Friday, January 11, 2013

Stephanie Blake is in the house!

Stephanie Blake
Today I'm delighted that my friend, author Stephanie Blake, has stopped by to chat.

Her first middle grade novel, The Marble Queen, has just been published and is getting great reviews. 

Kirkus says, "This one is for keepsies, and it would be perfect paired with a how-to book on marble games."

School Library Journal says, "Hopefully this engaging first novel won’t be the only book about Freedom Jane McKenzie, because she is one likable gal." 

From the jacket flap:

Freedom Jane McKenzie isn't good at following the rules. She's good at getting into trouble--playing marbles. All she wants is to enter the marble competition at the Autumn Jubilee and show the boys in the neighborhood that she's the best player. First, Freedom has to convince her mother to let her enter. But there's a new baby on the way, Freedom's daddy is drinking too much, her little brother is a handful, and her mother is even more difficult than usual. Freedom learns that when it comes to love, friendship, and family, sometimes there are no rules. Set in 1959, The Marble Queen is a timeless story about growing up.

Now let's chat with Stephanie:

Can you tell us a bit about your road to publication?

The road to publication was long and painful. It took 6 years and about 13 rejections. Just like having a baby, you forget the pain and agony once the book is out. Now, I'm struggling with another book. What do you mean I have to write something else?

Little Stephanie roller skating
I loved the storyline of marble playing. Did you play marbles as a kid? Any particular experience you had that you might have drawn on for the story?

I didn't play marbles as a kid, but I did love baseball and played it every day. I was an amazing 2nd baseman. I had to play softball with the girls and always resented it. My grandfather is the one who told me that girls can do anything! I live by that rule. 

The idea for The Marble Queen story came to me one Sunday while I was reading the paper. I was fascinated by an article about a group of old men who were reminiscing about their time as mibsters when they were children in the 1940s and 50s. Back then, marble competitions were sponsored by newspapers and children could win scholarships and cash prizes for becoming The Marble King. There weren’t many girls playing back then. I did some research and the story grew from there.

You handle less-than-perfect family life with the perfect blend of honesty, yet age-appropriate restraint. Did you find that tricky? Was there anything you found yourself toning down or even censoring?

In early drafts, Mama was a lot tougher on Freedom. There were spanks, pinches, and smacks and such that my editor felt were too harsh. In retrospect, she was right! 

Stephanie with her brother
I also wasn't allowed to have the characters smoking with the children around. That was hard because everyone in the 50s smoked. Uncle Mort is the kind of smoker who has a cigarette in his mouth all of the time and smokes while he eats. I think we handled Daddy's alcohol abuse well. We also showed the affection and love between Mama and Daddy without getting gross.

I know that like most authors, you've put bits and pieces of your real life into your story. Can you give us an example of how you've tweaked one of those real life bits to fictionalize it?

There are many little things in The Marble Queen that might have happened in my life. I fed my annoying little brother a worm once. He'll never let me forget it. We used to spend a lot of time together playing outside. I skated everywhere. I always wanted fancy white leather skates with pink pom poms. (Never got them!) I didn't care for Barbies, much.

My stepmother used to make this terribly mushy zuccini slaw, and I just hated it. She'd get out this giant crank shredder and shred about a million pounds of zucchini all at once, and I knew that the big bowl of slaw would be in the fridge for a week.

I insisted that Stephanie include this photo. It's my favorite.
Also, church was a big thing in our family. It felt like the sermons went on and on. I used to people-watch during church, count things, pinch my brother, fall asleep. And my grandpa always needed a mint when he sang!

I knew I wanted fishing to be something that Freedom does with her dad. I actually started fishing so I could really capture the details for that chapter. Now, I love taking my boys to the pond--or even going alone. A bad day fishing beats a good day of writing!

What bad writing habit annoys your copy editor the most?

I really like starting sentences with And and But. I also do not use commas correctly no matter how many rules are taped on the wall above my computer. Comma rules are a lot like math. I hate math.

It's always fun to hear where other writers do their work. Tell us about your workspace.

I have a writing area on the main floor of our house. It's very sunny. My best work is done while I'm sleeping. I have terrible insomnia, and I am often up scribbling at one a.m.

Thanks so much, Stephanie.


Carol said...

I loved THE MARBLE QUEEN! Think Stephanie is the Barbara O'Connor of the Rocky Mountain region!

Shari Green said...

What a fun interview! Love the photos! :)

I`ve got THE MARBLE QUEEN waiting for me...hopefully this weekend! I loved hearing how the story idea grew for you, Stephanie. Thanks for sharing!