Chatting It Up with Jill Santoplo
Mystery and stolen gold. Harper Collins editor Jill Santopolo has recently released her very first children’s book Alec Flint: Super Sleuth, a tale of one boy detective and his quest to discover the location of a missing Christopher Columbus exhibit. Called "a solid middle-grade series in the tradition of Encyclopedia Brown," by none other than Kirkus Jill (who is, I can attest, a sweetie) talks a little about what it’s like to be an author/editor.
Fuse #8: Well, your first novel is coming out and I couldn’t help but notice that it was a mystery. More than that, it’s an early chapter book mystery (particularly keen). Can we assume that you were a mystery fan as a kid yourself, or were there other kinds of books that got to you?
Jill: I was a huge mystery fan as a kid. Nate the Great started my love of mysteries–Nate the Great and the Sticky Case was a particular favorite. Then I read my way through Encyclopedia Brown, The Boxcar Children, The Bobbsey Twins, the There’s Something Queer books, Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys–and those joint Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys adventures, too. But I loved other sorts of books, as well. I still have my battered copies of Matilda, Harriet the Spy, Jacob Have I Loved and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I’ve probably read each of those books at least twelve or thirteen times. I’ve always been a pretty equal-opportunity reader–and still am. As long as I find the characters and the story interesting, genre doesn’t matter quite as much to me.
Fuse #8: You are one of those children’s book editors that manage to make the leap from behind the desk onto the page. Was becoming an author always the dream or is it more a perk of the job?
Jill: I always wrote–short stories, newspaper articles, opinion pieces, plays–but I never had "author" as my goal. I just liked writing. It wasn’t until I became an editor that I thought about writing something book-length with the idea of possible publication in mind.
Fuse #8: For that matter, how has it felt to take the edits rather than dole them out? It must feel a bit strange. Do you ever find yourself editing your own work as you would edit somebody else?
Jill: I haven’t minded taking edits at all–I’m grateful for them because I know they make my stories better. To me, being edited is a bit like having a friend consult on your outfit before going to a party. Sometimes she’ll say, "Looks great except for the earrings." And sometimes she’ll say, "Oh, wow. Might be time to give away that shirt…and those shoes…and that bracelet…"
I definitely try to edit my own work (and critique my own party outfits!), but it’s hard for me to get enough distance from my writing to do a really good and thorough editing job. I’ve found that when I’m the one who has created the plot (or, you know, picked out the outfit), it’s harder for me to find the holes in it.
Fuse #8: The back of Alec Flint contains quite a bit of information about Christopher Columbus. He’s a pretty controversial figure these days. Why did you happen to choose his exhibit to be the one missing?
Jill: When I was writing the first draft of this novel, Christopher Columbus kept popping up everywhere. I lived on Columbus Avenue, I got off the train for work at the Columbus Circle subway stop, I went to Washington D.C. and saw a Columbus fountain. Once I started looking for Columbus, I found him everywhere. It seemed like he was just begging for me to write about him.
But I also chose the figure because I think there’s something inherently intriguing about a person who is a hero and a villain at the same time.
Fuse #8: Will we be seeing more of Alec in the future?
Jill: You will! Alec and Gina’s second adventure, The Ransom Note Blues: An Alec Flint Mystery, will be coming out in Summer 2009. It involves a ransom note (of course), a bit of modern art, and Alec and Gina saving the day–and the fourth grade art show.
Fuse #8: Are there any other genres you might like to write in?
Jill: I would love to write books in the Harriet the Spy kind of genre–what would those be called–realistic middle grade fiction? I’ve also got an idea for a YA novel kicking around in my head, but we’ll see. At the moment, I’m really loving writing about fourth and fifth graders.
Thank you so much for letting me visit your blog, Betsy! Before I go, I want to give you some contest information! Scholastic is running a contest where your readers can win a free autographed copy of The Nina, The Pinta and The Vanishing Treasure. The first three people to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with their name and address, the fact that they saw this interview on your blog, and the translation of the coded message below will get a copy of the book mailed to them. So, the coded message that needs translating is: RM ULFIGVVM SFMWIVW MRMVGB GDL, XLOFNYFH HZROVW GSV LXVZM YOFV. (And here’s a hint: The key to the code is over at my website www.jillsantopolo.com) Thanks again for having me!
Fuse #8: Not even a problem.
For other interviews with Jill, check out this one at Through the Tollbooth.
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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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