Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Noguchi Museum & Manhattan Dining

I fell in love with a sculptor in New York City. Isamu Noguchi was born in LA in 1904 to an American writer and a Japanese poet. His studio was in Queens. In 1985 Noguchi converted a factory into The Noguchi Museum. Some of his best pieces he kept for himself, even making new sculptures for commissions if his first attempt was too good. He worked into his 80's and died 11 years ago. Noguchi’s sculptures glow with eternal light.

The current expedition (through May 31, 2009) shows Noguchi’s Akari light sculptures from the 1986 Venice Biennale. The word Akari means “light as illumination” and implies “weightlessness” in Japanese (exhibit pamphlet.) They appear to float in the dim gallery space like celestial objects. The exhibition also reminded me of the gardens of Kyoto at night time.

There is humor in Noguchi’s work that appeals to the child in us all. My 14-year-old son laughed over the enormous space larvae before a chessboard wall (above). My 11-year-old daughter loved the cosmic firefly (below) that looked like it might scurry away.

These gorgeous, glowing Akaris created controversy at the Venice Biennale. Critics called them too commercial and claimed that these were light fixtures, decorative arts. Yeah, and Rodin’s statues are garden gnomes.

The most impressive thing about Noguchi was his ability to sculpt in so many media. He is perhaps best known for his stone sculptures that stand in many a museum garden. Noguchi’s gallery displays some in a semi-courtyard space that allows the natural light to caress the work. Those are real trees in the background.

These larger than life sculptures look even more stunning close up. Check out the texture, color and composition of his cuts. It was hard not to touch. This was not my first visit to the museum with my children. Last time I had my baby daughter strapped to my chest and ran after my 3-year-old son who was delighted by the unusual and familiar shapes. “Don’t touch!”

I didn’t take in much of the art back then, but my little son loved it. This time we all appreciated it, and I could take my time to look closely. My children were equally mesmerized. My daughter danced through the studio in a trance. I enjoyed their reactions as much as the art.

We thought this piece was like driftwood or seaweed.

The Noguchi Museum has a sculpture garden as well. The weeping cherries are blooming at this time of year. This typical Noguchi sculpture before the cedar would look beautiful anytime of year.

These stones on mulch reminded me of Japanese rock gardens or space eggs. Noguchi’s work speaks to the classic Japanese tradition but also to something new and original. He embodies a balance of East and West. The Noguchi Museum is definitely worth a trip to Queens. The café serves a very good lunch too.

Later that rainy day we visited the new Museum of Art and Design. Affectionately called MAD, the museum has recently relocated to its own building on Columbus Circle, Manhattan. It’s a cool space, but only a few galleries are open so far. I was not especially impressed by the current exhibits although my DIY dad loved the radiators as art exhibit. This is a museum devoted to decorative art, very different from Noguchi’s work.

My favorite part of MAD was the funky, if expensive, museum store. My parents bought me a practical but stylish handbag there. In real life it’s more olive and metallic bronze than brown. I desperately needed something large enough to lug around my DSLR camera or manuscripts that wasn’t a backpack. I well appreciate decorative art too. Coincidentally, the creator of Highway bags was born in Japan.

Art, a bit of shopping and lots of dining are my favorite NYC activities. This visit I dined at two small restaurants with delicious food, good atmosphere and reasonable prices. They were both in Lower East Manhattan.

Frankie’s Spuntino is small and intimate like a restaurant in northern Italy. The homemade pastas and fresh salads were tasty and well priced for NYC. Dinner for 3 (appetizers, mains, one dessert and a half bottle of good wine) came to under $100. The candlelit atmosphere was very romantic with a high tin ceiling and a fresh cut bough of cherry blossoms in the large window.

My only objection was it was too dim to read the menus without a flashlight, a common problem in NYC restaurants lately. Luckily we had one on a key chain. My school friends and I spent hours over dinner without being rushed. I’ll be back.

Frankie’s Spuntino
17 Clinton Street
Tel: (212) 253-2303
No reservations.
There is a second Frankie’s in Brooklyn.

Another culinary gem is Shabu-Tatsu in East Village, featuring cook-your-own sukiyaki and shabu-shabu. The meal consists of paper thin slices of beef, fresh vegetables, tofu and noodles that you add to a simmering pot of brown broth. It gets tastier as the flavors mingle. My Japanese sister-in-law, who lives outside NYC, recommended this restaurant.

Shabu-shabu restaurants, common in Japan, are becoming hard to find in New York. Liability is making restaurant owners reluctant to risk splattering fat and open flames. Such a shame. The atmosphere upstairs was pleasant in cherry wood and rice paper, but the basement was a bit smelly. The small restaurant was packed with Asian clients, always a good sign, and reasonably priced at $18.75 per person for the complete meal, including ice cream. Sapporo beer on tap was a good addition.

216 10th Street (bet 1st and 2nd)
East Village, NYC
Tel: (212) 477-2972
reservations only for 6 or more

My friend Marika met me for dinner and was very tolerant of our fictional company. My characters were looking for a romantic first date, and there is nothing like cooking sukiyaki together to help break the ice. A novelist is an odd dinner companion. Luckily I site my stories in good places. You are what you eat, and I am what I write.

Central Park daffodils

It was hot and sunny 80's when we left NYC. Back in Maine it got to the upper 70's. We went to the beach, but only my son was brave enough to swim with Stella and the seals. The water was frigid, but the snow is finally gone!

Blog Watch: spring fever is in the air. Bee Drunken enjoyed gorgeous Texas bluebonnets while visiting her home state, reminding me of English bluebells captured by Just a Plane Ride Away. Both women moved to England from Texas and have fun expat blogs. New to my blog community, Cid@Blog Like No One is Reading posted a funny photo that encapsulated spring fever in northern climates. The biggest laugh came from troutbirder with a new twist on 2 eggs any style.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Chelsea Art and Lunch (NYC)

When I was growing up in Manhattan, the art galleries were down in SoHo, but escalating rents have forced artists to relocate to Chelsea in the West 20’s. The old warehouses convert well into gallery space. It’s an up and coming neighborhood featuring cutting edge art and new talent. It’s a kid friendly place to visit too.

Red Flagg Gallery just opened in 2009 and is run by artists. It’s sister to the Coleman Burke Gallery in Brunswick, Maine. Red Flagg is housed in an enormous warehouse with several other galleries attached by a long interior corridor. My kids loved the cool space. It was the perfect place to visit on a rainy Saturday (Red Flagg is only open Fridays & Saturday 10-6.)

Photo of Mark Wethli by Cassie Jones

Mark Wethli’s paintings are currently on display until May 16th. Mark is an art professor at Bowdoin College and is a good friend of mine. His work hangs in the Metropolitan Museum, The Farnsworth Museum, The Portland Museum and in other collections. He’s been part of the Whitney Biennial.

Mark’s exhibit is a series of geometric paintings on recycled work table tops. My 14-year-old son was especially intrigued by how colors tricked the eye into creating balance.

The surfaces are so full of texture that the paintings feel more like sculpture. Mark’s work looks much better in person than in these 2D images. His compositions extend into the gallery space, working off the rough walls.

Witchcraft Café looked like a good place for tea in the warehouse corridor. I loved the funky décor.

We met friends for lunch at the Empire Diner a few blocks downtown on 10th Avenue. It’s a classic retro-diner with updated food. The sweet potato fries sprinkled with brown sugar were delicious. You can also order club sandwiches and burgers. The Empire Diner is meant to have the best root beer float in Manhattan. My daughter loved it. The diner is small and busy so be prepared to wait although the tables cycle quickly.

My old school friend knew Empire Diner was authentic based on how rude they were on the phone. They do not accept reservations, but once we were seated the service was excellent. When the kids knocked over the root beer float, the waitress came running with a refill and napkins after just hearing the noise. Definitely kid friendly. The servings were large and the food was good. It was a genuine NYC experience, including the half hour wait for the one six-top table.

I’m back in NYC this week for the kids’ spring vacation, staying with my parents. My husband is home teaching in Maine. Sadly school and Bowdoin College vacations don’t overlap. We’ll be checking out the parks, museums, restaurants and theater. I’m also doing research for a novel. Fun but busy week!

Blog Watch: Two posts today. Read separate post below with a special focus on Book Blogs.

Mark Wethli's paintings were repoduced with the artist's permission.

Book Blog Directories

Christ Church Upper Library, Oxford University

This is a special Blog Watch post focusing on book blogs. My regular weekly blog is posted above or click on Chelsea Art and Lunch. Several book bloggers have been organizing directories which I’ve listed below.

Book Blog Directories:
1. Maw Books Directory: all book blogs
2. BBAW Directory: all book blogs
3. YA Book Blog Directory: Young Adult book and author blogs
4. YA Blogosphere: YA book blog profiles
5. Kidlitosphere: children’s and YA book and author blogs
6. childrensbookreviews: a wiki of children’s and YA book blogs
7. BritLitBlogs: UK book blogs only

The most interesting is YA Blogosphere (#4) which posts detailed profiles of blogs that include reviews of YA books. Hey, Teenager of the Year and The Story Siren have teamed up to create it.

Galleycat showed how distributing free e-book readers to reviewers and switching to digi-ARCs would be greener and save publishers money. ARCs are Advanced Reader Copies.

I usually review 2 Adult or YA novels a month. I focus on contemporary fiction and only blog about books that I love.  Writing quality matters the most to me. My reviews are listed in my sidebar by author along with book blogs that I follow.

If you know of other book blog directories, please leave a comment.  I'm hoping to turn this into an updated index.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

NYC Pear Trees during Passover
(Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day )

Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book is a novel about a real 500-year-old Haggadah. The Haggadah is a Hebrew text used during Passover. Haggadah means “the telling.” It tells how Moses freed the Jews from slavery in Egypt and led them towards Israel. The beauty of a Haggadah is that every family has their own and passes their particular traditions on to future generations.

Although my paternal grandparents were raised in kosher homes, they were not very religious. My grandfather, Harold Lamport, was a scientist who avoided temple but respected his Jewish heritage. He was a blood circulation specialist who developed the precursor to the space suit and was on the faculty of Yale School of Medicine. We gathered at my grandparent’s house in Westport, Connecticut for Passover because it was a holiday that is observed in the home. We chose the night for our Seder by convenience. A Seder is traditionally held on the first night of the eight days of Passover.

After my grandparents died, my parents started hosting Passover in NYC for our extended family. Our Haggadah (below) features the wonderful art of Ben Shahn. The artist is Lithuanian-American like my father. Shahn published an illustrated Haggadah for his family in 1947. My mother assembled ours from assorted material at Temple Emanu-El. Our ceremony is short enough for the youngest child to sit through easily. It has a few prayers in Hebrew with the rest in English. Only my children have been to Hebrew School and not long enough to read it well.

The purpose of a Seder is to pass on the story of Passover to the next generation. The youngest child at the table asks four questions about the meaning of Pesach (Passover.) The leader answers the questions by holding up symbolic objects (pictured below.)

lamb shank: for God freeing the slaves
moror (bitter herbs): bitter lot of enslaved Jews
parsley dipped in salt water: tears of the slaves
roasted egg: Temple sacrifice
matzo: fleeing the Egyptians, there was not time to let the bread rise
haroses (chopped fruits, nut and wine): mortar used by the slaves

Everyone takes a turn reading a praise to God for the many miracles that led the Jews to freedom and to Israel. All respond “dayanu.” This translates roughly from the Hebrew as “that was enough.”

The highlight of the evening for the kids is letting in Elijah through the front door and racing back to see if the invisible angel drank his wine. My father brought back our silver chalice from Israel. Afterwards the children search for the afikomen (a piece of hidden matzo) and win a prize of money (or chocolate coins.)

I wonder if this is the origin of the Easter egg hunt? The Last Supper was Passover. I search for these common lines between Judaism and Christianity because my mother, my uncle and my husband are Christian. Our children are being raised with dual faiths as I was too.

What I especially loved about Geraldine Brook’s People of the Book was its inclusion of many religions. The Haggadah survived during times of persecution against Jews and their artifacts thanks in part to the help of Christians and Muslims as well as Jews. This may be a story about a Jewish book, but it is a tale that will appeal to people of all faiths.

People of the Book would also appeal to anyone who loves old books because the Sarajevo Haggadah in the novel truly exists (pictured below on the BBC.) The illustrations/illuminations, unusual for a Hebrew text of that time, make it special. The fictional protagonist is a rare book restorer. Hanna is called to Sarajevo when the Haggadah miraculously resurfaces after the Bosnian War. The novel is rich in detail about old book restoration.

Hanna uncovers five clues in the Haggadah. These traces from the past tell us about the Haggadah’s journey from Africa, to Spain, to Venice, to Vienna and then to Bosnia. For example there is a salt water drip on one page – is it from a Seder or a sea voyage? The fictional stories go back in time, each one better than the last until we witness the Haggadah’s imagined conception.

The five historical stories could have easily been expanded into separate books. I wish that this novel had been a series of five books because we only get fragments of fabulous stories. Brooks makes us fall in love with her characters and inhabit their ancient settings. Other than the gruesome torture scenes, we are reluctant to leave them behind.

Excerpt in Hanna’s voice: “I wanted to give a sense of the people of the book, the different hands that had made it, used it, protected it.”

People of the Book reminded me of an excellent movie, The Red Violin, which followed a violin through its 300 years. One minor criticism I have of the People of the Book is that the Haggadah is never used in a Seder. The reader wants to hear the violin make music. An Haggadah isn’t just a book or a precious artifact; it gains character through its use. This is why I began my book review with a description of my family’s Seder and our Haggadah.

A bigger flaw in the People of the Book is that the contemporary story, which holds all the historical stories together, is weak. This narrative device would have worked better if the central story had been as well crafted as the others in the collection. Hanna and her librarian-hero-lover are compelling characters, but Hanna’s mother is a silly caricature of a selfish brain surgeon.

The antagonistic mother-daughter plotline feels trite and melodramatic and does not belong in this subtly nuanced book. The writing loses its poetry and resorts to women’s fiction clichés. There are weak similes: a crocus full of snow does not look like cappuccino.

Even worse, the Hanna story suddenly changes pace and genre in the last chapter to become a Da Vinci Code suspense thriller. None of this was necessary and only detracts from an otherwise near perfect book.

Brooks shines as a writer of historical fiction. She won a Pulitzer Prize for March, which tells the fictional story of the father from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women during the Civil War. I’m interested in reading that earlier novel and more from this brilliant author. I’m also interested in hearing your take on the People of the Book as several of you mentioned that you’ve read it.

Blog Watch: DoveGreyReader Scribbles and A Book A Week also reviewed People of the Book. If you want to learn more about Passover and how to design your own Seder, visit Jennifer Mirsky's Interactive Haggadah. Today is Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day hosted at May Dreams Garden. Nothing(!) is blooming in my northern garden, but I shot some spring action around my old NYC home. Happy Spring!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

KidSpirit Magazine review

What if kids wrote and edited a non-fiction magazine for kids? Already happening. KidSpirit is a bit like Stone Soup for the soul. Each visually stunning issue focuses on a topic ranging from myth to materialism and its impact on our spiritual being. It’s not a religious magazine, but it is centered on moral knowledge and on an adolescent’s emerging sense of self.

KidSpirit is a new magazine that dares to tackle “The Big Questions.” The approach is novel: if you want to understand what matters to 11-15 year olds, ask someone that age. Let them question. Let them answer. Let them learn and share.

The current issue, Science and Spirit, asks “Is there a limit to what we should know?” Kid editor Rebecca Brudner dares to answer. The question sprung from a 2008 astrophysics experiment meant to simulate conditions in the universe before the Big Bang. Some people opposed this experiment, even worried that the Large Hadron Collider might end life on Earth.

Rebecca notes other examples where morality and scientific advancement have collided. Atomic bombs were dropped on Japanese civilians during WWII. Today there is plenty of controversy around genetic engineering. Rebecca does not dismiss the concerns, but she concludes:

“just because these issues create conflict does not mean that we cannot continue to progress. It is possible to have faith or spirituality and still encourage scientific development. Spirituality and science can both be used in an ethical way.”

Rebecca Brudner (center) is in ninth grade.

What I liked best about KidSpirit was that the big questions don’t have one answer. In one section called “Listen Up” kids polled other kids. On the topic of "Animal Testing" two respondents show the range of opinion:

“I strongly hate any abuse towards animals. But about animal testing, animals don’t have the same reactions to things as humans and they can’t say “NO!” So why not test everything on other humans? If they say no then people will know how animals feel, which is not an option for animals.” –Sami Fisch

“I believe humans are superior to animals. Therefore, even if tests caused pain to animals it would only be right to conduct those tests to relieve pain of humans. Laws of nature and just common sense say that superior beings can do whatever they like. It is not even known if animals feel pain like we do and any kind of statement that suggests they feel pain like humans is inaccurate. Bottom line: if it can help humans, animal testing is not a problem. –Ted Kim

Do these responses make you uncomfortable? Do they make you think? KidSpirit works.

The editors (some above) are actively looking for submissions from children aged 11-15 including writing, art and poetry. They work for cookies. My eleven-year-old daughter contributed the baby squirrel photo (below) to the Science and Spirit issue, and she has a poem about our sabbatical in England in The Change and Loss issue due out in June.

When I was about my daughter’s age, I submitted a poem to a kids’ horse magazine, and it won second prize. Jump ahead two decades, and I started writing a novel which led me to my literary agent. I wouldn’t have believed it possible without that early experience of seeing my work in print.

We found out about KidSpirit from my friend, Marika Josephson (above on right of me, photo by my son.) Yes, the Marika I almost drowned in Maine. She has worked in publishing and is currently doing a Ph.D. in Philosophy at the New School for Social Research while working as an editorial assistant for KidSpirit. She’s one of the few adults doing the busy work behind the magazine.

In addition to selecting and editing articles for the magazine, the kids on the editorial board (pictured above) select the magazine's theme and content. Editor-in-chief Elizabeth Dabney Hochman (and mother of one of the editors) founded KidSpirit four years ago. Here’s an interesting clip from Neighborhood Beat that shows how the magazine works:

KidSpirit on Brooklyn Independent Television’s Neighborhood Beat: Brooklyn Heights
(reproduced with permission)

Encourage your kids/grandkids/students to contribute and/or subscribe. The magazine has no advertisements and relies on subscriptions ($25 per year) and charitable donations. It’s a great cause, educational and fun.

I’ve been blogging quite a bit recently about young adult topics. This year my daughter decided she was too old for bedtime stories, but I still like to stay connected with her through favorite books. It’s been a welcome surprise discovering fabulous novels and magazines designed for kids her age. I wish I’d have more of that growing up, but I’m enjoying it now as an adult. We were all once children too.

Next week (April 15) I’ll be back to more adult topics. I’ll be reviewing Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book during the week of Passover. Brooks won a Pullitzer for her last novel, March. People of the Book is currently #6 on the NYT bestseller paperback list. Read along with me, and we can discuss this fascinating novel that follows a 500-year-old haggadah through times of persecution against the Jews and their artifacts. The protagonist is a rare book restorer. It’s a book lover’s book.

Blog Watch: My April 1st post was no joke but a review and author interview of a young adult novel, The Wild Girls by Pat Murphy. A bunch of you tricked me. Prairie Rose’s Garden is growing most unusual plants. Troutbirder was welcoming spring in Minnesota. Just A Plane Ride Away in England said she was moving back to Texas as opposed to the Netherlands. Ha!

Happy Passover and Easter!

Images reproduced with permission from KidSpirit Magazine.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Wild Girls by Pat Murphy

Author Pat Murphy in California (photo by Eileen Gunn)

The Wild Girls by Pat Murphy is set in 1972 and reads like a children’s classic from that time. This is life before the internet, video games and supervised playtime. Summer days are as simple as peanut butter on crackers with lemonade. Unstructured time leads to adventures.

The narrator is a sweet 12-year-old with the old-fashioned name of Joan. She has just moved to a Californian suburb with her stay-at-home mother, a censorious father and a grumpy older brother. Their family life is painfully ordinary but not very happy.

Author Pat Murphy at age 10

My only criticism of this engaging young adult novel is that the protagonist is a bit too good and thoughtful to ring true. Joan always thinks first and says or writes the right thing. I find tweens to be more of a mixed bag. Joan is still a sympathetic character.

In the neighborhood woods Joan meets a girl who calls herself the Queen of Foxes, a fabulous character. Fox’s home life is anything but ordinary. She lives alone with her father, Gus, in a rundown house overflowing with books and dirty dishes. Instead of a garden, there’s a cast-iron bathtub resting in weeds beside stacks of hubcaps. There is no driveway, but there is a motorcycle.

Pat Murphy photo by David Wright

Gus looks “a little scarry” to Joan:

. . . a burly man wearing blue jeans and a black T-shirt with sleeves torn off . . . . He didn’t look like anyone’s father. He needed a shave. He had three silver studs in his left ear. His dark hair was tied back with a rubber band. On his right shoulder was a tattoo, an elaborate pattern of spiraling black lines [a Celtic symbol.]

Gus is a science fiction author. He gives Joan (now nicknamed Newt) a notebook and encourages her to write. He leaves the girls to play wild in the woods and to invent stories (photo by Pat Murphy.) I love Gus!

Then summer ends, and the girls must go to school. Joan gets A’s and makes Girl Scout friends, but Fox disappears into herself. Fox is now the meek and small Sarah getting C’s, and the other girls think she’s strange. Joan remains a loyal friend to Fox and encourages her to enter a story writing contest together without telling their irritating English teacher.

When their story wins, the girls are invited into a summer writing program at Berkeley with other “loose nut” kids. Through writing the girls learn how to confront the demons at home. Fox’s mother abandoned her, and Joan’s parents are having marital problems. The story becomes darker but creativity shines to spiritual enlightenment.

Pat Murphy taking “a Hollywood moment” (photo by David Wright)

Creative writing teacher Verla Valonte doles out gems like:

Anything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And later on you can use it in a story.

Any liar can make things up. But a good writer is more than a clever liar. A good writer tells the truth by telling lies.

The Wild Girls is a book that helps the young reader to discover her inner writer. The simple prose and storyline are designed for imaginative girls aged 10-13, but I very much enjoyed it too. One of my author friends, Charlotte Agell, recommended The Wild Girls for my daughter. In the acknowledgments we discovered that Pat Murphy and I share an agent, Jean Naggar. What a small world!

It was the perfect book for my daughter, who writes stories for fun and keeps a secret journal. She wants to be a writer when she grows up. In our woods she plays with neighborhood girls. They sleep in our tree house and draw war paint on their faces with lipstick, just like The Wild Girls. That’s my wild girl up in our tree house last weekend, wearing shorts and no jacket despite the snow.

Here’s my eleven-year-old daughter’s review:

I like The Wild Girls because it is very unique. Young adult books don’t always have to be about snobby, rich girls so this was a nice change. I love the characters and how she describes the city in California. I like Fox because she is outrageous, funny and kind. I loved the scene where Fox and Newt paint their faces with mud. I really like the plot and storyline and would recommend this book for 11 and up.

Pat writes very well about what she knows. In the 1970s Pat moved from Connecticut to California at age eleven where she still resides. She went on to become the author of several award winning science fiction/fantasy novels and stories. Pat is a writing teacher too. And holds a black belt in karate! The Wild Girls is Pat’s first young adult (YA) novel, and it made the American Library Association Notable Book List as well as won the Christopher Award (ages 10-12) for books published in 2008.

Oscar the Grouch gives Pat Murphy the Christopher Award for
The Wild Girls
(photo by David Wright)

My daughter and I interviewed author Pat Murphy:

1. Do you have anyone in your life like Fox?

I have several friends who have personality traits in common with Fox – most notably her curiosity, her willingness to explore, her adventurous spirit, her impatience with rules. I worked for many years at the Exploratorium, San Francisco’s museum of science, art, and human perception. The museum encourages the development of folks who are, in many ways, like Fox.

2. What made you decide to become a writer?

That’s a question with many answers. I’ll give you one of them.

I write to figure out what happens in the stories I tell myself. My first experience as a writer didn’t involve writing. As a child, when bored in church (while listening to masses conducted in Latin), I would run through the stories I’d read and rewrite them in my imagination. Often, I’d find a place for myself in the story. (In my version of Tarzan, the ape man was accompanied by a skinny fourth-grade girl). It was an elaborate and directed sort of daydreaming.

In college, when I first started creating original stories and writing them down, I realized that reimagining stories as a child helped me figure things out. For me, a story is a way of understanding and interpreting the world. When I get a story right in my mind, it’s both satisfying and enlightening.

That’s one reason I’m a writer. (Another one is: I get to explore secret worlds that intrigue, delight, and frighten me. But that’s another story.)

3. What was your favorite childrens/YA book as a kid and what is one now?

I have too many favorites to choose just one. I love (and loved) books in which kids find a way into a secret world: C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books, all the works of Edward Eager (but most particularly Half Magic), E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It, Evelyn Sibley Lampman’s City Under the Back Steps, Elizabeth Marie Pope’s The Sherwood Ring. I love the juxtaposition of the real world and the fantastic world that’s just steps away. But I also love (and loved) books that have no overt fantasy element but convey a sense of magical possibilities: The Secret Garden and The Little Princess (both by Frances Hodgson Burnett) are two in that category. And of course I love books that take place in fantastic worlds: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Lloyd Alexander’s work. So many possibilities! I’ll stop there – but I could certainly go on!

4. You are an award winning science fiction/fantasy author, why did you switch genres to write YA?

I wanted to write a book that would have made a big difference to me when I was a young adult. Sharyn November, my editor at Viking, gave me that opportunity when she asked me if I wanted to write a YA book.

I had written the beginning of The Wild Girls as a short story that ended when Joan and Fox put on war paint and read their story. But I knew that there was a lot more to tell about these two girls. Sharyn agreed – so I wrote the novel to find out what happened after the reading. (As I mentioned in question 2, I often write to find out what happened.)

5. What is different about writing for tweens?

The main difference is one of focus: In The Wild Girls, I focus on issues that were important to me at that age. I’m also more careful about my language, choosing vocabulary that’s age appropriate.

6. Will you be writing more YA, and what is your next project?

Absolutely! I had a great time (and I learned a lot about myself) while writing The Wild Girls. My next project is another book about Joan and Fox. A friend of Joan’s mom is a travel writer and she’s working on an article about traveling with children. So she needs to “borrow a child” for an adventurous trip to Mexico. This novel is told (mostly) in the form of letters between Joan and Fox.

I also write and edit books for Klutz. My latest project was Invasion of the Bristlepots featuring alien robot toothbrushes.

Pat Murphy hiking in the mountains near Bishop, CA
(photo by Eileen Gunn)

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