Daily Archives: September 2, 2010

Interview With Claudia Mills!!!!

Hey! Kyra here.

I am SOOO excited to finally interview Claudia Mills! Since I was 11, I’ve been obsessed with her books. She’s one of my favorite writers. If you guys haven’t read anything by her, go to your library and rent her books. Now! {ok, after you read the interview go to the library 😉 } I’ve rarely been able to talk to her in person because I’ve always been too starstruck, but I do know that she is also one of the nicest, most humble writers I’ve met in a long time!
I hope you guys enjoy this interview.

Please tell us of your newest book that’s being released.

It’s called One Square Inch, out on September 14 from FSG.

I came to the idea for the book because when my husband was growing up in the 1950s, he participated in the marketing frenzy created by Quaker Oats, offering in every box of cereal a deed to one square inch of the Yukon, a tie-in the popular radio program, “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.”  When he first showed his deeds to me, I thought nothing could be more magical than having a claim to such a tiny piece of land, one’s own square inch, with all its possibilities. I knew I wanted to write a book about this someday.

I knew it would be about a boy and his sister who escape from something difficult in their lives by creating an imaginary world in their one square inch, but I didn’t yet know the source of their need to escape.  Finally, some twenty years later, my own life was tragically touched by an encounter with mental illness.  Then I knew that Cooper and Carly would be trying to create a refuge from their mother’s bipolar disorder, and that they would discover that the only safe place anyone can ever find is the one we create for ourselves within.

What’s the coolest thing to ever happen to you because you are a writer?

This is sort of sick and shallow, but I do love fame, well, the little teensy moments of fame that come my way as a writer (it’s not a coincidence that some of my characters, like Dinah in my Dinah books, are narcissists.)  So the coolest thing to happen to me because I’m a writer is that once, when I visited a school in Tampa, Florida, a classroom teacher asked me to touch a big bunch of pencils so she could give one to every kid in her class and tell them they had been touched by me.  I also once had a school hot-lunch menu named in my honor: Gus and Grandpa chicken nuggets, Phoebe’s fries….

If you could change one thing about your writing life, what would it be?

I would like to be able to write better books.  I have taken classes and workshops, read and studied, revised and revised.  But my books are never as good as I would like them to be.  I would like to be able to write one book that I would truly love.

I hear you just got an agent, but you haven’t had him for long time. Why did you decide to get representation? Who is your agent (wink, wink)? How has he helped you so far?

I worked with the same editor for 29 years, which is almost unheard of in the publishing world nowadays: Beverly Reingold, at FSG.  When she lost her job two years ago, the brilliant head editor at FSG, Margaret Ferguson, was kind enough to keep me on, but I knew I’d never feel secure again in the same way, as when I had my Beverly and she had me.  So it seemed like a chance to develop my career in a new direction and to explore the possibility of publishing with more than one house.

I had met Stephen Fraser at the BYU conference a couple of years ago.  In fact, the best moment of any BYU conference, ever, was when Carol and Cheri sang “Secret Agent Man” to Steve as he ran down the long aisle to the podium and then had to stand there literally begging them to stop: “Please . . . . please . . .  please.”  He represents some of the best writers in the whole world – including Carol – so I was thrilled when he agreed to represent me.  So far he has sold a three-book series to Nancy Hinkel at Knopf/Random House, whom I also met at a BYU conference.  Even more than that, it is wonderful to have someone in my writing life who is unfailingly kind, encouraging, and supportive.

You write several different genres. What’s your favorite and why?

I’ve sort of lost my grip on what “genre” is.  I don’t really write in different “genres” – if by genre we mean mystery, historical fiction, fantasy.  All of my books are realistic fiction.  I’ve written in a lot of different formats, though: picture book, easy reader, chapter book, middle grade novel.  Right now, chapter books are my favorite.  I love love love the pacing: those short peppy chapters that force me to deliver a series of well-crafted scenes without a lot of talky filler in between.  (As a philosophy professor in my day job, I have a weakness for talky filler that needs to be sternly disciplined.)

Have you ever tried to write a YA novel? What happened?

Not really.  I’ve written about kids as old as eighth grade (Makeovers by Marcia), but that was a continuation of a series that began when the characters were in sixth grade.  I don’t have a teen-aged voice in my head.  I have a ten-year-old voice in my head.  I can stretch things so that the voice is eight, or twelve, but not sixteen, I don’t think.

What are your top three favorite books right now?
I have to confess that I still love above all the same books I loved when I was a child, especially the Betsy-Tacy books of Maud Hart Lovelace.  I consider Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown to be the finest novel in the English language, and it was a joy to me to be able to attend a Betsy-Tacy conference in Mankato, MN (the setting for the books) last summer with my sister.  But I love lots of recent titles as well.  I love every single book of Carol’s: much as I was shaken to the core and absolutely awestruck by The Chosen One and Glimpse, I don’t love them any better than I love some of her earlier, sweet, hilariously funny books, like A Mother to Embarrass Me and My Angelica, which have some of the funniest scenes I have ever read.  I loved Ann’s This Is What I Did – amazing inimitable voice, amazing mastery of “the art of the slow reveal.”  I loved this year’s Newbery winner, When You Reach Me, the first Newbery medal title that I have loved in a decade.


What made you decide to be a writer?

When I was six years old, my mother gave me one of those black marble composition books and told me that it was to be my poetry book.  I had never yet written a poem, but now I had a reason to begin.  The only thing I have ever wanted to be was a writer, except for a brief period where I wanted to run an orphanage with a billion children in it, and another brief period when I wanted to be president of the United States.

How do you balance being a writer and teaching full-time?

I find that I can only write for a relatively short period each day – my goal is to write for an hour a day, or a page a day, whichever comes first.  A page a day sounds like nothing, but it adds up to 365 pages a year, far more pages than are in a 50-page chapter book or a 150-page middle-grade novel.  Once I had the chance to spend two glorious weeks as writer-in-residence at the Hollins University graduate program in children’s literature.  I found that even when I had all day to write, I still felt written out after my hour.  So I might as well find something else useful to do during the rest of my day.

In balancing writing with the demands of my job, it helps to remind myself that I don’t need to be good at everything at my job.  There are some things I’m excellent at: I can truly boast that I’m a wonderful mentor to students, especially to graduate students who are stuck/blocked in writing their dissertations (it took me twelve years to write mine, while seeing a therapist who specialized in helping stuck/blocked graduate students finish their dissertations).  But I’m a lackluster scholar, and I can never think of brilliant, devastating questions to ask at our departmental colloquium talks; I used to just sit there during the talks feeling ashamed that I couldn’t think of any brilliant, devastating questions, but then I figured out that I could just not go to the talks at all, which has freed up considerable time in my afternoons.

We hear you’re coming back to the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference next year. Why do you keep coming back?

I have loved my students at BYU – I was thrilled when one of them, Sydney Salter, became a well-published author: see, universe, I told you so!  And I love hanging out for a week with the rest of the faculty.  But the main reason I keep coming back is for the same reason everyone else does: to see Carol and Cheri’s big song-and-dance number.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

I have identified what I call “the four pillars of happiness”: four activities that make every day a good day – writing, reading, walking, and spending time with friends.

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Writing Challenge: An intense argument via TEXT

Try it.

Two teens. Arguing. Text messages. Ready set go!

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