Posts Tagged Christina Soontornvat

Melanie Conklin Interview + Giveaway

Today I’m thrilled to interview Melanie Conklin about her new novel Every Missing Piece. It was great hearing about her writing process as well as the fabulous Everywhere Book Fest, which she helped create. Read the interview below and then write us in the comments section for a chance to win a copy of the book (U.S. residents only). I’ll pick a winner Saturday night at 11:59 PM and announce on Sunday. Enjoy the interview and good luck!

First, here’s a bit about Melanie and her book.

Maddy Gaines sees danger everywhere she looks: at the bus stop, around the roller rink, in the woods, and (especially) by the ocean. When Maddy meets a mysterious boy setting booby traps in the North Carolina woods, she suspects the worst.

Maddy is certain she’s found Billy Holcomb–the boy who went missing in the fall. Except, maybe it’s not him. It’s been six months since he disappeared. And who will believe her anyway? Definitely not her mom or her stepdad . . . or the chief of police.

As Maddy tries to uncover the truth about Billy Holcomb, ghosts from her own past surface, her best friend starts to slip away, and Maddy’s world tilts once again. Can she put the pieces of her life back together, even if some of them are lost forever?

 

 

Melanie Conklin grew up in North Carolina and worked as a product designer for ten years before she began her writing career. Her debut middle grade novel, Counting Thyme, is a Bank Street Best Children’s Book, winner of the International Literacy Association Teacher’s Choice Award, and nominated to four state reading lists. Her second novel for young readers, Every Missing Piece, was published this week with Little, Brown. When she’s not writing, Melanie spends her time doodling and dreaming up new ways to be creative. She lives in New Jersey with her family. Connect with her on twitter @MLConklin.

 

What was the inspiration for Every Missing Piece?

The funny thing is that when I begin to write a story, I often don’t know why I’m writing it, and I usually haven’t discovered what my inspiration actually is. When I started writing Every Missing Piece, I had this question in my mind as to what would happen if you found a missing child. Especially if you were also a child. As the plot of the story came together, I found that I was writing about a family facing a very difficult time. Somehow, that is always the story I tell, just in different forms.

You’ve been praised for your “fine Southern storytelling” in reviews. Can you tell us a little about how your own upbringing in North Carolina played a part in your writing of this novel?

My first book, Counting Thyme, had a lot to do with how I felt about living in New York City for the first time. In Every Missing Piece, I wanted to tell the story of what it felt like to grow up in North Carolina. My parents were from up North, so we didn’t always fit in with the expectations of a small Southern town. It was difficult for me to deal with being an outsider as a kid, but over time I also experienced the affection and loyalty of a close-knit community. I hope those good reviews mean that I managed to communicate these qualities in a genuine and honest way, because I have a lot of love for North Carolina.

I know many readers and writers are fascinated by the process of writing and publishing a novel. Can you tell us a little bit about your title and the first line of the novel? Did you have both before you started? Did they evolve? If so, what were some of the titles and first lines that you didn’t use?

The title of Every Missing Piece used to be “All the Missing Pieces.” I tweaked the title during revisions with my editor, Tracey Keevan. That’s not a very big change, but it felt big to me! I usually figure out my titles very early in the writing process and they stay the same the whole way through. I like thematic titles that give the reader multiple meanings as they read. Originally, Every Missing Piece had a completely different opening chapter, but we cut it during revisions because it wasn’t needed. Sometimes less is more.

I love the idea of thematic titles. Do you find that there are themes in common with both of your novels that are important to you?

Themes are interesting. I remember learning about themes back in grade school and wondering how authors managed to wind thematic ideas throughout their stories. Now I know that themes aren’t something you plan in advance. Themes just happen organically, and yes, I tend to revisit the same ones over and over. Some common themes you’ll see in both of my books: family, secrets, friendship, and food. There is always a strong thread of food as comfort and community in my stories. Probably also because I’m always hungry!

Ha! I love reading and writing about food as well. Why have you chosen to write for the age group of middle-grade readers?

I wasn’t very familiar with the term “middle grade” when I first started writing, but it didn’t take long to figure out that I like stories set in middle school. There’s a part of me that’s still that age, I think. It’s such a tough time in a kid’s life, when you are growing up whether you want to or not. I certainly never felt ready to grow up. I think I was the last girl in sixth grade to buy a bra! And that was only because my best friends basically forced me to. So it makes sense that I tend to revisit those times in my life, when I was learning how to be a friend, how to be a daughter, and how to be me. I love that middle grade stories always have a sense of wonder and adventure to them. We are in a golden age of middle grade literature for sure! Some recent recommendations from me: Love Like Sky by Leslie Youngblood, Just South of Home by Karen Strong, and Ultraball by Jeff Chen.

Thanks for those recommendations. What would you like readers to come away with after reading Every Missing Piece?

I hope that readers come away from Every Missing Piece with love in their hearts for flawed characters, because we all have flaws. I tend to write about grownups who have made bad choices. As a kid, it took me a while to learn that grownups can make mistakes, too. In this story, I explored the idea of what makes people good or bad quite a bit. Life is not always that simple. People are complicated, and they don’t fit neatly into boxes. Hopefully this story gives readers some food for thought, and they are excited to discuss it with their friends.

Can you give our readers who also write one of your best pieces of writing craft advice?

My favorite piece of writing advice is to be kind to yourself. As writers, we are encouraged to accept criticism of our work, and often that can lead to being super critical of ourselves all the time. When you are drafting, do your best to put your inner critic to bed. There will be time for analysis later. Drafting should be about exploration, so let your subconscious take you where you want to go and enjoy yourself!

Great advice! Would you like to tell us a little about the Everywhere Book Fest?

I was in the midst of cancelling my book tour when my friend Christina Soontornvat (A Wish in the Dark) asked me if I would like to help her and Ellen Oh (The Dragon Egg Princess) create a digital book festival in place of Covid closures. I wasn’t doing anything at the time, so I said yes! LOL. We had no idea that Everywhere Book Fest would grow to be such a signficant event in the publishing world, but I’m so happy that viewers found the sense of community and celebration that we were hoping for. If you missed the festival, all of our content is still available on our website and Youtube page!

Thanks, Melanie, for a great interview!

To get to the Everywhere Book Fest Youtube Page, click here.

To order a signed copy of Every Missing Piece, click here.

And don’t forget to comment for a chance to win a copy of Every Missing Piece.

The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat

Author Christina Soontornvat says she spent her childhood behind the counter of her parents’ Thai restaurant in Weatherford, Texas with her nose stuck in a book, never dreaming that one day she’d become an author. She studied engineering, then planned to be a science museum educator, but while expecting her first child, she found she had lots of stories to tell. And today, Christina’s first middle grade novel, The Changelings, debuts! It’s the story of Izzy and her sister Hen, who vanishes in the forest. Izzy discovers that Hen has been stolen away to the land of Faerie and it’s up to Izzy to bring her home.

Q: Congratulations, Christina! Where did you get the idea for The Changelings? What inspired you to write this story?

A: I have always been intrigued by the Changeling myth that tells how fairies steal human babies and swap them out with a shape-shifter to fool the parents. That myth prompted so many questions for me: What do the fairies do with the human babies they steal? Why would a Changeling agree to leave Faerie and go live with boring old humans? My book imagines some of the answers. I started writing it as a story for my two nieces. The first time I told them the premise — that the little sister is kidnapped by the Pied Piper and her older sister has to go rescue her — my younger niece got scared and started crying! But my older niece was hooked. She asked me to keep going and write the whole thing down. So I did. I am so glad she asked!

ChangelingsCoverSmallQ: Do you have a favorite character? What do you love about him or her?

A: Oh, man, this is very hard for me because I feel like Izzy and the Changelings are real kids, and I love them all so much. But out of everyone, the Changeling girl, Dree, is extra near and dear to my heart. She looks different than all the others — her skin is translucent, so you can see straight through her. Dree is very self-conscious about this and longs to look “normal,” and she deals with her insecurities by being super sarcastic and catty to everyone. When she and Izzy first meet they are at each others’ throats. But by the end, they become so close. They risk their lives for each other. For me, those fierce friendships are a defining feature of the middle grade years. To this day, my dearest friends are the ones from my childhood.

Q: Is there a scene from the book that makes you tear up or laugh?

A: I have always loved the scene where the main character, Izzy, meets Lug (a Changeling) for the first time. Lug is so sweet and bighearted. He immediately considers Izzy to be a friend, but she is more than a little freaked out by him and by being in this strange new world. That dissonance made for a fun time writing the dialogue in the scene!

Q: Did you always want to be an author? Which books shaped and influenced you as a young reader, and today?

A: When I was growing up, I never dreamed that I would be an author. I always loved to read and tell stories, but for most of my young adulthood I was on track to be a mechanical engineer! I would get ideas for stories, but I would never write them down because I thought you had to be born with a certain talent to be a writer. When my first daughter was born, I realized just how fast time goes, and I decided that if I was ever going to do anything with writing I needed to get the courage and start.

When I was young, I loved reading fantasy. I gobbled up Roald Dahl, Tolkien, Susan Cooper, and the Narnia books, and also read tons of folktales and Greek myths. A fair amount of Calvin and Hobbes, too. I still tend to gravitate toward fantasy written for any age. The His Dark Materials series by Phillip Pullman, the Seraphina books by Rachel Hartman, and The Magicians series by Lev Grossman are some of my favorites.

Soontornvat_24Sep15_Cathlin McCullough PhotographyQ: Tell us about your writing routine. When do you like to write, and is there anything special you do to settle in, such as play music or drink tea?

A: Having a routine is so important for me now, but when I started out I just wrote whenever I could get a scrap of time between caring for a newborn and working a full time job! My brain works best in the morning, so I usually try to write first thing in the day and save all my other work for after lunch.

My writing day usually goes like this: 1. Drop the kids off at school. 2. Play my book playlist really loud on my drive back home. 3. Pour a fresh cup of coffee and get to work! 4. Lunchtime hits and I’m totally wiped. Unless I’m on a deadline and then I pour more coffee and force myself to keep going!

Q: Describe your creative process.

A: I don’t usually start writing a book until I know the ending. I have to write my character toward that end, but I usually don’t know exactly how to get them there. That discovery of everything that happens in the middle is something I really love about drafting. My kids help me when I’m working on something new. I usually tell them a version of the book out loud while we’re driving. Speaking the story and hearing their reactions help me a) get excited about the project and b) pinpoint where the pacing needs work.

Q: You live in Austin, Texas. Tell us about the vibrant writing community there and how it’s helped you as a writer.

A: Our SCBWI chapter is comprised of the best humans on earth. Everyone — from newbies to NYT bestselling authors — is very active in the meetings and events, and so supportive of each other. I’ve turned to the more experienced writers for wisdom and advice countless times. If I didn’t have them to lean on I would be lost in this crazy, confusing world called publishing!

Q: What are you working on next?

A: I just turned in the sequel to The Changelings. Writing a book on deadline was really different and really, really hard. I’m giving myself about a week to rest my overtaxed brain cells and then I’m going to start my next project. It’s the story of a boy who escapes the jail he was born in, and must take shelter in a temple to hide from the watchful eyes of the warden’s daughter. It’s set in a city modeled after Bangkok, Thailand, so I am really excited about it.

Q: And now some fun questions! Where would we find you on a Sunday afternoon? What’s your favorite ice cream flavor? And, do you have any pets?

A: Sundays I’m with the family, and because it’s usually sweltering in Austin we will probably be swimming. We have a few secret swimming holes that we love and I can’t tell you about. Sorry.

Green tea ice cream is my favorite. If you put adzuki beans and whipped cream on top you will be my best friend forever.

Tico is my only pet. He is a jaguar trapped in a tabby cat’s body.

 

Thank you Christina, for visiting with us today at the Mixed-Up Files! Please check out Christina’s website here for more info on her and The Changelings.

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days, Calli Be Gold (both Wendy Lamb Books) and the upcoming Makers Vs. Fakers (fall 2017 Aladdin Books). Find her at micheleweberhurwitz.com.