Posts Tagged Author Interview

The Most Perfect Interview with Author Tricia Springstubb

Author Tricia Springstubb

I’m very excited today to welcome author Tricia Springstubb to The Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors! We’re here to talk about her newest middle-grade novel The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe.

Before we get started, let’s take a look at the book.

Eleven-year-old Loah Londonderry is definitely a homebody. While her mother, a noted ornithologist, works to save the endangered birds of the shrinking Arctic tundra, Loah anxiously counts the days till her return home. But then, to Loah’s surprise and dismay, Dr. Londonderry decides to set off on a perilous solo quest to find the Loah bird, long believed extinct. Does her mother care more deeply about Loah the bird than Loah her daughter?

Things get worse yet when Loah’s elderly caretakers fall ill and she finds herself all alone except for her friend Ellis. Ellis has big problems of her own, but she believes in Loah. She’s certain Loah has strengths that are hidden yet wonderful, like the golden feather tucked away on her namesake bird’s wing. When Dr. Londonderry’s expedition goes terribly wrong, Loah needs to discover for herself whether she has the courage and heart to find help for her mother, lost at the top of the world. 

 

The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe is available for preorder now and releases June 1, 2021.

MH:  When and where did you get the idea for The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe?

TS:  A writer’s mind is a wild, unpredictable place. Ideas lurk about. You glimpse one from the corner of your eye but before you can catch it, it has slipped back into the shadows. Maybe you get another chance–this time it lingers long enough to walk beside you for a while before it disappears again, leaving you to puzzle out what to make of it…

…which is my devious way of saying, I don’t exactly know where I got the idea for Loah!  If I look at my files, I can see I first tried to write about her back in 2017. The files have names like Loah After Retreat and Loah After Mary Jane’s House(two of many places I worked on the book) and Loah Yet Again. I set out to write a historical novel, something I’d never done. I did research, which I loved, and began a story about a timid, turn of the century girl who lived in an ambiguous European country in a spooky house with her ancient caretakers. Her beloved older sister vanishes; an orphan seeks refuge. But my world-building was shaky–I kept making things up rather than sticking to established historical facts. After many tries and lots of frustration, I had to admit I lacked the discipline to stay within set bounds of time and place.

But by then I was too in love with Loah to let her go. She became a timid contemporary girl who lives in a spooky house with ancient caretakers. It’s her beloved mother who vanishes, her new friend Ellis who hides out with her. The birds came winging in on their own. Birds have flitted through so many of my books–a sparrow even gets its own little arc in Every Single Second–and here they settled in and became central to the story.

MH: Was there a time you thought you might give up on this book? What did you do to get through that?

TS: More than one time! I especially remember one gray January afternoon. I’d been working all morning, and had just introduced a brand new character, a snarky woman wearing a hat made of faux-giraffe-skin. What in the world was she doing there? I went for a long, desolate walk. Getting away from the desk helped me realize that I was writing loony scenes in an effort to distract readers (and myself!)  from the fact that I’d lost my story’s thread. I needed to think more deeply about who Loah was, what she needed and wanted. What was my story about, and what was it reallyabout? The woman in the giraffe hat got the axe (though who knows–she may yet turn up in a different story, where she actually belongs).

I do endless revisions for all my books, but usually one thing remains constant the–the setting, the situation, the conflict. For The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe, it was Loah. She may be my favorite of all the young heroes I’ve written.

MH: What do you like about writing for MG readers?

TS: Pretty much everything! Kids this age brim with curiosity. They love to laugh. They are vulnerable and brave and they will commit to a story like nobody’s business. Middle grade readers demand strong plots, but they’re also sophisticated enough to appreciate nuance. Their sense of justice and their hopes for the world make me want to be a better person as well as a better writer. Their eyes are so wide and their hearts so big!

MH: Was this your original title?

TS: Yes, except for all those working titles I mentioned when Loah’s story was a different book. The title was a gift that came to me during my research. It’s drawn from a quote from the nineteenth-century naturalist Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who wrote, “I think that, if required on pain of death to instantly name the most perfect thing in the universe, I should risk my fate on….”

Well, I am not going to give the rest away!

Wouldn’t filling in that blank be a fun classroom writing prompt?

MH: Tell us something fascinating you discovered while researching this book.

TS: Each year Arctic terns make a round trip migration of up to 25,000 miles, the longest recorded migration of any animal on the planet. Much of their route is over water–how do they do it without the GPS lady? Sadly, due to climate change, Arctic terns, like far too many species of animals and plants, face increasing challenges to their habitat and survival. Research made me even more aware than I’d been of Earth’s precious, fragile inter-connections. We can all help protect and preserve. The Audubon Society has wonderful suggestions for how we can become nature’s advocates, starting in our own neighborhoods.

MH: Now time for a Quick-Answer Finish-This-Sentence Round. Ready?

          TS: Sure!

MH: Recently, I’ve been very interested in learning about…

          TS:   … dogs, for my new novel.

MH: The best thing that happened to me yesterday was …

           TS:  … helping my neighbor get a vaccine appointment.

MH: I can’t help but laugh out loud when …. 

            TS: … my tiny granddaughter imitates Elsa.

MH: I’m looking forward to ….

           TS: … visiting schools and young readers for real.

MH: I really like the smell of …. 

           TS: … licorice.

MH: If I weren’t a writer, I might like to be a …

           TS: … person who delivers flowers.

Well, if Tricia Springstubb showed up on my doorstep with flowers, I would welcome her smiling face! But I am very, very happy she’s writing thoughtful, engaging, entertaining middle-grade fiction for all of us.  Thank you, Tricia!

Tell us about your favorite Tricia Springstubb book! Leave a comment below.

 

 

 

 

Interview & Giveaway with David Bowles!

As a long-time admirer of award winning Mexican American author, teacher, translator and academic, David Bowles, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to interview him for the MUF blog. David is a wealth of knowledge on writing for children, representation in publishing, and the myths of Mexico.

Storytelling, Culture & Community

pura

At the Pura Belpre Awards

APP: Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview David! Let’s start with the rich, diverse characters in your books. Who do you imagine as a reader when you’re writing them? Who do you see reading your stories?

DB: I imagine myself as a storyteller, kind of like my uncle Joe Casas, who owned a ranch where my cousins and I would work and hang out as kids. At night, Joe would build a little fire and sit on a mesquite stump to tell us stories. We would sit in a semi-circle on the other side of the flames, there in the circle of firelight. That’s how I see my readers. First, there are the Mexican American kids, the ones I’m directly addressing, sitting close to the fire. Behind them are other Latinx kids, whose lives intersect with ours in special ways. And in the third circle, at the edge of the flickering illumination, are all the other kids, who will benefit from the specific story of fictional Mexican American kids, seeing our culture as amazingly cool, seeing us as fully human.

APP: I love that idea of sitting around a fire and seeing our own cultures, and other’s cultures, as amazingly cool! How much of your amazingly cool childhood memories and experiences influenced your stories?

DB: I definitely draw upon my childhood and the feelings associated with it to craft characters from my community. That doesn’t at all mean that they are just copies of me, because I also draw on the lives of my own children, my nieces/nephews, kids I taught as a teacher, etc. But my first-hand experience as a Mexican American and as a human being will always undergird the work that I do, because I can’t have direct access to anyone else’s interior life. Because novels-in-verse (and poetry in general) are so compressed and emotionally charged, accessing my emotions (through “text-to-self” connections with my own work) is vital.

On Güero & Writing

Guero

Award winning novel in verse, They Call Me Güero

 

APP: I agree, and based on your vast repetoire, I can tell you had an interesting childhood to work with. Tell me, which of your MGs is your favorite?

DB: LOL, that’s like asking which of my children is my favorite. As is the case with most authors, the book I’m working on right now is my favorite. So I’d say They Call Her Fregona, the sequel to They Call Me Güero. Look for an announcement about it very soon.

APP: I can’t wait! Johanna is such a fun, strong character. I fell hard for her in They Call Me Güero, your novel in verse. How much is Güero based on your own story? Do you think that writing in verse allows for more vulnerability from a writer? Is it riskier? Scarier?

DB: About 30 percent of it is drawn from my own life, just brought forward into the present and fictionalized. Verse does require / allow a writer to plug more directly into their emotions, which can definitely feel risky and scary, especially if they haven’t come to terms with who they are as a person. There’s a need for deep self-understanding and honesty that (if I’m frank) most people take a lifetime to reach. So it’s an especially complex thing to write.

APP: No doubt. Writing really does feel like putting our hearts out for all to see sometimes. Speaking of the craft of writing,  I’m wondering about problems you see in MGs today. Since you teach writing workshops, can you share some pitfalls that aspiring authors should watch out for?

DB: It’s the same problem I see with YA—a tendency for authors (often pressured by editors and agents) to limit themselves to what is “accepted by the marketplace” in terms of content, structure, audience and voice, as well as a tendency to mimic the most popular works of any given moment. Tell your own stories the way only you can tell them, folks.

#OwnVoices

family

David and Family

APP: I feel exactly the same way, but sometimes things get tricky. Specifically, can we talk about #OwnVoices?

DB: Yup, because I’m really annoyed about how that useful hashtag is being turned against writers from under-represented groups. One mistake publishers and some authors make is to imagine that an #OwnVoices story must represent an entire community. That’s impossible. I can’t tell a story that is universally representative of every Mexican American, much less every Latinx person. But I can draw on my identity, my experience and my community to construct a story about a very specific character or group of characters, putting in the work required—even if these fictional people come from a fictional version of my own community—to craft fully realized human beings whose actions, speech and interior lives resonate as real.

Windows, Mirrors & Sliding Glass Doors

13th Street

13th Street Chapter Book Series

DB: Another is the inverse of this, the fear or conviction that a writer can ONLY write a protagonist that ALMOST COMPLETELY mirrors their own identity. But #OwnVoices fiction IS NOT autobiography, y’all. It’s meant to underscore the greater cultural accuracy (and smaller potential for harm to readers) that comes from the intersection of a writer’s lived experiences with the setting and characters in a book. Through those more accurate and respectful details, often invisible to outsiders, readers of all backgrounds can recognize the universal truths that emerge from that specificity. And readers from the under-represented community can see themselves reflected, but not in a perfect mirror, no. Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop never suggested such an impossible thing. It’s worth revisiting her words:

“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books

We’ve all looked at ourselves in windows. We can see through that ghostly image at the world on the other side of the glass. We are superimposed upon it, tenuous, temporary. For most of us, seeing our transparent selves floating on a vibrant fictional depiction of our community is enough. For others, it’s not satisfying. They want a mirror that shows them as they are, solid and whole. Yet no such mirror exists, even in the real world. Mirrors show us inverted, flipped right to left. Only photos get this right. And books are not photos of the reader, friends, no matter how much we might want or need them to be.

Equity & Literary Dignity

DB: The publishing community has begun using #OwnVoices to cudgel writers from under-represented groups. Queer authors who are not out publicly yet have been forced to prove they have a right to write about queer characters. Black authors have been subjected to scrutiny about how “Black” they really are. And so on. The situation is frankly gross.

Yes, bad representation exists. It can come from both outsider perspectives or #OwnVoices as well—usually either a failure of craft or of self-knowledge. It can also be deliberate, of course, born of greed or outright cruelty.

But what makes bad representation hurt as much as it does is the lack of equity and literary dignity for communities of color in publishing. If 50 percent of books for kids and teens were written by BIPOC authors (BIPOC make up 50 percent of school age children), then readers wouldn’t need to comb the stacks carefully with #OwnVoices lists in order to find the accurate, good representation.

Gatekeeping

APP: Everything you are saying is essential knowledge for those involved in publishing, I hope people out there are listening, especially gatekeepers. Including gatekeepers who are, themselves, from marginalized communities. I have encountered Latinx gatekeepers making some Latinx writers feel like they are not POC or Latinx enough. This can be a very disheartening experience. In my case, I felt like my identity was being challenged, and that felt awful.

DB: This is also an outgrowth of the lack of literary dignity. But it needs to stop. There are as many ways of being Mexican American, for example, as there are Mexican Americans. No Latinx person should be policing the identity of any other Latinx person or trying to dictate the sort of story they ought to be telling. My own children, for example, have a Chicano dad and a Mexican immigrant mom (both with working class backgrounds). They grew up in a lower middle-class family on the border, but also spent a lot of time with family in Mexico, so they are pretty bilingual. Their parents aren’t religious, so they didn’t attend church and have none of the traditionally Catholic experiences that some see as essential for being Mexican. But their parents emphasized the need to de-center European heritage and explore Indigenous roots.

Their lives are unique, yet worthy of being represented, not judged by someone’s biased view of what makes a person Mexican American.

Latinx Identity

brothers

Brothers: Fernando, Matt, and David

APP: I appreciate you sharing that insight. I feel some frustration as a white looking Latinx person with so many Latinx characters I see in books described and pictured a certain way that I would characterize as a stereotype. I want to see a diversity of skin tones, hair types, and eye color all represented in Latinx-centered kidlit – but I usually don’t.

DB: Latinx identity (in our respective cases, Mexican American and Argentinean) is ethnic. Cultural. We come in multiple “races” and blends of them. Certainly it is important that Indigenous and Black Latinx folks be represented in kid lit, especially given the historical colorism in our communities that has attempted to erase and marginalize them. But there are Asian Latinx folks and white ones, too. To say that a Latinx character must be a Brown person is wrongheaded and unfair. Heck, in my own family, there are multiple skin tones among siblings. I have an Afro-Mexican brother and one with green eyes. That’s just how it is, friends.

The Garza Twins

APP: That is so true, and so lovely. Speaking of family, let’s talk about the family in your Garza Twins Series: The Smoking Mirror,  A Kingdom Beneath the Waves, and Hidden City. In volume one,  I was frustrated by the father. I wondered why he didn’t communicate with his kids, and why the mother hadn’t mentioned some very important information (I’m not going to give it away, read the books!). Latinx parents are usually hard to sideline in my experience.

garza

The Garza Twins Series

DB: I promise the parents are much more involved in the rest of the series, heh. And the father has a character arc that requires him to be broken by the absence of the mother at the beginning of book one. The mother, Verónica, is the one who is usually all “up in” the children’s business (she’s an immigrant from Mexico), while Oscar (the father, a Chicano with a white mother and a doctorate in archeology)

Myth & Magic

APP: I can’t wait to read more about that family and the magical worlds they discover and navigate. I was captivated by the Mexican mythology that is woven into the series. How important do you think the idea of myth and magic is for kids to have in literature? How about in real life?

DB: I was raised in a community that believes magic is a part of the actual world we live in (which is why Latinx realism is often called magical realism). I think it was a boon to my own mental health and creativity to live that way and see magic in books.

APP: I totally agree. Can you explain the difference between magical realism and fantasy for an MG audience?

DB: To me it’s pretty simple. Magical realism just accepts that there are moments when the supernatural or magical just pops up in otherwise mundane lives. People know that it will happen, and there is no surprise or shock or commentary about the oddness of it. Fantasy worlds either have magic imbedded in all aspects of life (so that it’s ever-present rather than showing up from time to time) or magic hidden from most people’s view but that can be learned and wielded by a special few.

APP: Great explanation! You seem to seamlessly incorporate the magical into your writing. I’m wondering what your advice is for writers who want to integrate their cultural heritage, mythology, family dynamics etc. into their writing but still reach a large audience not limited to their own cultural or linguistic group?

DB: Frankly, don’t worry about the whole “reaching a large audience” thing when you’re writing the first draft. Write the story you need to tell the way only you can tell it for the people that deserve to have it told. That courage and integrity will make your story resonate for all people, regardless of their backgrounds, because universal human truths always emerge from honest, culturally and geographically specific writing. Even the beloved Classics of the Ancient World like the Odyssey are very specific to time, place, people. When revising, you can enhance others access by maybe sanding down some of the thicker, more opaque texture a tad.

Language Use

PB

David’s new Picture Book!

APP: Great advice, for me that’s often about access to language because I like to mix languages in my stories. How do you feel about language mixing within texts without translation? Is it rude to non-bilinguals? Is it othering?

DB: I write dialogue the way my characters speak. That usually means that Spanish words and phrases will crop up. I don’t think this is rude at all, any more so than it’s rude for a British writer or a Bostonian one to include words from their dialect that don’t occur in mine. I just add a glossary at the end. Readers can consult it if they want.

What would truly be othering would be to flatten all use of language into a homogeneous, white-sounding universal dialect of English. No, thanks.

APP: On the topic of language use, how do you feel about certain words being avoided or considered taboo because of their connotations?

DB: Obviously, words that are hurtful and insulting toward a class of people, meant to denigrate and marginalize them, should be avoided by all folks who want to be humane, caring allies. For a writer, however the issue gets complicated because they are depicting worlds in which not everyone is a humane, caring ally (or woke enough to see their own use of language as problematic).

APP: Thank you so much for your time David! Now I can’t wait to delve into more of your books!

Giveaway!

guiro

Pura Belpre Honor Book 2019

Wow, talking to David really is like receiving a class in creativity, dignity and representation in the world of kidlit. His wide variety of books, awards and honors is too long to mention, so check out David’s website for more invaluable information, essays and events!

David has generously offered to send a copy of They Call Me Güero to one lucky winner, US only. To enter rafflecopter giveaway like, retweet, comment and follow!

 

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Interview with Psychotherapist Amy Morin, Author of 13 Things Strong Kids Do

Anyone have a time machine?

For all of us who ever said, “I wish I’d known then, what I know now,” the Mixed Up Files has a special treat. Psychotherapist Amy Morin, LCSW, has put a middle-grade twist on her adult series13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do, and 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do—to create 13 Things Strong Kids Do. It presents different scenarios along with constructive activities to help kids start thinking in new ways … and I’m researching ways to send it back in time to my 13-year-old self!

Welcome, Amy!

Sean McCollum: I wish I’d had a book like 13 Things Strong Kids Do when I was in middle school! Its information and exercises might have given me the tools to sidestep some of those self-defeating adolescent mistakes or given me the tools to better handle them. How did the idea for this book come about?

Amy Morin: So many of my adult readers said the same thing—they wished they had been able to learn about mental strength when they were young. So I wanted to write a book that would teach kids how to start building mental strength so they can develop skills and tools that will continue to serve them well throughout their whole lives.

The author as an MGer. 🙂

 

SMc: Would you be willing to share an anecdote from your own teen years about a time you weren’t “strong,” and how advice from this book might have helped?

AM: Well, many of the stories in my book stem from my own childhood. There were plenty of times I wasn’t strong. One example is when I quit playing the saxophone after one day! I was in the sixth grade and I only went to one lesson before I decided it was going to be too hard for me. I could have used several exercises from the book to help me persist—like creating my own catchphrase or writing myself a kind letter. Those types of things would have helped me drown out all those negative thoughts I had about not being able to do it.

SMc: How might educators and other professionals use this title in their schools and classrooms?

AM: This book gives adults a common language to use with kids. When an educator or a professional asks, “Is that a BLUE thought or a true thought?” it’s a reminder to a child that they can take action to change their own thinking.

Adults can empower kids when they understand the skills and tools kids have at their disposal. Rather than taking responsibility for creating change, professionals can encourage kids to do it on their own with a little guidance.

My hope is that professionals will use the book as a guide so they better understand how to reinforce healthy thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in kids.

SMc: Could you share three “healthy habits” our readers could put to use right now?

AM: Label your feelings. When you name how you’re feeling, like sad or angry, you’ll instantly feel just a little bit better. Research shows labeling our emotions helps our brains make a little more sense of things and it reduces our stress.

Ask yourself if your feelings are a friend or an enemy. Any feeling can be a friend sometimes—even sadness or anger. After all, being sad might help you honor something you lost and being angry might give you courage to speak up for someone else. But, those feelings can be an enemy when they cause you to get into trouble or keep you from having fun in life. If your feeling is a friend, embrace it. If it’s an enemy, take steps to change how you’re feeling.

Change the channel in your brain. When you’re thinking about something that causes you to feel awful—like that mean thing someone said—change the channel in your brain. Dance to some music, sing a song, or read a joke book. That will change the channel in your brain and help you stop thinking about things that cause you to feel bad.

SMc: Do you recall a favorite middle grade book and any life lessons it taught you?

AM: I loved reading Judy Blume’s books. Blubber was my favorite. It helped me see that growing up is tough for everyone and I wasn’t alone in many of the things I was thinking and feeling.

SMc: Do you practice the exercises in this book?

AM: Yes, even though I’m no longer a kid, I find the exercises really helpful! Whether I’m calming my brain and my body when I’m nervous or I’m trying to face my fears one small step at a time, the skills that work for you when you’re young will help you when you’re grown too.

To follow Amy Morin and her life-helping work, check out:

Thanks so much for making to time to speak with us, Amy!

Readers, remember to enter our Rafflecopter raffle for Amy’s book. (This one is for American readers only.)

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