Thursday, June 15, 2006

Author Feature: D. Anne Love

D. Anne Love is the award-winning author of numerous novels for middle grade readers and young adults. Her books take readers from the world of itinerant puppeteers in medieval England to the gates of the Alamo and the windswept plains of the Dakotas, from a ranch in modern-day Texas to a South Carolina plantation at the start of the Civil War. A former teacher, school principal, and university professor, She fills her stories with details gleaned from the meticulous research she conducts for each of her novels.

Her first novel, Bess's Log Cabin Quilt (Holiday House, 1995), was featured in The Iowa Reading Journal, The Mailbox magazine, and was nominated for multiple state awards. My Lone Star Summer (Holiday House, 1997) won the Friends of American Writers Juvenile Fiction Prize. Other books received multiple nominations for state awards and are a part of state reading lists nationwide. The Puppeteer's Apprentice (Simon & Schuster/McElderry, 2003)(excerpt) was a Book of the Month Club alternate. Her recent titles include: The Secret Prince (Simon & Schuster/McElderry, 2005)(excerpt); Semiprecious (Simon & Schuster/McElderry, 2006)(excerpt); and Of Numbers and Stars: The Story of Hypatia (Holiday House, 2006).

D. Anne holds degrees from Lamar University and the University of North Texas.

D. Anne Love on D. Anne Love: "I was born in a small town in Tennessee and grew up there, except for a short stay in Chicago the year I was five. My mother is from a very large family, so I grew up surrounded my many many aunts, uncles, and cousins. I had two brothers who hung out together, so I played mostly with the three girls who lived next door. In summer, my brothers and I would often talk Daddy into taking us to the drive-in movies. To this day, the smell of popcorn brings back memories of monster movies and technicolor comedies viewed through the windshield of Daddy's old Hudson Hornet.

"I loved reading and writing. I owned many of the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and Little Golden Books, and I read them till they fell apart. I loved to write stories in a spiral notebook which I kept under lock and key. At twelve, I got a diary for Christmas and started writing in it, too, but there were only four lines per day and I got frustrated trying to cram all my thoughts into such a small space.

"In college I majored in teaching and English Lit and wrote for the school newspaper to pay for my education. I spent many years as a teacher, principal, and college professor before becoming a published writer. I collected my share of rejection slips before selling my first novel, Bess's Log Cabin Quilt, in 1995. Since then I've published a dozen books for teen and tweens. I feel incredibly lucky to get to do this work every day."

What were you like as a young reader--both in your mid grade and teen years?

In a word, voracious. I read everything I could get my hands on--biographies, novels, poetry. In mid grade, I loved Lois Lenski and read her books over and over. As a high schooler, I loved Anne Emery, Betty Cavanna, Faith Baldwin, and many authors of books for adults. By high school, I loved novels more than any other form of writing.

What inspired you to writing for this audience?

As a teacher, I had the chance to meet many authors who visited the schools where I taught. The first author I met in person was Byrd Baylor and I still have my autographed copy of her beautiful desert book, When Clay Sings [, illustrated by Tom Bahti; a Caldecott Honor Book]. I met Marc Brown before he became famous, Betty Ren Wright, Bill Wallace, and so many others.

Seeing the students' reactions to those authors, seeing how profoundly the authors' work affected the students made me want to be a part of it. It's a thrill to have a young person tell you how much they liked your story, what they gained from it. I never get tired of talking to my readers, hearing what they're thinking.

Could you describe your path to publication? Any sprints or stumbles along the way?

I suppose one might say I began with a few stumbles and then hit a sprint. I wrote articles for magazines to get some publishing credits before I started sending out book manuscripts. At first, I thought I might write picture books, and I gathered enough rejection slips to wallpaper the Pentagon.

Finally, one wonderful editor took time to write a personal note in which she said I was a fine writer but that I wanted to tell too much detail for picture books. She encouraged me to try a novel, which would give me room to tell the story the way I wanted to tell it, with plenty of description and dialogue. The same day I received that note, I began writing the story that would become my first novel, Bess's Log Cabin Quilt. On the advice of an agent who read the completed manuscript, I sent it to Holiday House where it was acquired by the wonderful Margery Cuyler. That was the start of my career.

You work with a small publisher, Holiday House, and the imprint of a big one, McElderry at Simon & Schuster. How does your author experience vary? What do you like about each?

I've been incredibly lucky to have worked with fantastic editors at both houses, and in general the creative collaboration between author and editor is about the same. It's always a process of sharing ideas, give and take, bringing both your views into a single vision for what the books should become. The main differences between my two houses are the size of their lists and their focus--Holiday House publishes fewer titles each season and does a wonderful job of serving the school and library market; Simon & Schuster puts out hundred of titles each season and covers that market, but also focuses on bookstore sales. It's great for a writer to be so well represented in different segments of the market.

For those new to your work, could you briefly highlight you past few backlist books?

My latest backlist books are The Puppeteer's Apprentice (Simon & Schuster/McElderry, 2003) and The Secret Prince (Simon & Schuster/McElderry, 2005).

Set in medieval England, The Puppeteer's Apprentice is the story of a young girl who runs away from a harsh life as a servant to pursue a dream of becoming a puppeteer. On the way to finding her dream, she finds out a startling secret about her mentor, and gains a name and a place for herself in a world that was often very harsh on children, girls in particular. The inspiration for that book was a book I read on the history of the English puppet theater. The lives of itinerant entertainers in the 16th century so fascinated me that I just had to share it with my readers. That book received multiple starred reviews, including one from Kirkus that called it "a must read" and compared it to the work of Lloyd Alexander, which was a huge compliment.

The Secret Prince began as a writing exercise; I had just studied Chris Vogler's book, The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers (Michael Wiese Productions, 1998), and wanted to try his ideas for plotting and populating a novel, which Vogler adapted from Joseph Campbell's Hero With Thousand Faces (Princeton University Press, 1990). It was great fun creating a shapeshifter, a two-headed beast, an epic quest, a turncoat warrior, a fortuneteller, a secret twin hiding in a convent, a trickster, an evil king, and mixing them altogether with a young boy charged with saving his kingdom.

I'd like to focus on your 2006 releases. Let's start with Semiprecious (Simon & Schuster/McElderry). What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I'm a naturalized Texas citizen--as the old saying goes, wasn't born in Texas but got there as soon as I could--and I love writing stories set in my beloved home state. Many years ago I wrote a novel called My Lone Star Summer set in and around Austin, and I'd been wanting to write another Texas-based book ever since.

One day a voice whispered in my ear, "My name is Garnet Olivia Hubbard." And I knew right then she was from a small town in Texas. Most of my books have explored family dynamics--how parents and siblings relate to each other, how they support and disappoint one another. In Garnet's case, she has to learn how to make a new family for herself when her old one crumbles. Fortunately, she has an older sister, Opal, to lean on. Their mother Melanie calls the girls her "precious gems" not realizing that garnets and opals are classified as "semiprecious."

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way?

After Simon & Schuster had signed up The Secret Prince, I sent my editor proposals for two more novels. I intended to follow Prince with another historical novel, which I expected to be my editor's favorite, and I submitted the proposal for Semiprecious just as a change of pace, not really knowing how it would be received. I was surprised when Semiprecious emerged as the favorite. I began working on it right away and the whole project has been very smooth.

The only glitch was that the photo that was originally chosen for the cover wasn't available and we had to find another one that conveyed the same tone as the original. My wonderful designer Krista Vossen came up with a perfect replacement that I just love. The book comes out in July and I'm excited about it.

What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

There was a bit of research involved since the story takes place in 1960, but not nearly as much as for my other historical novels. Garnet's mother wants to be a country western star, and I had to find out what songs were popular in those years. But you can find anything you need on the Internet, and I found the lyrics I needed without too much trouble.

In the story, Garnet's art teacher introduces her to the work of three important Mexican artists and so I had to research their work, a task I very much enjoyed. The greatest literary challenge was to show both sides of Melanie, to make her sympathetic despite her shortcomings. I hope I've succeeded.

Could you also tell us about Of Numbers and Stars: The Story of Hypatia, illustrated by Pam Paparone (Holiday House, 2006)? Who was Hypatia, and what was it about her story that called to you?

Hypatia was a Greek, born in Alexandria, Egypt in the 4th century, C.E. She became one of the foremost mathemeticians, philosophers, and astronomers of her time in an age in which such pursuits for girls were the exception to the rule. Her father, Theon, was a mathematics professor at the university, and she worked with him to write books that explained the work of earlier mathemeticians. She advised one of her young male students on the making of the first astrolabe, a precusror to the modern day sextant. She was noted for her exceptional beauty, and died a violent death at the hands of her political enemies. She is such an accomplished and fascinating figure that I didn't want her to be forgotten. I hope her story will serve as an inspiration to todays' young girls to pursue their own interests.

I believe this is your first picture book--is that right? What inspired you to branch out from novel writing?

Yes, Of Numbers and Stars is my first picture book, and it's something of a fluke. Many years ago as I was beginning my career, I saw that Scholastic magazine was looking for articles on women and math. I had read about Hypatia and thought she'd make an interesting topic for an article. When I mentioned the idea to my then-agent, Frances Kuffel, she encouraged me to expand it into a picture book manuscript. At that time, there was a real emphasis in schools on getting more girls interested in math and science, and Frances thought a book about the first female mathemetician might be a welcome addition to school libraries and classrooms. I'm hoping that's still the case.

What were the challenges in writing to this new form? How about those in writing picture book biography specifically?

The challenge was to tell the story in just a few hundred words and still present a complete picture of Hyaptia's life. My editor at the time, Michelle Frey, who is now at Knopf, was very helpful in distilling the manuscript. Another challenge was to present enough material to give the illustrator plenty to work with. I think Pam Paparone succeeded admirably. The pictures are beautiful. Finally, in writing about someone so removed from us in time, the challenge was to present complex ideas in a way that young readers can understand.

The challenge in writing biography is to get inside your subject's head and yet to separate your own perceptions. It's a delicate balance, especially in this case when I'm writing about someone who left behind no written record, except for a few fragments of letters she exchanged with her students, so that her thoughts and feelings must be imagined. I admire Hypatia, and I hope I've done her justice.

How has your writing changed over the years?

Now that I'm writing for older readers, I'm able to write more layered, complex stories, and to explore more mature themes. Many of my first books were written in third person but I've switched to first for my last few books, and I'm finding it a good fit. I'm most comfortable in the voice of a fourteen-year-old from Texas. My 2007 book, Picture Perfect continues in that vein with Phoebe Trask, the daughter of a judge. in a small Texas town, telling the story.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Read everything, not just in the genre in which you hope to publish. Read biography, history, philosophy, novels for adults as well as young people. Expect your first, second, third, fourth, and fifth drafts to be really lousy.

I once heard Avi say that if you write something down, read it and think "hey, this is really good!" you are in deep trouble. When you finish a manuscript, put it aside for as long as possible--three months or more and work on something else.

Then go back to the first ms and you'll see its flaws much more clearly. You'll be soooo glad you resisted the urge to send it out before the ink was dry on the page.

Finally, develop a thick skin; you will be rejected. Not every idea you have will resonate with your editor. Know that it's just a business decision and not personal. Stay professional in all your dealings with editors. Never stop learning about your craft. Take joy in the process of creating stories, love your work, believe in your characters, and the sales will come. It just takes time.

How about those building a career?

All of the above, plus developing a strategic plan for your career long term. Have a clear picture of what you'd like to accomplish in five years, and in ten. Building a career as an author is an excrutiatingly slow process. Even after a dozen books I am still working to connect with readers, libaraians, booksellers. It's a constant process of staying connected with the business, building relationships with people in the various segments of publishing. Luckily I love talking to everybody associated with making and selling books. But it is time-consuming.

How about fantasy writers in particular?

I think the challenge in fantasy now, since the popularity of the Potter books and the "Lord of the Rings" movies is to come up with fresh concepts that haven't been overdone. We don't need more books about wizards in training; maybe we don't even need more quest stories. The great thing about writing fantasy is that one is limited only by his or her own imagination, so strive to come up with something that is truly fresh and original.

What are some of your favorite recent reads for children and young adults?

I have to begin with Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (Knopf, 2006)(excerpt), the brilliant new book coauthored by my friend Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. The voices are so strong and original, it's impossible to stop reading. Because of the mature language this is not a book for young teens, but it is very compelling for older readers.

Chicken Boy by Frances O'Roark Dowell (Atheneum, 2005)(excerpt), who wrote the beautiful Edgar winner Dovey Coe (Atheneum, 2000)(excerpt) a few years back. What a fine writer she is.

I also loved How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (Random House/Wendy Lamb Books, 2004)(excerpt), The Truth about Forever by Sarah Dessen (Viking, 2004), and Rebel Angels by Libba Bray (Delacorte, 2005)(author interview)(excerpt). I just finished this year's Newbery winner, Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins (Greenwillow, 2005), which I enjoyed for its quirkiness.

Do you do presentations, classes or other events?

Yes, all of the above. I'm teaching some classes this summer, speaking at a number of writers' conferences, and appearing at the Southern Festival of Books in Memphis this fall. Next year I'll be speaking at literature conferences in Missouri and Iowa, teaching a class in Austin, and giving a guest lecture for students in the MFA program at Hollins University in Virginia.

If so, what audiences do you target? What do you offer? How can planners get into contact with you?

For schools, I speak to students in grades three and up. I offer general presentations on writing and my books, and often pair those talks with small- group writing exercises, book signings, and readings. I work with each school to tailor a program that enhances their curriculum or fits a theme.

For writers organizations, such as SCBWI, and for conferences, I offer a variety of workshops on various aspects of writng the novel, working with agents and editors. I work with the conference planners to identify a topic that will best fit the needs of attendees. I can be contacted through my website. Click on the Let's Talk button to get to my e-mail.

What do you do when you're not writing, reading or speaking?

Watch old movies or go out to dinner with my husband, walk my golden retriever, call my friends and family members scatterd all over the country to catch up on news. My older brother is building a vacation house on the Tennessee river, and I call him to see how the construction is coming along. A couple of years ago I trained for the Keep Austin Weird 5K race and enjoyed it so much I try to stay in shape for 5K events by walking every day. It helps clear my mind; some of my best ideas have come while I'm out exercising. I love all kinds of live music and go to concerts when I can; last year I saw Paul McCartney and BB King; and a couple of weeks ago I saw Faith Hill and Tim McGraw kick off their new Soul 2 Soul tour. Willie Nelson is coming here in August and I'm hoping to see him; he keeps me connected to my beloved Austin...

What can your fans look forward to next?

Picture Perfect (Simon & Schuster/McElderry, 2007) is a YA about a small town Texas girl as she negotiates the first tricky year of high school and deals with the changing dynamics in her family. A Little Rebellion (working title, may change)(Simon and Schuster/McElderry, 2008) is a YA about a high school freshman who struggles to reclaim her life after an episode of bullying.

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