Sunday, September 18, 2016

Q&A with Dana Alison Levy

Dana Alison Levy is the author of the new kids' novel The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island. She also has written The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher. She lives in New England.

Q: This is the second book you've written about the Family Fletcher. Did you know from the beginning that you'd be writing more than one, and do you think you approached the characters any differently the second time around?

A: When I wrote the first book it was definitely complete unto itself. But at the same time, I always felt that I had more stories to tell about the family.

Writing the second one was like reuniting with old friends; I really knew them well, and found their voices and motivations clear in my mind. Since they are kids, however, I had to let them grow up a bit, and that was a challenge.

Q: This book is set over the course of a summer on the island where they go every year. How did you create that summertime feeling in the writing, and did you spend time in a similar favorite summer place?

A: As a native New Englander, I love summer…it is fleeting, and so special. Writing a love letter to summer was fun — I took many of my favorite memories from Maine, Massachusetts, and beyond, and combined them in this book.

While Rock Island is made up, and is a mash-up of New England islands including the Isles of Shoals, Block Island, and Martha’s Vineyard, it really is based on one place.

I spent dozens of summers on Nantucket, first on vacation and later as a housecleaner, nanny, waitress, and pizza maker. Nantucket is 30 miles out to sea and 14 miles long, and has many of the same charms as Rock Island (including some fantastic lighthouses)!

Q: Race is one of the issues you deal with in the novel. How did you decide to include that as one of the themes to focus on?

A: I wasn’t planning on writing about race in this book. But I was writing this in the summer of 2014, when Ferguson, Missouri, was erupting in protests over the police shooting of an unarmed black boy.

I was watching these protests, and following the rage and heartbreak of this community, while writing this happy story of a mixed-race family in a predominantly white vacation community.

And I just couldn’t. I couldn’t keep writing without acknowledging in some way that Jax’s experience as a young black boy would be different from his brothers’.

As I mentioned, Rock Island is based in part on my wonderful summers in Nantucket, and the reality is, Nantucket is filled with a lot more people who look like me than who look like Jax. That wasn’t going to be part of the story, until suddenly it was.

Q: You tell the story from a variety of perspectives. Did you plan the book out before you started writing, or did you make many changes along the way when it comes to its structure?

A: I have now written (not published, but written!) over seven novels, and I will say that the Fletcher books are some of the most fun, and the easiest to write.

In both the first and second books, I wrote chapter-by-chapter outlines, deciding which brother’s point-of-view each chapter would be from, and those first outlines are pretty similar to the final books.

This is certainly not true of all my books — some I’ve radically changed from draft to draft.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I recently finished copy-edits on a third middle grade book that comes out next spring. It’s called This Would Make a Good Story Someday, and it’s not a Fletcher book, but in the same genre.

It tells the story of Sara Johnston-Fischer, who just wanted to have an awesome summer with her friends, but instead wound up on a cross-country train trip with her moms, her two sisters, and an assortment of other characters. It’s told through Sara’s journal, as well as postcards, notes, blog posts, and more.

Then there’s a new project in the works, but it’s still a secret!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Hmmm. Well, I can wiggle my ears. Maybe people should know that!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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