Our guest: Author Susan Dennard is a former marine biologist who is now a full time writer and writing instructor an cookie afficianado. Her work includes the Something Strange and Deadly series, published by HarperTeen, and the on-going online collaboration with Throne of Glass author Sarah J. Maas, The Starkillers Cycle. Her latest book, Truthwitch, comes out today (January 5, 2016) from Tor Teen. She previously took part in Kinderlit’s You Never Forget Your First Times feature, HERE.
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?
101 Dalmations. I had my mother’s clothbound copy with beautiful illustrations inside. And believe it or not, I read it before I ever saw the Disney cartoon—and I always preferred it to the cartoon as well..
2. WITH WHICH CHILDREN’S LITERATURE CHARACTER DO YOU MOST IDENTIFY?
Lloyd Alexander’s Vesper Holly was always my hero. She was a female, teenage version of Indiana Jones in Victorian times who traveled the world and stirred up trouble.
I don’t know that I necessarily identified with her as a child, but I wanted (so desperately) to become her! These days, I think I actually might’ve managed that alright. I’ve traveled the world as a marine biologist; I’ve lived overseas; I’ve stirred up heaps of trouble; and now I write books for a living. Doesn’t get much better than that!
3. WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR? ILLUSTRATOR?
My favorite author is probably Lloyd Alexander (right); at least he was when I was a child. His female characters were so strong and so spunky. As mentioned above, I still aspire to be Vesper Holly in all ways.
My favorite illustrator is James Gurney. Dinotopia captured my imagination (and still does) in a way that no other book ever has.
5. WHICH QUALITY DO YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT IN GOOD CHILDREN’S LITERATURE?
I think an ability to connect with the main character is the key to good tale. That character might be a mouse out to save the world or a girl hiding for her life in an attic, but if I can connect with the character, that story —no matter how wild and different— will become my own.
6. IF YOUR OWN WORK HAS A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC, WHAT WHAT IS IT?
Wow! That’s a tough question. I think one of my fiction’s defining characteristics is that I like to write characters who make mistakes. Who sometimes go grey around the moral edges. We all do things in life that we regret, but the question is Do we learn from those mistakes? I like to write characters that do. Most of the time, at least.
7. IF YOU WERE TO DIE AND COME BACK AS A CHARACTER FROM CHILDREN’S LITERATURE, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE IT TO BE?
I think I’ve beat this to death, but… Vesper Holly! (Could you guess?)
8. IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND REDO ONE THING IN YOUR WORK, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
That way lies madness! I would change a thousand things, from entire character arcs to line-by-line tweaks. I’m a perfectionist to the extreme, and eventually —with every book I write— I just have to let it go. Plow forward, don’t look back, and be proud of what I put out there (mistakes and all).
That said, I do try to learn from the “mistakes” with each new story I tackle.
9. WHAT IS THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WERE EVER GIVEN?
“Make writer friends.” My father told me that. He’s a fine art photographer, and he told me the best thing he ever did was find a community. You need like-minded people who truly understand the industry, the art, the frustrations, and the joys. It’s so rewarding to share that with someone.
10. DESCRIBE YOUR WORK PROCESS.
Oh goodness, my process is a mess! Every book is a different baby with different demands. I’m a very organic writer, and I will write / rewrite / start over a zillion times until I feel like I’ve gotten it “right.”
12. TELL US ABOUT A BOOK THAT, FOR ONE REASON OR ANOTHER, HAS NOT FOUND A WIDER AUDIENCE.
A Room With A View. Yes, I’m sure you’re thinking, “But it’s a classic!” And yet, I have never met another soul who has actually read it! I so deeply love this book. I’ve reread it so many times that the spine is broken and the pages are falling out, but I refuse to buy another copy. So yes, I wish more modern readers would pick it up!