I’m an adult and a huge fan of Breadcrumbs. I’m really interested in learning what was the inspiration for THE REAL BOY?
The inspiration was actually a play. I saw a marionette production of The Sorcerer's Apprentice and while I was watching it, this whole world unfolded for me. By the time I walked out I had the basic details of the story worked out. I was a little scared of it, but I couldn't stop thinking about it.
There is magic and wizards in THE REAL BOY. How much of that did you take from folklore and how much of it did you come up with?
Magic is really tricky. Every time a reader picks up a book with magic in it, the author has to subtly teach the reader how magic works in the world--what can it do? How is it transmitted/used? And I find "magic" such a nebulous idea that I really need figure out how it works pretty specifically. (Even if, as in Breadcrumbs, the rule is that it's ruleless.) When you're writing magic and wizards you're informed by the ideas of all the literature you've read, but you also need to make it specific to your book. I decided the magic was a resource, essentially--it was in the earth around the wizard trees. The ability to use it is a talent. This all exists in the folklore somewhere, but I didn't take from anything specifically. I just wanted to make it work for the book.
How does Oscar deal with both positive and not so great relationships in his life?
At the beginning of the book, Oscar has spent most of his life with two people; the magician Caleb, and Wolf. The way they treat him form his entire experience of people, and so the very best Caleb has ever given him is the very best that he knows is possible. While Caleb is not cruel and can be nice when it serves him, he's inattentive; meanwhile Wolf has spent years telling him he's not worth anything. Part of Oscar's journey is to learn that it's okay to expect things from people. He forms a friendship with the healer's apprentice after she does the first genuinely kind thing anyone has ever done to him; he had no reason to know kindness even existed.
Can you tell us a little about Oscar and how you hope readers will relate to him?
Oscar has a feeling that he doesn't quite fit in the world--when he goes out in the marketplace he feels like everyone else knows rules that no one's ever bothered to tell him. He spends his days in the cellar of Master Caleb's shop preparing herbs with the magician's cats to keep him company, and he's perfectly happy there. It's when he goes upstairs that he has problems.
I wrote the book intending that Oscar would have Asperger's-like qualities (whether out of something innate or of his experiences.) This was the whole inspiration for the book and the world for me. My six-year-old son has Asperger's and I wanted to convey something about what it feels like to have Asperger's, and I wanted a book where a kid like him got to be a hero.
But it was also really important to me that Oscar had a lot more to him than the Asperger's, like any child, and I hope that readers will connect with him because of the kid he is.
Who is the perfect audience for THE REAL BOY?
When I'm writing a book, I don't really write with a certain audience in mind. I think the task of middle grade fiction is to write books with stories that concern the kids of that age. After that your job is to just give that reader as much respect as you can and try to make the book the best you can. In other words, if you like the book, then you are the perfect audience for it!
I think your books are books that both kids and adults can enjoy. Do you think fans will be surprised by THE REAL BOY?
I appreciate that. THE REAL BOY is a departure for me--my other books take kids from this world (Minneapolis, to be specific) and put them in another world. It's the first time I've written a wholly magical world. That might be surprising. It was certainly a surprise to me!
What is the best part about writing books for kids?
Kids are such open-minded readers. This allows so much room for the writer--you can play with narration, structure, fantastical elements, anything you want because the kids are happy to go with you as long as they are enjoying the story. You can use so many more tools to craft your story, and I love that. And I love meeting and talking to kids.
Do you have any ideas about future projects?
Alas. Not yet. I need a good puppet show.
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Walden Pond Press is also hosting a Facebook sweepstakes in celebration of THE REAL BOY giving away $300 worth of books. Find out more here: https://www.facebook.com/WaldenPondPress/app_392505194102704 Make sure to visit all the other stops on the blog tour.