Lesley M. M. Blume is the author of the children's book, Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters. From the back cover: "When a glamorous neighbor named Virginia Somerset moves next door with her servant Patel and a mischievous French bulldog named Mister Kinyatta, Cornelia discovers that the world is a much more exciting place than she had originally thought. . . . An unforgettable story of friendship and adventure that takes readers around the world and back again."
How did you get the idea for Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters?
That's a sad story, actually. An acquaintance of mine died of cancer a few years ago. She was my age -- which was 27 at the time, and she was the most wonderful, beautiful adventuress. I was in my NYC apartment thinking about her, and I heard kids playing in the hallway outside. I wondered if that sound would be consoling to someone who was dying. And then I had the idea to write about a dying adventuress who befriends a child who lives in her building. The entire plot of the book came to me within the hour - it was very exciting. I remember calling my mother and telling her out of the blue: "I'm going to write a book."
In Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades, the Somerset sisters travel to many
different places and countries. Which adventure was your favorite to write about?
I loved writing about Paris, especially the parts featuring the cameo appearance of Pablo Picasso and the Greek-mythology-inspired contest between two of the Somerset sisters. When I do readings and ask the young girls which part they'd like to hear, they invariably request the scene in which the Somerset sisters get trapped in the grisly Paris catacombs.
Why did you decide to be a writer?
It was an accident. But then again, as the great painter Jackson Pollock said, 'I deny the accident.' So I should probably say that it was fate.
Basically, I just got the idea for 'Cornelia' and then I sat down and wrote the book. Random House gave me a two-book deal, so I sat down and wrote a second book, called 'The Rising Star of Rusty Nail.' This one comes out next year, and features a wonderfully absurd drama taking place in a tiny Midwestern farm town in the 1950s. It was based on my mother's delicious childhood.
What's your writing process like?
A premise of a book occurs to me, and then I map out the arc of the plot in my mind. Then I sit down and write and see what happens. I rarely write fiction from an outline. New plot developments and characters happen as the writing progresses. I write first drafts very quickly. 'Cornelia' was written in just over a month. Although my third book, which I'm writing now, is taking me longer. This one's very special to me, and I want it to be as clean as possible the first time around. So I'm paying excrutiating attention to every phrase and detail.
It's also very important to mention that I have a whole series of readers who usually input as I go along: my agent, my fiance, my best friend, who's also a writer. My mother also painstakingly edits my work -- and she's vicious and cruel but the best out there.
What authors do you think have influenced you the most?
Countless authors, but the first who come to mind: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Michael Chabon, Truman Capote, Louise Fitzhugh, E.B. White, Joan Didion.
What were some of your favorite books as a child/teenager?
I don't think that there's enough room on this page to answer that one. I read absolutely everything. I was insanely precocious. By the time I was twelve, I was reading everything from 'Look Homeward, Angel' to 'Sophie's Choice' to Sidney Sheldon novels. My earlier childhood favorites included books by Roald Dahl, Maurice Sendak, Shel Silverstein, and the like. I loved 'The Secret Garden' and the Laura Ingalls Wilder series. Dr. Suess always annoyed me.
What is your favorite thing about being a writer?
Are you kidding me? Where do I begin? I get paid to make up stories and live inside my own imagination ... and humbly contribute something for posterity to this world. In an internet-driven, flash-in-the-pan celebrity era, that's a rare honor. I just hope that my work gets smarter and more meaningful as I get older and wiser.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
I keep a blog on my Amazon and MySpace pages in which I offer heaps of advice for aspiring writers. In fact, I started this blog because I get so many letters and notes from young writers with very specific questions about the writing process, and I try to address each of them as thoughtfully as possible.
But if I were to distill it all down, I would say: practice continuously, read voraciously, and treat observation as an artform.
What can readers expect from you next?
All of my books are very different from each other. People tend to think that Cornelia was 'sweet' (although I seem to think it's a much darker book than most of my readers). 'The Rising Star of Rusty Nail' is hinged on absurdity. And my third book might be virtually unrecognizable to my readers. It's very heart-wrenching and haunted, about a ruined, elite Depression-era family in Louisiana's plantation country. That's coming out courtesy of Knopf in 2008.
Thank you for your time and answers, Miss Blume!
Links: Little Willow's interview