I LOVE children's books that have an element of magic in them (which is why all of the children's books I write contain some magic). So when middle grade author Kathryn Littlewood approached me about her new book A DASH OF MAGIC I was thrilled to host her on my blog!
A DASH OF MAGIC is the second book in the Bliss series published by HarperCollins Children's imprint Katherine Tegen books, which is about young Rosemary Bliss and her siblings' adventure to rescue their family's magic book of recipes from their conniving aunt Lily before it's too late. Welcome, Kathryn!
When did you discover you had a “sense of fiction?”
Right from the crib, I loved a good fib. I can’t remember a time when storytelling wasn’t a part of my life. Like most kids, I had a wild imagination; but unlike most kids, in my family we were encouraged to write our imaginings down. I thank my mom for that.
What was your favorite book as a child? As an adult? How did those influence you as a writer?
Is it okay to admit that I was obsessed with a book? Okay: I was obsessed with a book. Specifically, with James and the Giant Peach. Later I read all of Dahl; he really is amazing, and everyone but everyone should read The B.F.G. and Boy, but first and foremost for me was James. It wasn’t that I longed to destroy anyone the way James Trotter’s peach smooshes Spiker and Sponge. It was more the sense of friendship and family he develops with the Centipede, Grasshopper, Ladybug, and the rest of the characters. (You can see some of that at work in the Bliss series.) Some girls carried around dolls; I carried around that book.
In my later, more vulnerable years, I’ve taken to everyone from Joseph Heller (is there a funnier book than Catch-22?), to Maria Semple (Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is a work of sneaky genius), to Kate Atkinson (who writes both mysteries and wildly original literary novels). And those are only a few adult writers. The kids writers are a whole ‘nother shelf, one I could write at great length about.
What inspired you to write this book?
As I’ve already hinted at above—I like large families, and I like people, and the best time to see them as they really are is when you put them around a table. Which is to say: the magic of good food. That’s what brings people together and reveals who they really are and what matters to them.
But I also like humor, and I have a sweet tooth the size of Delaware. All of these things I threw into the Cuisinart and out came the Bliss family.
How would you describe your writing process? What must you always have while writing?
Coffee is a necessary . . . not quite evil, because coffee is one of my great loves. But like so many great loves, it is pretty insistent that I give it my attention first.
So every writing day begins with that first cup of coffee. I generally write in the morning in a white heat, just piling up words. I banish the internal editor until afternoon, because first I have to get pages and ideas together in some kind of loose batter before anything will really cook. Otherwise there is nothing to edit later. You can’t fix what you haven’t drafted. I wish I could claim credit for this, but I can’t: Ray Bradbury talks about this exact same process in his invaluable Zen and the Art of Writing.
What has proven to be your most successful marketing tool?
Definitely social media. I imagine there was a time when word-of-mouth was spread by a bookseller to a reader, when a person would wander into a bookstore and the clerk would put exactly the right book into that reader’s hands. But those days, I fear, are mostly gone. Much as I love my local B&N, the people who work there have their hands full; and even my local booksellers (a shout-out to Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn and to Anderson’s near Chicago) are too busy to know every book that comes into their store.
So I rely on social media. Goodreads is wonderful, but even better than that are the blogs. The best book advocates—librarians and friends-of-books everywhere—are on the web, writing passionate reviews and becoming the heeded advocates that make the difference between a book finding its readership or not. I look to them to tell me what to read next, and I only hope that one or two of them take up my book and champion it.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?
Lots of great advice has come my way. Write a little bit every day. Don’t push yourself to write more than, say, a thousand words in a session. Stop before you’ve reached the end of what you have in your head, so that you’ll have a starting place the next morning. And revise. Revise revise revise. The best writing is rewriting.
Please provide a favorite excerpt from your book. (from A DASH OF MAGIC)
While Purdy, Albert, Balthazar, and Gus waited outside, the four kids marched right in to search for the Mona Lisa.
Everybody walking through the halls of the Louvre spoke in hushed tones, which was good, because the din coming from the portraits was deafening.
It was impossible, for instance, to ignore the portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte crossing the Alps on horseback. 'I've grown weary of our journey,' he whined. 'My toes are frostbitten. I've changed my mind about Russia−I don't want to go anymore. I hear in Russia they put small dolls inside of larger dolls. I don't understand. I can no longer feel my fingers. Does anyone have a slice of quiche? Are we there yet?'
Sage couldn't resist. He walked over to the portrait of Napoleon. 'I sympathize, Your Excellency.'
Napoleon's eyes seemed to shift ever so slightly to Sage's face. While his mouth didn't move, the Bliss children could hear exactly what he was saying.
'You can hear me?' the portrait asked Sage.
'Yes, sir,' said Sage.
'C'est beau.' whispered Napoleon. 'Bring me a croissant! And a carafe of my finest wine! This horse's hair is course and unpleasant. Bring me my donkey!'
Where can readers find you and your book?
The truly adventurous can find me at a local New York City bakery on any given day. Or they can visit my website at www.littlewoodbooks.com or my fresh-from-the-oven tumblr at www.kathrynlittlewood.tumblr.com. I am also on Facebook and Twitter as @littlewoodbooks.
Thank you for being here today, Kathryn! I cannot WAIT to read both BLISS and A DASH OF MAGIC!