Interview by Magdalena Ball
How did the book come about?
A couple of years ago I wrote an article on how to start a book club, so I thought: “You know, if I modify this and expand it, this could make a great little chapbook for tweens.” So I approached my publisher, Lida Quillen of Twilight Times Books (she had already published two other books of mine), with the idea, and she decided to offer me a contract based on the table of contents and the first chapter.
Since I had that article I had already written as base, the book didn’t take too long too write. I’d say about two to three weeks.
How to Turn Your Book Club into a Spectacular Event is a short, practical guide on how to start and manage a book club from start to end. It is aimed at girls from 9 to 12 years old.
Are book clubs on the ascendency in general?
I don’t have actual numbers, but most libraries I know of hold book club meetings and summer reading programs for children, and with the rise of ebook and ebook device sales, online book clubs certainly appear to be on the rise. Even Facebook has an application where members get to list books they’ve read or are reading. Then there’s the Twitter Book Club (http://twitter.com/thebookclub) and book communities such as Library Thing, Good Reads and Shelfari.
There are various sites that host book clubs for kids, such as Tea Party Guide (http://www.tea-party-guide.com/childrens-book-club.html) and KidsReads (http://www.kidsreads.com/clubs).
In my book, however, I focused on how to start a local club among friends.
How can a book club (especially one that’s a spectacular event) benefit young girls?
Besides promoting a love of books and reading, it helps develop social and leadership skills as members get to plan, coordinate and organize the meetings. It also sharpens perception and language skills as girls reflect on what they like and dislike about a book and express their ideas out loud in a group environment. Speaking, just like reading and writing skills, is part of literacy. Reading is usually a lonely activity, but book clubs turn the solitary act of reading into a social event. According to recent studies conducted by the Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University, extracurricular activities during the summer, such as reading and taking part in book clubs, actually can help kids score higher in reading tests and general academic skills overall. Also, girls get to enjoy a book purely for the pleasure of it, without having to worry about being tested on the subject, as is the case with required reading at school.
How can parents support this process (other than buying your book!)?
Parents should do a bit of research and find out about book clubs in their area. Most libraries offer summer reading programs for children. They should visit or call their local library for more information.
If kids want to start an independent book club in their own home, then by all means they should encourage and help them. Parents can help by providing the books and also by allowing the kids to hold the club meetings at home. Also, there’s nothing like encouragement. Cheering the kids and praising them for their wish to create a book club is also important.
This isn’t the first book you’ve written for middle grade readers. Why does this age group appeal to you as a writer?
Actually, I also wrote a novel for middle graders, but it hasn’t been published yet. I’m doing a last round of editing and polishing before I submit it to a few publishers. So this is, in fact, my first published book for middle-grade readers.
I love writing for middle graders because I can dwell deeper into characters and have a fairly complex plot while still being able to get away with over-the-top situations that wouldn’t work in the case of adult novels.
As far as nonfiction goes, writing for this age group appeals to me because of the simplicity of the language that is required. The writing must be uncomplicated and clear. I also like the idea that I’m encouraging kids to learn something beneficial for their growth, development and character.
Your work is very cross-functional – children’s books, nonfiction for adults, nonfiction for young adults – what inspires your work? Is there a genre which comes most naturally to you?
I’m ADHD when it comes to writing. I’m all over. If something inspires me, I’ll go for it. It’s usually the characters or the stories that choose me and not the other way around. So I don’t have much saying in the matter. This, of course, makes it harder to brand myself, but my main priority as a writer is to create the best books that I can. Creativity comes before marketing. That’s not to say that marketing isn’t a priority. It is, but it comes second.
Your daughter wrote a book – tell me more about that.
It was a wonderful experience! One summer I turned the kitchen into a workshop for a whole week and taught her how to write and illustrate her own book. I actually wrote an article on the subject. You can read it here: http://blogcritics.org/books/article/my-nine-year-old-daughter-the
We have done signings together at Christmas fairs. It’s a lot of fun!
Talk to me about some of your other projects.
If you’re referring to my works in progress, I’m currently working on multiple projects.
One is a young adult supernatural (ghost) novel set in a convent in the 1970’s. This is my main writing project at the moment. I’m about 60% done.
Then I have two nonfiction middle-grade books on the works. One of them is already contracted by Twilight Times Books.
Apart from these, I’m always working on a new picture book. I also have ideas for two nonfiction ebooks. If only there were more hours in a day!
What’s next for you?
I have another picture book coming out this December: Frederico the Mouse Violinist. It’s a concept book that teaches kids the parts of the violin, but it is also a sweet story about a little mouse who lives in Antonio Stradivari’s workshop and who wants to play the violin. Readers can find out more about it on my website, www.mayrassecretbookcase.com.
I have about 6 more picture books coming out within the next two years, and I also have a completed middle grade novel circulating editors’ desks.
Finally, my vampire suspense novel, Embraced by the Shadows, will be released in print by Twilight Times Books pretty soon—hopefully in time for Valentine’s!