Monday, March 30, 2009
Interview with Joni Sensel
I am thrilled to bring you an author interview with Joni Sensel. She has become one of my favorite authors in months past. Her three books are Reality Leak, The Humming of Numbers, and The Farwalker's Quest.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and your journey towards becoming a published author?
I spent about a dozen years writing screenplays, with minor success, before I realized I didn’t have what it takes to make it in Hollywood and decided to start courting rejection from New York instead of Hollywood. With a professional illustrator, I won a grant and self-published two picture books— which taught me an enormous amount about the business as well as garnering an award for one title — and then I turned one of my last screenplays into a novel. That eventually sold as my first tween fantasy, Reality Leak. Screenwriting was excellent training for novels, I think.
Were there any surprises along the way on your journey to publication? What do you know now that you wish you had known then? (if anything)
Ha! I didn’t know just how much I didn’t know about research for submissions. For many years, I didn’t really understand what networking was or how it worked. And there have been any number of surprises in the publication process itself. These range from how differently books may be promoted (or not) to the fact that some people actually read my books and like them.
What do you love about writing? What do you find the easiest? What do you find the hardest?
I adore the rush of the first draft, when the story just keeps rolling into my head and down my fingers to the keyboard, that sense of being plugged into a greater and external source. Not that it’s always that easy, but boy, how I love that inspired heat when it happens, and it’s certainly the easiest part. The hardest for me has changed; I used to really dislike revisions. Now that I’ve become convinced of their value, even if revision suggestions strike me as crazy to begin with, the hardest part is usually doing challenging, labor-intensive revisions under tight deadlines. In some ways, it’s shifted from emotional and intellectual difficulty to sheer physical and imaginative difficulty.
What is a typical day-in-the-life like as a writer?
I don’t know that there is one. I have a day job, so most of my writing, revision, and book marketing time (which is not insignificant) happens in the evenings. I often will shift gears between my day job and my writing by going for a run or walk with my dog in the late afternoon. I’m usually at my best creatively between about 7 p.m. and 1 a.m., and when things are going well, may be up until 2 or 3 a.m. Sometimes I feel glued to my laptop, but I think most of us have to be a little obsessive to finish books and then revise and revise and revise them. (I suppose if it doesn’t take other writers an obsessive amount of time and energy, they’re simply faster and better than I am.)
Can you tell us anything about your current work-in-progress? Do you have any upcoming releases?
The sequel to The Farwalker’s Quest, which will probably be called The Timekeeper’s Moon, will be out this next winter. I recently finished line edits and expect copyedits in the next month or two. I have several other WIPs, all in various stages of revision. One would be the third book in my Farwalker trilogy and another is more like my first novel — a boy book, full of humor and oddities, called Sniff. It’s about a boy who wants to become a human bloodhound and who manages to help solve a mystery with his sense of smell.
What inspired you to write The Farwalker’s Quest?
The biggest conscious influence was a trip to New Zealand, where I walked in Christchurch’s botanical gardens among fabulous old trees that radiated wisdom and compassion, and then sat musing on wonderful, charismatic boulders on the lakeshore near Queenstown. The landscape seemed so alive and communicative that it was easy to imagine characters being able to understand it. I’d already been noodling a story about a girl who had a calling she wasn’t yet aware of, and those things came together during that trip.
Do you have a favorite character? A favorite scene?
Well, if forced to choose, I guess Scarl is my favorite character, probably because I’m more like him than I am like Ariel, and because he’s more flawed. My favorite scenes are when he and Ariel are in conflict, although I don’t think I can pick just one.
What was your first impression of the cover art for The Farwalker’s Quest?
To be honest, I was surprised. It was very different from what I expected — I’d sort of imagined something more graphic, maybe with an impression of a telling dart — and I was worried that the sunny mood of the original image might mislead readers into thinking they were getting a light-hearted adventure that would shock them with its darker edges. (I really love some of the illustrator’s other work, but most of it is too dark and creepy for a middle-grade novel — even mine!) But the folks at Bloomsbury took that concern into consideration and darkened the image to make it more moody, and everyone seems to react positively to it, so I’m happy. I like the sketches I’ve seen for the cover of the next book even better.
What inspired you to write The Humming of Numbers?
Long-standing interests in synesthesia and illumination, with the catalyst of a trip to Dublin (sense a theme here?). Seeing the Book of Kells and the stunning Long Room in Trinity College Library were spiritual experiences for me. They sparked a desire to write a story grounded in those feelings of reverence, artistry, and awe. Almost exactly a year later, I was sitting in my hot tub late one night, being tickled by an idea — the ability to hear numerical auras. Abruptly Aidan introduced himself and offered to take on that story.
Do you have a favorite character? A favorite scene?
Aidan is my favorite in that story. My favorite scene, without giving too much away, is probably the one near the end where he realizes he’s not going to get everything he wants and must choose between illumination and Lana.
What was your first impression of the cover art for The Humming of Numbers?
Loved it. Again, it was nothing like what I had in my head, but was far more original, artistic, and dramatic than anything I could have imagined. I had art director Laurent Linn sign a copy for me when I met him (lucky me!)
How do you find the time--do you find the time--to keep reading? Do you have any favorites of the year?
It’s hard, and I probably “read” more on audio in the car than I do on paper, but I try. I’m usually about a year behind on current YA. My recent favorites? Hmm. Although I also read adult books, I still might have to say M.T. Anderson’s FEED, GOOSE GIRL by Shannon Hale, or THE WHITE DARKNESS by Geraldine McCaughrean.
What do you love about children’s books? What has kept you hooked?
I’m a bit of a cynic about adults; I don’t think most of us change much, so I have a hard time believing most character arcs in adult novels. But young people are still being changed radically by their experiences, and I like to write about those formative events and their impact on who we are. And I think they’re hopeful to read about, too, because people who can still change are the people who will create change.
If you had twenty-four hours, a time machine, and a limitless supply of money, what would you want to do?
Wow, that’s a hard one! If I was feeling brave and optimistic, I’d probably go 100 or 200 years into the future to see if I could recognize anything and what life was like. If I was feeling less courageous, I’d go back to watch Shakespeare work in the Globe on one of his plays, preferably The Tempest.
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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