Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Q&A with Polly Horvath




Polly Horvath is the author of the new middle grade novel Pine Island Visitors, a sequel to her novel Pine Island Home. She lives in British Columbia.


Q: Did you know before you wrote Pine Island Home that you would write this sequel?


A: I didn’t know before Pine Island Home that I would write Pine Island Home, let alone Pine Island Visitors. The way it works for me is that books show up, hammer at my brain and then I write them.  


I’m always surprised to write a sequel because they are never quite as satisfying to write. You already know so much about the characters and you have already written out the first issues involving them.  


But some books lend themselves more easily to sequel material. A book like Pine Island Home in which the characters get through one tribulation or many among them - as there are four main characters here - and then move on to the next is more likely to produce a sequel.


Books like this record the constant hills and valleys of the characters’ lives. They reflect an ebb and flow which, although the circumstances are quite different, is a pattern familiar to us. I think this accounts for the coziness of the book.


Q: How do you think your characters have changed from one book to the next?


A: In Pine Island Home the four sisters are still reeling from the death of their parents and the uncertainty of their future together as a family.


In Pine Island Visitors things have settled somewhat, enough that they are not trapped in the kind of emotional paralysis they are in the first book when they are just trying to survive.  


Because of this and because they have a more settled existence, the tension comes not from whether they will stay together but what each one is going through individually and other things that they are dealing with together as a unit.  


Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book says, in part, “Through steady, sober prose and the protagonists’ complex relationships, Horvath creates successfully strained situations, giving way to gratifying resolutions that offer a comforting reassurance that bad times don’t last forever.” What do you think of that description?


A: It’s always up to each reader to take away from a book whatever they will.  


I would have said at the core the book is more about Nietzsche’s aphorism to be careful when fighting monsters that you don’t become one yourself. The girls have a monster wished upon them in this book and have to find a way to deal with her without becoming monsters themselves, not an easy task.  


But the summing up by PW is interesting because I think it is often what draws my readers to my books - the sense that despite so much that goes wrong, things are essentially always all right. This is probably my most consistent worldview.  


Einstein said that everyone has to decide at some point whether they think they live in a hostile or friendly universe. I’m not sure it’s so black and white. I think parts are hostile and parts are friendly but that how you are able to keep your inner life running - either with a mostly hostile or mostly friendly outlook - is going to color how you see the universe.


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


A: I had no idea how the girls were going to deal with the toxic monster in the book. It got changed many times along the way as I struggled to figure out how I should deal with such a person.  


It’s often the impetus to write a book - solving some sticky life problem, the solution you can only get to by writing it out.


Q: What are you working on now? Will there be another book in this series?


A: There may be another book in this series, I don’t know yet. It is fall so I am just beginning a new book, the threads of which are beginning to appear.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Thank you for asking. I have my first picture book coming out in January with Margaret Ferguson/ Holiday House. It is called Not a Smiley Guy and it has wonderful illustrations by Boris Kulikov.  


And Fall 2024 I have another middle reader coming out called Library Girl with Margaret Ferguson/Holiday House. I’m very excited about both those books.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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