Questioning AUTHORity is a weekly blog feature here at Bookish Serendipity involving—you guessed it!—YA and MG author interviews. This week’s featured author is Merrie Haskell, author of multiple MG books, including The Castle Behind Thorns. Thanks so much to Ms. Haskell for participating!
Merrie Haskell grew up half in Michigan, half in North Carolina. She works in a library with over 7 million books, and finds this to be just about the right number.
Ms. Haskell won the Schneider Family Book Award in 2014 for HANDBOOK FOR DRAGON SLAYERS, and was a finalist for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature in 2013 for THE PRINCESS CURSE. Her third book, THE CASTLE BEHIND THORNS, is a Junior Library Guild Selection. Visit her website at merriehaskell.com
Q. What inspired your latest novel, The Castle Behind Thorns?
A. There’s never any one inspiration point for a book, but I do remember when the first shot across the bow happened–I was trying to sell my then tween-age stepdaughter on reading Howl’s Moving Castle. And as I was explaining to her how much I love stories in which a protagonist is put into a filthy, ruined place and has to spend time putting it to rights, I realized–all those stories are about girls doing the putting to rights.
Why couldn’t a boy be in charge of this very female task of salvaging a home? On a practical level, I knew I needed my character to have either wood-working skills or blacksmithing skills, or possibly stone-masonry. I had been eyeing blacksmithing classes for some time, and creating a smith character gave me the chance to indulge. Learning how to do some blacksmithing created a lot of energy and ideas
Q. Can you tell us a little about the publication process of The Castle Behind Thorns? How was the experience different from when your previous books were published?
A. I had initially signed a three book contract with HarperCollins, and The Princess Curse was the only book specified in the contract. So when I started noodling on what became Handbook for Dragon Slayers and The Castle Behind Thorns (I had both of those initial ideas around the same time), it was simply a matter of asking my editor, “This is what I’ve got so far, will it work?” and being told yes.
The difference with Castle ended up being that I lost my marvelous editor at Harper, and was given a new but also marvelous editor, who challenged me to anniversary Castle with Handbook (so Castle would come out exactly a year after Handbook). So. I had been playing with the draft of Castle for a long time, and had to settle down to work and produce a finished draft in record time. And somehow, I did.
Q. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
A. My grandfather was a font of fun stories when I was a kid, and I just absolutely loved listening to him. When I finally learned to read, it was just as magical. And I remember sitting down at my little childhood desk one day after we moved away from my mom’s family when I was seven–I think this was an act born of missing my grandfather’s stories–and wrote a little story for myself about a princess and a dragon.
I remember standing up from that desk with the complete story in hand and feeling this incredible and deep sense of satisfaction. I didn’t have any real sense at that time that writing could be a career or that publication could be a goal; I just knew I wanted that feeling of satisfaction for the rest of my life.
- Q. Who are your favorite childrens’ writers? Are there any particular authors who inspire you to write?
A. Oh, I love so many writers, it would take pages and pages to list them all. I think talking about which authors inspire me to write leads to a much shorter list, however. Lots of writers leave me feeling satisfied and content when I’ve finished their work; it’s the ones who leave me with an urge to write that are in shorter supply.
Over the years, that list has included Madeleine L’Engle, Robin McKinley, Tamora Pierce, Kristin Cashore, Sharon Shinn…
- Q. What advice would you like to give to teen and aspiring writers?
A. Be so patient and kind to the world and to yourself. Give yourself time to discover the world and to learn how to write about what you see. Give the world time to discover your writing. There’s no timetable. Most of writing success is trying and persisting, and the only time I felt like I was failing was when I was failing myself when I wasn’t trying or persisting.
Write the words. Finish the stories. Seek feedback. Trust your instincts because your instincts are what makes your writer’s voice and your stories unique. Trust reader reactions because you can’t make anyone read something through your lens. Know who you’re writing for. I write to my thirteen-year-old self. She’s a great audience.
Thanks so much to Ms. Haskell for agreeing to be interviewed!