Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Author Interview: Melanie Crowder

by Cordelia Jensen

Hi Melanie! We are honored to feature you here and to be a part of your blog tour. 

Hi Cordelia! Thanks for having me at the Big Blue Marble blog!

Can you tell us a little bit about your debut novel PARCHED?

PARCHED is a middle grade novel about a boy (Musa), a girl (Sarel) and her dog (Nandi) struggling to survive in a dangerous and drought-scarred land.

PARCHED is told from 3 different points of view. For me, this worked very well as a way to create tension in your book.

Thank you!

As a reader, I so wanted these characters to tell their secrets to each other! Which characters voice came to you first? Which one was hardest to write? Easiest?

The first voice I heard was Sarel's, and hers was also the most difficult to write. She doesn’t say much; at the beginning of the story, she is crippled by grief and incapable of trusting anyone but Nandi. In my mind, Sarel’s story was wrought with tension, but I really struggled to bring her intense emotions to the page in a way that spoke to the reader while remaining true to the sparse quality of the prose.

Nandi’s world is immediate and stark; so her voice, naturally, is in present tense. I knew she was the only one wise enough and strong enough to describe the opening scene. Her chapters are sensory and visceral, and believe it or not, they were the easiest to write. Nothing but the absolute essentials could make it in.

I didn’t get to know Musa until several chapters into my first draft. I sensed that there was a boy, alone and hurt, waiting to be drawn into the story. But it took me awhile to discover who he was and how he had come to be in such a desperate place. Musa is so vulnerable, but he hasn’t quite lost that childlike openness and hope, so he provides the perfect counterpoint to Sarel’s stricken and shuttered state.

What is your writing process like? Do you write a whole draft and then revise or revise as you go? What about in the case of multiple narrators? Did you do a revision just for Sarel or Musa or Nandi or revise all at once?

Oh, I did so many different revisions in so many different ways! Yes, I did at least one revision where I focused exclusively on each character. But I did others to track emotions, or to trim the dialogue, I even did an entire revision to examine the passing of time as marked by changes in the weather, plant life, and the phases of the moon. Most often, however, I revised by adding exposition or emotion that the story needed, and then going over and over the passage to pare it down to the absolute essentials.

My writing process differs with different projects, but for PARCHED, I definitely revised as I went. So much of this story is about tone. The setting, the style of prose, the dialogue, the emotional accessibility—it all had to be sparse. It had to be, well, parched.

What kind of research did you do to create an authentic setting? Have you ever been to any place similar to the world of PARCHED?

I am flat-out amazed by how much research can go into a work of fiction. I spent hours upon hours combing through information on geology, flora and fauna, childhood trauma, etc. I have been to the desert, and I have lived through mild droughts, but I have never experienced anything like the setting of this story.

Can you tell us a little about your current projects?

After working for years on PARCHED, I needed time with a project that was more light-hearted. Right now I am working on another middle grade, a steampunky adventure. It is a terrific challenge and a lot of fun!

I know you are also an art teacher. Do your students influence you as you write? Do you think about them as your target audience as you write?

Without going into too much detail about my students’ private lives, let me just say that they absolutely inspire and influence me. I watch them experience hardships (things that would devastate most adults) with resilience and optimism and laughter. I don’t see them as my readers, but I use their strength as a model for my characters.

And now, for our regular "3 for 3" book questions:

1. What were your 3 favorite books from childhood/teen years? 

MG: Can I say the entire RAMONA QUIMBY series?

2. What are 3 books that you've read recently that surprised you? 

HOLES by Louis Sacchar (great mix of commercial appeal & literary chops)
CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein (but not for the reasons you might be thinking)
TUESDAY by David Wiesner (Those frogs just make me laugh out loud!)

3. What are 3 books that influence/d your work? 

PICTURES OF HOLLIS WOODS by Patricia Reilly Giff
HOME OF THE BRAVE by Katherine Applegate

Thanks so much for talking with us today, Melanie. And thanks for including us on your blog tour! We are so excited to be a part of promoting such a smart, lyrical book. 

Author of PARCHED (Harcourt Children's Books, 2013), Melanie Crowder holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Visit her online at melaniecrowder.net

Melanie's novel PARCHED comes out on June 4.  If you would like to order your copy of PARCHED, you can do so though us and receive a hand drawn bookplate by Melanie Crowder herself! Just for PARCHED, we are also offering shipment! So, you may order PARCHED from any location within the U.S.A. Just give us a call at (215) 844-1470 and we can do a credit card transaction over the phone. For locals, as always, you may call, email us at orders@bigbluemarble.com or stop by the store to place an order.  
On June 11th, come check out Cordelia's interview with Lyn Miller-Lachmann, author of Gringolandia and the newly released Rogue.

1 comment:

LinWash said...

Great interview!!! I'm so excited for this book. And I'm looking forward to the interview with Lyn Miller-Lachmann.