INTERVIEW

Are you going to write a sequel to Walk Two Moons?

I don’t think so, but some of my books are already connected, if not exactly sequels. For example, Absolutely Normal Chaos is Mary Lou Finney’s “secret” summer journal, and both she and her journal reappear in Walk Two Moons. Walk Two Moons is the story of Salamanca Tree Hiddle and her home is in Bybanks, Kentucky, and Chasing Redbird also takes place in Bybanks and is the story of Salamanca’s friend there, Zinny Taylor. The main character in Bloomability, Domenica, is from Bybanks, and in that story there are references to Zinny from Chasing Redbird.

Where do you get your ideas?

This is a hard question to answer because a book contains not one, but hundreds, maybe thousands, of little ideas. Often it seems as if the main character and the place just arrive in my head one day, but later I can see that perhaps they arrived there because I’d been thinking about my family or someone I’d seen at a bus stop. Many ideas in Walk Two Moons came from a single fortune cookie message: “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.” From that came the ideas of a journey (walking along) and of Native American heritage and of people not being what they might at first seem to be. With The Wanderer, the idea to take characters on a sailing journey came from my own daughter’s journey across the Atlantic, and Bloomability grew out of the time that my husband, children, and I spent in Switzerland. Many ideas come during the revision process, after the first draft is written, when I begin tinkering with a scene. I’ll think, “What else is this character thinking or feeling?” and that will lead to a whole new scene, and that, in turn, will lead to other new scenes.

Are your stories based on your real life? Are the people based on people you really know?

Sometimes the characters and events are sparked by real people and events, as I’ve suggested above. The Finney family in Absolutely Normal Chaos started out like my own family (with the brothers even having the same names as my own brothers), but the characters quickly evolved and changed into fictional beings. My family took the same journey from Ohio to Idaho that Salamanca takes in Walk Two Moons, but none of the things that happen to Salamanca happened to me. We lived in the same area of Switzerland that Domenica does in Bloomability, but the characters and events in that story are fictional.

How did you become a writer? What inspired you?

This is another difficult question, and I don’t have an easy answer for it. I think that what inspired me is a love of good stories—wanting to read led naturally (it seemed) to wanting to write. I studied writing in college and in graduate school, but I also learned a lot about writing from teaching both literature and writing, when I had a chance to examine closely what makes a good story.

Do you know the whole story before you begin writing? Do you outline?

I know hardly anything about the story when I begin, and I definitely do not outline. Some writers are greatly helped by outlines, but I am not one of them. Usually I begin with just the image of a person and a place, and then I write to discover what the story is. To me, that’s so exciting: rushing to find out what the story is and what will happen and who I’ll meet along the way.

How did it feel to win the Newbery Medal?

It was a complete surprise and a major shock, and although it was exciting, it was also terrifying in the beginning. It can be unnerving to be suddenly in a spotlight. One of the best parts about Newbery-life is that you have the chance to meet so many people (students, teachers, librarians, parents, publishers, other authors) who love books of all kinds, and it renews your own excitement in writing.