Monday, June 6, 2022

Q&A with Emma Carlson Berne




Emma Carlson Berne is the author of the new middle grade novel Shabbat Sabotage. Her many other books include Books by Horseback. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.


Q: What inspired you to write Shabbat Sabotage, and how did you create your character Maya?


A: Oh, Maya is me. I was a big coward and cried a lot, never liked to get dirty or too hot or too cold or too wet. I wanted to write about a girl who wasn’t really a “camp person” – but who later becomes one.


As far as inspiration, I wrote this book while being supported by a grant from PJ Library, which is part of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, and which works to help Jewish authors and offer Jewish-oriented books to readers.


When I set out to write this book, I asked them, “What kind of book are you really not seeing for kids that you want to see?” and they told me that they really wanted a kind of Encyclopedia Brown, with girl characters, at summer camp. You got it! I thought.


Q: What do you think the novel says about camp friendships?

A: I think of summer camp as an emotional crucible. Kids are thrown together, adults are pretty much out of the picture. It’s a world made for kids and ruled by kids, who all have to live together in a tiny space and spend virtually all their time together. I love the way camp friendships strip away a lot of the layers people cover themselves with.


Personally, I remember camp friendships bringing out a lot of strong feelings – at one point, I had a fight so intense with another girl that I threw a clog at her head.


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 always know the ending before I begin writing, because I make a detailed outline and write from it – it’s the only way I can relax while I’m writing enough to enjoy it, even though it’s still agony.


And especially in this case – because the story is a mystery, I had to arrange the clues and the various plot elements so that they would add up to that classic “aha!” moment at the end for the reader when the culprit is revealed.


Q: What role do you see Judaism playing in the novel?


A: Well, the Jewish community has a really strong tradition of summer camp. I actually didn’t go to Jewish summer camp myself – surprise! – but so many of the people I know did and I can see how formative these summers were for them. They still talk about their summer camps, all these 40-year-olds. I wanted to get that powerful feeling down on the page.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m taking a little break from camp right now and focusing on graphic novels – my new middle-grade graphic novel Sparkle Dragons just came out from HarperKids. It is – shockingly – about sparkly dragons. They solve mysteries too.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Teen summer camp pro tip: The best way to shave your legs is NOT dry, with a dull razor. Do this on advice from your cabinmates, go to sleep on a wool blanket, and you’ll wake up with a leg rash so bad, you’ll think you have leprosy. Take it from one who knows.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Emma Carlson Berne.

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