Please help me welcome Joanne Levy, author of the recently-released SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE. (Bloomsbury, 2012)
I first met Joanne through her posts at The Debutante Ball, and more recently met her personally when I was invited to join the Ball as part of the class of 2013. I’ve been looking forward to reading her novel, which seventh-grade medium Lilah Bloom who discovers she can hear ghosts after being struck by lightning. My copy is in the mail (along with a second one that Joanne was kind enough to sign for my niece!) and I’ll be reading it the moment it arrives. I’m thrilled that Joanne was willing and able to join me for an interview today.
“In a fresh, frank and funny first-person voice, Lilah tells of her ghostly encounters from the perspective of a normal Jewish girl coping with abnormal powers.” -Kirkus
And now: on with the questions!
1. Where did you grow up? Will you share a favorite story from your childhood?
I grew up about 20 blocks from where I live now in Hamilton, Ontario. My neighbourhood is very close to McMaster University (which I attended) so it’s a wonderful and diverse mix of middle class families, university professors and students. And it’s home.
As for a favorite story from my childhood? Well, I was blessed with a good childhood, so there are lots of great memories and stories. But one of my fondest memories was being the in-car music captain. Since I was the youngest of four children, when we went out as a family, I had to sit in the front seat between my parents. Although I was never a fan of being squashed up front (and my brothers always seemed to have so much fun in the back seat) my concession was that I got to choose the music that got played on the Cordoba’s 8-track (am I dating myself? Yup). I had three favorites: Bob Marley & The Wailers’ Babylon by Bus, Neil Diamond’s The Jazz Singer soundtrack and the HAIR soundtrack (my parents were apparently quite liberal) and we all used to go on these long road trips and sing along. To my recollection, I never asked my parents what some of the words in “Sodomy” meant, which is kind of surprising. And pretty lucky for them, I think.
2. What inspired you to start writing?
I’ve always been a wannabe writer, but I really started writing regularly about a decade ago when I was at a job that afforded me a lot of non-working time (I’m talking long stretches of time waiting for clients) and ready access to a computer. The internet wasn’t what it is now, which is probably a good thing or I probably would have just wasted a lot of time on Twitter rather than working on writing a novel.
3. If you could go back in time and share one writing lesson with “new writer you” before starting your first manuscript … what would that be?
Don’t be in a rush and take time to learn your craft. Of course, I never would have listened, but publishing a book takes as long as it’s going to take, no matter what you do, so you may as well take your time, write the best book you can, even if that takes years, and not let yourself get crazy over the incredibly long wait times.
4. Your protagonist, Lilah Bloom, is twelve years old. What did you find most challenging about writing in such a young voice? What was the most fun aspect of creating Lilah and writing her story?
SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE was originally written as a young adult novel, so when I was asked to recast it for a younger audience (and make Lilah 12 instead of 16) I initially panicked—I had never written middle grade before and I don’t have kids, so it felt like a daunting task. But I did a lot of reading and channeled myself from that age and managed to pull it off. I had so much fun writing Lilah and this book—the greatest part was making up stuff that I knew was going to be super embarrassing for poor Lilah. This is the kind of thing that we laugh about as adults, but these things are all a VERY BIG DEAL to tweens: first crushes, developing bodies, navigating friendships etc. It was serious fun to write this book.
5. Do you have a favorite author? If so, who and why?
There are so many books I love, but I have to say Judy Blume, both for writing the books that were so influential in my childhood and because those very same books were the ones I turned to when researching the genre. Her books still hold up and are the gold standards for middle grade reads. AND she’s on Twitter, which makes it easy for me to pretend that we’re really friends. It’s on my bucket list to meet her one day.
6. What do you think makes a character interesting to a middle-grade audience? How do you make your young characters sound authentic and engaging?
I think they have to be relatable. I’ve been hearing a lot that what people like about SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE is that Lilah is a regular girl with regular problems, and the addition of one not-so-regular problem. Kids need to be able to see parts of themselves in characters and I made sure Lilah (and her friends) were the kinds of girls that tweens could relate to and would want to be friends with.
7. What is the last book you read, and why did you read it?
THE FALSE PRINCE by Jennifer Nielson. I read it because I’d heard a lot about it and a friend told me I’d love it. She was right—it was amazing, one of those books you wish you’d written yourself. It’s considered young adult, but I think it would be a great book for tweens, too. I have a huge TBR pile, but I so want to read it again and it’s haunting me from my bookshelf—the sure sign of a great book.
8. How long did it take you to write Small Medium at Large, and what did you find most interesting – and most difficult – about the process of writing the novel? How did you push yourself to get past the difficult parts?
Writing the book wasn’t a linear process because of how it was a YA first and then I rewrote it as a middle grade (and very little of the original still remains, other than the character names, the premise of a girl hit by lightning who can then hear ghosts, and the opening scene being at Lilah’s mother’s wedding). But, that said, I believe it took me about five months to write the current middle grade version. The most difficult part was probably the research I did to get the voice just right. I read a lot of middle grade books to prepare, but I was also wary of copying other authors’ voices when it came to start writing. I needed to do the research to see the parameters of middle grade, but then apply my own voice to my work. That was hard, but I really turned inward to try to channel my own voice as a 12 year old and frame that within those parameters I’d researched. People who know me tell me they can truly hear me in the book, so it seems as though I did a decent job of it.
9. What piece of advice would you most like to share with authors preparing to publish or in the process of publishing debut novels?
Remember that you can’t do everything. Push yourself outside your comfort zone (I never thought I’d Skype or tape goofy videos or ever be okay with doing public readings, but I’ve done all those things and feel better for it), but stay true to yourself and be okay saying no if it’s really something you don’t want to do. Also, book a vacation for after your launch because you’re going to need it.
10. Do you have any upcoming signings or readings?
Yes! If you’re in the Southern Ontario area, I’ll be signing at the Indigo in Burlington on August 26th at 1pm. Details: https://www.facebook.com/events/426972547341001/
And now, the speed round:
– Plotter or pantser?
– Coffee, tea, or bourbon?
Coffee in the a.m., Jasmine tea in the p.m.
– Socks or no socks?
Right now? No socks.
– Cats, dogs, or reptiles?
Cats + Dogs = happy home. Reptiles aren’t my thing. But I do have a parrot, so that might be kind of close to a reptile, in an evolutionary way.
– For dinner: Italian, Mexican, Burgers or Thai?
Depends on the mood, but right now I could definitely go for some Thai. Wait, no, a burger. With guac on it. And mozzarella. Truly, I love all food, so that was kind of an unfair question.
This was fun. Thanks so much for having me, Susan and I SO can’t wait to get my hands on CLAWS OF THE CAT!
After she’s hit by lightning at a wedding, twelve-year-old Lilah Bloom develops a new talent: she can hear dead people. Among them, there’s her over-opinionated Bubby Dora; a prissy fashion designer; and an approval-seeking clown who livens up a séance. With Bubby Dora leading the way, these and other sweetly imperfect ghosts haunt Lilah through seventh grade, and help her face her one big fear: talking to—and possibly going to the seventh-grade dance with—her crush, Andrew Finkel.
A little more about Joanne Levy:
Joanne Levy’s love of books began at a very early age. Being the youngest and the only female among four children, she was often left to her own devices and could frequently be found sitting in a quiet corner with her nose in a book.
After much teenage misadventure, Joanne eventually graduated from university and now spends her weekdays as an executive assistant at one of Canada’s big banks planning meetings and thwarting coffee emergencies. When Joanne isn’t working, she can usually be found at her computer, channeling her younger self into books.
Joanne, Thank you so much for joining me here on the blog today! It’s great to learn more about you and SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE. I can’t wait to get my hands on my copy!