it. Hard work really does matter more than natural talent. I’m a lucky person–my personal talents and interests are in alignment–but there are people who have more technical skill than I do, in areas they had to work for.

The Stress of Secret Keeping

Melissa: The theme of secret keeping looms large in this story. Tate is afraid to come out to their family as nonbinary, while Eli hides the trauma they suffered as a result of their quest to be an accomplished violist. What is it about secrets that provokes so much anxiety, particularly for tweens? And what advice would you give to young readers who are struggling with a secret themselves—coming out or otherwise?

Caroline: I think there’s some correlation with hitting puberty, in a way. This could be influenced by my experience with gender, but suddenly, you have to deal with uncomfortable changes to your body. I could always speak freely with my parents, and I knew what was coming, but I still felt the urge to lie by omission. By saying nothing, it’s as though your problems and worries won’t be real. Unfortunately, they still are.

My advice? It’s always a relief to share a secret with someone you trust. It may be scary, but the people who care about you should always be able to help, even if they can’t do anything but listen. It’s up to you whether or not you share a secret, but it’s always easier to carry something with help, rather than alone.

Nonbinary rep

Melissa: As above, your novel features two main characters who are nonbinary. How is this novel specific to the nonbinary experience? What is universal?

Caroline: There are several scenes that center on the feeling of being misgendered. In my experience, for those first few months and years after you’ve realized that you’re not cisgender, you tend to be the most sensitive about incorrect pronouns or gendered terms. It’s like a fresh wound that needs to heal. Tate, a kid who’s recently begun to explore their nonbinary identity, is deeply uncomfortable not just with being misgendered, but also with hearing other people misgendered. And sometimes, cis people who are well intentioned still don’t give the concept a second thought.

This experience feels pretty specific to me, but I think everyone can understand the feeling of having something important to you completely dismissed, even by kind people who just don’t understand. The feeling of being queer is not so  alien if people give it some thought!

Challenges and Rewards of MG

Melissa: Since this is your first foray into middle-grade fiction, what was the biggest challenge you faced when writing and illustrating this novel? The greatest reward?

Caroline: It was tricky trying to create satisfying stakes. When you write fantasy or sci-fi, for instance, it’s easy to create tension. Maybe the world will be destroyed if the bad guys aren’t stopped! But Camp Prodigy was an entirely different genre, so the stakes had to be personal. It was also pretty tough to draw realistic backgrounds consistently!

For the reward, I’d say getting to hold the book in my hands. Getting to read it from front to back as a professional, physical story. It was so satisfying to see everything come together just the way I knew it would!

Caroline: The Versatile Creator

Melissa: In addition to writing middle grade fiction, you create comics, storyboards (including those inspired by The Simpsons, Star Wars, and Hamilton), and have done a TV-show pilot based on the BETA version of Regular Haunts, where you produced all the art, editing, sound design, and voice acting. What is the secret to being such a versatile creator?

Caroline: It all stems from the same source for me. I want to tell stories with words and art. The many facets of animation and comics aren’t too different in that regard; I’ve always seen them as points on the same scale of visual mediums. You have prose novels–all words, animation–all art, and comics in the middle of both.

For me, there’s very little that compares to the feeling of telling stories with words and art. I’d try out any medium to bring what’s in my mind to reality in the most fulfilling way! So I guess the secret would be…if you want to try something new, do it! There’s nothing more exciting than creating art without holding yourself back.

Creative Process

Melissa: What does your creative process look like? Do you have any particular rituals or routines?

Caroline: I try to stick to a vague schedule in terms of work projects, but I’m always thinking up stories in my mind. It’s so embedded in my life that there’s no removing it. Because of that, it’s hard to think of my actions as routines, but I suppose I draw almost every day. It’s not even something I try to do, it’s something I’m compelled to do. If I don’t draw for too long, I’ll get an itch under my skin.

Some people do warm-up drawings before starting important art pieces, but I usually don’t do that either, hah! If you draw often, it gets easier to jump right in. And if you draw comics, you’ll be compelled to practice depicting complicated backgrounds, props, and poses that you might normally avoid.

Melissa: What are you working on now, Caroline? Can you give Mixed-Up Files readers a sneak peek?

Caroline: I have another pitch in the works, but I can’t share much about it now. Maybe soon! Aside from that, I’m still updating my long-running webcomic “Talent de Lune” on tumblr and webtoon. If you like action, consider checking it out!

Lightning Round!

Melissa: And finally, no MUF interview is complete without a lightning round, so…

Preferred writing snack? You can never go wrong with apples! I’ve also been snacking on these things called Yoggies from Costco.

Coffee or tea? Neither! But here’s my favorite soda–root beer!

Favorite piece for the viola? I’ve been chipping away at Suite Hébraïque by Ernest Bloch for ages. It’s very eerie and beautiful.

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay? I would be bitten, sadly. I would definitely be bitten.

Superpower? Bringing my drawings to life, of course!

Favorite place on earth? If I’m having a good time with friends or family, everywhere is fun! But I did get to visit Korea last year, and the food is delicious, no matter where you go.

If you were stranded on a desert island with only three things, what would they be? A fully stocked and manned ship to sail away on. Gotcha! (Or, if perhaps that’s unavailable…some sort of satellite radio, a fire-starting kit, and a pot?)

Melissa: Thank you for chatting with us, Caroline. It’s been a pleasure, and I’m sure MUF readers will agree!

Caroline: Your questions were great! I had a lot of fun, thanks for inviting me!

About Caroline Palmer

Caroline Palmer (they/them) is a nonbinary comic creator who tells action-packed stories with heart. Visit them at CarolinePalmerComics.Weebly.com.

Melissa Roske is a writer of middle-grade fiction. Before spending her days with imaginary people, she interviewed real ones as a journalist in Europe. In London she landed a job as an advice columnist for Just Seventeenmagazine. Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest (just the funny ones), and received certification as a life coach from NYU. In addition to her debut novel Kat Greene Comes Clean (Charlesbridge), Melissa’s short story “Grandma Merle’s Last Wish” appears in the Jewish middle-grade anthology, Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories (Albert Whitman). Learn more about Melissa on her Website and follow her on  TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Interview with Author Leah Cypess

I’m a huge fairy tale lover, and I just discovered Leah Cypess’s Sisters Ever After series. How did I miss this?! Her latest book in the series, BRAIDED, is coming out May 28. I’m so excited that I got to interview her for our Mixed-Up Files readers!

Please tell us a little bit about your upcoming novel, BRAIDED?

BRAIDED is the story of Rapunzel’s little sister, Cinna, who grew up longing for the return of her kidnapped older sister. The book starts right after Rapunzel’s rescue from the tower. Cinna can’t wait to help her sister take her rightful place as the heir to the throne. But Rapunzel is not what anyone—including Cinna—expected. And whoever took her might still be lurking in the castle…

I’ve always loved the story of Rapunzel (and have recently been looking at some of the origins of it myself). What kind of research has gone into writing this book (and your others)? Have you fallen down any interesting rabbit holes?

I started out by reading The Rebirth of Rapunzel by Kate Forsyth, which you’ve probably come across if you’ve been looking into the origins of Rapunzel! I found the book fascinating, but ultimately I decided to make BRAIDED more of its own story (and more related to TANGLED, despite Forsyth’s dislike of that movie). The previous book in the Sisters Ever After series, THE LAST ROSE, got about as dark as I want to go with these retellings; for BRAIDED I focused heavily on the question of, “What would make this story fun for my readers?”

I ended up doing a lot of research to flesh out the magical system in BRAIDED, since Rapunzel and her sister do magic by braiding spells into their hair. And that let me down a pretty intense rabbit hole about braids and hairstyles. For a while, Instagram was showing me nothing but hair reels all the time. And for a while, my youngest daughter’s hair was very fancy every day.

I’ve found myself drawn to fairy tales these last couple of years, and I absolutely love the idea of looking at the stories from the point of view of the siblings. Can you tell us what inspired you to write fairy tale retellings, and how these unique points of view came about?

I have always loved fairy tale retellings. There’s something about playing with a very familiar story, one baked into our cultural memory, that is both incredibly fun and enormously satisfying. Ideally, you create a twist that draws on the power of that original story while simultaneously examining and/or subverting it.

One way to do that is to tell the story from a different perspective – from the point of view of someone the original fairy tale didn’t consider important or didn’t include at all. With the Sisters Ever After series, that approach is baked into the way I tell the story. But because sibling relationships are so varied, but it still allows me many different ways to use that new point of view. I’ve been having so much fun with it.

You’ve written novels centered on Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, The Pied Piper, Beauty and the Beast, and, now, Rapunzel. (And, I believe The Little Mermaid is up next). Did you have a favorite fairy tale as a kid? What about it did you love?

My favorite fairy tale growing up was The Twelve Dancing Princesses, about princesses who wear out their dancing shoes every night in a secret faerie realm. I think what I love about that story is how complex it is about what the princesses are doing and why. The story is pretty clear that the princesses are not being forced to dance—they are actively sneaking away and deceiving everyone around them—and yet, in the end, the dancing is what they have to be saved from. Obviously, that’s an easy story to turn on its head, but I like the tension in the fact that the faerie dancing is both fun and dangerous.

Originally, I was going to do The Twelve Dancing Princesses as one of the Sisters Ever After books! But everyone I told about the idea was confused by why on earth that story would need a thirteenth princess. In the end, I wrote two short story retellings of the Twelve Dancing Princesses but never a book. Yet.)

We’re big fans of teachers and librarians here at From the Mixed-Up Files. Could you tell our readers about a teacher or a librarian who had an effect on your reading or writing life?

I’ve been lucky to have a number of teachers who encouraged my interest in reading and writing. My first “publisher” was my first grade teacher, who compiled a booklet of students’ stories. (My story was written from the point of view of an ice cream cone.) In fourth grade, I used to sneak books into class and read them under my desk during math class. My parents told me years later that my teacher knew perfectly well what I was doing but decided to let me get away with it.

Libraries have been a huge influence on me since before I was born. My father grew up very poor, and his family could barely afford enough food; they certainly didn’t buy books. The fact that he could go to the public library and read as many books as he wanted was part of what transformed him into a reader, and the fact that he was a reader was part of what made me into a reader. I am hugely grateful to libraries.

You’ve been writing since first grade, and sold your first story while still in high school. Do you have any advice for our middle grade readers about getting started on a writing life?

Shortly after I got my first publishing contract, I saw this quote on Mandy Hubbard’s blog: “A published author is an amateur who didn’t quit. Don’t quit.” I think that’s the best advice I can give!  I would also suggest that you pace yourself in your writing development… first find your own voice and style, then find a critique group to polish it, and only then should you start worrying about publication.

Where can our readers find you?

My website is www.leahcypess.com. The place where I most reliably post writing news these days is on my Instagram, Leah Cypess. And if anyone is interested in getting a personalized signed copy of BRAIDED, I am running a preorder campaign through a local independent bookstore, People’s Book.

 

Thanks so much for visiting with us, Leah.

Readers, be sure to check out BRAIDED and the other books in Leah’s Sisters Ever After series. Do you have a favorite fairy tale? Let us know in the comments.

Interview with New York Times bestselling author, Liz Kessler

Today, I’m thrilled to welcome MG superstar Liz Kessler to the Mixed-Up Files! In addition to being the author of the wildly popular Emily Windsnap series—which has been translated into 25 languages, appeared on the New York Times bestsellers list, and has sold millions of copiesLiz has penned the Phillipa Fisher series, several MG stand-alones, two YA novels, and books for early readers. Liz’s latest MG novel, Code Name Kingfisher, hailed by School Library Journal as “overpoweringly emotional; an intense story, gorgeously told,” is out from Aladdin on May 7.

But before we chat with Liz…

Code Name Kingfisher: A Summary

When Liv finds a box hidden in her grandmother’s attic, saved from her childhood in Nazi-occupied Holland, circa 1943, she unearths a trove of family secrets—including the extraordinary story of her great-aunt Hannie, a Jewish undercover agent in the Dutch resistance. It’s a tale of bravery, betrayal, and daring defiance, and Liv wants to know more—starting with why her grandmother has kept Hannie a secret for so many years…

Interview with Liz Kessler

Melissa: Hi, Liz! It’s a pleasure to have you join us today. Before we begin, I must tell you how much I adored Code Name Kingfisher. I stayed up until the wee hours reading it and was sobbing by the end. It’s such a powerful book!

Liz: Thank you!

Melissa: Also, I also have a confession to make. My daughter, Chloe—who’s now 24—loved the Emily Windsnapseries so much, she went through a period of writing her homework assignments in British English! Her teachers were very confused. 🙂 

Liz: I have found it fascinating over the years of working with both UK and US editors to discover all the ways in which our languages both align and vary!

Pulled from the Headlines

Melissa: Your latest novel, Code Name Kingfisher, is inspired by true-life events: the story of two sisters, Truus and Freddie Oversteegen, and their friend Hannie Schaft. Can you give us some historical background? Also, what was your impetus to tell this particular story?

Liz: I was working on the research for my novel, When The World Was Ours, and in the course of my research I went to Amsterdam and discovered a lot about people in Holland who joined the Resistance movement during the war. Then I heard a program about these three girls and was keen to find out more. I read all about them and was so drawn to their story. I have always written about strong young women (as your daughter will tell you, because Emily Windsnap was the first of them!) and felt very inspired by these three.

Melissa: Your novel alternates between present-day England and Nazi-occupied Holland, circa 1942. It’s also told from four different perspectives: thirteen-year-old Liv, who’s getting bullied at school; Mila, 12, and Hannie, 15—two Jewish sisters who have assumed new identities and are living with a non-Jewish family in Amsterdam; and Willem, a neighbor boy with secrets of his own. How were you able to get inside each character’s head in such a genuine, authentic way? It’s not an easy feat to pull off!

Liz: Thank you for saying this. I’m glad that I pulled it off in a way that you found genuine and authentic. I think for me, the important thing is to know my characters as well as I possibly can. I spend a lot of time imagining what they are like, picturing them, planning and plotting their stories, and when I am writing, I just find that I naturally get inside their heads and try to experience the story from their point of view. It’s how I’ve always done it, and I think being someone who is quite a high-level over empathizer helps!

Lessons in Drafting

Melissa: As above, your novel is told from four different perspectives, past and present. What was your drafting technique like? Did you write each character’s narrative arc from start to finish and then weave the stories together? Or did you start with one character and then move on to the next one… and the next one?

Liz: I actually didn’t do either of these! I am quite an extreme planner. I plan and plan and plan and don’t start writing a word of the book until I have a chapter by chapter breakdown that works. So it was in the planning stage that I worked out how I wanted the story to unfold, who was the person to tell each part of the story, how the present and past narratives would work together, reflecting on each other and interweaving around each other. The planning was a lot of work with this book, particularly given the different viewpoints AND past and present settings. But once the groundwork of planning is done, it makes the writing easier!

It’s All in the Research

Melissa: Since a good portion of the novel takes place during World War II, in Nazi-occupied Holland, what sort of research did you do in order to ensure authenticity?

Liz: I spent several days in Amsterdam, visiting museums: in particular, the Anne Frank House and the Dutch Resistance Museum. I bought as many books as I could find on the subject, I scoured websites. And then when I’d completed a first draft, I found a couple of experts on Holland during the war who helped me to ensure I had gotten my facts right.

Writing about WWII

Melissa: As a follow-up, this is not your first middle-grade novel to be set in Nazi-occupied Europe. When the World Was Ours (Aladdin, 2022), which was also inspired by a true story, takes place in Vienna, in 1936. What impels you to write about this period in history? What makes it meaningful to you?

Liz: When The World Was Ours was inspired by an incident in my dad’s childhood that led to him being able to get away from the Nazis in 1939. I had wanted to write a book inspired by his experiences for many years. I am not a history fan normally, but these books have been about exploring issues that are always close to my heart: social justice, love, family and the power of kindness.

The Complexity of Secret Keeping

Melissa: An important theme in Code Name Kingfisher is secret keeping. Liv doesn’t tell her parents that she’s being bullied at school, and Liv’s grandmother never talks about her beloved sister, Hannie. She also had to keep her Jewish identity a secret when she was hiding from the Nazis. What is it about secret keeping that’s so complex and emotionally draining?

Liz: I’m actually not sure how to answer this one as I am not a big secret keeper myself. I am much more of an open book than any of these characters! But I think that when we allow ourselves to live freely and authentically, we are likely to be much happier in our lives. Living with secrets is the opposite of that, and will undoubtedly lead to living with an element of weight and stress.

Bullying and Human Persecution

Melissa: In Code Name Kingfisher, Liv is bullied by her classmates for no particular reason; the Jews were persecuted during WWII, just for being Jewish. What were you trying to say about the nature of bullying and human persecution in general?

Liz: With both of these books, I hope to show how easily people can be led into bullying or cruel behavior. How sometimes it’s about our own self-preservation – hoping that if we side with the persecutor we won’t be seen as weak and run the risk of being the bully’s next victim. I want young people to read these books and make links for themselves between current times and the fascism of World War Two. I hope to start conversations about kindness and strength and standing up for others. Beyond that, it’s up to the readers to draw their own conclusions and figure out for themselves where they choose to stand.

Liz’s Writing Routine

Melissa: Switching gears, let’s talk about your writing routine. Do you have a specific time of the day when you like to write? Any particular writing rituals?

Liz: I don’t really have rituals. I usually prefer to work in the mornings. I set targets with my work, rather than setting particular timings. I also love to be flexible so I can sometimes write all day and sometimes take the day off if the sun’s shining and the outside world is calling!

Melissa: What are you working on now, Liz? Also, are there any more Emily Windsnap books on the horizon?

Liz: Funny you should ask. I have just completed the final edit of a tenth Emily Windsnap book!

Lightning Round!

And finally, no MUF interview is complete without a lightning round, so…

Preferred writing snack? Used to be chocolate, but I went cold turkey a month ago so I guess it will have to be fruit.

Plotter or Pantser? Major plotter!

Superpower? The superpower I have is empathy. The one I’d like to have is the ability to time travel.

Favorite place on earth? My home. I’m never happier than when I’m with my wife and my dog.

If you were stranded on a desert island with only three things, what would they be?Notebook, pen and some form of music.

Melissa: Thank you for chatting with us, Liz. It was a pleasure to learn more about you and your book, and I’m sure MUF readers will agree!

Liz: Thank you for having me. It’s been fun chatting with you!

About Liz

Liz Kessler has written over twenty books for children and young adults. Most of these are middle- grade books featuring mermaids, fairies, time travel, and superpowers. She also writes Early Readers about Poppy the Pirate Dog and Jenny the Pony, as well as two YA books about teenagers coming of age, falling in love, and discovering their identity. Learn more about Liz on her website.

Melissa Roske is a writer of middle-grade fiction. Before spending her days with imaginary people, she interviewed real ones as a journalist in Europe. In London she landed a job as an advice columnist for Just Seventeen magazine. Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest (just the funny ones), and received certification as a life coach. In addition to her debut novel Kat Greene Comes Clean (Charlesbridge), Melissa’s short story “Grandma Merle’s Last Wish” appears in the Jewish middle-grade anthology, Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories (Albert Whitman). Learn more about Melissa on her Website and follow her on  TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.