Why do you write?
I write for many reasons. First, I enjoy it. It’s fun (also therapeutic) for me to put thoughts and ideas in my head into words on the page. I also believe all artistic expression is good, both for the individual and society in general. To create and share our creations with others builds relationships, cultures, and communities, so my writing is one small way I feel I can contribute to the cause.
Why specifically for young readers?
I never considered any other audience. When I think of the books that have meant the most to me in my life, I always go back to those I read as a child. Roald Dahl, Shel Silverstein, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, just to name a few favorite authors. Their books marked me in ways that don’t compare with books I read as an adult, or even a teen. Not that I haven’t read some amazing adult and young adult books, I absolutely have, but there’s something magical about a first book-love, that one that got you hooked on reading. It usually happens in that 8-12 middle-grade age range. It did for me, and it’s always been my hope to write books that could be a kid’s “gateway book” to a reading life. It’s a challenge, a privilege, and a responsibility. It’s also wonderful fun!
You’ve written about Rump, Jack and Red, why did you choose to tackle Grump?
Grump was an idea that took me completely by surprise. I had always assumed Red would be the last of my fairytales, but about half-way through Red I introduced a surly dwarf who in the course of conversation calls Snow White a spoiled brat. That line caught me off guard, but it stuck with me and I started to wonder what the Snow White tale would look like from a dwarf’s point of view.
Again, he’s a character that’s introduced in Red, but we don’t learn too much about him in that story, other than the fact that he lives underground and eats rocks. Oh, and that his beard is magic. Grump’s character took a little more time to develop than some of the others. Figuring out what he truly wanted, and how that would drive the story forward, using all the events that happen in the Snow White tale, was kind of a mind-bender. I had to chip away at it, little by little.
Female members of the seven dwarves?!?
Speaking of mind-benders…I KNOW, RIGHT?! But if you look closely at the Grimms’ version of Snow White there’s actually no solid evidence that all the dwarves are male. They don’t have names and are either referred to as “first, second, third” etc. or as a collective “they.” Only two dwarves are specifically referred to with male pronouns, so I find it interesting that we assume they’re all male, probably because they’re miners, and that’s typically work performed by men, and once Disney came out with their version of seven “little men” it was stuck in our brains. So here’s to breaking the mold! I love to shake things up a bit.
Now that you’ve written four books in the series, would you go back and change anything?
Sure, but I don’t really want to say what! Suffice it to say there are some things I wish I’d done differently; I think it’s impossible to look back at earlier work and not feel that way to some degree. Overall, I’m very pleased with the way my books turned out, and feel they represent my best work at that time. There’s always room to grow.
You were a performer before a writer, how does that play into your writing?
In my college acting classes we were constantly working on character arc and objective, and that’s something I think a lot about as I develop my own characters. I’m constantly asking “What does my character truly want?” I ask this of every character, both for the overall story and any given scene. If it isn’t specific, then my story is aimless. If it’s specific, but weak, then my story is meh. If I know what one character wants, but not another, then my story is lopsided. Everything circles back to character objective, and that’s something that my acting professors and coaches drilled into my head on a daily basis. I also think the shows I studied and performed have influenced my writing style and voice. I did mostly musical theatre, and I think there’s a kind of cheesy-fluffy musical theatre quality to my books, but with a fair amount of depth and emotion in the mix.
What are you working on now? Will there be more?
I’m currently working on a time-travel adventure trilogy. The first book, Time Castaways: The Mona Lisa Key will release on September 18th from Katherine Tegen/Harper Collins. It’s still middle-grade fantasy, but a break from fairytales. I could definitely write more fairytales, but I don’t have any concrete plans at the moment!
Is there a book from your own youth that still resonates with you today?
So many! How to choose? One that I still dearly love is Matilda by Roald Dahl. That book made me want to be a reader, and it still does!