Interview: Merrie Haskell, YA & MG Author

Hi-Res-500-by-700-COLORMerrie Haskell grew up half in North Carolina, half in Michigan. She wrote her first story at age seven, and she walked dogs after school to save for her first typewriter. She attended the University of Michigan, where she graduated from the Residential College with a degree in biological anthropology. She works in a library with over 7.5 million volumes.

Her first book, the Middle Grade historical fantasy The Princess Curse, was a Junior Library Guild selection. Her second book is Handbook for Dragon Slayers.  Her short fiction appears in NatureAsimov’s, and various anthologies. Merrie lives in Saline, Michigan.

Follow Merrie on her website and at HarperCollins.

Let’s see how Merrie answers the Proust Questionnaire!

What is your idea of happiness?
So many things, really, so I’ll try to evoke it. One night in college, when I was living in an old apartment with my friends, I awoke to find my radiator shooting a huge fountain of steam into the air. Rather than do something about the steam shooting everywhere (potentially all over my stuff), and because I was sleep-stupid and groggy, my reaction was to just open a window and go back to sleep. It was a Michigan winter, so of course it was snowing, and snowflakes were drifting in the window over my bed–and I was perfectly warm. That juxtaposition of hot/cold, of being cozy in a bed while there’s weather both at bay and yet so close you can touch it, makes me profoundly happy. It’s like something out of a fairy tale, having snow blow over your bed and for you not to mind it.

PrincessCurse-500-x-756I can think of half a dozen other times when there’s been such mild but visually exciting drama and I’ve always felt so alive during it. Once at the library (I have a day job), we had a similar heating mishap–it was about 90 degrees in our office for three days, and we had our three tiny windows wide open to blustery November weather to catch any cold air we could, and all these brown, withered leaves kept blowing in onto our computers. Again, the fairy tale quality of the moment is what both amazed and amused me.

I’m happy other times. I’m happy when I’m with my friends and loved ones. I’m happy when I’m learning. I’m happy when I’m dealing with thorny but solvable problems. But I’m happiest when my writer brain is going. And those few moments when it seems like magic is close–when it is so easy to imagine a bed of snow or a row of desks swathed in leaves–is like a little gift from the universe where I’m allowed to see what I usually would have to imagine.

What is your favorite song? When do you first remember hearing it?
To judge by the count on my playlist (120 plays), “Dog Days are Over” by Florence + The Machine is my favorite. I first heard it on Armed Forces Radio on Thanksgiving in 2010 in Germany while driving myself from Bingen, where I had been researching Handbook for Dragon Slayers, to Munich, where I was to fly out to Romania. I think the horses in the song made it into the book–and I’m not even kidding.

Which talent would you most like to have?
I wish I had more musical ability. Or ANY musical ability.

On what occasion do you lie?
When people ask me what I do for a living. I usually don’t tell them about both of my careers, and I usually omit the writing one because it’s easier to talk about the library than deal with overturning people’s perceptions of what a writer does.

HandbookDragon-500-x-758What is your present state of mind?
I’m getting a little sleepy, but I’m excited. It’s 11:04 PM as I write this; in 12 hours exactly, I’ll be 38 years old.

What is your motto?
Like, the one I would carve on my family crest? Perhaps: “Persistent is the active form of stubborn.”

What character trait do you most value in your friends?
Tolerance.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
In any single work of fiction, I have to go through and remove about every other instance of the word “back.” Turned back, looked back, back, back, back. Then I have to through and stop with all the glancing.

In every day conversation, I pick up other people’s verbal tics (favorite words, favorite tones, silly noises, accents) like crazy and have to wait for them to pass through my system. I’m terrified people will think I’m making fun of them, when in fact I’m just highly suggestible. HIGHLY.

What is your favorite journey?
In 1997, I got a big raise at work and found cheap plane tickets to England in pretty much the same week. I was having lunch with some friends, and one of the people I knew much less well than the others and I arrived early. She asked how I was. I said, “I got a raise and I found cheap plane tickets to England. Do you want to go to England with me?” And she said, “Yes.” We had two bookbags–not hiking backpacks, but literally school-type backpacks–and $300 airplane tickets and I think a week’s paycheck each, and we just, well, went to England. We had two guide books–some sort of budget guide and a Guide to Stone Circles. We climbed Glastonbury Tor, walked Avebury stone circle, and visited Stonehenge. It was our first trip to Europe. We have been best friends ever since.

What is your favorite time of day?
Since it’s spring, and I’m a spring-born sap, right now I love all times of day. I love being up at dawn and smelling a fresh morning; I love long stabbing rays of light in the hours just after sunrise and just before sunset; I love noon; I love sunset and dusk and the first poking-through of the stars.

Ask me again in the winter, and I’ll tell you the only acceptable time of day is never.

With which literary hero or heroine would you most like to share a coffee?
Elizabeth Bennet. For certain.

What do you need to achieve before you can die happy?
I’ve already achieved it. My goal all along was to write books that spoke to someone. Just one or two someones. I feel I’ve achieved that and then some. Every time I get on a plane, I rather fatalistically think about where my most recent book is in production and think, “Yes, that will go on fine without me (or not), and I’ll have 3 books for people to remember me by (or 2, or whatever).” The fatalistic internal voice at this point is a little travel ritual; I sometimes feel if she doesn’t pipe up, I really *will* die.

In any case, the more books I can write and have that moment of speaking to someone, the happier I’ll be when the time comes, but honestly–I did have a period of crisis after I got my first few fan letters and I thought, “Well, shouldn’t I have a dream beyond this one?” I’m not sure I should, though; it’s okay to be happy doing and not always chasing, right?

Your favorite painting?
I’m afraid I’m a terrible cliche. I love Van Gogh’s Starry Night best. I have pretty much since I first saw it in kindergarten and it was explained to me that it was Van Gogh’s way of interpreting the distant points of light in the night sky as the glowy balls of gas that he knew they truly were. I think that moment sealed my love of astronomy and my love of that painting in the same moment. In retrospect, my kindergarten teacher was pretty brilliant, because I remember almost all of her art history lessons (though she never called them art history lessons).

Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, 1889

Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, 1889

Who or what is your first love?
My first love was reading.

What’s the last dream you remember?
I dreamed something last night; I remembered it this morning at work. It is gone now–I just have a memory of remembering it. So frustrating. I also can’t think of the last thing I dreamed before that–I seem to be going through one of those phases where I don’t remember my dreams. I remember fewer dreams when I am writing intensively; I usually wake to discover I’m thinking about plot problems.

What’s your madeleine?
When a gust of wind whistles low through a window screen, I immediately connect to long summer days in rural Michigan, where I spent my summers–reading silently with my grandmother, napping on my cousin’s bed… It’s the sound of being in quiet, dark houses during the afternoon lull in activities, surrounded by windows that overlook hay-fields and somehow fail to let in the blindingly bright summer light. It’s the moment of rest after clearing the lunch dishes and before going for a swim or heading back into the garden to glean raspberries or pick potato bugs.

Without thinking, in one word: what is life?
Change.

Interview: Cat Winters, YA Author

CatWintersBW_webCat Winters‘s critically acclaimed debut novel, IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS (Amulet Books, April 2013), is the story of a sixteen-year-old girl who faces WWI, the deadly Spanish influenza, and a ghost.

Her second novel, THE CURE FOR DREAMING, is coming Fall 2014 (Amulet Books).

She has lived most of her life in Southern California but now makes her home in Portland, Oregon. 

Follow Cat on her website.

Let’s see how Cat answers the Proust Questionnaire!

What is your idea of happiness?
The warm and soul-lifting experience of family holidays, whether it’s a summer trip to the ocean or a cozy Christmas morning with the smell of pancakes in the air.

BlackbirdsCoverFinal_SmWhat is your present state of mind?
Slightly stressed about deadlines and an upcoming promotional trip for IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS.

What is your motto?
Everything’s going to be all right. (Which is what I’m currently telling myself in my current state of mind).

What is your favorite journey?
Motherhood. It’s changed my entire way of looking at the world and myself.

What is your favorite time of day?
Noon. Lunchtime is my favorite meal, and I’m most productive directly afterward.

With which literary hero or heroine would you most like to share a coffee?
Scout Finch. She’s too young for coffee, but I’d love to buy her a hot chocolate and chat with her about Boo and Atticus and her life in general.

Which talent would you most like to have?
Singing. I love belting out songs, but I know I’m not always good at it.

On what occasion do you lie?
I’m a terrible liar with a conscience that haunts me for even minor offenses, so I can only tell little white lies, like “No, I haven’t been drinking too much soda or eating too many chips lately.”

What is your favorite song? When do you first remember hearing it?
“The Tide Is High” by Blondie. I first heard it as a kid, because my dad owned every single Blondie album. The song always reminds me of childhood summer days growing up in Southern California.

What character trait do you most value in your friends?
Reliability.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Every time I sit down in a car to drive or prepare to do something in the house, I have a habit of sighing and saying, “All right,” as if I’m planning my next big move. I’m not sure why. I guess my multitasking brain needs to sort out what I’m doing next.

What do you need to achieve before you can die happy?
I need to see my kids grow up to be happy and healthy adults.

AlphonseMuchaWho or what is your first love?
Adam, my college boyfriend and husband of almost twenty years.

Your favorite painting?
Anything by Alphonse Mucha. I could wallpaper my entire house with his work.

What’s the last dream you remember?
It was a frustrating, boring dream in which my daughter’s middle school rearranged their drop-off area to make things less chaotic, but it only made dropping off kids more miserable. In real life, I hate her school’s drop-off area and can feel my blood pressure rise every time I watch parents ignoring the signs that say, “PULL ALL THE WAY FORWARD.”

What’s your madeleine?
Music. Like I mentioned with “The Tide Is High,” any time I hear a song that carries me back to a powerful memory, especially a joyful early memory, I get emotional. It’s like stepping into a time machine that takes me back to a simpler moment.

Without thinking, in one word: what is life?
Adventure.

Interview: Dahlia Adler, Editor and YA Author

 

Dahlia Adler is an Assistant Editor of Mathematics by day, a Copy Editor by night, and writes contemporary YA in every spare moment in between. Her debut novel, BEHIND THE SCENES, will be published by Spencer Hill Contemporary in 2014. You can find her blogging on the Daily Dahlia and YA Misfits, or on Twitter as @MissDahlELama.

dahliaadlerLet’s see how Dahlia answers the Proust Questionnaire!

What is your idea of happiness?
Happiness for me is feeling like I’m sufficiently balancing all the things I love while making genuine strides toward what I want. When I’m working especially hard at my freelance work or writing, and my husband suffers for it, or I don’t have time to see friends or my family, it’s so disappointing. But those rare times I’m making progress on a manuscript *and* at work *and* being there for the people who matter, it’s the best feeling.

What is your favorite song? When do you first remember hearing it?
“Heart-Shaped Box,” by Nirvana. My siblings are considerably older than I am, and when I was a kid, it used to drive me crazy how often they took up the TV just to watch music videos. The only ones I’d join them for were “Heart-Shaped Box” and “November Rain.” I love the way the quieter beauty gives way to raging intensity, and I so strongly identify with the desperate need to hold on––to things, to people, to memories. I have such a hard time with change, and as most do, with loss. As I get older, I think it only holds more meaning for me.

Which talent would you most like to have?
I wish I were a great photographer. I used to be really obsessed with taking pictures, mostly at weddings, but I could never justify to myself spending the money to make myself anything special. It’s a shame, because I think of all the wonderful places I’ve been and people I’ve known and wish I’d done them more permanent justice.

On what occasion do you lie?
When I know telling the truth can’t help the person I’m lying to, like if you ask how you look when we’re already on our way to a party. Or if your manuscript is in a state in which you obviously won’t be doing any further revision. What’s the point? It can only hurt you.

What is your present state of mind?
Stressed. I overextended myself for a few weeks with different projects and a whole bunch of things just collided at once. I live to organize, but right now, there’s just too much. I tell myself, “It’s OK, there’s a deadline, and then everything will go back to normal,” but it’s never really the case. I’m living an unsustainable lifestyle right now, but I also don’t have kids, which means I can be pretty selfish. I’m trying to run with that as much as possible to get stuff done.

What is your motto?
It used to be “Always write forward,” but it’s sort of morphed into, “You can’t edit a blank page.” It’s hard to force yourself to put words down sometimes that you know are gonna change, that you know you don’t love, but you can’t make yourself change and love them if they don’t exist. That’s been a really important lesson as a writer, and it got me through a very difficult manuscript recently that I’m now really proud of.

What character trait do you most value in your friends?
Dependability. It’s one I really pride myself on. If I’m busy, I’ll be honest about it, but if I’ve told you I’ll be there, I’ll be there. If I’ve told you I’ll do this for you, I’ll do this for you. It’s something I really need in return, especially as someone who’s so mentally organized. I could never have critique partners, for example, who don’t read when they say they will. It’s a big reason I rarely have random betas.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I’m an admitted adverb abuser. “Obviously.” “Actually.” “Definitely.” The list is endless. I’m working on it. I swear. Obviously.

 

Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, 1889

Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, 1889

Your favorite painting?
Starry Night, by Van Gogh. Not very original, I know, but I hold onto my “favorites” forever. Whatever my favorite [fill in the blank] is now is probably the same as whatever it was when I was a kid. I first saw Starry Night when I was five and nothing has ever taken its place. It’s just something about the textures of it all, the way the luminosity is expressed, the way you really have to hunt for the bits of color in the town. It just works for me.

What is your favorite journey?
The one into mental adulthood. I love observing the things I know now that I didn’t know then, noting the way certain “absolute truths” have changed over time. For me, the apex was realizing that I believe “This too shall pass” 100% of the time. That was definitely something I never felt in high school.

What is your favorite time of day?
I’m definitely a night owl. I like being awake at a time when I’m generally not expected to be anywhere else.

With which literary hero or heroine would you most like to share a coffee?
I love books and characters, but I rarely find I want to hang out with them. Especially anyone I could classify as a hero or heroine. I’d rather just have Scarlett O’Hara throw coffee in my face, then tell all my friends about it.

What do you need to achieve before you can die happy?
My family has been enormous proponents of my writing ever since I was a kid. I feel this tremendous (and completely self-imposed) pressure to prove them right, and to show that all the time I’ve spent is worth it. I guess that ultimately translates into “I want a book deal!” which is just silly, but there you have it.

Who or what is your first love?
My husband. The obvious answer, yes, but he makes it possible for me to do everything else I love. Even writing isn’t as generous as that.

What’s the last dream you remember?
I was in an insane asylum. I didn’t know how I ended up there, but I knew I had to act just the right amount of crazy to get to see the doctor, but not crazy enough to be kept there. At the end, I realized I hadn’t even tried getting them to call my husband, and that if they did, that would probably fix everything. Then I realized I’d been committed under my maiden name, which is also the name I write under. You don’t need to tell me how Freudian this all is. I want to commit myself just reading it over.

What’s your madeleine?
That summer night scent––grass and fresh air. I went to the same sleep-away camp for 13 years. You can’t take that out of the girl.

Without thinking, in one word: what is life?
Struggle.