Monday, May 23, 2022

Q&A with Taylor Brown

 

Photo by Jordan Mount

 

 

Taylor Brown is the author of the new historical novel Wingwalkers, which features William Faulkner as a character. His other books include the novel Pride of Eden. He lives in Savannah, Georgia.


Q: You've noted that the inspiration for Wingwalkers came from some lines in a biography of William Faulkner. Can you say more about why you decided to write Wingwalkers, and why you were especially interested in Faulkner and his work?

 

A: I'd say the book really got off the ground (ha!) when I saw a photograph of a young Faulkner in his RAF flying uniform at Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi. 

 

My father was a pilot, I'm a lifelong lover of aviation, and I was already interested in writing something set during the early days of flight. What's more, Faulkner is one of my favorite authors, so it seemed like destiny, almost! 

 

I immediately dived into this part of the author's life, and soon realized that aviation was more influential in both his work and personal life than I'd ever imagined.

 

That said, I didn't want to write a novel just from Faulkner's perspective. I wanted my own characters, too, and I found them in Joseph Blotner's biography of Faulkner, which you mentioned. 

 

During Mardi Gras 1934, Faulkner attended the opening ceremonies of the Shushan (now Lakefront) Airport in New Orleans, which was a grand spectacle at the time, and the last night of the weekend, he didn't come home. 

 

When he turned up the next morning, he told a tale of "accepting a ride from two motorcyclists, a man and a woman. They were aviators at the meet, and he had joined them in drinking, flying, and carousing."

 

When I could find nothing more about these aviator-motorcyclists in the biographical or historical record, I knew I'd found my story, full of questions to be answered: Who was this daring duo, how did their lives intersect with Faulkner's, and what were the consequences of their meeting? I felt as though I'd found a waiting cockpit, and I jumped in!

 

Q: The author Paula McLain said of the book, "Taylor Brown writes with rare energy, spinning out history with the force of myth." What do you think of that description, and how do history and myth factor into the story?

 

A: Paula has been very kind to say that of my work, and I do think she's onto something in my fiction (though I can't say it's something I do deliberately). I do like to take a slice of history, populate it with characters, then live and breathe among them, riding (writing?) along with their journey. 

 

There's always a slight strangeness to such characters, as they occupy worlds at once so different and so similar to ours, and their stories help to tell us who we are, how we came to be, and how our present world and culture evolved to what it is today -- which is one of the great powers of myth, I believe.

 

Q: How did you research the novel, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

 

A: Oh, I have to say I had fun researching this one. 

 

Of course, I delved into the many biographies of Faulkner, along with the memoirs of his brothers (pilots all), descendants, and friends. I also got to dip back into my library of Faulkner softcovers from my college days, each well-inked with highlights, underlines, margin notes, and more. 

 

Even more special was tracking down some of the folks who had stories to tell, such as Wyatt Emmerich, a Mississippi newspaperman whose grandfather, Robert "Baby" Buntin, gave Faulkner flying lessons during their Ole Miss days.  

 

What surprised me most were the unexpected insights I had into Faulkner's character, which leads directly into the next question!

 

Q: What would you say are some of the most common perceptions and misconceptions about Faulkner?

 

A: I think we tend to lump Faulkner in with other male American modernists like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, but Faulkner was such an outsider compared to them. 

 

While they were in 1920s Paris, gallivanting about with the literary avant-garde, Faulkner was at home in Mississippi, where he wasn't taken seriously. Hell, people in his hometown of Oxford called him "Count No 'Count," and both his father and uncle thought he wouldn't amount to anything.  

 

We also tend to have a macho idea of him -- whiskey, tobacco, horses, etc. -- not unlike Hemingway, but he doesn't come off that way at all in the writings and memories of his friends, relatives, biographers. 

 

He was much more of an endearing rascal, it seems to me. You know, when his early poetry wasn't getting accepted, he started copying famous poems and sending them off to the big literary magazines, getting them rejected. (Coleridge's "Kubla Khan," for example, which The New Republic rejected.) Something of the trickster in him, perhaps. 

 

Though WWI ended before he earned his wings, he came home from RAF flight training affecting a limp, telling people he had a silver plate in his head from an air crash. It was like his imagination was just too big for reality, and it overflowed right into his work.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: For the last several years, I've been hard at work on a book set during the West Virginia Coal Wars. I don't want to give away too much, but I hope it will help resurrect the lesser-known history of Appalachia, which is incredibly empowering, and help reshape how we think of a region that's been vilified for far too long. 

 

One of the characters is based on my great-grandfather, who emigrated from Mt. Lebanon, Syria, at the age of 14 (without his family!), went to medical school at the University of Kentucky, and became a prominent physician in rural Kentucky.  

 

I've also been hard at work on a new book that's something of a contemporary Western, but which draws heavily on Wild West history and myth.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: My previous novel, Pride of Eden, came out during the now infamous month of March 2020, just as the world locked down for the first time. Believe it or not, it's set in a big cat sanctuary, came out the same week as Tiger King, and deals with a lot of the issues that the show highlights! 

 

Though it won the 2021 Georgia Author of the Year Award for Literary Fiction, it largely slipped through the cracks due to the larger issues at play in the world. So it's another one to put on your TBR list if you enjoy Wingwalkers!

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Caroline Arnold

 


 

 

Caroline Arnold is the author of two new children’s books, Keeper of the Light and Planting a Garden in Room 6. She has written 170 other books for kids, is a former instructor in the UCLA Writer’s Program, and lives in Los Angeles, California.

 

Q: What inspired you to focus on lighthouse keeper Juliet Fish Nichols in your new picture book Keeper of the Light?

 

A: I first learned about Juliet Fish Nichols on a visit to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay and heard how, on a very foggy day and night in the summer of 1906, she rang the giant fog bell by hand for 20 hours straight when the automatic bell machine failed.

 

I wanted to learn more about this intrepid woman and what it was like to be a lighthouse keeper–alone, as a woman, isolated at the bottom of a cliff--responsible for keeping shipping lanes safe, day after day, night after night.

 

Q: The Kirkus Review of the book calls it “A fascinating introduction to a once-celebrated, now lesser-known light keeper.” How well known was Nichols in her lifetime, and what do you see as her legacy today?

 

A: Juliet’s remarkable dedication to duty shows how ordinary people doing their job faithfully day after day can have an impact on history, especially when faced with extraordinary circumstances.

 

While newspapers at the time lauded Juliet’s actions in the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and noted Juliet’s connection with her mother, Emily Fish, keeper at the Point Pinos, California, lighthouse (they were an unusual mother/daughter lightkeeper duo), Juliet was largely forgotten after her retirement in 1914. My book is the first to tell her story as a children’s book.


Q: What do you think Rachell Sumpter's illustrations add to the book?

 

A: Rachell Sumpter’s beautiful atmospheric watercolor paintings evoke the landscape of Angel Island--its plants and animals, the lighthouse at the bottom of the cliff, the fog and sun–day and night, summer, fall, winter, spring.

 

I love the way the art depicts the human scale of Juliet and her lighthouse against the larger landscape and the elements.

 

Q: You also have another new picture book out, Planting a Garden in Room 6, part of a series. How did you get the idea for this book, and what do you hope kids take away from it?

 

A: Planting a Garden in Room 6: From Seeds to Salad follows a class of kindergarten children growing vegetables in a school garden as they learn firsthand about the growth cycle. This is my third book with kindergarten teacher Mrs. Best, who I met when I did an author visit at her school.

 

After spending time in her classroom watching the children hatch chicks and raise butterflies for the first two books in the series, planting a garden seemed like the obvious next project. As the last line in the story says, “Nothing tastes better than vegetables fresh from the garden. Especially when you have grown them yourself.”

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: For another picture book biography, I am researching the life of Lizzie Kander, editor of the best-selling Settlement Cook Book (first edition 1902), which grew out of her work at a community center in Milwaukee called The Settlement. I learned to cook using my mother’s copy of the book--the 25th edition!

 

I am also working on a memoir focusing on my childhood years growing up at a settlement house in Minneapolis.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: Children’s picture books are necessarily short and it’s impossible to include all the fascinating material I discover in my research. Both of my new books have back matter, giving a larger context to the story.

 

In my long career in children’s book publishing, I have worn numerous hats, including that of a photographer and illustrator. The Room 6 books are illustrated with my own photographs. You can find out more about these and my other 170 books for children at my website www.carolinearnold.com.

 

Thank you so much, Deborah, for the opportunity to share my newest books!

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Maddie Frost

 


 

 

Maddie Frost is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book Capybara Is Friends with Everyone. Her other books include the forthcoming picture book Iguana Be a Dragon. She lives in Massachusetts.

 

Q: What inspired you to create Capybara Is Friends with Everyone, and why did you choose a capybara as your main character?

 

A: Capybara Is Friends with Everyone was not my idea. The title was gifted to me by my editor at HarperCollins, Tamar Mays (thanks, Tamar!). I had a capybara in a different manuscript that Tamar passed on BUT she remembered there was a capybara in it.

 

Some time went by and she reached out to me (because of the capybara) and asked if I had a story to fit the title, Capybara Is Friends with Everyone. I didn’t, but I knew I could come up with something. Well...I hoped.

 

If you’ve ever seen a capybara in the wild, or on TV, or in a gif, they really do get along well with all animals. Birds are like their BFF hanging out on top of them all day.

 

To find my angle I thought about how I would be as a capybara. Probably not as chill as real ones because I'm full of anxiety, and worry, and doubt. So naturally I knew that would be Capybara’s personality, and the story evolved from there.

 

I, like Capybara want everyone to like me and will go above and beyond to make them like me. I’ve been this way my entire life. With family, teachers, friends, relationships. It’s exhausting. I thought if someone didn’t show excitement to be my friend that there was something wrong with me. “Are my webbed feet too webby?!”

 

I also definitely channeled some Leslie Knope from Parks and Rec for Capybara’s personality.

 

Q: Did you work on the text first or the illustrations first--or both at the same time? And how did you create your artistic style?

 

A: The text always comes first for me. I write the story in a word document with page numbers so I can figure out the pacing. Then once I start sketching, things always change a little from the original text. When I can visually see the characters in action, I might tweak parts of the dialogue.

 

I work in Photoshop with digital brushes. The types of brushes I gravitate towards constantly change. Mostly because I get bored easily and it’s a way for me to stay fresh and slightly uncomfortable.

 

Q: What do you think the book says about friendship?

 

A: It says you don’t need to exhaust yourself to make new friends or go above and beyond for your current friends all the time. If your friends are REALLY your friends, they don’t need amazing gifts or huge gestures. They just need you!...Also self-care!!

 

I’m noticing more and more that so many of my books have a gentle theme of mental health. Must be all that anxiety, worry, and doubt. Write what you know, right? Haha.

 

Q: You also have a new book coming out this summer, Iguana Be a Dragon. How did you come up with the idea for this story?


A: Iguana Be a Dragon came from some random art I made a long time ago and posted on Twitter. It was of an iguana attached to three balloons. It sort of stuck with me and I wondered why he was tied to balloons. He wanted something. He wanted to fly. To be something more amazing. To be a dragon. LIGHTBULB!

 

Iguana doesn’t feel amazing enough to attend a pool party because there could be way more amazing animals there. So he disguises himself as a dragon (which is super amazing) and gets himself in a fireball of trouble.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: I’m working on a lot of very different things and for different age groups. Some projects I can’t really mention just yet (so cliché, right?).

 

I’m currently writing the next book in my debut graphic novel series called Wombats! The first book comes out in April 2023 called Wombats! Go Camping. Available for pre-order this July.

 

I’m working on art for a book I wrote called Little Boo. About a ghost who has an annoying little sibling and decides to trade with a werewolf’s sibling. Publishing in 2024.

 

And I’m attempting a middle-grade novel but it’s more something that’s just for me right now. I always feel it’s important to have side, zero-pressure projects, for YEO. Your eyes only.

 

I used to make art and stories for fun all the time when I was younger and once I became published I stopped. I thought everything I made had to be something that had publishing potential. It zapped the joy out of the spontaneous aspect of creating. So when I have time, I make sure to write and draw for myself. 

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: Just to keep a lookout on my social media for Iguana visits/giveaways this summer and all other book news!

Instagram: @hellomaddiefrost

Twitter: @_maddiefrost 

Website: maddie-frost.com

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

May 23

 


 

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY
May 23, 1910: Margaret Wise Brown born.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Q&A with L.M. Elliott

 


 

 

L.M. Elliott is the author of the new middle grade novel Louisa June and the Nazis in the Waves. Her many other books include Across a War-tossed Sea. A former journalist, she lives in Virginia.

 

Q: What inspired you to write Louisa June and the Nazis in the Waves, and how did you create your character Louisa June and her family?

     

A: I had been wanting to write about the WWII maritime families of the Chesapeake Bay region ever since publishing Across a War-tossed Sea, the home-front companion to my first and still most successful novel, Under a War-torn Sky.

 

The frustrating thing about researching historical fiction is there is always some fascinating tidbit that just doesn’t fit into that particular character’s story and arc.

 

Across was focused on two young British evacuees living with Henry Forester’s high school sweetheart, struggling to assimilate in Tidewater Virginia and large farming family while worrying about their parents and friends left behind in London.

 

German P.O.W.s working Virginia farms during the war, Richmond’s decoy airfield filled with fake plywood planes, and the intense wartime shipbuilding going on in Newport News became the linchpins of that plot.

 

While researching, I read about the devastating and little-remembered U-boat attacks along our East Coast in the first six months of 1942. Just days after Pearl Harbor, Hitler sent five submarines to take out as many freighters, cargo ships, and tankers sailing our Atlantic shore as possible. We were totally unprepared.

 

Those five U-boats averaged taking down a ship a day from January through July—and during the worst month, one ship every eight hours. Millions of tons of precious fuel and supplies to the ocean’s bottom, miles of waves burning from the explosions and spilled oil, and hundreds of sailors thrown into the sea or killed.

 

The brave men of the merchant marine who reupped repeatedly even after suffering through their ship sinking—some as young as 17 and others as old as 70—suffered the highest casualty rate of any service during WWII. Hardly anyone talks about them.

 

I wanted to explore that forgotten history, those unsung everyday heroes, and what that harsh reality and anxiety was like for the fishing families who sent their husbands, fathers, and sons to a sea where Nazis lurked beneath the waves, waiting and watching.

 

William Geroux’s wonderful The Mathews Men: Seven Brothers and the War Against Hitler’s U-boats helped provide some inspiration, but Louisa June and her Tidewater family and farm are very familiar to me.

 

My father and his family were from that region, so their soft drawl, the area’s love for good stories well-told, fierce multi-generational family ties, matter-of-fact bravery, and spiritual communion and understanding of nature are very much part of my vernacular. 

                          

Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, "Successfully tackling the devastation of depression on family relationships, the bitter cost of war, and the uplifting strength of no-nonsense friendship, this story has impressive depth." What do you think of that description?

 

A: Oh my, well, I teared up when I read that starred review, because the writer captured and appreciated all I was trying to do with this novel. Louisa June’s story is about many things: WWII on the home-front, but also emotional health, sudden loss and grief, and its impact on family.

 

I wrote Louisa June and the Nazis in the Waves during the worst of COVID, as we grappled with its unforeseen, terrifyingly unpredictable, and deadly menace.

 

The lightning quick appearance and sweep of the pandemic was not unlike that of Nazi U-boats suddenly appearing along our coastline, rising up from the sea to torpedo a ship and then disappearing again.

 

Life turns on a dime and with earthquake force for Louisa June as she faces the shocking, out-of-the-blue death of her beloved brother—a loss similar in its grief to the death of immediate caregivers (parents, grandparents, extended family) which the NIH says close to 200,000 children under the age of 18 are currently struggling through because of COVID.

 

I hope those readers find reassurance in Louisa June’s strength, optimism, and journey to healing, and that their friends, who were luckier during the epidemic in terms of not losing someone, find compassion and understanding of the grieving process.

 

Louisa June’s elderly Cousin Belle advises her: “Don’t dismiss it. Stare sorrow in the face. Recognize the pain for what it is. Then it will back down a tad and walk beside you, maybe give you a little bit of a limp for a while, or for forever. But it will not undo you or sneak up on you from behind in a surprise attack. Of course, facing sorrow head-on and accepting its presence takes honesty, courage, and a bit of spit. Which you have in spades, child.”

 

May is mental health awareness month. Louisa June’s story carries an additional undercurrent about depression in family members—which is a different thing entirely from sorrow, as Cousin Belle wisely says.

 

These are the first words we hear from Louisa June: “My mama has the melancholy. Always has. But recently it’s gone from her customary pinkish-gray—like a dawn mist in the marshes, still hopeful and able to clear into bright blue with the right sprinkle of sunshine—to thick, storm-surge purple black.”

 

Louisa June is watchful, always assessing her mother’s mood to know how to act, hoping to help by finding little amusing stories and “somethings nice,” as Louisa June’s mama calls them, to cheer her up. 

 

As many as one in five children live with a severely depressed parent, according to NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Health). The impact on their children is vast.


In 1942, there were no truly viable treatments for depression and anxiety disorders. That was then. Today, a carefully prescribed regimen of CBT talk therapy (cognitive-behavioral) and medication can provide relief in eight weeks in 60 percent of people.

 

My goal is that Louisa June will help my teen and ‘tween readers who might be in a similar situation to feel seen and understood. To be encouraged by the supportive example of Cousin Belle—that “uplifting strength of no-nonsense friendship” as the Kirkus review kindly says—to ask adults they trust for help, especially in this time of increased, COVID-sparked mental health issues.

 

Q: How did you research the novel?

 

A: I researched it through some fairly esoteric naval histories and scholarly webpages. (See my website for these links and resources if you’re interested in learning more yourself:  https://www.lmelliott.com/book_landing_page_historical/louisa-june-and-nazis

 

The novel’s specific events and Louisa June’s family were largely spawned by information I found on https://uboat.net/, which posts a page for each ship hit by a German U-boat during WWII, giving details of the attack and a list of crew members.

 

Skimming through the site, I came across the brutal sinking of a small tugboat in March 1942. Reading the list, I spotted a 17-year-old able seaman and realized, given the last names and ages, there seemed to be two sets of fathers-and-sons in the 18-man crew.

 

Only two people survived. The teenager and both of those 22-year-old sons perished. One of the fathers lived. As a mother, that information made my heart stop and my eyes tear up.

 

I was able to find more information about that terrible night and the two survivors because of a lawsuit against the shipping company that owned the tug for failing to adequately update the life flotations.

 

In those details was the fact the captain (one of the survivors) had placed a ship-to-shore call home to tell his family all was well the night his tugboat steamed out of Norfolk hauling three barges of coal and timber. The Nazi U-boat likely located the tug by catching that radio signal.

 

Again, I caught my breath at the tragic irony, the regret and recrimination that fact would likely cause. The novel wrote itself from there.

 

Q: In your author's note, you write that this novel “features a more intimate and idiosyncratic first-person voice than I usually use for historical novels.” Why did you choose this voice for the novel?

 

A: Because of those undercurrent themes of loss and sadness, of “melancholy” as Louisa June calls her mama’s emotional health struggles, that kind of voice creates a palpable immediacy. It takes the reader straight into Louisa June’s poetic heart and mind, and her deep love of the delicate beauty of the marshes surrounding her home.

 

For her to be able to say things like: “I was learning that blame was like the sea nettles that clog the bay in the summer, their threads of poison floating outstretched, waiting. The first brush of one of those long tenacles would sting a little—survivable, for sure, but definitely enough to slow a thing down. The kill came when that jellyfish quick-closed its fanned-out strings to entangle the injured prey. . . The question—what if—was the first sting that began the death-dance of blame.

 

That voice also allows me some deadpan humor, which does permeate the novel, too. I promise Louisa June has a counterweight of light, whimsical moments, and wry commentary! Take Louisa June’s quirky friend, Emmett, with his outrageous plans that he convinces her to join in on.

 

“You know the tides are coming in higher these days because of all them Nazi tinfishes floating around out there, right?”

 

Emmett is one for half-baked conspiracy theories. “I don’t think a bunch of submarines can make the entire ocean level rise, Emmett.”

 

“LJ, you don’t have no imagination, do you?” Emmett drew his twelve-year-old-self up tall and looked at me with pity for my limited brain power and tried to explain his higher understanding of the universe. “You ever take a bath? Maybe you take a jug and put it down to collect water for rinsing your head? And the water rose up when you did?”

 

“Yes, but that’s a bathtub, Emmett.”

 

Shrugging, he ignored my disbelief. “Well, they’re out there, LJ. Thick as sharks. I ain’t gonna stand by and do nothing. I’m going to build me an observation tower and join the Confidential Observers.”

 

In addition to Emmett, there’s Louisa June’s sassy big sister. Her Cousin Belle is a bodacious, outspoken great-aunt/cousin who has had an adventure-filled life, collects stray cats, (or should I say they collect her), and names them for Musketeers. A pig chase. Netting for elvers that instead lands a whale of an eel. And eventually, a life-changing, harrowing search-and-rescue.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: A YA novel set during Watergate, for Algonquin, following the docudrama formatting of Walls and Suspect Red. As you would imagine given Watergate’s parallels to today’s headlines, the research is fascinating and infuriating, which always makes for good writing.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: Education and literacy expert/advocate Rachael Walker (https://www.belleofthebook.com/ ) developed a thoughtful and thought-provoking discussion guide, using Louisa June as a springboard for educators (and parents!) to talk about mental health with ‘tweens and teens.

 

One of the exercises is an art project that plays off a comment from Louisa June’s beloved brother, Butler, about finding stars—moments of uplifting beauty—in the waves. It is such a beautiful, proactive concept that Rachael created, I would wish for all of us to do it. Please see: https://www.lmelliott.com/application/files/7716/4830/0346/Louisa_June_and_the_Nazis_in_the_Waves_Discussion_Guide.pdf

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with L.M. Elliott.

Q&A with Jacquetta Nammar Feldman

 


 

Jacquetta Nammar Feldman is the author of the new middle grade novel Wishing Upon the Same Stars. She lives in Austin, Texas.

 

Q: In the book's Author’s Note, you describe your own family background and how it influenced the creation of this novel. How did you create your character Yasmeen?

 

A: My inspiration for my character Yasmeen in Wishing Upon the Same Stars came from a poem I had written. It was a poem about me as an adult tucking away my feelings into desktop poems on my computer, while a middle school version of me found a way to dance her feelings into the light.

 

The poem kept going and became the story of an Arab American girl who is a little like me—she has a Palestinian father, she moves to Texas from the Midwest, and she dances in her Maronite church’s dance troupe—though many aspects of our families and lives are very different.

 

While Yasmeen makes a Jewish best friend at age 12 when she meets Ayelet, I didn’t make a Jewish best friend until l turned 18 when I met the boy who would later become my husband. But I could easily imagine what it might have felt like for Yasmeen to meet and make such a friend during middle school.

 

Q: The author Veera Hiranandani called the book, “A hopeful and big-hearted story about second chances, the undeniable weight of history, and the rocky road we travel when we aspire to connect as humans first, beyond religion or beyond anything that separates us.” What do you think of this description, and what do you hope readers take away from the story?

 

A: Veera’s review of my book is so touching, warm, and generous. I felt like she recognized the heart of my story and what I hoped to accomplish.

 

I wrote Wishing Upon the Same Stars because I wanted to give readers a glimpse of what a friendship like Yasmeen and Ayelet’s could do. That even people who share hard histories filled with mistrust, violence, and suffering might one day find paths to better understanding and friendship. Small steps can add up.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?

 

A: I knew from my poem that Yasmeen would be proud of her culture and heritage at the end of the story. I also knew that Yasmeen and Ayelet, along with Waverly and Esme, would all find understanding and friendship in various ways. In fact, I wrote my early chapters, the midpoint chapter, and my end chapter well before filling in the rest of the story.

 

Originally, however, the story took place in an abridged timeframe, January to June. But my editors felt that the friendships were too rushed and could be more deeply developed during the whole school year. I agreed and revised to this goal, which was no small task. But I’m so glad I did because it made the story much better!

 

Q: The book is set in San Antonio, Texas. How important is setting to you in your writing?

 

A: Setting is extremely important to me since my writing is heavily influenced by natural landscapes. I spend part of every single day outside, where I often do my best story generating. Sometimes, I’ll even dictate a whole scene into my phone while I’m on a hike.

 

San Antonio, where I spent a big part of my childhood, has a natural landscape that reminds me of Jerusalem, where my father grew up. It seemed like the perfect place for Yasmeen and Ayelet’s story to unfold!

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: I’m excited to be in copyedits for another middle grade novel that will be released by HarperCollins on 1/17/2023, The Puttermans Are in the House. It’s a story told through the points of view of two fraternal twins and their first cousin during Houston’s Hurricane Harvey and the World Series.

 

The heart of the story is about changing and growing relationships and relearning how to cheer for one another when you’ve forgotten how.

 

I’m working on a few other middle grade stories as well, both set in the Adirondacks: one lower middle grade called Lucky George about a boy who becomes aware of luck and privilege though some new friendships; and an upper middle grade called A Small Kind of Miracle about a girl who keeps climbing mountains, even after a hard fall.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: I’m an MFA student at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in the Writing for Children & Young Adults program, and I just submitted my critical thesis on nonfiction picture book refrains (reach out if you are a fan, I’d love to chat!). During my time at VCFA, I’ve fallen in love with the picture book format, so I hope to find homes for some of my favorite manuscripts soon!

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Kate McMullan

 


 

 

Kate McMullan is the author of the children's picture book Happy Springtime!. Her many other books include As Warm as the Sun. She lives in New York City. 

 

Q: What inspired you to write Happy Springtime!?

 

A: At Christmastime several years ago, a good friend of mine sent me a 1952 recording of a poem by E.B. White wishing everyone a Merry Christmas from The New Yorker Radio Hour. The poem was very specific – and very funny – about who was getting these Merry Christmas wishes:

 

“To tellers who’ve made a mistake in addition,

to grounded airline passengers,

and to all those who can’t eat clams….”

 

It had a wonderful rhythm that got caught in my brain, and I’d find myself repeating the lines when I walked along the icy sidewalks of New York City. Winter was very slow to end on this particular year, and I found myself longing for springtime.

 

One gray, cold morning I sat down at my desk and instead of working on what I’d been working on the day before, I found myself writing a message of hope that spring was coming:

 

“To all those whose snowsuits have stuck zippers

and those with their boots on the wrong feet.”

 

The words pretty much flowed out of me. It was a great joy to write this book.

 

Q: What do you think Sujean Rim’s illustrations add to the book?


A: I love Sujean’s art for this book. She took what I’d written and lifted it up with unexpected images, like the beautiful, textured umbrellas in the puddle-jumpers scene. I particularly loved what she did in the “smock-wearing painters of flowers and bugs,” turning the little kid artist into a Parisian painter, complete with beret. She has a wonderful sense of fashion and style.

 

Q: What's your favorite season and why?

 

A: I love springtime for the renewal. Trees that look totally dead all winter long begin to sprout leaves; plants poke up from the ground. It’s a celebration of coming back to life.

 

But I love all the seasons, really, because without winter, spring wouldn’t be so sweet. Fall is a gorgeous time of year even if the brilliant red and yellow leaves eventually wither and drop. And then there are the long days of summer and cookouts and mosquitoes. Every season has its plusses and minuses.

 

Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, “Though not written in verse, the gently rhythmic text is almost poetic and reads beautifully thanks to its liberal use throughout of well-chosen alliterative and assonant words and phrases, demanding that this book be read aloud.” What do you think of that description?

 

A: I love this description, of course! I do hope parents and teachers and librarians read this book aloud to kids over and over and that those kids will be inspired to write their own Happy Springtime poem or Happy Winter, or whatever season. I’m always so grateful to teachers and librarians who think up wonderful ways for kids to add their own takes to my books.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: One project I’m working on I call Hawkeyes. When the pandemic started, I’d go out to Central Park almost every day because it was safe to be outside. When I’m in the park, I always have my binoculars and I look at the many Central Park birds.

 

At that time, the schools were closed, so were museums. The playgrounds were padlocked. It was very hard for city parents to find interesting things to do with their kids, and some of them – actually, many of them -- took their kids to the park to look at birds.

 

They’d see my binoculars and call me over to see if I knew what bird they were looking at. Once you see a bird, you try to identify it. And once you identify it, you can learn amazing things about that bird. Lots of these parents and kids became very interested in birds and birding. They’re my inspiration for Hawkeyes.  

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb