Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Maureen McQuerry Blog Tour Interview

This week, I am pleased to present an interview with Maureen McQuerry as part of her Fall 2008 blog tour. Maureen McQuerry is an author and educator living in Washington state. She is the author of the Wolfproof series as well as two non-fiction books and many poems published in various journals, anthologies and chapbooks. Her latest book, Travelers’ Market, is the second in the Wolfproof trilogy and is available now.

What gave you the idea for the Wolfproof series? Did the idea form as a
plan for a trilogy, or did it start with the one book and grow from there?

It started as the idea for one book, Wolfproof. I was about half way through with the novel when I realized that it would take another book to explain why these characters from Celtic mythology became involved in the lives of three ordinary middle school kids.

I really started with the character of the Greenman. Carvings of greenmen and greenwomen too, are found throughout the British Isles, many in churches. We have them in the U.S. as garden art, but when you see the original carvings, hundreds of years old, in place, it’s a different experience entirely. I saw my first Greenman when visiting my daughter who was studying in Oxford. I wrote a poem, “Greenman” that’s found in the beginning of Wolfproof. The poem was published in several journals, and then anthologized. I knew I had a character I wanted to explore more. My poem was really the pre-write for the first book in the trilogy. I still find that when I have several poems clustered around a common theme, I need to pay attention. My subconscious is working out an idea. Right now I’m finding that I have several pieces centered around memory and how trust worthy are memories really are.

Were you a student of mythology, Celtic or otherwise, before you started
the Wolfproof trilogy, or did you get the book idea and then delve into
the mythology for the stories?

I’ve always been fascinated by mythology and loved work by Jane Yolen, Susan Cooper, Tolkien and Lewis and later, Terri Windling and Neil Gaiman sprang from an understanding of myth and archetype. Because myth involves archetypes, it has universal appeal across time and cultures and it speaks to longings that are deep within all of us.

Two of my favorite essays on myth are G.K Chesterton’s “The Ethics of Elf Land” and Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories.”

Once I had the Greenman as a character, I knew that I would be working with British and Celtic mythology and that I’d better do my research. Cerridwyn, Gwydon and even Balor, come from that mythic tradition although they have taken on their own life in the books. Each book in the trilogy has a short glossary of mythic source material that should be helpful to readers who would like to do some research of their own.

Was writing Travelers’ Market easier than writing Wolfproof since you had
one completed fiction book already under your belt?

Yes, and no. I think TM is a stronger book; the pacing is better. I was coming from years of writing and publishing poetry and the transition from poetry to fiction is more difficult than you would think. As a poet, word choice is extremely important to me. Too often books for children sacrifice language for plot. I think good books need both.

Of course, the difficulty with a trilogy is that you have to have an overall story arc as well as the story arc in each book, and the books must remain consistent. Outlining and cross checking become very important if you want to create a unified whole. And the characters have to age; you have to envision them as they grow emotionally, intellectually and physically.

Will we see more of Timothy and Sarah and Jessica after the Wolfproof

I don’t know. I’m half way through the third book right now. I know that the characters and I will need a little break from each other. But it’s always interesting to imagine what they’ll be like as adults, don’t you think?

Do you have any plans to write adult fiction, or do you prefer young adult

I’ve completed a family saga/historical novel, Trail of Crumbs, that my agent is shopping right now. The narrators, one in 1918 Brooklyn, New York and the other in 1955 San Jose, CA are both twelve year old girls. However, it is being shopped as an adult novel with crossover YA interest. I enjoy the voice of a coming of age narrator, when the world is open to so many possibilities.

I think my writing will always have a touch of magical realism. The two stories in Trail of Crumbs, come to together at one critical moment, as family sagas often do. Until that time, excerpts from a retelling of Hansel and Gretel occur between the stories, two lost children who eventually find their way home.

Do you do all of your research before you begin writing? Do you plan out
your books before you write?

It’s a little different with each book. I usually begin with a character, image or situation that intrigues me. I like to have some idea of where the story will go and few crucial scenes that need to occur, but there are great gaps that I know nothing about, where the story needs to unfold for me.

For Travelers’ Market I read about the legendary Battle of the Trees, and for the third book in the trilogy, I’ve been researching Scottish myth.

In Trail of Crumbs, I did so much research while I was writing! I was surrounded by pictures of old Brooklyn, read diaries and newspaper articles about the great flu epidemic, and of course looked at maps. I even looked up the weather for a particular day when the Brooklyn Dodgers won the World Series. At the end of the book, my husband and I took a trip to Brooklyn and actually walked down the streets where my characters lived. An old time resident showed us around. Many of the old buildings were still there, and of course, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Are there authors or books that have influenced you and your writing?
Which authors and books have influenced you the most? How do you feel
they have influenced you?

There are so many and depending on the day, you might get a different answer from me. So here’s a very eclectic list. I’ve already mentioned some of my favorite writers in the mythopoeic tradition. The first book I fell in love with in first grade was the Velveteen Rabbit, then The Borrowers and my all time growing up favorite was Little Women. I suppose that dates me—it’s so different than the urban fantasy lit kids cut their teeth on today. I also loved all the King Arthur stories, especially Gillian Bradshaw’s and T.H. White.

Later I came to know and love, Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River, Dorothy Sayer’s Lord Peter Whimsy mysteries, Madeline L’Engle, Joan Didion, Wendell Berry, Fitzgerald and Graham Greene.

And I can’t forget the poets: T.S. Elliot, Mary Oliver, e.e. cummings, Gerard Manly Hopkins and Yeats.

What one bit of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

I’d steal something from Jane Yolen, B.I.C. Butt in Chair. Writing is a discipline and has to be practiced every day. So many people have wonderful story ideas, but the discipline of sitting down to write keeps those stories from being realized. And read, read widely with the eye of writer. The best writers are great readers.

Thanks again to Maureen McQuerry for appearing, courtesy of Provato Marketing. For other stops on the blog tour, please check www.provatoevents.com.

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