Monday, November 26, 2007

Becky Interviews Sara Lewis Holmes

Here is my interview with Sara Lewis Holmes, the author of Letters From Rapunzel. She is graciously sharing a photo of herself as a child. You may visit her official site or blog. She is also a regular contributor to Poetry Friday. I especially loved one of her recent poems, "Credo." You can read the first portion (letter) of Letters From Rapunzel online. Here are some blog reviews: Jen Robinson, Reading YA: Readers' Rants, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Here's what I wrote in my review:
When "Rapunzel" finds a scrap of a letter in her father's chair addressed to "Box # 5667", she begins an unusual correspondence with one of her father's inspirational muses. Her father, a poet, has been hospitalized with clinical depression. Rapunzel, however, is too young to really understand that diagnosis. All she knows is that her father is under an evil spell. She hopes by writing her father's friend--his poetic guide--that she will somehow break the spell. That she will be rescued from her tower--the horribly yucky after-school Homework Club. And that her father will be rescued from his tower--the hospital. (Or clinic, or institution--I can't remember if the book was too specific in saying where the father was being kept).

Who is Box #5667? A mystery that won't be solved until the final chapters. I certainly won't tell--or even hint. But the correspondence isn't so much about "Box #5667" as it is about a young girl's inner thought life. Her joys. Her concerns. Her worries. She can be funny. She can be entertaining. But she can also be quite serious. She wants to do anything and everything she can to help her father. But there is nothing she can do. School and the homework club are just two of her troubles. Homework--so isn't fun. Teachers--so don't understand her sense of humor. Classmates--don't understand where she's coming from.

Letters from Rapunzel is a truly enjoyable read. The characters are well-written, and the story is heartfelt.
What do you love about being a writer? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do?

I love playing with words, wrestling with Big Questions, and being able to work in my pajamas. Also, I can justify reading children’s books as part of my job. I talked about being a writer in high school, but I loved science and theater and other things too, so I didn’t pursue fiction writing until much later.

How long did it take for you to write Letters From Rapunzel? What was your inspiration? What kept you going through the years?

Letters From Rapunzel first appeared as a scribbled book title idea in my journal of June 1997. There’s a brief note to myself that reads: “Letters From Prison: A Princess Writes From Her Tower. Could this be a fractured version of Rapunzel?” (No, as it turned out, because Rapunzel became a real girl, not a fairy tale character.) There was also this picture, which says so much about what the book would eventually become, especially that mailbox!

What has been the most surprising thing about your journey to publication?

Winning the HarperCollins Ursula Nordstrom fiction contest was a complete surprise. I absolutely didn’t expect to win. The most I had hoped for was to have an editor read my work, and jot something encouraging in the margin, like a smiley face.

What do you hope readers will walk away with after reading your book?

I want them to know that rescuing yourself is hard work. I want them not to be afraid if someone they love is coping with something that can’t be easily solved. And I want them to hold onto every story that helps them do either of these. I also hope they laugh, and share the bits they like with their friends.

Does award-season (best-of lists, awards, etc) make you nervous or excited as a writer?

Only a teeny, tiny bit. There’s not much I can do about any of that, so I’m more apt to get nervous or excited over a school presentation or an interview or anything that I’m currently creating.

How excited were you to find out that your book, Letters From Rapunzel, had been nominated for the Cybils?

Well, I was thinking of paying my brother a quarter to submit my name, and then I didn’t have to, because someone I don’t know nominated me! (Saved me a quarter, too.)

Who has been your biggest supporter?

My husband, no contest. Not only does he shamelessly promote my book to everyone he meets, but he’s the one who disagreed with me when I thought I should put Letters From Rapunzel in a desk drawer and count it as my “first failed novel.” He told me that “someone out there really needs this story,” and he laughed and cried every time he read it. That convinced me.

Can you tell us anything about your work in progress? Will it be another novel? Or will it be poetry?

My work in progress is another middle grade novel, which was inspired by the quote: “Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a great battle.” It’s about theater, and military kids, and knowing who and where you are. I’m also working on some poetry in the form of picture book manuscripts.

What do you love about blogging?

The connection to the wider world. New friends. Being able to shout about the good things I find. Immediate feedback. It’s kind of like performing in that way.

Do you think it is important for authors to have a presence on the internet?

Only if an author truly wants to. But I’m always glad when an author I love has a website or a blog. How else would I ever get to meet them?

This one is for you both as a reader and an author. Do you write fan letters to authors you admire? And have you received any fan letters from readers? How important do you think it is for readers and authors to connect with one another?

I wrote a blog post to Connie Willis for Tell An Author You Care Day. But I think my choosing to be a writer is, in a way, my “fan letter” to my favorite authors growing up.

I have received a few fan letters, mostly via email or through my web site. Here’s one. And once, my aunt, who was a teacher at the time, had her class write letters to me after they read my short story “A Tale of Quiet” in Cricket magazine. I think I got 25 letters, and I answered all of them. They were so important to me.

Growing up, what were your favorite books? Which ones have stayed with you and made a lasting impression? Which ones still give you warm fuzzies?

Lloyd Alexander’s five books in the Prydain Chronicles were (and still are) my favorites. My dad read them aloud to me, and I read them aloud to my kids, and I adore them with a white-hot passion. They are so full of wisdom, sorrow, joy, humor, and the most beautifully unadorned writing I’ve ever read. Plus, it helps that I’m part Welsh, and they’re based on Welsh mythology. I also loved The Phantom Tollbooth, the Anne of Green Gables series, Enchantress from the Stars, Nancy Drew, the Narnia books, Half Magic, Harriet the Spy, The Great Brain, books about magic tricks and all the Andrew Lang fairy tale collections.

Did you have a favorite time and place to read?

I always read while I eat lunch, or at any meal where it wouldn’t be rude. And I like reading whenever I’m on a train, and outside on my deck. If I had a deep windowsill, I’d read there. I used to like to read upside-down.

In your opinion, what makes a book a classic?

The ones that stay with you long after you’ve put them down. These are not necessarily perfect books. That surprised me, when I started trying to read more “classics.” There were plenty of flaws, if you looked, or if you were just sensitive to them because you’re aware of the craft. But books don’t have to be perfectly written to be classics. They have to be perfectly LOVED.

If you had twenty-four hours, a time machine, and a limitless supply of money, what would you want to do?

I’d like to hold my children as babies one more time. And I’d like to tell my niece’s family about her cancer early enough that they could have defeated it long before now. And I’d like to meet Shakespeare. None of those would cost money, so I’d use the pile of cash to buy a killer pair of shoes and give the rest (anonymously) to every school library in the country to buy books kids want to read.


Erin said...

Oh, fabulous interview! Sara's next book sounds GREAT. I can't wait. (and yay for another wants-to-meet-Shakespeare person!)

Jen Robinson said...

I'm with Erin, looking forward to Sara's next book. Thanks for a great interview!

Anonymous said...

I still think a smiley in the margins would be nice every so often, don't you? Great interview, guys...

Anonymous said...

"I’m also working on some poetry in the form of picture book manuscripts."

Pumping my arms in the air in excitement!

Thanks for the great interview!

Vivian Mahoney said...

Great interview! Why does it not surprise me that Sara won the HarperCollins Ursula Nordstrom Fiction Contest? That is so awesome.

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