I had the wonderful honor of reviewing Ann Haywood Leal's new middle grade novel, Also Known as Harper (which you can find here) and now this fantastic author has agreed to do an interview here at A Patchwork of Books! Read on down...the answers she gives to my questions are great (and there's a giveaway at the bottom of the page:).
1. Hi Ann! Thanks so much for doing this interview with me! Before we start, can you choose where to have our interview and a food/drink we would be consuming? We could be eating candy canes at the North Pole, snacking on chocolates in Paris, pasta in Venice, or anything else you would like!
- Hi Amanda! I am honored that you asked me. I would love to sip a delicious espresso drink (preferably a mocha) with some kind of dessert that has a thick layer of chocolate ganache frosting. And I think we should sit down in a little coffee shop/independent bookstore in Seattle.
2. How did you come to be an author? Have you always written or was it just something you came upon by chance?
-I have always wanted to be an author. I think I have been writing stories since before I even started school. I am so thankful that my mom saved so many of them, because they are really fun to read now. Looking back, my older brother, must have really hated me! Most kids tell on their siblings, but I wrote long, tattling notes about him to my parents. And I always signed my younger brother's name, along with mine! I got a little red stapler for Christmas when I was about six and I right away started stapling together books. I'm surprised my brother didn't make that stapler disappear, because he was usually the villain in my early stories! When I was in sixth grade, I wrote my first novel. It was about 100 pages and it was written mostly on colored notebook paper. I was so proud of it. I told all my friends I was going to have it published. I ended up becoming an elementary teacher, but I also kept writing. Many years, and lots of notebook paper later, came Also Known as Harper.
3. What kind of life does an author lead? Do you have a specific schedule for writing each day? Do you have an office where you go to write or are you just typing away on your couch? Give us a day in your life!
-Since I'm still teaching first grade full time, I write whenever I can. I take my laptop and/or my notebook everywhere. I start out my day pretty early in the morning and I write for an hour or two before I leave for school. My husband is great. He has learned not to talk to me during this time. He even makes me an espresso every morning. Lately, I have been trying to write at lunch time, too. Depending on what my daughter's after-school activities are, I'll write for another two or three hours in the evening. My daughter has youth group activities at church once a week, so sometimes I write on an old pew out in the hallway. I have pretty much learned to tune out what is going on around me! No matter what, I make sure to write every day. Otherwise, It takes a long time to get my mind back to the right place in the story.
4. Your new book, Also Known as Harper, is absolutely charming! Where do you come up with the idea to write about a family that experiences homelessness?
-Thank you so much! For the past four years, I have volunteered at my local soup kitchen. When I first started there, I quickly came to realize that I'd had unrealistic expectations. I guess I'd had a dirty bum in an alley kind of picture in my mind. But what I actually saw were a lot of young people, including families, many of whom were hardworking people with low-paying jobs who couldn't quite make enough to make ends meet. The children who come in really tug at my heart. Soon after I started volunteering, I saw an article in the newspaper. Local outreach workers were trying to get an accurate count of the homeless in our area. There was a photograph of a man sitting in an upholstered arm chair. That chair was parked in the dirt, under a tree. The man told of his trailer being towed away with all of his possessions, including his photographs of his family. It was around then that Harper's story started taking shape in my mind.
5. Harper is very talented at the poetry she writes, allowing the reader to really “know” her as a character. Did you/do you write poetry? If so, do you find it more difficult than writing stories?
- I love poetry, especially that of Billy Collins and Mary Jo Scott. But I've never written much of it, myself. The challenge for me was in trying to get inside Harper's head and use the words that I felt would be important to her.
6. Two of your characters in the book have experienced losing children, either at birth or soon after. I lost my son when he was 4 months, making this an especially touching part of the book for me personally. How did this come to be a part of your story?
-I am so sorry to hear about your son. Thankfully, I've never had to experience such a devastating loss. Harper's family had started to fall apart at the seams before the story even begins, so I knew that something heart-wrenching had happened to them.
7. What kind of research did Also Known as Harper require?
- I have always been fascinated by broken-down places. Seeing an abandoned house or a decrepit building gets me wondering about the stories of the past occupants. I'll often take photographs of an interesting place that I run across. I was out for a run one day and I went by a vacant lot. The house had been torn down to make way for a new development. All that was left were the crumbling concrete remnants of a patio and an old swimming pool, partially filled with dirty rainwater. I went back with my camera and that pool made its way into Harper's world.
8. Do you have any plans in the works for new books? Can you give us any hints as to what we can expect from you in the future?
-I have my second book coming out with Henry Holt in 2010. Esther and her younger sister, Ruth, are dealing with a mother who I think/hope will bring out a lot of conflicting emotions in the reader!
9. Most of my blog readers come to read reviews of books I loved, getting suggestions for their own reading lives. Do you have any favorite children’s books you can recommend to them? Ones you just love…?
-There are so many! I'll try to pick just a few: Absolutely anything by Roald Dahl, especially Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The BFG, Charlotte's Web (of course!) by E.B. White, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken, Lily's Crossing and Pictures of Hollis Woods (both by Patricia Reilly Giff), and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.
10. One final question, just to have a bit of fun. If you could invite any three characters (from other books or your own, doesn’t matter) to join us in our dining adventure from question one, who would they be? And why of course…
-Harper from Also Known as Harper, because I miss her terribly, Scout, from To Kill a Mockingbird, because she had such a great outlook on life, and Sherman Alexie's Junior from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, because he had such a great heart.
Thank you so much for allowing me to interview you Ann! I loved Also Known as Harper and can’t wait to see what other wonderful books come from you.
Thank you so much! It was my pleasure.
What a lovely person she is!! I totally wish I could have espresso and chocolate ganache cake with her, Harper, Scout, and Junior. Great company and yummy food! And I completely agree with her book recommendations, I love all of those!
The good folks over at Henry Holt have offered up 3 copies of Ann Haywood Leal's Also Known as Harper to give away to you all!! Three copies are up for grabs!! Leave a comment on this post by midnight (mountain time) on Tuesday April 14th to enter! To gain an extra entry, blog about this giveaway and leave me the link in a separate comment. Thanks for reading!