Thursday, December 9, 2010

Interview with Jennifer Trafton, Author of The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic

Jennifer Trafton I met Jennifer Trafton at Hutchmoot this past summer. She's fantastically nice and her middle grade novel, which looks fabulous, The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic released last week from Dial. It has already received great reviews, including a starred review in Publishers Weekly. I asked her a few questions so we could all get to know her better! Please welcome Jennifer.

Why write?
I came to a point in my life when I faced a choice: either write or be miserable. I'’d rather write stories and be poor, unknown, and happy than be wildly successful doing anything else.

Can you tell us a little bit about how The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic came to be? How did you come to work with an illustrator?
This particular book has been a very long journey for me. Fifteen years ago, I was traveling around England looking at all of these beautiful, haunting, sometimes oddly shaped hills and couldn'’t get out of my head the idea that there was a giant sleeping underneath. Three years later, on a snowy night in Boston, I looked out my window at the storm swirling around the trees and began writing the first few pages of a story about a girl losing her hat. I don'’t remember the moment, much later on, when those two story-bits came together, but once they did, the book grew very quickly in my head.

I still have to pinch myself sometimes to believe that a fantastic illustrator like Brett Helquist enjoyed my story enough to turn it into art. I’'m very grateful to my agent, Steven Malk, and to my publisher, Dial, for having the vision to orchestrate that match. I can'’t say I "“worked with”" Brett— -- I saw early sketches, but the wonderful illustrations you see in the book are purely the product of his prodigious talent and his very sensitive reading of the story.

What's your favorite part of the creative process?
There is a time at the beginning of writing a book that, for me, feels like standing under a waterfall, and it is glorious. I walk absent-mindedly around my house imagining, I go to bed imagining, I wake up in the middle of the night jotting down bits of scenes and dialogue before I forget them, I wake up imagining, I take hot showers and feel the ideas bubbling in my head. And when I’'m in that state, the story looks so lovely and hilarious in my mind.

Then comes the painful task of putting those ideas on paper into a first draft, and the waterfall disappears. Then the writing feels like squeezing water from a stone. But once the draft is down, ugly as it is, my other favorite part of the creative process starts: rewriting and revising. It is so much more fun to shape and reshape something that is already there. That'’s when it really becomes a story, and it begins to have a life of its own and to teach me what it was always meant to be.

Your book is fantasy. What do you think are the advantages of telling a story like this?

I didn’t consciously pick out a genre in which to write. I sat down and wrote what came out of me naturally. For better or worse, I was born with an imagination that can’t look at the world without seeing buried giants and walking trees and singing lyres. I have a deep-down need to stretch life into weird and silly shapes.

I love fantasy (which I define very broadly— -- anything that is not strictly realistic) because it allows such immense freedom for the imagination, and as such it finds a natural home in the world of children. But for that same reason I think adults desperately need that elasticity of mind, to be able to look at the world and say, “"What if things were different, topsy-turvy, inside-out? What if the world has more marvels and more meaning that I see on the surface?"” Fantasy isn't necessarily better than realism in this sense, but it offers its own unique key to reality.

What were some of your favorite books as a young girl? What authors do you feel are an influence on your work?
I have a page on my website that lists some of my all-time favorite books. I was a voracious reader as a child: favorite authors included E. B. White, Madeleine L'’Engle, Beverly Cleary, Noel Streatfeild, E. Nesbit, L. M. Montgomery, and Joan Aiken. The Chronicles of Narnia deeply shaped my imagination in many ways. I always loved (and still love) the zaniness of Lewis Carroll, L. Frank Baum (I devoured the entire Oz series), Shel Silverstein, Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss, and Edward Lear— -- I go back to Carroll and Lear often when I'’m writing, trying to grab hold of the smallest piece of their wild wittiness. George MacDonald is an author I didn'’t encounter until college, but since then his fairy tales and his view of the imagination have had a profound impact on me.

What's your favorite Christmas song?
When I was a little girl, I would apparently sing "“Jolly Old St. Nicholas"” nonstop on car trips, so that song will always have a special place in my heart. As an adult, I think my favorite would have to be “"O Holy Night."” There is a kind of transcendent beauty about it. The "“fall on your knees”" chorus always gives me goosebumps.

Mount MajesticAbout The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic: Ten-year-old Persimmony Smudge leads (much to her chagrin) a very dull life on the Island at the Center of Everything . . . until the night she overhears a life-changing secret. It seems that Mount Majestic, the rising and falling mountain in the center of the island, is not a mountain at all--it's the belly of a sleeping giant, moving as the giant breathes. Now Persimmony and her new friend Worvil the Worrier have to convince all the island's other quarreling inhabitants--including the silly Rumblebumps, the impeccably mannered Leafeaters, and the stubborn young king--that a giant is sleeping in their midst, and must not be woken.

Enhanced with Brett Helquist's dazzling illustrations, Jennifer Trafton's rollicking debut tells the story of one brave girl's efforts to make an entire island believe the impossible.

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