An Interview with Danette Haworth: Moonlight Secrets

courtneybooks, interviews

The first time I interviewed Danette Haworth, we talked about her writing process and her hopes for her forthcoming debut, Violet Raines Almost Got Struck By Lightning. The second time I interviewed Danette, Violet Raines had just hit shelves. I read and loved that book, and was able to question her about the characters and story. I’m happy to report that, this past May, Danette’s sophomore novel, The Summer of Moonlight Secrets hit shelves:

Isn’t that a beautiful cover? And I’m even HAPPIER to report that Danette is here to celebrate its release in the form of another interview! Before I get to that, though, I just want to talk about The Summer of Moonlight Secrets which I read and, like her debut, also loved. It’s a middle-grade novel with a TON of heart and it needs to be on your bookshelf now. Danette’s sophomore novel stands up to her stunning debut.

The book stars Allie Jo, a fun and fiery tween who works (ie helps out) at the Meriweather hotel in Florida, which is managed by her parents. She’s often teased for living at the hotel and is about to face the entire summer without her best friend and she is NOT happy about it. She’s not alone for long, though! Enter three guests: Sophie, a nice girl with a penchant for knitting, Chase, a thirteen-year-old boy who arrives on the scene with a BANG and, consequently, a broken arm, anddddd Tara… who is not really a guest at all. The ethereal sixteen-year-old may be A LOT more than she seems…

I’ll stop there because I don’t want to spoil it. There’s so much about it that should be left to the reader to discover, so I will just let you know I ADORED this book from start to finish. There is so much blueberry goodness in it. And, like Violet Raines, this read is so great to curl up with. But the thing I treasured about this book most was that it really sparkles with possibility. Allie Jo and Chase get a taste of the impossible, the magic beneath the surface, and that carries through to the reader. A book that makes you feel that as you read it is a real treat, in my opinion.

And now, without further ado…


The Summer of Moonlight Secrets is your sophomore novel. Congratulations! How has your second release been treating you?

Thank you, Courtney! I have to say it’s wonderful having that second book out there because you prove to yourself the first one wasn’t a fluke AND that you can do it again.

I find I’m more relaxed about this release than I was with Violet Raines. With Violet being my first novel out, I didn’t know what to expect–what happens when the bookstore up from your house has copies of your book on the shelves? Will the neighbors see it? Will schools suddenly be calling? Or *shudder* will NO ONE notice?

I worried about book promotion. At intersections, I’d see those guys twirling signs: 2 Large Pizzas $9.99. I could picture myself on the next corner slinging my own sign: Violet Raines! Get yer Violet Raines right here! I carried bookmarks in my purse and passed them out everywhere I went, dentist, doctor, grocery store. (Oh, wait–I still do that!)

With The Summer of Moonlight Secrets, I had my first book signing the day after it was released and I had a good time talking with people, some who bought my book and some who didn’t. When it was over, I went home and watched one of my favorite TV shows. I’m able to think about other things and not worry over my book. I’m enjoying this release, and when I have an interview (like this one!) or blog review, it’s the fun part of the post-release.

I’m proud of my books and I know how blessed I am to work with Stacy Cantor and all the people at Walker, and my agent Ted, who really believed in my third book, Me and Jack (2011). I’m enthralled with the cover for SOMS, illustrated by Brandon Dorman. All in all, I’d say the second release has been treating me most excellently!

I’m glad to hear that! What inspired The Summer of Moonlight Secrets?

Both the setting and the story for SOMS were inspired by the hidden gems of Central Florida: Blue Springs, DeLeon Springs, historic towns with brick-lined streets, and old houses and hotels that bear the suggestion of their former glory.

Blue Springs looks to me like the Garden of Eden. It’s beautiful and unsullied. The water looks emerald green in sunshine and hauntingly blue in dusk. Each winter, this spring is home to sometimes more than two hundred manatees, which go there to escape the chilly waters of the rivers and coastal areas. DeLeon Springs is an inland springs, the grounds on which an old sugar mill still stands, except instead of sugar, you can go inside and get snacks, gator jerky, and blueberry pancakes.

It was Blue Springs’s manatees that first got me thinking about the mystery girl. Manatees are graceful, hypnotizing creatures, thought to be the source for the legend of mermaids. I started with a certain idea and ended up with something very different. (I will stop talking here lest I give away any moonlight secrets!)

BRB, booking my flight to Florida right now! Allie Jo, Chase and (less frequently) Tara take turns narrating the novel. Their voices are very distinct. Did you find it challenging or easy to switch voices?

Each voice was fun to write, and I found I needed to take breaks between chapters in order to put on the new character. Acting out my scenes while writing helps me a great deal–What does her voice sound like when she says this? She’s mad–no! She’s surprised, and a little bit scared. Physically playing out a scene helps me connect to the true emotions and expressions and helps me ferret out false notes. This goes for all my writing, whether the book is told from one POV or several.

I’ve always wanted to write a novel with multiple leads. Whether you write for one narrator or several, you still have to be in tune with the voices of the surrounding characters. You still have to know them and be familiar with their back stories. Writing in multiple POVs allows you to reveal more of that information, and you get the chance to provide internal dialogue for all your speakers. This creates a kind of tension not available from one perspective in that the reader is privy to the differing emotions and reactions of the narrators and even events that other characters may not know about or understand the impact of.

The challenge is to braid these threads together, loosely at first, then tighter and tighter so that all the threads explode together in one magnificent climax, satisfying each character’s story. Two middle-grade novels I recommend for multiple POVs (beside SOMS, of course!) are Greetings from Nowhere by Barbara O’ Connor, and Bird Lake Moon by Kevin Henkes. GFN has four narrators, and Barbara creates four full, rich stories in which you understand every character’s worries and motivations. Each narrator’s story is satisfied by one unified climactic event. Bird Lake Moon is a wonderful book, narrated by two boys who don’t, at first, know each other. What Kevin has done so marvelously in BLM is to create a cause-and-effect tension with the alternating chapters. It’s a beautiful story, well-crafted.

I’ll definitely check them out. One thing that surprised me–in a good way!–was that The Summer of Moonlight Secrets takes place in 1980s. I loved that. It suited the story perfectly. Why did you choose to set it in the 80s?

As long as I’ve known her, my mother has always loved to explore old or abandoned properties, entering them legally or, ahem, otherwise. Not only was I her sidekick in these adventures, I was also an excellent pupil.

My mother and a friend of hers took my sister and me to a huge, old hotel in the late 80s. It wasn’t the first place like that I’d ever been, and it definitely wasn’t the last. But the reason it stuck with me was that so much of the structure was collapsed or rotting. My sister and I left my mom and her friend with their coffee and started walking around. And up the stairs. And up again. We discovered abandoned floors with stripped down rooms, castoff furniture, and broken windows. It was awesome! We knew we weren’t supposed to be there, but there was nothing to stop us, not even a sign. We walked all over where we weren’t supposed to be, even after a seagull flew through a window and flapped over our heads, nearly giving us both heart attacks! We thought our self-tour was over when a security guard found us. Instead, he showed us even more passages and tunnels that we never would’ve discovered on our own.

I’ve explored many old buildings with tunnels and secret passageways and rooms, but I’ll never forget the feeling of lost majesty as my sister and I explored that once grand hotel. When I started writing SOMS, it seemed only natural to place the story in that same decade.

So cool. The cover is absolutely stunning. So stunning that Bloomsbury/Walker even featured it on their Spring 2010 catalog. Did you have any input on it? What was your reaction when you saw it?

Oh, my gosh. I love the cover–it’s absolutely beautiful, and I can say that because I’m not the artist! Brandon Dorman captured the essence of the book with the cover illustration. Stacy Cantor, my editor, asked me if I had any thoughts on the cover. My main concern was that nothing appear in the artwork that would blatantly reveal the mystery. I also told her I loved the cover of Savvy and thought something like that would fit the story.

The greatest thing about landing the right editor is that they see the book the same way you do. A couple of weeks after receiving my comments, Stacy sent me an email saying Walker had brought Brandon Dorman on board to create the cover art (Savvy’s cover illustrator). She kept my concerns in mind when she and Brandon conceptualized the cover. When Stacy sent me a pencil sketch for the proposed artwork, I couldn’t get over how beautiful it was! I fell in love with it; I couldn’t concentrate for the rest of the day. The same thing happened when she emailed me the color version.

When The Summer of Moonlight secrets was acquired by Walker, it was originally titled The Hotel of Blueberry Goodness. Having read the book, I can attest to the fact it is full of both moonlight secrets AND blueberry goodness. Can you tell us about the retitling process?

Walker loved the original title, but as the book took shape, it took on a slant different from the proposal. The main elements and characters from the proposal were there, and, for the most part, they were very close to their original descriptions. But it was somehow a different story; the original title didn’t fit anymore.

Stacy and I emailed back and forth, each of us hammering out keywords or phrases we thought depicted the book. We made long lists, commented on each other’s suggestions, explaining why we thought certain words worked and why other words didn’t. The title has a big burden–it has to convey the attitude and nature of the story in just a few words. We agreed we wanted it to whisper with mystery; it had to be summery, and it couldn’t sound ominous or supernatural. After a flurry of exchanges between Stacy and me, and a meeting at Walker, the new title emerged: The Summer of Moonlight Secrets.

Changing the title was an emotional and intense process. I was pretty much married to The Hotel of Blueberry Goodness, and lots of other people involved loved it, too. I mourned the loss of it even though I knew it was the right move. Brainstorming the new title took over all my thoughts. It was like I was two people: the outside me performed all my chores and interacted with my family; the inside me raced around looking for good words. Nearly the only time I was one was when I spoke with a family member about the title. Even after we finalized the title, I still lamented over Blueberry Goodness. But the more I thought about the new title, the more I began to love it. Now I think it’s absolutely perfect!

Titles are so, so hard! Sometimes even harder than writing the book! In both of your novels, location plays a key role. You have this incredible knack for making Florida seem so alive on the page. The Meriwether was a character in itself. Why did you choose to set your novels in Florida and did you do much research into hotels etc. to perfect your vision of The Meriwether?

Thank you! As far as being set in Florida, Violet Raines came to me intact, complete with her looks, her accent, the first paragraph of the book, and a bunch of trees behind her, which I recognized as the woods surrounding the Econlockhatchee River in Orlando.

With The Summer of Moonlight Secrets, it was a manatee that set off the whole idea. The manatee, the springs, the blueberry pancakes—it had to be Florida!

Winter Park is a small town near Orlando I love to visit. When I was single, I used to ride my bike over the brick roads and gawk at the beautiful old homes. There was one house–a two-story home, green, with iron scrollwork, very stately–whenever I passed this house, I’d think, A novel could take place in there.

I’ve visited several of Florida’s historic hotels, including the Lakeside Inn of Mount Dora, where, as part of my research, I dined for lunch and later sat on the veranda in a rocking chair, watching the sun set. In between these events, I hit the boutiques like mad, all part of my master plan to get the atmosphere right for my novel.

I find the “farther away” I get from my books, the more my feelings about them change. I’m able to appreciate and see things about them that I didn’t before. Now that your second book is released and you’ve had some distance from Violet Raines Almost Got Struck By Lightning, has your relationship with the book evolved?

Violet Raines was, to me, a gift. I’ve always said I often felt as if I were watching Violet rather than creating her. Even as I sat at my keyboard chronicling her activities, she did things I didn’t expect and said things I never thought of. She made me laugh then, and she makes me laugh now.

I do feel the way you described above—I see things in Violet that I didn’t before. I think when you’re in the fray, you don’t realize how immersed in the world of the novel you are. It’s only later that you discover recurring imagery or word choices that embody layers of meaning or give off just the right note. That’s not to say you’re not in control of your craft, it’s just when you’ve given yourself over to the story, you consciously and unconsciously make writing decisions that play off each other and ultimately lead to a satisfying climax and resolution.

Well said. What’s next for you?

I’ve just finished revisions for Me and Jack, a middle-grade novel featuring twelve-year-old Joshua Reed, the unusual dog he adopts, and Joshua’s father, who is an Air Force recruiter during the Vietnam War. I’m excited to see this project come to fruition because it existed in draft form before I wrote Violet. Another very emotional experience for me!

I cannot WAIT to read it! Thank you for stopping by, Danette!

Thank you for the wonderful things you said about SOMS and for the thoughtful questions, Courtney. It’s a pleasure to be a guest on your blog!


Danette Haworth’s novels just have an undeniable sweetness about them that makes them impossible not to love. They are also the perfect read-alouds. Need I say more? Check them out now and visit her online at!

Dear FTC, The Summer of Moonlight Secrets was bought by me and I was not compensated for this review or interview. I just love talking about the books I love. xo, Courtney