Here's a fun question: how in the world can you write a blog to post on the day after Christmas and expect anyone to pay attention or read any more than the first two lines?
Hmm...how about by interviewing an awesome MG author about her extraordinary debut novel? You bet.
Looking back on 2015 – a truly stellar year for middle grade literature – one debut stands out for me as an especially original, fresh, scrumptious read. A SNICKER OF MAGIC, by Natalie Lloyd, is such a rare gem. What is it about? Well, everything – friendship, loss, love, magic, healing, grieving, home, forgiveness. Like the ice cream cone on the cover, A SNICKER OF MAGIC has got a delicious scoop of everything. The novel was an absolutely stunning debut – it got three starred reviews from professional publications, and deserved every one.
If you are a lover of middle grade fiction and somehow did not sink your teeth into A SNICKER OF MAGIC this year, do yourself a favor and make reading that book a New Year's resolution for 2015.
Natalie Lloyd graciously agreed to sit down during this busy, frantic time of year and give us the gift of an interview. It's one I'm sure you'll enjoy unwrapping!
DG: With your beautiful debut coming out, 2014 must have been quite a year for you! What were some of the favorite moments or experiences you got to unwrap this year?
NL: Thanks for such a kind compliment, and for inviting me to drop in on the blog! I’m so grateful for this year. It’s been scattered full of magical moments. It’s hard to narrow them down to a few, but connecting with readers (especially young readers) has been the sweetest experience for me. I’m amazed at the ways they take the story into their hearts. While I was Skyping with a group of students, one little girl told me she drew Oliver’s bird tattoo on her wrist when she needed to feel brave. Another reader told me that the story gave her confidence. I get emails and letters from students asking me if they can be the Beedle (YES!), or telling me they’ve decided to be the Beedle in their school. Rebecca Zarazan Dunn, the whimsical and magical children’s librarian at the Chattanooga Library, even started a Beedle Society with her readers. They all go around doing sweet, anonymous good deeds just like the Beedle in the Midnight Gulch. I’m blown away by all of that. Anytime readers take the time to write and tell me they enjoyed the book, I’m overwhelmed by that too.
I’m going to get a little bit more sappy, since we’re all daydreamers around here, and talk about my parents. Giving them a hardback copy of the book was a moment I’ll never forget. They always believed it would happen, even when I didn’t.
DG: Middle grade is a wonderful challenge to write. What for you are the best parts about writing for the middle grade audience, and what are the biggest challenges?
NL: I like writing characters who are brave and nerdy and still sensitive to magic in the world around them. I remember feeling vulnerable and shy and weird back in middle school (true confession: I still feel that way). But I was also less cynical. I think I was more likely to see hope fluttering at the edge of a situation. From a word-nerd perspective, I also love the voice and flow of language in middle grade novels. And truly, there is no group of readers I would rather write for. Middle grade students are smart and funny and kind.
As far as challenges, my goodness, there are so many for me! I’d kind of hoped that after A Snicker of Magic was published, I would have a better idea of how to patch a story together without going through a zillion drafts. But it takes many drafts for me to know my character’s voice, and to really find the heart of what my character wants.
DG: When you were a middle grade kiddo, what book would you have been most excited to find under the tree?
NL: I remember the year my parents gave me the Anne of Green Gables books. I have loved and adored them ever since. And I’ve always kept them on the shelf where I can see them. Those pastel spines are pretty crinkled with love now. I love visiting Green Gables.
DG: What recent book would you buy this year as a gift for a middle grade reader?
NL: I’m giving Jenni Holm’s The Fourteenth Goldfish to my 10 year old nephew for Christmas. It’s a unique, brainy novel that weaves the magic of science and the magic of family into this tale that sticks, sticks, sticks to your heart forever. It’s a snappy read, full of depth and heart. Cece Bell’s El Deafo is another book I plan on giving as a gift many times over. That’s a fitting way to describe El Deafo; it’s such a gift of a book. I’m also super excited for next year when I can start gifting The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart to readers.
DG: New Year's is coming up! If you had to recommend one "resolution" to an aspiring middle grade author to make 2015 a breakthrough writing year for them, what would it be?
NL: I’ve always done a dumpy job of keeping resolutions. But if I could offer up a few shiny bits of encouragement, little sparklers that I remind myself of often, they’d be: Take take the time to fill up your heart with whatever inspires you. When you’re with your family and friends, really be in the moment with them.
Set aside time to write - not to tweet or Facebook or read about publishing or read about writing. Get the whole mess of your words on a page and see what treasures you find there.
I’ve discovered it’s very healthy for me to limit my time online, or on social media, or even to take breaks from time to time.
Take care of yourself, physically and mentally.
And be brave, and put your heart back out there again. Most breakthrough moments seem to come after long, hard seasons of trying. And trying again. And then trying some more. The process of publishing can be so heartbreaking that it’s easy to forget what you love about writing. Remember that you have more stories inside you. And that you aren’t too old to be published. You haven’t missed your chance. Kick the inner-critic in the shins and write what you love. Keep writing. Don’t give up.
DG: Finally...what's on the frontier for you for 2015? Are you working on anything right now that you could tell us about?
NL: Thanks for asking! The paperback version of A Snicker of Magic will be out in 2015, which is exciting. I’m also revising my next novel, which will be out in Spring of 2016. I can’t say too much about it yet (not because I’m all cagey that way; I just end up changing a lot during revisions). But it’s a story about a brave girl, a singing ghost, a buried treasure and hot chocolate. I’ve had a blast writing it, and I can’t wait for readers to meet these new characters.
DG: Thanks so much, Natalie!
NL: Thank you for inviting me, Dan! And thank you for your beautiful book.