WBBT Interview With Laura Amy Schlitz (School Librarian/Author) – Part One
If you have not yet read one of Laura Amy Schlitz’s novels, picture books, biographies, or mixes of fact and drama then you’re in for a treat. When Colleen Mondor began soliciting suggestions for potential interviews with the authors we admire and (in my own case) mildly worship, there was little question in my mind that one of my own would have to be with Ms. Schlitz. A school librarian working with the Park School of Baltimore, Maryland, Ms. Schlitz first appeared on the children’s literary scene last year with the dual release of A Drowned Maiden’s Hair: A Melodrama and The Hero Schliemann: The Dreamer Who Dug for Troy (Candlewick in both cases). This year she has produced what is inarguably one of the finest works of children’s literature of 2007. Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village is a mix of monologues, factual information, and good old-fashioned drama. Unlike any other book out there, it fills need after need and has been hailed as a particularly strong Newbery candidate. Her other 2007 release is a retelling of the classic fairy tale The Bearskinner: A Tale of the Brothers Grimm, reviewed on this site just last week.
I had the honor of interviewing Ms. Schlitz for the second time. You can find the first interview on the Cybils website, after "A Drowned Maiden’s Hair" took the highest honor in the category of 2006 Middle Grade Fiction. In this interview we learn about a book that Ms. Schlitz has just finished for future "wild women of America", why complicated people are more fun to write about, and why drag racing may not be next on the agenda.
Fuse #8: Aside from your everyday talents you seem to have the ability to bridge the gap between fiction and non-fiction with enviable aplomb. In 2006 your books were a non-fiction title and a fictional melodrama. In 2007 you’ve melded the two with the fact-infused series of monologues “Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!” When it comes right down to it, do you have a preference between fiction and non-fiction?
LAS: I do. I like fiction better. Don’t forget, “The Hero Schliemann” was about a man who was so obsessed with stories that he blurred the boundary between truth and fiction.
I do love research, though. Research stokes the imagination, and provides the best possible excuse for not writing.
Fuse #8: Though “A Drowned Maiden’s Hair” is not technically a fantasy, it did have some fantastical elements to it. Have you ever felt an inclination to go whole hog and create an entirely alternate world, or does the one we currently inhabit have more than enough charms for you?
LAS: I think I like blending the fantastic with the real. When I want a touch of exoticism, I like to change cultures or time periods. I have no plans to write a story set in an alternative world, but if I were going to write one, I know what that world would look like.
Fuse #8: What encouraged you to start writing at this particular time in your life? Was there an instigating factor of some sort? Something that caused you to sit down and write as you had never written before?
LAS: I’ve always written. I wrote two novels and about a dozen plays before Candlewick Press decided to publish “Good Masters! Sweet Ladies”* I’ve always written, but I’d pretty much given up on being published.
I’m not going to go into why I was on the point of giving up, because it’s a long story, and I can’t tell it without weeping copiously. Suffice to say I was thoroughly discouraged and I even thought of giving up writing, but I never got around to it. Luckily, I had two guardian angels. One was the Park School, which has been extraordinarily supportive of my writing, providing me with inspiration, encouragement, and grant money. The other was Candlewick Press.
I’ll tell you how I feel about Candlewick Press. I had a friend who found a puppy in the street one New Year’s Eve. It was sleeting, and she heard the puppy whimpering, so she scooped it up and took it to a New Year’s Eve party. One minute the puppy was outside shivering, and the next minute it was sitting in front of the fire, licking champagne and Beef Wellington off the fingers of the party guests. That’s me and Candlewick Press.
*“Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!” was my first book with Candlewick Press. “The Hero Schliemann” and “A Drowned Maiden’s Hair” (also with Candlewick) came out before “Good Masters”, but “Good Masters” was accepted first, back in 2000.
(CONTINUED IN PART TWO)
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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