Saturday, April 11, 2009
Book Launch: The Dragon of Trelian
I'm delighted to post this interview with friend Michelle Knudsen, also a student at VCFA. Her fast-paced, fun novel THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN debuts on April 14. If you are in New York City on April 14, you're invited to join Mikki at her launch party at Books of Wonder,18 W. 18th Street, from 5-7PM. She'll be giving a brief reading from the novel around 6pm. There will be refreshments, and of course she'll be signing books!
Congratulations on the publication of your novel, THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN. Can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired it?
I've always wanted to write fantasy novels. When I first started reading "grown-up" books as a young reader, authors like Piers Anthony and Robert Asprin completely captivated me. I knew I wanted to write about other worlds like that, filled with magic and adventure. THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN has a lot of my favorite fantasy elements in it -- castles, spells, secrets, danger, true friends, powerful enemies, and of course, dragons. So it was definitely inspired by my own love of fantasy literature. The story is about a mage's apprentice named Calen and a princess named Meg who, among other things, discover a secret plot against the kingdom which threatens everything they care about. They're each struggling with their own problems too, which include Calen's magical training and Meg's unsettling connection to a young dragon she found and is secretly trying to take care of.
How long have you been writing for children/teens? Have you written other books or is this your first effort?
I've been writing for children for about 12 years. I started out as a children's book editor, and wrote my first books as part of my former job at Random House. All of my earlier books are for younger readers -- board books, picture books, beginning readers, etc. My best known book is the picture book Library Lion (Candlewick Press, 2006), which won several awards and spent more then 30 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. If you count everything, including the Star Wars and Godzilla movie tie-in coloring and activity books, THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN is my 40th book. But it's my first novel.
Can you describe your path to the publication of THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN?
I started writing this book in 2001. Looking back at my files, it looks like I wrote the first chapter in July, and the second in October. In November 2001 I started keeping a log of my progress, recording the date and the number of words and pages, and what chapter I was up to. There were weeks when I wrote almost every day, and months where I didn't write at all. In early February 2005, I sent the first 18 chapters to my agent, Jodi Reamer at Writers House, so she could tell me if it was terrible and whether I should just stop working on it. But she said she loved it, and made me finish. It took me until November 2005 to write the last few chapters, some of which I did while riding the subway back and forth to work. I revised the manuscript a bit for Jodi and then she sent it to my editor, Sarah Ketchersid, at Candlewick. I did a few more rounds of revision with Sarah, and continued to make smaller changes all the way up to seeing the paged-out galleys in November and December of 2008 (the first galleys are what the ARCs were made from, so the final book has some small differences from the ARC). So that's...seven and a half years from start to finish. A pretty long path! I think one reason it took me such a long time, especially in the beginning, is that I was terrified of actually finally trying to write a novel. I kept expecting someone to come and stop me. And I often put it aside to work on other projects, or to figure out backstory, or various other things. It seemed important not to push too hard, to let myself take as much time as I needed and figure out how to write something so much longer and more complex than anything else I'd ever attempted. The whole thing was a huge learning experience. Hopefully everything I learned will help make writing the next novel a little easier!
Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
Read a lot, especially the kinds of books that you want to write. That seems obvious, but I'm amazed at how many people who want to write picture books, for example, don't spend time reading lots and lots of picture books. Look at the books you like and try to figure out why you like them, how the author held your interest here or made you feel something there, etc. Look at the books you don't like, too, and try to figure out why you don't like them. And write, write, write! Don't be afraid to try things, don't be afraid to write awful first drafts. Give yourself permission to write terrible, terrible things -- that will help free you up to get your ideas on the page. You can always fix them up later; just focus on getting them down in that first draft. Writing workshops can be really helpful, if you can find a good one. Join SCBWI. Go to conferences, talk to other writers, listen to editors and agents speak about what they look for in a good book. Read lots of books on writing. Try to learn as much as you can, but reject any advice that doesn't feel right to you -- there are lots of different ways to write a book, and not every approach works for every person. Listen to everything, then use what works for you. And always write what you love. Don't try to write what you think will sell best, or what you heard a certain agent is looking for. Your own best work is going to come from what matters most to you, what's closest to your heart, and what you honestly want to spend hours, months, and years of your life working on.
Can you tell us something about your writing life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?
I want to keep working on different kinds of books -- definitely more picture books and novels, but I also love writing beginning readers, and I have a chapter book I've been playing with on and off for years. Right now I'm also working toward my MFA in writing for children and young adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and doing a LOT of reading and both creative and critical writing as part of that program. I'd love to do more school visits and get to spend more time interacting with kids, talking with them about their own stories and helping to get them excited about books and writing. And I would like to teach children's book writing at some point down the road.
Do you have any new writing ventures underway?
I have a middle-grade short story coming out in a Candlewick anthology next year, and my next picture book, ARGUS, is scheduled for Spring 2011. Right now I'm working on the sequel to THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN, along with some more picture book manuscripts and the beginning of another fantasy novel, which might end up being YA.
Do you have a website where readers can learn more about THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN?
Yes! It's www.michelleknudsen.com. I also have a blog at http://michelleknudsen.blogspot.com/.