A few months ago I reviewed Katie Pickard Fawcett’s book To Come and Go Like Magic (click here for the review), and I was delighted when she agreed to an interview on my blog. So without further blather on my part…here’s a truly inspiring interview!
BH: I could be wrong, but To Come and Go Like Magic seems like one of those books that the author just had to write…like you couldn’t not write it. What inspired the story?
KF: My own childhood growing up in Appalachia was the inspiration for the setting, characters, and experiences. Some years back I read The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros and loved the way she told the story in vignettes. I was excited to write a book about Appalachia in this style with glimpses into the lives of many different characters.
BH: Chili, the main character, longs to see the world. Then she befriends her teacher Miss Matlock, who has traveled extensively. Did you ever have a Miss Matlock in your life?
KF: No. I didn’t have a teacher who had traveled the world and came back with stories to tell. I did, however, have several wonderful teachers who read great books to us, encouraged me to write stories, and offered interesting classroom activities. The trip to Mexico chapter in To Come and Go Like Magic was very similar to a geography activity we did in fifth grade. Miss Matlock’s travels, her interest in the Monarch butterflies, in hiking in the Andes, and in the rainforests of Central America come from my own experiences.
BH: Another fantastic element of To Come and Go Like Magic is the setting. How much of the story’s setting is based on your imagination, and how much is based on your actual experiences in Appalachia?
KF: I grew up in Eastern Kentucky so the setting is based entirely on the actual area and the environment, activities, problems, and concerns of the 1970s. The characters, story, and most of the place names are fictitious. I kept the name (Cumberland) of the real river.
BH: Your book is told in vignettes, and in some places these vignettes have such flowing language I think of them as prose poems. Was this your intent from the beginning, or did the format emerge as you told the story?
KF: I love poetry and I enjoy writing “snapshot” pieces, so my writing tends toward the poetic.
BH: Can you tell us about your experience publishing To Come and Go Like Magic?
KF: I sent To Come and Go Like Magic to Random House and got a call and a contract within the month. Sound too good to be true? The complete story is a bit longer. I worked for ten years in the publishing department of an international organization writing pieces for the house journal, summaries of development projects, and publicity pieces, and didn’t have much time to write fiction. I was also a social worker in Kentucky, worked for a consulting firm in Washington, DC, and spent three years at various jobs at a university. I majored in psychology, sociology, and education in college. I also tutor and teach writing workshops and SAT prep on occasion. I wrote a young adult book several years ago and sent it to Dutton. They had me do two rewrites and then rejected it. Ditto for Scholastic. Then off to Random House. After the second rewrite, my editor said she was willing to read it one more time. I figured it wouldn’t fly. So I asked if I could send her another manuscript I had lying around and she agreed. That was To Come and Go Like Magic. I spent about 6 years researching, writing, and revising the first book that got rejected by three big publishers over a period of 3 or 4 years. I spent about 6 weeks writing To Come and Go. Just goes to show that “write what you know” makes sense. Research was limited primarily to fact checking the dates for songs and foods and movies mentioned in the book.
BH: That is amazing, and heartening at the same time. I’m not surprised, though – I really get that “inspired” feeling from To Come and Go.
What does your workspace look like?
KF: My preference by far is to work outside and I love my laptop. I enjoy the flowers and birds and furry critters that visit. When it’s raining or too cold to be outside I work in my study. I have a window that looks down to the front garden and three bird feeders – two for the squirrels and one that’s squirrel-proof. A family of blue jays comes by almost every morning for peanuts. They often respond to my whistle if they’re in the vicinity. My study is filled with books and doo dads. I have a hummingbird mobile above my desk, starfish on the window sill, green plants, and a CD player because I like music in the background while I’m working.
BH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?
KF: I have three books that I enjoy opening and reading a chapter or two when the mood strikes. Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose is entertaining and filled with great humor and wisdom and excerpts from some of the best writers past and present. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser has been around since the late 1970s and is still an excellent guide. Many of these fundamental principles can be applied to fiction as well as nonfiction. If I had to choose a favorite, however, it would be a little book published in 1996 titled Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life With Words by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge. This is a marvelous little book filled with many inspiring exercises for getting the creative juices stirring.
BH: Any words on advice to aspiring writers for keeping the hope alive?
KF: I have been writing stories for almost as long as I can remember. I passed stories around in elementary school and in high school study hall. It seems that I have always needed to write and, although it can be physically tiring and mentally exhausting at times and rejection is always disappointing, it has never truly felt like work. Publication is a big plus, but has never been a necessity for me. The old saying that “it’s only work if you’d rather be doing something else” applies. I love to write and it’s the passion, I believe, that keeps the hope alive.
BH: Thank you, Katie, for the great interview. I learned from this, and I appreciate your responses, insights, and inspiration.
Studio Audience! For more of Katie Fawcett, and where to order her book, check out the links below.
http://katiepickardfawcett.wordpress.com/ (On my blog I write about Kentucky, DC, Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador, the Caribbean, books, food, flowers, squirrels, and anything else that strikes me.)
Order from Amazon –
Order from Random House — http://www.randomhouse.com/kids/catalog/results.pperl?keyword=to+come+and+go+like+magic&submit.x=17&submit.y=10&submit=submit
To Come and Go Like Magic was a Parents’ Choice Award Winner in the fiction category for Spring 2010 http://www.parents-choice.org/award.cfm?thePage=books&p_code=p_boo&c_code=c_fic&orderby=award
Also nominated on October 9 for the Amelia Bloomer Project Award – an annual booklist of the best feminist books for young readers chosen by the Social Responsibilities Roundtable of the American Library Association http://ameliabloomer.wordpress.com/