March 24, 2009
Interview with Ann Haywood Leal
Ann Haywood Leal is another member of the Class of 2k9. Her book is ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER, which tells of a girl and her family, who are evicted after her father leaves. But she's still got her own dreams of being a poet to worry about. It looks like a great book by a fun author!
1. What's it like to be a debut author? What did you not expect about the publishing process?
It has been very exciting to be a debut author. Most everything I encounter along the publication path is a new adventure. The unexpected can be a little scary sometimes. I am lucky to have a wonderful agent and editor who are great about answering all of my questions along the way. Belonging to the Class of 2k9 debut authors has also been invaluable to me, because there are 22 of us going through many of the same things at virtually the same time.
2. ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER is the story of Harper and deals with her family's eviction. Was the humor in the story hard to write or did it come naturally? Somewhere in between the extremes?
I sprinkled some humor in the story because Harper is in such a tough situation. I felt as if the reader needed some relief in places. I was raised in a family with a non-stop sense of humor, so I guess you could say it comes naturally for me. Like Harper, I believe in looking for humor and hope in all situations.
3. Both Harper and her brother are named after writers. How did you decide which writers?
Harper is a name that means a lot to me; I admire the author of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD so much. It's my favorite book, so I decided to make it Harper's mama's favorite book. I have a friend who passed away a few years ago. She wanted to give something special to our local community before she died, so she started an organization to deliver home-cooked meals to people with AIDS. She named it A MOVABLE FEAST after her favorite author Ernest Hemingway. I used that name in my story as a sort of tribute to her.
Were they ever named anything different?
No. The names were there from the book's beginning.
How did you choose other characters' names?
I'm honestly not sure. I am always on the lookout for unusual names. I carry a notebook with me wherever I go; if I hear a good name, I jot it down. I probably shouldn't admit it, but I got part of a name for one of my characters in my work-in-progress from an obituary!
4. What inspired the setting of the novel?
I have always been drawn to places that are worn and decrepit. They have such story potential. They make me wonder about all of the people who have lived there. I was out on a run one day and I happened upon a vacant lot. The house had been torn down and all that was left were broken-up pieces of concrete from the patio and a filthy swimming pool half-filled with rain water. I went back later with my camera and that swimming pool made its way into Harper's world.
5. On the about me of your website, you list things you collect. I can't resist collecting things either. How did you get into it? Why were certain objects the right thing for you to collect?
My husband is just the opposite of me as far as that is concerned, so I'm sure he'd love to bring in a Dumpster! One of the things I love most to collect are dishes from the 50s and 60s. Most were my mother's so they have a nice sentimental value for me. A few years after she died, my dad sold the house where I grew up. I found her dishes up in the attic. They gave me a nostalgic feeling and I started looking for more to fill in the collection. Books, of course are my other great love. I have a set of DICK AND JANE readers that are really fun. They are just like the ones my first grade teacher used. I also have some books that belonged to my grandmother and books that I saved from my childhood. I have some NANCY DREW books from the 1930s.
6. What is your favorite hobby?
I love running and Karate. I am training for my second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.
How does it help you most?
Both help me reduce my everyday stress. They also make me stronger, physically, which I think increases my mental strength and confidence. Running helps me get my creativity flowing. I get some of my best ideas when I'm running. Sometimes if I'm stuck or have a plot problem when I'm writing, I'll go out for a run and things almost always seem to fall into place!
7. How removed is ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER from your first draft?
The story, as a whole. really didn't change that much, but my agent and my editor knew all of the right questions to ask that made it so much better in the final drafts.
Do you like to revise the existing manuscript or rewrite the story from paragraph one?
I really like to revise the existing manuscript. Rewriting the story from the first paragraph is way too overwhelming for me. Sometimes I take it a character at a time, to be sure that my characters are well enough developed. Other times, I take it chapter by chapter.
8. What authors do you look up to?
First would have to be Patricia Reilly Giff. She is a beautiful writer who is incredibly generous with her time and knowledge. She is constantly reaching out to new writers to share what she knows. I also admire Judy Blume. She was willing to take risks during a time when there weren't that many edgy books out there. In terms of legends, I would have to say I greatly admire Roald Dahl. I think he was one of the best storytellers ever. His ability to capture the best and the worst of humanity was phenomenal. And of course I have to say Harper Lee. People always talk about writing the great American novel. I think she definitely did that with TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.
How have the books you read influenced your life?
Wow. That's a tough question! I guess I could say that books have influenced my life ever since I can remember. I associate different books with every part of my life growing up and as an adult. Both my mom and dad read to me everyday. I think when you read a great book or experience a memorable character, they become a part of who you are. I started out with the silly characters of Dr. Suess when I was young, and I moved on to Nancy Drew and the amazing characters in FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER. Who didn't want to run away and sleep in a museum after reading that book? And who didn't wish for a candy factory after reading Roald Dahl? When I discovered the books of John Steinbeck in high school, I saw how a writer creates a really wonderful character. I think my writing and the books I chose to read changed for the better after reading his books.
9. I envy that you've been to Ireland. Why did you go?
Ireland was definitely one of the most memorable places I've ever been. It is so beautiful and life seems to be less rushed there. People have more time for each other. The first time I went with my family and with my cousins. My grandfather was from County Mayo and I had always wanted to see my Irish relatives who still lived there. It was an incredible experience to see what was left of my grandfather's stone house. My mom's cousin had a sheep farm just up the road. He made us feel so welcome. It was fun to hear him calling to his sheep dog in Gaelic. The area is very undeveloped and I loved the idea that I was probably seeing a lot of things in much the same way that my grandfather saw them.
What other places have you been?
I've lived in all four corners of the United States. I'm from the Seattle area, I now live in Connecticut, and I've also lived in Los Angeles and briefly in Florida.
10. Name one person without whom ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER would not have existed and why you chose to recognize him or her.
Okay, I'm going to cheat here and name four people! ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER would never have existed without my mom and dad. I started writing stories when I was about four or five. My parents always had time to read what I had written and they always made a big deal about them and encouraged me to keep going. My amazing agent at Writers House, Dan Lazar, took a chance on me and has an uncanny eye for detail. Reka Simonsen, my wonderful editor at Henry Holt, loved Harper from the beginning. She has a gentle way about her, but she asked all the right questions that made me dig deeper to bring out the best in the book.
Nancy Drew! I read so many of those, in so many of the lines; I even have some that were my mom's. And here's a book ya'll can own: an ARC of ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER (plus a study guide). The cover art is different from the final and very cute. (And you won't be able to buy this one until May 26th!)
Follow the rules! And remember today is the last day to enter the first half contests.