What inspired Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains?
It began as a bedtime story. I don't remember why, but I was telling my boyfriend-at-the-time (now my husband) a story about a little milkmaid, and he said I should write it down. I had never really considered writing a novel of any kind, so I didn't think of it that way. I kind of scribbled down the beginning, and it kept on going.
The book has the charming feel of an "old-fashioned" fairy tale. Did you set out to write a story in that vein on purpose? Or did that evolve as you wrote the story?
No, it was absolutely that way from the start. I'm a little obsessed with what people call "classic books" and I have a hard time writing in a contemporary voice. I think somehow "old fashioned" is easier for me, because I don't have to try to sound young and authentic. There's no temptation to be like, "Yo, wassup?" in a fairy tale. Nothing is worse than grownups doing bad impressions of teens. Gag.
But the challenge is to NOT just repeat what's already been done. I want to make this kind of book my own. And that's tricky. I really admire Shannon Hale. And have you read Victoria Forrester's The Girl Who Could Fly? Wow!
Yay Shannon Hale! And the latter book you mentioned is on the top of my reading stack right now.
Your writing style is simple; sparse and intelligent all at once. Did any books or authors influence you in particular?
I love and regularly re-read Edward Eager, Betty McDonald, PL Travers. The "classics". But really, the spare quality comes, I think, from reading a ton of translated poetry. Poetry has an economy that makes all prose feel wordy, and translation tends to strip things down. I love Tomaz Salamun. There's a fable quality to a lot of Eastern European poetry, something related to fairy tales.
Growing up, did you always want to be a writer? Or did that interest and passion develop later on?
Always. Or since about 4th grade anyway. Before that I wanted to be a ballerina.
For a long time I wasn't writing for kids. I also write poetry, and nonfiction for adults. But whatever I'm writing, I really can't imagine doing anything else. I always figured I'd be a waitress and a writer forever.
You're the author of a choose-your-own-adventure biography in verse, a picture book, a novel for children, and have edited a nonfiction anthology. Whew. How is it, working all across the board like this? Are there any forms of writing mentioned that you are especially fond of working on?
It's funny, they don't feel *that* different when I'm writing them. I approach certain issues--conformity, honesty, etiquette, loneliness, fence-sitting-- a lot. And so although one attempt may result in a grownups-only essay, and another may result in a picture book, I'm still just exploring the subjects of my various obsessions. I really feel that a project will demand its proper form, and you have to listen closely to find out what that is. Sometimes a prose poem turns into a picture book. Sometimes a novel outline turns into an essay. In my dream world, I'll someday write something publishable that nobody can categorize. Something like The Little Prince, that crosses all boundaries.
In a similar vein, Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains contains some rhymes and poems, and you've also published a book of poetry for adults. Which came first for you - did you begin by mostly writing poetry, or prose? Which comes easier for you?
I'm a poet at heart. I'm still just learning to play with prose. But the rhymed songs Lucy sings in the book, although they were fun to write, are very different from my poetry.
There's a precision in poetry, like nothing else. The process of getting into THAT head is very different. Writing poetry is like pulling the world apart to understand it. Writing prose is like building a new little world.
Do you have a favorite poet?
I mentioned Tomaz Salamun above. But if I have to pick a favorite poet, I'll take Berryman. Or O'Hara. Or... Umm... I don't think I have a favorite.
What are you working on next?
Well, next May my new novel, Any Which Wall, will come out. It's an homage to Edward Eager, kinda. About four kids who find a magical wishing wall. And I just (this week) started my new book, Penny Dreadful. It's about a little girl who moves to a town full of very odd children, and has to try to make friends.
What's your favorite thing about being a writer?
The best thing about being a writer is just writing. Really. I can't imagine what life would be like if I couldn't write. But it's also awfully nice to be able to stay home with my kids.
Thank you so much, Laurel!
Find the rest of today's Winter Blog Blast Tour interviews at...
Lewis Buzbee at Chasing Ray
Louis Sachar at Fuse Number 8
Courtney Summers at Bildungsroman
Elizabeth Wein at Finding Wonderland
Susan KuKLin at The YA YA YAs