Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Inside the Writer's Studio with Jacqueline Kelly, author of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Welcome once again to Inside the Writer’s Studio. Today we have with us esteemed-author Jacqueline Kelly whose Newbery Honor novel The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Henry Holt, 2009) is being released in paperback. 

 The accolades for Calpurnia are incredible:

 “Callie’s transformation into an adult and her unexpected bravery make for an exciting and enjoyable read. Kelly’s rich images and setting, believable relationships and a touch of magic take this story far.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“Readers will finish this witty, deftly crafted debut novel rooting for "Callie Vee" and wishing they knew what kind of adult she would become.”—Kirkus, Starred Review

“Interwoven with the scientific theme are threads of daily life in a large family—the bonds with siblings, the conversations overheard, the unspoken understandings and misunderstandings—all told with wry humor and a sharp eye for details that bring the characters and the setting to life. The eye-catching jacket art, which silhouettes Callie and images from nature against a yellow background, is true to the period and the story. Many readers will hope for a sequel to this engaging, satisfying first novel.”—Booklist, Starred Review

And those of you not in Texas may be surprised to learn that Jacqueline Kelly and Caplurnia are a Writers’ League of Texas Agent Conference success story! I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Jackie, as we call her, and she is warm, witty and has the bluest blue eyes. Her essence breathes books and it is a pleasure to have her here today.

Now, on to the interview…

How do you stay inspired to face the dreaded blank page? Is it something you dread? Look forward to? Share a bit about your writing process.
When I started out, I did indeed dread the blank page, but I forced myself to write anyway.  I kept a record of how long I wrote, and noted it on my calendar.  Some days it was only 10 minutes—not very much, but at least it was something.  I noticed that the more I wrote, the less scary the blank page became.  I was able to spend longer and longer at it, and now I can sit and write for several hours at a time.   I suppose it’s like any other exercise:  you have to flex the muscle to see improvement.  I no longer fear the blankness. 

Name a writer whose work and/or career you admire. And why do you admire them?
I admire Kenneth Grahame, who wrote The Wind in the Willows.   This book meant so much to me as a child that I have just spent a year writing my version of a sequel, The Willows Redux, which will come out in spring of 2012.  Grahame also wrote The Golden Age and Dream Days, two lovely books that perfectly capture an idyllic childhood spent exploring the woods and meadows and river bank.   These works were immensely popular a hundred years ago.  The Willows continues to be popular, although not to the extent it once was.  It’s a shame, because it’s the best example of what my publisher calls “comfort literature,” the best sort of book to read when you’re tired or ill or blue.  

What do you feel is your strength as a craftsperson? How do you turn your weaknesses into strengths?
I think I’m pretty good at writing light humor, but only when I don’t mean to.  Whenever I deliberately set out to write something funny, it falls dead on the page, legs stiff in the air. 

I am keen on examining structure. A favorite quote of mine goes something like this: “We only look at a poorly formed story and call it formula. Structure is the art that conceals itself.” How important is structure to you and what are some techniques that help you build a story?
Structure completely baffles me.  When you figure it out, will you please let me know?  Seriously.

Writers love books; we love reading. What book do you turn to over and over again and why do you love it?
I love Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.   Poignant, hilarious, chaotic, devastating.  It teems with life, and senseless death.  Kids, this book is not for you.  Wait until you’re in college. 

Which literary character, yours or another author’s, do you most relate to? And why?
Calpurnia Tate.  Because she is 70% me, 20% my mother, and 10% my friends. 

Do you have a favorite craft book? If so, what is it? And what is your favorite take away?
The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner.  This is a dense and rather difficult book that contains everything you need to know about writing.  Not the craft book to start with, but definitely the one to finish with.  I am still picking my way through it. 

Inspired by the Actor’s Studio, what sound do you love? What sound do you hate?
Love the hot bubbling sound of frying chicken, but doesn’t everyone?
Hate the sound of nails on a blackboard, but doesn’t everyone?

In ode to Maebelle, the main character in my new book Truth with a Capital T, who keeps a book of little known facts about just about everything, please share a wacky piece of trivia that has stuck with you or please share a little known fact about YOU.
The original Alice in Alice in Wonderland  had short, dark hair.  How about that? 

Thanks, Jackie! Alice with short dark hair—wonder when she turned Disneyfied? And congrats on all the accolades for The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and the many more readers that will discover her in paperback.

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