An interview with Tricia Springstubb

Tricia Springstubb is the author of many books for middle grade readers and while I hope you will add them all to your child’s To Be Read list, right now I’m especially fond of the Cody series, the fourth of which, Cody and the Heart of a Champion, was recently released. Cody is a spunky young girl who charges headlong into life without thinking through the consequences. The results are often hilarious but what I really enjoy is being in Cody’s head and experiencing how she puzzles through challenging life choices, some of which may feel familiar to younger middle grade readers.

AND We’re lucky to have Tricia Springstubb here to answer some questions on today’s blog!

(Buy the books: AmazonB&N, IndieBound or purchase from your local indie bookstore)

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

I’ve loved stories as long as I can remember—stories in books, stories my grandmother told me, stories I made up and acted out with my dolls or stuffed animals. Once I learned to read,

I never went anywhere without a book. It wasn’t till I was in my late 20’s and early 30’s, though, that I began to write for anyone beside myself. I’m a self-taught writer, and my evolution from reader to reader-writer was slow.

I laughed out loud reading Cody and The Fountain of Happiness. Her heart is in the right place but sometimes she messes up anyway (I’m thinking of the hypnotizing scenes). Is this the way you envisioned her from the beginning or did she evolve on the page? Where did Cody come from?

I was a shy, timid child, and I’m still not good at taking risks. I tend to write characters who think a lot before they act. With Cody, I wanted to inhabit a different kind of kid, one who was impulsive and confident and seized the day—for better or for worse. Her big heart saves her every time, thank goodness. I have loved writing her

The secondary characters in the Cody books have much more depth than I’m used to seeing in books targeting younger middle grade readers. It gives your books real emotional heft. Was this intentional?

I can’t seem to help writing complicated—complicated characters, plots, themes. It’s kind of a curse. With the Cody books, I tried hard to make things simpler, but never simplistic. I’m so glad you liked the minor characters, because I am very fond of them all, including MewMew, who’s based on my own beloved cat.

The fourth and latest Cody book is Cody and the Heart of a Champion (released in April). How many do you envision in the series? In your mind, how is Cody changing/will change as the series progresses?

The fourth book is the last one—at least for now. It’s set in spring, so it brings the series full circle through the year. Cody has learned a lot about patience, empathy, conscience, the ebb and flow of friendship, the inevitability of change, but she’s still her own high-spirited, big-hearted self, thank goodness.

Who are your favorite authors?

Children’s writers I love include E.B. White, Kate DiCamillo, Linda Urban, Lynne Rae Perkins, Julie Falatko, Rita Williams-Garcia, Naomi Shihab Nye—I could go on and on (I am very bad at picking favorites).  Adults writers include Virginia Woolf, Alice Munro, Alice McDermott, Joanne Beard and someone I just discovered—Jane Gardham.

What is your favorite thing to do when not writing?

Uh oh, another favorite question! I could say read (duh), walk, garden, but since my second grandbaby was born yesterday, I will say: Be a nana.

What are you working on right now?

I have a new picture book coming out with Candlewick Press in 2020. It’s tentatively titled “Khalil and Mr. Hagerty”. I love love love the collaborative process of working with an illustrator, and I’m very excited to be working for the first time with the amazing Elaheh Taherian.

I’m also working on a new middle grade novel, this one about a girl named Loah, whose fearless (possibly foolish) mother is off on a scientific expedition to save the rare (possibly extinct) Loah bird. It’s gone through more drafts than I can count.

How do you prefer readers get in touch with you?

Readers can contact me through my website triciaspringstubb.com, my Facebook page, or Twitter @springstubb. Whichever way you choose, please do contact me! I can get very lonesome sitting at this desk by myself all day.

A chat with Sally Pla, author of Stanley Will Probably Be Fine

It was a thrill to read Sally Pla’s The Someday Birds when it came out last year so I was excited to dig into her newest novel, Stanley Will Probably Be Fine. And it lived up to expectations!

Stanley, suffering from a sensory processing disorder, lives in today’s new ‘normal’, dealing with lockdown drills at school, not to mention friend drama. But  his keen awareness of his own anxiety makes him relatable – elements of his struggles will resonate with almost everyone. Stanley escapes into comic books, where good and evil are often clear cut and logical.

I found this pivot away from a taxing reality both brave and heartbreaking.  Stanley reminds us that while the world may not make sense, we need strategies to live in it, and his journey toward doing just that will have you rooting for him all the way. And now, lucky us, some Q&A with author Sally Pla.

(Buy the book: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound)

Who were your favorite authors as a kid?

There weren’t many books in my house when I was a kid. I remember an old copy of Hans Christian Anderson. There was a set of Dickens that my late grandfather found on a sidewalk (the story goes), and carted home in his wheel barrel. There was a beautiful 19th century copy of Tennyson on the shelf (I still have it), a circa 1910 medical book with nightmare-inducing photos, an encyclopedia, and an art book on German Expressionism which was almost as scary as the medical book.

Once I got old enough to bike to the library by myself, my world brightened considerably! Nancy Drew, Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Laura Ingalls Wilder, E.L. Konigsburg, Aahhhhhh!!!! Also, animal stories! Misty of Chincoteague! Dr. Doolittle! I reread James Herriott’s “All Things Great and Small” series a million times and decided that when I grew up, I’d become a vet in Yorkshire.

Both The Someday Birds and Stanley Will Probably Be Fine deal with children suffering from anxiety. What process do you go through to make sure your depictions are accurate?

Charlie in The Someday Birds and Stanley in Stanley Will Probably Be Fine are indeed both anxious. This was no problem at all to write. I have been anxious my whole life. Every physical symptom, every awfulizing, catastrophizing thought those characters have, are thoughts and symptoms and feelings that I have had. They are me; I am them.

Kids deal with things like active shooter and shelter in place drills in school all the time these days. How did you decide this could work as the focus of a middle grade novel?

We had a school principal, when my three boys were in elementary, who had a peculiar code phrase for initiating a drill. He’d get on the intercom and say: “John Lockdown is in the building!”

Now, everyone thought that was kind of funny. At home, my boys would run around playing this James Bond sort of gun chase game, pretending to be “John Lockdown.” They weren’t freaked out by the drills, not really.

But I was. What kind of a world do we have, when school kids accept as normal the possibility of an intruder bursting in and shooting them in cold blood? When they come home and cheerfully play-act about it?

This really bothered me.

I got to thinking: What if we don’t become inured to it? What if we fight against this societal desensitization? And so, further: What kind of a kid would have a problem with the normalization of violence in his life? What would that kid look like, and act like? What could that kid teach us, if we slipped inside his skin for a while?

Stanley is so wonderful, genuine and relatable. Is he based on anyone you know? Where did he come from?

Stanley is just Stanley. He has many of the same issues as Charlie in The Someday Birds, but Stanley has a dark, sardonic little sense of humor about himself and the world. Now that he exists, I love him like my own kin. Thank you for liking him too!

Superhero comic books are Stanley’s escape from reality and you include multiple panels from Stanley’s own comic creation, John Lockdown. Loved these! Did you work closely with an illustrator to get them right or did you do them yourself?

I did do my own version of Stan’s comic panels, just to storyboard it and see what needed to go where. But thank goodness for artist Steve Wolfhard! Steve’s a veteran comic artist whose work can be seen, most notably, on Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time. I think Steve’s art in the book (and on its cover) is just amazing. Originally, there were to be many, many more panels of Stanley’s comics. I so wish we could have included them all! Gosh darn!

Secondary characters can often feel cliché but yours, primarily Stanley’s messy family, provide depth and richness to the book. How much backstory do you create for them to achieve this, that never makes it to the page?

I write a lot of backstory, and take a lot of different approaches. At first, Stanley had two older brothers, not one. And he had both a dad and mom, but no grandpa… Things shifted a lot. What I like to do, repeatedly, is draw a bubble map with my main character in the center. Then I put each secondary character in a bubble around him. Each secondary character has to challenge the main character in a different, unique way, so the main character is always being tugged in different interesting directions. The bubble maps help me visualize this. Then, the supporting cast’s personalities grow from this. I also do a lot of journaling on each of them, until I can consistently hear their voices in my head.

What are you currently working on?

A love story between a big lonely girl named Alice Eugenia McMann and a woolly mammoth named Snowball, with a lot of cutting-edge genomic science – and an 85 year old best buddy — thrown in. It is not set in Yorkshire.

How do you prefer readers get in touch with you?

Check out www.sallyjpla.com — there’s a “contact me” link! Or email sallyjplawrites@gmail.com.

 

Free Range Kids

It’s summer, a time for running through sprinklers and jumping in pools and devouring ice cream and cold lemonade. It’s also a time of panic for parents. Why can’t we have just six weeks off like some European countries? Who thought seventy days with no school was a good idea? I’d like to meet this person and have a conversation.

In truth, I’m lucky because I set my own schedule. This does not mean I get to read books pool-side all day while a cute cabana boy brings me fruity cocktails. What it means instead is that I’m responsible for everything – every deadline, every new submission, every edit, every step forward. There is no unassuming colleague to whom I can forward this week’s action items and then skip off into the sunset free of responsibility. Wouldn’t that be nice?

So here we are. Me, the kids and the deadlines. I’m sitting at the kitchen table, basking in the bluish glow of my Mac when the kids (nine and eleven) deliver a proposal. Let’s call it the ‘mom is totally not paying attention – let’s go for broke’ proposal. In short, they want to go off on their bikes, gather friends and do unspecified ‘things’. I’m paying enough attention to ask for specifics. My daughter wants to spend a gift certificate she got for her birthday. My son wants a Jamba Juice. Okay. Nothing too crazy there. But before we can dig down into how this is going to work, when they plan on returning, what route they will take on their bikes so as not to get run over, my phone rings and it’s my writing partner and we’ve been working really hard to get a submission out the door and, well, I get distracted. When I look up, the kids are gone. I drift out to the garage. The bikes are gone, too.

My kids have officially gone free-range.

I don’t panic until my brother calls and we have this conversation:
Him: What are the kids up to?
Me: They’re out.
Him: Where?
Me: I don’t know.
Him: What does that mean?
Me: Just what I said.
Him: Oh my God, that is so 1970s!!!

I immediately start to worry about the other kids they’ve rounded up and led astray. There will be parental judgment. I refill my coffee cup for the four hundredth time and think about it calmly (except for my twitching left eyelid but that’s the caffeine, right?).

We try to teach our kids right from wrong, how to make good choices, how to ask for help when needed, how not to fear new or unfamiliar things, how to be kind and thoughtful and deliberate and joyful.

And I realize we do with our children what I do with characters in my novels, which is the best I can until they seem to do it on their own.  There’s a moment when a character clicks, when she feels fully actualized, as if I could walk out my front door and find her standing there and not be at all surprised. It’s a moment to savor.

The kids eventually come back with amazing tales of their adventures. They’re flushed with freedom, telling me all about how they walked across the busy intersection and waited for the slower bikers and pooled their collective pennies for ice cream. And for a moment, it feels just a little like throwing that door open to find something wonderful on the other side.

What’s your biggest summer challenge? (and does it involve fruity cocktails? I have got to stop talking about fruity cocktails) I’d love to hear about it. @bvam,  FaceBook/BethMcMullen or go crazy and email me at beth@bethmcmullenbooks.com