The Proust-Esque Questionnaire is based on a set of 36 standardized questions designed by Marcel Proust in the 1890’s to give an overview of the respondent’s personality. Our goals are less lofty, but hopefully will provide some insight into how your favorite authors and illustrators work and what they love.
Our guest: Erin Entrada Kelly’s debut novel Blackbird Fly was released in March 2015 and is a Junior Library Guild Selection, Indies Next Pick, and one of SIBA’s Best Books of the South. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Philippines Free Press Literary Award for Short Fiction. She lives in Philadelphia.
Two books come to mind: The Cat in the Hat and The Monster at the End of This Book. My mother read The Cat in the Hat to me often, and then I would read it to her, or to my stuffed animals. They were always a rapt audience. I can still recite the opening lines from memory.
I read Monster at the End of This Book on my own a lot. I loved the Golden Books series, and Monster was my favorite. I can still remember the anticipation I felt each time I turned the pages, even though I knew Grover would turn out to be the monster at the end.
Ant MacPherson from Gennifer Choldenko’s Notes from a Liar and Her Dog. Ant is introspective, lonely, and imaginative. She doesn’t feel understood, and struggles with her faults. She has seemingly perfect sisters, and compares herself to them often. That’s how I was at 12.
3. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR? ILLUSTRATOR?
Judy Blume is my kidlit hero. As for illustrators: Isabel Roxas. She illustrated the cover of my second book, The Land of Forgotten Girls. The first time I saw it, I wanted to hug the computer monitor. (OK, maybe I did.) I could stare at it all day. The book doesn’t come out until early 2016, but I’ll reveal the cover later this summer on my website. Her illustrations are amazing and perfect and everything in between.
4. IF YOU WERE THROWING A KINDERLIT PARTY FOR FIVE GUESTS, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE?
Matilda, Grover, Mary Poppins (from the film; I haven’t read the books—yet), Ranger (the hound from The Underneath, by Kathi Appelt), and Alice from Alice in Wonderland. Mary Poppins and I can drink tea and talk about bottomless carpet bags then all of us can jump into a random chalk painting. Matilda, Alice, and Grover would get along well and their antics, imagination, and banter would be super-inspiring. Ranger is kind, loyal, and docile, so he’d make for a good companion. Plus he could use the adventure, because evil Gar Face has kept him chained to the porch for too long. (If you haven’t read The Underneath, you should!)
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
Honesty. Children are smart and perceptive. They know when something doesn’t feel genuine. In Blackbird Fly, a few grown-up readers were bothered that the bullies in the book don’t get adequately punished by adults in the end. But that doesn’t always happen—in fact, it often doesn’t. Kids know that.
I strive to write honestly.
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT
I write coming-of-age, so I’d say introspection is a defining characteristic.
7. IF YOU WERE TO DIE AND COME BACK AS A CHARACTER FROM CHILDREN’S LITERATURE, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE IT TO BE?
“You” from Oh, The Places You’ll Go!
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Nothing. My work certainly isn’t perfect, but I try not to look back. The way in life is forward.
9. WHAT IS THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
It’s from my parents, and it’s simple: “Keep writing.”
10. DESCRIBE YOUR WORK PROCESS.
I don’t write on a schedule, so my process doesn’t make sense on a calendar. But I do follow a certain routine. I always write an outline before I start the first draft. Both are in longhand. My outline evolves with the story, but I’m always thinking several chapters ahead.
I usually listen to classical music when I write, and I like to be near a window. I don’t work well in generic surroundings, so I prefer to write at home.