an interview with danette haworth 2

courtneybooks, interviews

I am woefully out of touch when it comes to middle grade fiction. Like, the last time I read a middle grade novel, I think I was a middle grader. That is no commentary on the genre, more a commentary on me. That commentary is that I’m lame and need to reach outside the edgy YA shelf a little more, just so you all know! Reading Danette Haworth’s lovely, sweet debut, Violet Raines Almost Got Struck By Lightning was like a breath of fresh air for me. As I said to one of my good friends shortly after finishing it, “I LOVED IT–but get this! There was NO SWEARING in it or anything! And still I LOVED IT!!”

Yes, so you can see by my ridiculousness what reading one type of book for an extended period of time will do to your brain. In any case, Violet Raines totally set off the think of what you could have been missing and all that you are missing! alarm in my head, and for that I am eternally grateful. Thank you, Danette.

This is a fantastic debut. Set in a small, Florida town, Violet Raines is a fierce, fun protagonist on the verge of a lot of change. Junior High looms on the horizon, her best friend Lottie is being monopolized by the glamorous new girl in town, Melissa (who hails from Detroit and doesn’t appreciate Violet’s hometown as much as Violet thinks she should), and her other best friend, Eddie–well, she doesn’t have a crush on him and that’s final. This tailspin of change has Violet questioning her now evolving role within her group of friends while fighting to keep things the way they’ve always been: uncomplicated, free and always fun. When Lottie’s family faces an unexpected crisis, Violet realizes the only way out is through. Can anything good come of it? Well–you’ll have to read to find out!

This is a very sweet novel and I read it in a few hours–not because I was in a hurry to finish it, but because I couldn’t put it down. Violet’s voice jumps off the page (as another character remarks, “[she’s] no shrinking violet!”), and is full of attitude and humour. She’s a delightful and strong and strong-minded female protagonist for boys and girls alike to root for (and they will root for her). Supporting characters are also solidly “there” with quirks and charms all their own. And the setting! The setting is incredibly vivid. I have a feeling Violet Raines Almost Got Struck By Lightning is as close to Florida as I’ll get without actually ever going there (one day, one day).

The film My Girl, one of my favourites, came to mind a lot as I read this. The plots are VERY different, but both that movie and this book offer unforgettable main characters on the brink of growing up, and the challenges and struggles therein. The way Haworth navigates Violet’s journey is thoughtful and considerate and results in a very sweet and touching story that has a very natural and satisfying conclusion. It’s going to be fun telling people about this one. This would be a great read for people of all ages.

Danette Haworth is an incredibly talented writer. Her blog is one of my daily visits, and I’m always interested in what she has to say. I have been anticipating Violet since the deal announcement last October and let me tell you all–it was worth the wait. Danette has kindly consented to another interview (read the first one here!), where she gave us further insight on the quirky world of Violet Raines.


When I asked you all the way back in October of last year (!) what you wanted readers to take away from Violet Raines, you said you hoped they had fun. I just wanted you to know, I definitely did. What has it been like for you since Violet was unleashed on the world?

I’m so glad you had fun with Violet Raines! She was an incredibly fun character to work with.

Life has been amazing in small, quiet ways. People I know and people I don’t know have asked me to sign their copies of Violet Raines. It felt strange the first time I did it because I was writing on a pristine page, something I’d never normally do to a book. But people have assured me it’s okay! It’s an honor, really, that people would ask, and I hope I convey that with what I write.

My family members are proud of me and have told everyone they know about my book. My brother-in-law bought three copies; my mom bought two, even though I’d given her one. And I bought one, too–my first sale!

Last year, I spoke in a classroom about the writer’s life and what it felt like to make a sale. I recently ran into that teacher and she told me that what I said so inspired her that she began working on a manuscript this summer, something she’d always wanted to do. She said she remembered what I said about discipline and sitting down everyday to write and she realized I can do this. I can sit down everyday this summer and write. That meant a lot to me.

That’s fantastic–I can see how it would. I loved the scenes with Violet and her mom. They had a wonderful mother/daughter vibe, but their interactions were very ‘level’. Violet’s mom didn’t fit into a patronizing mom role and I really felt that she treated her daughter as an equal and with respect. Adult characters can often be tricky to write in MG/YA fiction and sometimes the temptation to stereotype can be great. How did you approach writing your adult characters?

I hadn’t yet come up with Violet when I first toyed with the idea of writing a story that centered on a mother and her daughter. The mother that first came to me was a strict, hard-nosed woman; it was an entirely different dynamic. I didn’t have a handle yet on the daughter, but I somehow knew she went next door every Sunday for a fish fry. Something was there–I could feel it–I had to keep working the idea to pull the real story out.

One day as I toiled over my keyboard, Violet walked in and changed everything! The thing with Violet is that she came to me as a whole character and delivered the first paragraph. I saw her, I heard her voice, and I saw the woods behind her. Somehow, in that instant, I knew everything about her, including what kind of people she would have grown up with. The focus of the story changed; the mother became a secondary character and not part of the conflict.

Now that I knew Violet, I knew her mom would have to be gentle but strong. She lost her husband while pregnant with Violet and she set about making a life for Violet and herself given the circumstances she’d been handed. Her strong faith kept her grounded, and so did her deep roots in the community. Because she had to support a household by herself, she raised Violet to be independent and responsible, and she trusts Violet.

Lottie’s parents are also hardworking people. Since Lottie’s family has a more traditional household (mother and father, and three sisters), I figured they would have a little chaos in the house, and, therefore, they might not have as much time to sit down with their children as individuals. Their love isn’t any less, but with four kids and both parents working, they’d be more apt to check up on chores and lean on the oldest (poor Lottie!)

In my background for Melissa’s mom Mrs. Gold, it came to me that Mrs. Gold wasn’t able to have any more children. She and her husband lavish everything upon Melissa; they want her to be happy, and it is their joy to provide a golden childhood for her.

Wow! I loved getting that extra-insight. Violet has very strong (and often funny!) opinions about, well… everything! Especially Melissa. Reading, I thought Melissa was quietly sympathetic–living in a strange new town, very different from Detroit–and I could be wrong, but I got the vibe that she had more than a passing interest in Eddie, or was jealous of Eddie’s interest in Violet. Was it challenging to get these subtleties about Melissa across when you’re filtering her through Violet eyes?

Ah, Courtney! I see Melissa didn’t slip anything past you!

It’s true–Melissa noticed Eddie the day she stood in the church parking lot and he asked her about Detroit. She thought he was cute. But she didn’t want to intrude on anyone’s territory–that’s why she asked Violet if Violet and Eddie are boyfriend and girlfriend. Even though Violet denied it, Melissa sensed a chemistry between Eddie and Violet that even Violet was not aware of.

Violet definitely has her own perspective on things! But I felt pretty sure readers would detect that Violet might not always be the most reliable narrator.

That was one of my favourite things about the book. That everyone else ‘got’ Violet and Eddie’s chemistry well before Violet did. The supporting characters in Violet Raines are incredibly well drawn. If you could see any of them having a book of their own, who would it be and when would it take place?

Thank you! It’s funny how much you know about the characters that doesn’t make it into the book. My first draft for Violet Raines was told by Violet and Lottie in alternating chapters. But I was so drawn to Violet that I wanted to tell the whole story from her perspective. If any of the other characters would have their own book, I think it might be Lottie–she’s feeling many different things in her heart, a lot of angst, things she hasn’t shared with Violet because she’s only just now being hit with these feelings. The book would probably take place during the same summer.

That is so cool about the alternating chapters! If Lottie ever does get her own book, I’d totally read it and I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one. Lightning safety plays a role in Violet Raines–and for good reason! I can’t resist asking: do you turn off the oven and count the miles when a storm approaches?

Four houses in my small neighborhood were struck during the same summer–one house was struck twice. Funny you should ask about me and lightning.

I was sitting in our living room during one violent storm. All of a sudden, static raced up my arms and across my scalp and I felt my hair lift. BOOM! An explosion hit! Moments later, I heard banging and crying at my front door. It was my little girl and the family from next door. Their house had just been struck by lightning. The wires were burning inside the walls and the oven was on fire. Several firetrucks came. The firemen had to hack through the walls to get to the wires. The house was totally sodden, furniture, too. Drywall lay about in chunks. My neighbor took the clothes and usable furniture to a rental house–they had to move out for four and a half months while the house was rebuilt from the inside. The funny thing was it looked just fine from the outside.

My neighbor had been cooking meatballs at the time.

Yes, I turn off the oven. Our houses sport lightning rods now.

Oh my gosh, wow. That’s another thing I liked about Violet–the reverence for nature. If Violet Raines ever got optioned for a movie, are there any actors you’d love to see take on the roles of your characters?

Yes, but they’d be hard to get! Violet should be played by Mary Badham, who played Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” or Tatum O’Neal from “Paper Moon” (but in addition to regressing in time, she’d have to color her hair). Eddie would have to played by Scott, the fastest runner in my fourth grade class, because he looks just like Eddie and was just as gracious.

I will build a time machine and help make this happen. Pick one (only one!) song that encapsulates each of the following characters: Violet, Lottie, Eddie and Melissa.

Songs escape me, but I can’t think of the characters without these images: Violet and Eddie deep in the hammock, palms and woods surrounding them; Lottie in her kitchen, working over a white, old-fashioned gas stove; Melissa, sitting on her porch steps, smiling, her hair pulled back prettily in barrettes (and the house is yellow with white shutters).

I think I like knowing that better than knowing the songs. Thank you for sharing that. One thing I love about the book was the ending. The conclusion seemed so natural and unforced. Endings can be difficult–as a writer, there can sometimes be a sense of wanting to give the characters everything or not enough and striking the right balance can be tough. Was Violet’s ending challenging to write?

Thank you for the compliment on the ending! After Violet came to me, I worked hard to come up with a conflict that would be appropriate for her. Since she’d grown up in Mitchell Hammock and loved it so, anything changing would be hard for her. Once I figured out the conflict, the climax was the first full scene I wrote. Everything fell into place once I had that bridge scene because I knew what my destination was.

As I’ve told you, the bridge scene features one of my favourite lines that I’ve ever read in a book in it. Your next two books, THE HOTEL OF BLUEBERRY GOODNESS and ME AND JACK are coming out in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Congratulations! I can’t WAIT to read them. I’m jumping the gun, oh, just a little–but what do you want readers to take away from BLUEBERRY and ME AND JACK when they come out?

Yay! And thank you! THE HOTEL OF BLUEBERRY GOODNESS is still under construction, so I’ll have to get back to you on that! As far as ME AND JACK goes, I hope readers will leave the story feeling inspired.

I’ve no doubt they will. Finally, Violet Raines is a book about change and growing up. I’m too curious not to ask: where do you see Violet, Eddie, Lottie and Melissa when they do? … Or should that be something left to our imaginations? And if so, at the very least, please tell me Violet grew up to be a U2 fan?

I definitely have to leave the growing up part to the imagination! I love leaving Violet at the intersection of childhood and adolescence, where life is full of promise and exciting new feelings.

And U2? I don’t know about Violet, but they’ll always have me!

That’s good enough for me! Thank you for the interview, Danette!

Thanks for having me again, Courtney! I love your blog, so being a guest here is a real treat!

Support your local indie and get yourself a copy of Danette’s debut today! Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning is a book you’ll love reading and even better–sharing. I cannot stress that enough. I know I’ll be curling up with my copy on a hot summer’s day or a cold winter’s night (especially when I’m missing those hot summer days). Visit Danette on the web at and bookmark her blog, summerfriend (you don’t want to miss out on her blog OR her book, trust me).

Congratulations on your first release, Danette! I can’t wait to read your next two!