I’ve never interviewed an author before but I’ve considered it multiple times in the last few months. I thought it would be fun to do, a neat little addition to this blog, and volleyed the idea around for a while. I could never seem to get past the idea stage, though, because it always came down to this: was I brave enough to ask an author to subject themselves to any questions I might ask? Even the unintentionally dorky ones? And who would be brave enough to subject themselves to any questions I might ask? ESPECIALLY the unintentionally dorky ones? In the end, I was never quite brave enough to attempt it.
But when fellow blogger and writer Danette Haworth posted the FABULOUS news of her book deal on her blog, I was ecstatic for her and needless to say, it wasn’t too long after finding out the good news that I was having this internal back-and-forth: Ask her! What if she says no? Ask her! What if she says no? Ask her! But what if I ask dorky questions? You will, but ask her anyway! But what if she says no? DANETTE IS SUPER NICE AND SUPER COOL QUIT TALKING TO YOURSELF AND JUST ASK.
Well, ask I did and this segue has a happy ending: Danette agreed to let me interview her! So here’s my blog’s first ever author interview with Danette Haworth! Her book, Violet Raines Almost Got Struck By Lightning, is due out in Fall 2008 from Walker Books for Young Readers. Here’s the deal announcement:
Danette Haworth’s debut VIOLET RAINES ALMOST GOT STRUCK BY LIGHTNING, about a vivacious eleven-year-old whose life changes drastically when a new girl moves to her backwoods Florida town, to Stacy Cantor at Walker, on an exclusive submission, for publication in Fall 2008, by Ted Malawer at Firebrand Literary.
Bold text = me
Plain text = Danette
First, many congratulations! Have you done or do you have any plans to do some madcap celebrating?
Thank you! When I received the offer, my husband cancelled his meetings and took me to my favorite restaurant and I even ordered dessert! That’s high times in my book!
Yum! Ordering dessert is definitely an important part of any celebration (and a well-balanced diet, as far as I’m concerned).
VIOLET RAINES ALMOST GOT STRUCK BY LIGHTNING is one of the best titles I’ve ever heard. I’m of the humble opinion that there needs to be 100% more questions about the titling process in author interviews, so here are several disguised as one: did Violet Raines have a different working title? Did your title come to you before the book or after it? Do you slave over your titles or is it quick and painless?
I’ve read on agent blogs that a boring title doesn’t turn them off if the query introduces a killer story. However, I’ve also read that a really cool title will snag an agent’s attention immediately. A good title is so important when I interviewed three sixth grade girls, one of them said she’d snatch a book off the library shelf and take it home based on the title alone. And as a reader perusing the spines on a shelf, if I’m not looking for a specific author or novel, a provocative title gives me no choice. I have to check it out!
The first title I had for my book was a good metaphor for the story, but even before I met Stacy at the conference, I felt the title was boring. I brainstormed and typed three other titles on a blank sheet of paper. At the conference, Stacy agreed that the original title, while it fit the book, wasn’t exciting. She liked my alternate titles and encouraged me to keep brainstorming. I kept coming back to VIOLET RAINES ALMOST GOT STRUCK BY LIGHTNING. And the publisher loved it!
Thank you for indulging my title questions. Your answer didn’t disappoint and I’m glad you found your title! It’s definitely provocative.
In some books, the setting is a character all its own. Your novel takes place in a ‘backwoods Florida town’. I’d love to hear more about that. How much of the setting drives your novel? Is the town fictional or real?
The town is fictional, but based on real areas. I love old Florida, the huge oaks, the wax myrtles, the old clapboard houses. The real river that Violet’s river is based on is not far from my house. It’s a blackwater river. I’ve canoed there many times; recently, I spent about three hours there with my camera. One of those photos is a part of Wildlife Week on my blog–it’s the photo with the rare, wildlife shot.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
My sister and I used to sit in my grandma’s basement and write volumes of poetry. We’d just come back to the states from England, so I was about six. I created all sorts of comic books featuring Peter Pan; they make me laugh when I look at them now, but they did actually contain conflict and resolution (and a cliffhanger with Captain Hook raising his sword shouting, “I’ll get you, Pan!”).
I always wanted to be a writer. I wrote short stories and showed them to friends; I wrote a novel in seventh grade; I took creative writing courses in high school. When I got to college, it seemed like everyone who wanted to write majored in journalism. I was putting myself through school. I wanted to write, but I also wanted to pay my bills. My sister suggested technical writing. It was a good fit. My first professional job was as a technical writer and though that might sound a bit dry, I found it very interesting. It was also weird that I could edit these huge reports discussing DIS and ET without knowing the engineering behind it. I would delete and merge whole sections and the engineers I worked with were always 100% behind my changes.
I got to interview scientists and generals, and I attended the most spectacular conventions featuring the latest in simulation technology.
Later, I worked for a well-known automobile club as a travel writer. What an excellent job! At my previous job, I was the only technical writer in the whole agency. In this new job, I worked with ten or eleven other editors. Oh! It was wonderful. We could use our big words with each other. Lunchtime conversations were most erudite and quite lofty. I loved it!
I’d probably have to follow your lunchtime convos with a dictionary or a thesaurus. :) It sounds like writing was your calling.
What are your favourite MG novels and authors?
There are so many, but I’ll mention just a few (in no particular order):
A Corner of the Universe, and anything else by Ann M. Martin
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
The Young Man and the Sea
The Slightly True Story of Cedar B. Hartley, who planned to live an unusual life
Cold in Summer
The Year of the Dog (which has nothing to do with dogs!)
Each Little Bird That Sings
Marley and Me:Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog (adult version)
My to-read list has grown substantially! Thank you.
If you could go back in time and tell the Danette just starting this journey one thing, what would it be?
Danette, LJ was the one who sent you the secret admirer carnation on Valentine’s Day!
If I could go back in time, I don’t know what I would do differently because I believe that every part of my life has led to the place I am now.
That’s a great way of looking at it. How do you carve out writing time between the day-to-day and your fantastical wildlife encounters (among other things)?
I am a disciplined writer. I sit down at the same time every day and write. I have a two to three hour window and I do not answer the phone, the door, or allow plans for that time. The only thing that distracts me is my incessant email checking and my compulsive need to look at the boards and other people’s blogs to see what’s going on. A pox on you, Internet!
I think turning writing into a discipline is 90% of the battle. The internet does make it difficult, though!
Thanks, Courtney. I love your blog, too! I am new to book publishing, but I hope to post things as my agent and editor see fit.
Thank you! And I’m totally looking forward to the parts of the process you share!
Volcanoes are sadly neglected in both middle-grade and YA fiction. Do you agree or am I alone in this?
Many a night I have lain awake pondering this appalling black hole in fiction.
I knew it wasn’t just me! Do you have a favourite volcano?
On this, I must defer to you, myself being quite the amateur when it comes to volcanoes.
Mount Vesuvius rules! Stratovolcanoes for the win! Now, moving away from volcano questions, Violet Raines is an awesome name. How do you name your characters? Do they come to you in a quick flash of inspiration or do you find yourself bent over name books and name websites for hours on end?
Thanks for saying Violet Raines is an awesome name! Naming the characters works both ways for me, but for VIOLET RAINES ALMOST GOT STRUCK BY LIGHTNING, the names came immediately. It wasn’t even like they came to me–they just already were.
I’m jealous of how quickly your names arrived in this case. How would you describe your writing style?
Well, I did get an A+ on that book report in second grade, so I’m going with that!
It was this one, right? Totally earned.
Writing is something that can often be misunderstood and seen as a rather impractical pursuit by those who haven’t caught the bug. Have you ever struggled with your identity as a writer? If so, how did you cope?
It’s true that writing is often viewed by those outside the field as dabbling. A friend once called and asked if I was busy. (This was before I stopped answering the phone.) I told her I was working on my story. “Great!” she said. “I’ll be right over!”
It’s hard telling people I’m a writer because they don’t know me in that context. They don’t read the magazines or online publications I’ve been published in, so naming those journals doesn’t validate me in their eyes. That’s why I’ve found belonging to online communities such as Verla Kay’s, SCBWI, and Absolute Write to be very rewarding; we all are trying to do the same thing, and we know it’s real.
Very well said. Are you an outliner or do you work on the fly?
I must have a map!
What’s your favourite tense and POV?
I love reading and writing in first person. A first person book hooks me immediately. If the same story was written in first and in third, I would always choose the first person version. As far as tense, either one works for me.
First person rules! Speaking of favourites, I know you’re a big fan of U2. What’s your favourite U2 song (if you can’t pick a favourite, I’ll settle for top three)?
Oh my gosh! I absolutely LOVE U2! Last year, they came to Miami, but by the time I discovered it, the show was sold out and the online ticket prices were hitting four digits. Now, I’ve subscribed to the U2 site and Ticketmaster and when they come around again, I WILL BE THERE!
Note to Bono: I’ll be wearing a purple shirt, so pick me out when you need someone to dance with!
Favorite U2 songs: All of them, of course! But Beautiful Day still blows me away every time I listen to it. So does Elevation. I like Angel of Harlem, too, and Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own. My favorite U2 CDs are Live at Slane Castle (DVD) and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.
Bono totally reads this blog. You got that Bono? Purple shirt.
I loved your short story, Manifest Destiny. I had a big smile on my face by the time I got to the last line. What’s easier for you, writing short stories or writing novels?
Thank you! That’s my cat, Samson! I never heard him speak, but he seemed very wise. I got hooked on short stories in college and accidentally discovered flash fiction after graduation. It’s the same process for all them, really, but short stories and flash are easier only because there’s a shorter time commitment. The challenge in flash is to present all the elements, voice, character, setting, conflict, and resolution in 500 words or less.
I admire anyone who can write flash fiction. Like you said, you’re faced with the challenge of putting a lot of information in few words. Kudos!
I’ve heard it said before that once your work is out there, it’s not yours anymore. Even though how an author’s work is received is entirely out of their control, what do you hope readers take away from VIOLET RAINES when it comes out?
I hope they had fun!
I bet they will. Thank you so much for braving my first author interview ever, Danette, and congratulations once again on your success! I can’t wait for the day I can take VIOLET RAINES off the shelf and read it! Do you have any parting words of advice for those who write and those who want to?
The standard advice writers usually receive is write, write, write. I’d like to add that any raw talent benefits with education, and you must get feedback on your writing from qualified readers. And never give up! You can do it!
Courtney, thanks for inviting me to your blog. It’s been fun talking with you and I must say congratulations to you, too! I enjoy your blog so much and I know I’m going to love your book. Now as soon as you post this, I must incessantly email everyone and let them know!
Thanks, Danette, on all counts! You were a great interview–all of your answers made my questions look great! ;)
One more time: the book is VIOLET RAINES ALMOST GOT STRUCK BY LIGHTNING, due out in Fall ’08 from Walker BFYR. Danette’s blog is Summer Friend and you can keep up with her there!