Our guest: Shawn K. Stout is a D.C. area based author of middle grade fiction, including the Penelope Crumb series (Puffin Books) and the brand new A Tiny Piece of Sky (Philomel).
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.
1. WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
One of my earliest memories is tracing my hand on the inside cover of Drummer Hoff by Barbara and Ed Emberley. I still have the book, although it’s missing the back cover and a page or two. That was one well-loved book.
2. WITH WHICH CHILDREN’S LITERATURE CHARACTER DO YOU MOST IDENTIFY?
Stargirl Caraway in Jerry Spinelli’s novel, Stargirl. “She was elusive. She was today. She was tomorrow. She was the faintest scent of a cactus flower, the flitting shadow of an elf owl.”
3. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR? ILLUSTRATOR?
That’s a tough one. I don’t think I have one favorite… There are so many wonderful storytellers and illustrators. But I will tell you that I will read anything written by Hilary McKay and Jeanne Birdsall. And I love the illustrations of Valeria Docampo.
4. IF YOU WERE TO THROW A KINDERLIT PARTY FOR FIVE GUESTS, WHO WOULD YOU INVITE?
What a fun question! (Although limiting to 5 guests is a real thinker.) Ursula Le Guin, Shel Silverstein, Roald Dahl, S.E. Hinton (right), and Frances Hodgson Burnett.
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
I’m not sure I can answer this one. But I will say that, as a reader, one of the most important elements of a book that will keep me turning pages is the character’s voice. If I can connect with the characters through their voice and have a true sense of who they are, I’m hooked until the end.
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT?
I’ve been told that my characters have a strong voice. I’m not sure that’s true, but I know that I can’t really make any progress in writing a book unless I can clearly “hear” my characters. I will also say that I tend to create characters who don’t yet understand their place in the world, who are noticeably different from others (sometimes physically) and are trying to figure out a way to appreciate what makes them so different.
7. IF YOU WERE TO DIE AND COME BACK AS A CHARACTER FROM CHILDREN’S LITERATURE, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE IT TO BE?
Minerva Mcgonagall, without hesitation. (Left, Dame Maggie Smith played Hogwarts Headmistress Mcgonagall in the Harry Potter films.)
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
The truth is, I would love to go back and redo quite a few things from my books. As soon as a new book comes out, I can usually find a dozen or more sentences I’d like to rewrite. But I try not to put any energy into things that can’t be undone. They are what they are, and I try to look ahead, not back.
9. WHAT IS THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
I’ve been given so much wonderful advice over the years, but the best advice was from Carolyn Coman (right), who delivered an inspiring lecture at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where I went to graduate school. She said (and I’m paraphrasing here) to show up every day, whether the muse comes or not, whether you write a single word or a thousand, just show up.
10. DESCRIBE YOUR WORK PROCESS.
I write, usually at my messy desk (but sometimes the dining room table), in the evening after my daughter goes to bed. I always start with a character. I’ll have that character in my mind for awhile, months sometimes, trying to figure out who she is and what she’s struggling with. Once I have a semi-clear idea of who she is, then I start writing.
11. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AND WHY?
I don’t have one all-time favorite book. But The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett was the book I read over and over as a child, and it remains one of my favorites today. There is something about discovering a place, a mysterious garden surrounded by high walls, that gets my blood up every time.
12. TELL US ABOUT A BOOK THAT, FOR ONE REASON OR ANOTHER, HAS NOT FOUND A WIDER AUDIENCE.
So many books that I read and love often don’t have starred reviews or have received major national awards. One in particular that actually did receive a few stars but may not have found a wider audience is Tracing Stars, by Erin E. Moulton. It’s about sisters, a pet lobster named Monty Cola, and self-identity. I adore that book.