Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Waiting for Unicorns

Waiting for Unicorns by Beth Hautala

Ages 10 & up

"From debut author Beth Hautala comes a brilliant middle grade novel, Waiting for Unicorns. It's a beautifuk exploration in nature of one girl's ability to open up: to new people, to second chances, and to moving forward with life. Talia McQuinn's world is shattered after losing her mother to cancer. To make matters worse, her whale researching father uproots them for the summer to the arctic, an unfamiliar place for a twelve-year old girl. Talia's father leaves on an expedition shortly after their arrival, leaving her in the care of Sura, and Inuit woman who has spent her entire life in the frozen landscape. Although this new lifestyle is absolutely foreign to Talia, one element strikes a chord in her broken heart: traditional storytelling. A tale about Narwahls, or the unicorns of the sea unlocks something in Talia that has been buried since her mother's death: her ability to hope. "      

Author Q & A
Thank you for agreeing to sit down with me, Beth. Your debut novel Waiting For Unicorns really touched a chord with both me and my daughter. What was the inspiration for Waiting For Unicorns?

Thanks for taking the time to read unicorns and to ask about it! I am so thrilled you enjoyed it and so excited to tell you more about the book and the writing process. The physical inspiration for Unicorns came from an oceanic‐museum trip I took with my Dad when I was very small. My memories are rather vague. I remember small aquariums filled with various local sea creatures, maps and diagrams of our costal region, and something about seafaring vessels. But I distinctly recall wrapping my hands around a Narwhal tusk at the instruction of our tour guide during one point in the tour, and hearing him tell my Dad and I about the Unicorn of the Sea. The feel of that tusk and the idea of a “real” unicorn existing in one form or another captured my imagination and has never let go!
Author Q & A with Jennifer Smeth 
The emotional inspiration came from a very different place—my first daughter was two weeks old when I started drafting UNICORNS, and there was suddenly this new and impossible question: “What would become of her if something happened to me? And also, as a daughter myself, “What will happen to me if something should happen to my mom?” I know this is a universal question. We all wonder. What do we do with our lives when terrible things happen and leave us crumbling in the wake? UNICORNS was, in some small way, my attempt to answer that question for myself. There is grief, of course. The kind you never completely get over. But also, there is never just grief. Because life is too big, too beautiful, too full of possible and impossible things. So we plunge, yes. But then we rise.

Before publishing your first novel, you were an associate editor for a magazine, editorial director and co‐owner of an advertising agency. What prompted you to write a novel? And why did you decide to write your first book for the middle grade audience?
I think I have always been in the process of writing a novel . . . from the moment I learned to read I knew I wanted to tell stories that move readers to think and feel real things. To learn things they might not otherwise have learned. To love in ways they might not have otherwise loved. But while I was learning to write books I still had to work. So I chose words as my profession. I worked with them and in them until I learned to write them more proficiently myself. Middle grade literature has always been my favorite. Partly becuase it is free (for the most part) of some of the overly-heavy adult themes that YA and Adult lit have more freedom to delve into. Sex, drugs, etc. But more than that, middle-grade kids are developmentally at a point in life where the child and the youth meet. They are still young enough to believe in wonder and magic and impossibility while being old enough to grasp difficult and abstract ideas.

How many different titles did you experiment with before deciding on Waiting For Unicorns?
Honestly, the title was always going to be WAITING FOR UNICORNS. It was firmly cemented in my mind even before the book was fully alive. Fortunately I was never asked to change it. As the story grew, it grew around the title and both my agent and editor like it. So it got to stay.

What say did you have, if any, in choosing the cover for the book?
None. It was really a complete and most‐delightful surprise. I feel very blessed as a new author to have received the kind of grace I did when it came to the cover of this book. I knew my editor and the team that was working on my book had my best interest at heart, and I trusted them completely. But I was so overjoyed when they revealed the cover.
“What do you think?” Was the question. “Are you okay with this? Can we go with this?” “IT IS BEYOND PERFECT,” was my instant response. I knew they would do great, but I didn’t realize how exactly they would understand what I was trying to say. It’s just magic. Couldn’t be happier.

Which novels have had the most impact on you as a writer? Is there a particular book that made you want to write?
I read Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech my junior year in college—not as an assignment, but just because it sounded interesting to me. I credit that book as being a monumental force in my writing life. It moved me. Deeply. When I set it down I couldn’t think about anything else for weeks. The character development is fantastic. I told myself that if I ever wanted to do my job as a writer I would have to do it like that. I pray I can get there someday. I hope UNICORNS is a start in the right direction. Sharron Creech, Kate Dicamillo and Jerry Spinelli have probably been the most influential contemporary middle grade authors in my life, but books in general have been like food to me. I have tried to read widely and deeply.

What is your writing process like? How do you keep yourself organized? And is there one writing habit you have that would make us go “huh?!”
My writing process generally begins with a poignant scene. It’s crystal clear and the story builds around it. After that, the process is a little sketchy due to the chaos of life. I have four kids ages eight and under, so my writing time is basically snatched from the ether. I write in my car in thegrocery store parking lot, I write while waiting for doctor appointments, I write while the baby naps in her car seat, and I when I am disciplined, I write in the very wee hours of the morning. I also do a lot of “head writing.” —I play and replay the story in my mind as I am driving, washing dishes, folding laundry, etc., until scenes come alive enough to set them on paper. It makes the drafting process slow and tedious, but when I finally get the story out, I know it. It feels alive and this makes revising it so much easier. I wish I were more organized. I wish I could use an outline. I’m trying that method a little bit, but too much structure in the initial drafting process tends to stifle me. Weird writing habits . . . hmm. I type too fast. Is that weird? Sometimes have to force myself to slow down so the thoughts can roll around a little better before falling out. So I use a pen and paper to draft. I also carry a notebook (a little one) with me at all times. It is full of what I refer to as ‘launch points.’ Random parts of scenes, phrases I hear the characters saying, events I know will occur at some point in the story, character names, etc. Basically that notebook is the story in miniature form, totally out of order, and completely incomplete. Someone else wouldn’t be able to make heads or tails of it, but if I ever lost that little notebook, I’d lose half my story‐in‐process. I need to photograph the pages or something and save myself from that disaster!

What book is currently on your nightstand?
“The Great Unexpected,” by Sharon Creech

As the “Best of 2014” lists are coming out, I have to ask what books would be on your list?
I have to be honest here and say that this year has been a terrible reading year for me. *sad face* I had my fourth baby this spring, finished revisions on Unicorns, I run an ad agency with my husband, and between my desire to sleep and my desire to read, sleeping often won out. I can tell you a few of the books on my TBR list from 2014 though! In no particular order:
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson, I'll Give you the Sun by Jandy Nelson, East of the Sun and West of the Moon by Margi Preus.

As a debut author has your life changed at all?
Yes and no. It has changed in the sense that I’ve seen a life‐long dream come true! Something I have worked incredibly hard to achieve has finally come to pass. So I am more deeply thankful—for people, for experiences, for time, for health, for the encouragement I’ve received, and yes, even for the rejection! It made me a better, stronger writer.Also, life has changed in the sense that I’m a little more knowledgeable. I was so na├»ve when this process began. And I am still a literary baby, but I feel so much better equipped to do this again, and also to encourage others along their own writing journeys. But other than that, life has not really changed that much. Right now I am just doing what I love—working at writing, being wife and a mom, and trying to keep the chaos to a minimum!

I know that you are busy promoting Waiting For Unicorns but what are you working on next?
I’m working on a story about a brother and sister duo. There is an ostrich involved, Aspergers, a displaced zoo, old cars, and old vinyl records, Peter Pan, and a finding‐lost‐things superpower. But I don’t want to say too much more than that. I’m having a blast writing it!

Thank you, Beth for the Q & A, and for the opportunity to showcase your novel Waiting for Unicorns here! 

You can find Beth on  Twitter at @BethHautala
Order the book here

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