An interview with middle grade author Sally J. Pla

If you are an aspiring author, I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about ‘voice’ and how important it is to get it right. And it is!  When you read a novel and the ‘voice’ works, you can feel it all the way down to your toes. This is what happened to me with Sally J. Pla’s The Someday BirdsCharlie struggles to fit in and understand the world around him and just when he thinks he’s got it nailed down, well, everything changes. I felt his pain and confusion and admired his passion. If this character suddenly walked into my living room, I would not be at all surprised. He is that real.

I can’t recommend this middle grade book enough and I’m thrilled Sally was willing to answer some questions for us. Here we go!

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?

You know, I’ve been thinking lately about the galloping myopia (nearsightedness) I had as a kid. I got glasses in first grade, but my eyes grew worse so fast, my prescriptions never quite kept up. I never could see much more beyond six inches in front of my nose, so books were simply one of the few things in my life, literally and figuratively, that stayed in focus! I was terrible at sports and things like that. So at recess, I hid, I read books, and I was happy!   And the writing of stories just came naturally from the reading.

I think I would have been a reader and writer even without the myopia—it’s how my brain’s hard-wired. But that galloping myopia? Definitely an extra inducing factor!

What was the hardest part of writing The Someday Birds?

The hardest part was giving myself permission to start. To brush off that little critic perched on my shoulder, always whispering in my ear, “Well, who the heck do you think you are, Miss Fancy-Pants? What makes you think you’re good enough to write a novel?” I’ve left that guy in the dust, now. Thank goodness.

Charlie’s voice is spot on. Did it take time to get him right or did he arrive fully formed in your head?

Charlie stepped out on the page, fully formed, from the very first words. But I did a lot of thinking about the story. I thought for years, before I tried to put it down on paper. About my own experience of the world, as a kid, and that of my now-grown son, and of the neuro-diverse friends we’ve known and loved through the years, and how their kindness, and good nature, and hyper-awareness, and sensitivity is often misunderstood.

Birds and birding are central to this novel. Are you a bird watcher?

When I was a kid, yes. I was an amateur birder. I took it very seriously. I had a bird book, and a notebook for my observations.

My dad mocked me once, when I was tramping around the backyard. He said, “Oh, look! A yellow-bellied sapsucker!” He didn’t know anything about birds or birding, and he thought it was just some funny made-up name to tease me with.

I got super excited. I whispered, “Where? Where?” looking all around — and then he laughed at me.

That crushed me, because there really was such a thing as a yellow-bellied sapsucker, gosh darn it! It wasn’t a made-up bird at all! I showed it to him in my bird book, later on.

But you know, that was one of those childhood tipping-point “moments,” somehow. The moment I first felt really self-conscious. When I realized the intensity of my interests might make me different, different enough to warrant being mocked. Even by my own dad.

My dad is very loving, and he still feels regretful about that incident. In fact, he donated to the Audubon Society last year, because the sapsucker is now endangered. An act of yellow-bellied penance, to make me smile. Because the yellow-bellied sapsucker has been this running thing between us, for about forty years, now!

I know all that plays into Charlie’s birding, somehow. It’s definitely not the only thing. But it’s part of it.

Who are your favorite authors?

Too many to name! So many amazing books and authors! But the ones who write big-hearted, with lots of feels, and leave me with a sense that the world is, on the whole, going to be an okay place to survive in – these are the books and authors who speak to my soul. Rebecca Stead, Kate di Camillo, Richard Peck, Katherine Applegate. I also love the slightly dark and mysterious. I love Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, and I adore Ransom Riggs’s Tales of the Peculiar.

What is your favorite thing to do when not writing?

Watch movies. Cook dinner with my husband and sons. Have coffee and laugh with a good friend at a little café. Get pulled into the attention vortex of my dog (don’t laugh, that’s a real phenomenon).

What are you working on right now?

A second middle-grade novel for Harper, due out next January. It’s called JOHN LOCKDOWN IS IN THE BUILDING. It’s the story of Stanley Fortinbras, a meek, undersized comics fanatic who wants—yet dreads—to enter a big “Trivia Quest” treasure hunt, in an attempt to win back his best friend. Also, his new middle school’s wackily over-the-top safety drills are making him a nervous wreck—and leading him into a mysterious cartooning adventure…

Also pubbing in 2018:  BENNIE’S BLUE BURRITO (tentative title), a picture book with Lee & Low. It’s about two little brothers, sibling rivalry, and a fuzzy blue blanket.

I have a third young person’s novel in the drafting stage. About a girl, and an ancient, enchanted seamstress. About re-weaving family histories, and whether or not we can repair the fabric of time…

How do you prefer readers get in touch with you?

Please stop by my website – www.sallyjpla.com, any time. There are newsletter and ‘contact’ links on there, and blog posts fairly regularly.

Thanks you so much for letting me visit here, Beth! And thank you for reading!