Hi Angie, so happy that you could stop by Middle Grade Minded! Welcome!
First, can you tell us a little bit about the Ghosts of Ordinary Objects series and your latest book, Lingering Echoes?
Certainly! The Ghosts’ series is a bit history, a bit mystery, and a bit fantasy. It’s set in a small coal mining camp in the Southwest Virginia at the beginning of World War II. Bone Phillips (12) discovers she has a Gift, that in fact several members of her family have the Reed Gifts as her grandmother calls them. Bone’s Gift is the ability to see the ‘ghosts’ inside ordinary objects. People leave imprints on objects, particularly in emotionally charged moments of their lives. With a touch, Bone can see that moment—whether it’s good or bad. And she’s not terribly happy with her Gift. In fact, she loves stories that are not real!
In the first book—aptly called Bone’s Gift—she has to use her Gift to find out what really happened when her mother died. Meanwhile, he father gets drafted, a WPA worker comes to collect folktales in the area, and Bone has to go live with her dreaded Aunt Mattie. The latter does not end well.
In this new book, Bone’s best friend, Silent Will Kincaid, brings her a jelly jar to read. It was in his father’s dinner bucket, which Will inherited when he went to work in the mines. The jar has a peculiar power of its own: it can catch sounds. Bone has to figure out its mystery—and whether or not it has something to do with Will losing his voice after his father died.
Lingering Echoes is set around Halloween, so it also involves pranks, ghost stories, graveyards, jack o’lanterns, and, of course, Appalachian folktales. Did I mention that the series has many App folktales interwoven into it?
This series mixes history and fantasy in an intriguing way. What drew you to this type of story?
First of all, I love stories that mix genres, particularly history and fantasy. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, for instance, is one of my favorite books (so far) of this century. The Night Circus. The Golem and the Jinni. The Diviners. I could go on… They all mix history and fantasy in really interesting ways.
Mostly, though, the Ghosts’ series begged to be a mix of history and magic/magical realism. I started out exploring the place and its history. (Big Vein is loosely based a real place where my grandfather and his brothers were miners!) Then I came to realize our region (Appalachia) has its own magic born out of its history, people, nature, folktales, and so forth. And I wanted the stories to have fairytale / folklore feel to them.
I didn’t realize that you teach young adult and speculative fiction for Southern New Hampshire University’s creative writing M.F.A. program. How cool is that? Regale us with your knowledge, pretty please. What’s your top tip for aspiring YA or MG speculative fiction writers?
The program is fairly new, so I have only been teaching YA fiction for a couple of terms. So far, I’ve noticed aspiring writers—whether in the program or elsewhere—have trouble grasping the idea of “show-don’t-tell.” And it’s actually a really tricky thing to learn and even trickier to explain or teach. How do you sink your readers into the POV character’s head so that you’re showing them the story rather than telling it? Nalo Hopkinson has a fantastic TED Ed lesson about it—and it’s probably the best explanation of ‘show-don’t-tell’ (although she doesn’t call it that) that I’ve seen yet. I defer to her for my top writing tip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSoRzTtwgP4
Another tip? Read a lot—in your genre and outside of it. You never know what might inspire you.
Now on to the most important topic of all: tell me about your dog. I hear he’s named after a telescope? (photo please :)
Yes, he is. Hubble is a nearly three-year-old black-lab mix. Oh, and a foster fail. ;) I fostered (and adopted ) him the summer I attended Launch Pad astronomy camp for writers. Even before the camp and even before I worked at NASA’s Kennedy Space, I was a space nut. And the Hubble Space Telescope—once the problem with its mirror was fixed on orbit—has been one of the most fantastic telescopes ever. It has produced some of the most exciting and breath-taking glimpses of our truly awe-inspiring universe so far. Hubble the dog, though, is a goofy, sweet boy who loves playing fetch, walking the neighborhood, and going to Starbucks for a pup cup. My nicknames for him are Hubblepuff (yes, he would be a Hufflepuff if sorted) and Big Tasty (because he reminds me of Barry from the Goldbergs).
Thanks so much to Angie Smibert for stopping by Middle Grade Minded! To find out more about Angie, visit her at http://www.angiesmibert.com/blog/.