WPP Author Interview: Anne Ursu
Anne Ursu is the author of Breadcrumbs. Her next book, The Real Boy, will be published this fall by Walden Pond Press.
For a chance to win a signed copy of Breadcrumbs, follow the instructions at the bottom of the post. We have a winner!
Tell us a little bit about the book(s) you published with Walden.
Anne Ursu: My first book with Walden, Breadcrumbs, came out in 2011. The book is a contemporary retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” featuring Hazel, a Minneapolis fifth grader, whose best friend Jack changes overnight and then disappears. The original fairy tale seemed to me to be about how friendships change as you grow up, and I wanted to explore that idea with contemporary kids. And, as a Minnesota girl, writing about snow comes very naturally for me.
What brought you to Walden Pond Press?
AU: Editor stalking. When I worked with WPP editor Jordan Brown at another publisher, I decided he was the editor I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. When he went to Walden, I planned to follow him as soon as I had a new book to sell. And the prospect of an imprint devoted to middle grade was very exciting. We’ve been hearing a lot about young adult literature in the past decade, particularly as adults have started reading those books, so it’s wonderful to be with a place that values and celebrates books for young readers. Nobody loves a book like a kid loves a book—and at this age books really have formative power.
What are middle grade books, to you, and why do you write for this age level?
AU: Kids this age are figuring out what the world is. It’s getting bigger and bigger to them every day, and these years are the time when kids start to really apprehend the world in all its magnitude and complexity. This is the subject of middle grade literature—kids facing the world and finding in themselves the strength to navigate and master it.
I love these readers. They are open to anything, as long as it’s a good story. They understand the value of magic, they implicitly get the nature of metaphor, and they understand the difference between something being true and something being real. There’s a lot of freedom in writing for kids. Adults have so many preconceived notions of what stories can and should do. Kids don’t care if you play with structure or narration or bend reality—as long as the story holds up, they’ll go with you.
How did your experiences growing up influence your writing?
AU: I read all the time as a kid. These books helped shape me, and I think I’m writing entirely because of them. A friend just sent me this wonderful quote from Joe Hill, Steven King’s son: “Michael Chabon says all fiction is fan fiction — that every writer, when they set out to write a book, sort of has these other books in their head that they adore, and they want their book to make people feel that way.” I can’t find a better way to express it—I’m writing fan fiction because I want to make kids feel the way that Betsy Byers, Judy Blume, Madeline L’Engle, and Maud Hart Lovelace made me feel. It’s a tough standard, so I keep writing.
What is the most challenging part of writing for children?
AU: Writing something worthy of your audience. Everything has to be good, and tight—you can’t be self-indulgent because you’ll lose your reader. Nothing in this is about you, it’s all about building a book a reader can have a relationship with. And to forge this relationship, you must have good characters and a good story. And it’s incumbent on you to always try to be better.
What were your favorite books as a kid?
AU: I was a big Anne of Green Gables fan, as is the wont of most Anne-with-an-e’s. I loved The Phantom Tollbooth, The Westing Game, and all things E.L. Koningsburg. I also really liked books with a hint of magic in them—Lois Duncan’s A Gift of Magic was a particular favorite, as was The Girl with the Silver Eyes.
Do you visit schools to speak about your books? Do you Skype with classrooms? Where can interested parties find more information about setting up a visit with you?
AU: I do! I particularly love Skyping—as a single mom of a young child I can’t travel, so it’s a wonderful way to talk to readers I couldn’t have access to otherwise. I do free 20 minute Skype visits for groups that have read or are reading the book—anyone interested can contact me through my website.
What are you working on next?
AU: My next book is called The Real Boy, and it will be out in the fall. It was a challenge, because it’s my first straight fantasy, with no real world characters or elements. I couldn’t write about snow, so I compromised by putting in a lot of cats. Write what you know.
We’re giving away a signed copy of Anne Ursu’s Breadcrumbs. To enter, tweet @WaldenMedia with the name of your favorite childhood book, and tag it #Breadcrumbs. Winner will be chosen at random. No purchase necessary; must be a U.S. resident 18 or older to enter. Void where prohibited. Update: we have a winner, but we encourage you to keep tweeting us your favorite books from childhood–or about anything else that’s on your mind–as we love hearing from you!