As you read the reviews on Bookshop Talk, you'll notice that every review is positive. No, we're not a bunch of literary
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January 17, 2011

INTERVIEW with Young Adult Author, Joëlle Anthony

Interviewed by Kim Harris Thacker

I don’t even remember exactly how Joëlle Anthony and I became email friends, because it seems like we’ve always been friends!  Joëlle is one of the nicest and smartest people I’ve ever “met.”  I can’t wait for the day when we get to meet in person!  Until then, we can at least be thankful for internet communication, which allows us to enjoy a visit from Joëlle today.

Without further ado, a hearty welcome to Joëlle Anthony, author of RESTORING HARMONY and the forthcoming THE RIGHT & THE REAL:

Kim Harris Thacker:  You often have photos of deer on your website—photos you or your photographer/musician husband, Victor, have taken in your very own backyard!  Tell us about where you live and how the setting inspired some of the locations in your debut novel, RESTORING HARMONY, which came out in March of 2010.

Joëlle Anthony:  I live on a small island in British Columbia, which is part of the Gulf Island chain (the same chain as the San Juans in the U.S.). The Gulf Islands are in the Georgia Straight, which runs between Vancouver Island and mainland Canada (where the city of Vancouver is, so it’s often confusing for people not from around these parts!).

We have about 5000 year round residents on our island and it’s the same size as Manhattan. People often joke there are more deer than people here, which I know is not true, but we might have more raccoons than people. Some deer are more tame than others. Although you can see pictures of me feeding the deer out of my hands, I actually try not to give in to that urge too often because the deer really should be foraging, not getting handouts (yeah, bad pun!). One rule I do stick to with the deer though is that I only feed them things they could find, like carrots or apples.

Molly is not from the same island I live on, but they’re very similar. If you’re good at geography, you can get a map and figure out which island she’s from, using a few clues toward the end of the book. Very little of RH is set here in B.C., but Molly’s farm and island are very concrete in my mind, and some of that comes out through Molly’s memories or dialogue.

KHT:  RESTORING HARMONY is a work of dystopian young adult fiction about Molly McClure, a young woman who embarks on a journey from her tiny island home in British Columbia to a suburb of Portland, Oregon on a mission to bring her grandparents back home to Canada, where her grandfather can serve as the island's doctor—and possibly save her pregnant mother's life.  In essence, Molly is on a bit of a quest!  Did you read any Quest-type novels to prepare you for writing Molly's story?  Do you have any favorite books that could be considered Quest novels?

JA:  Well, honestly, I’m not much of a quest-novel reader. However, I was definitely inspired by Nevil Shute’s wonderful WWII (adult) novel, THE PIED PIPER. Shute is one of my greatest influences anyway, but that novel in particular had a direct influence on RH. It’s about an Englishman who has to cross occupied France and inadvertently ends up taking a bunch of children with him. It’s a very, very exciting story and I recommend it highly. Shute writes a lot of character driven adventures with a touch of romance and if you read him, it’s quite obvious I’ve learned (borrowed?) a lot from him.

As far as MG-YA quest novels go, I do have a soft spot for Joni Sensel’s THE FARWALKER’S QUEST and the sequel THE TIMEKEEPER’S MOON. Everyone I’ve given those books to has devoured them too. They’re super.

KHT:  The setting in RESTORING HARMONY is so vivid.  Here's an example where Molly is at a train station, looking around as she waits to buy a train ticket:  "Behind a glass window sat a woman with enormous purple- framed glasses, chewing on an apple and reading an E-ZBook Reader by kerosene lamplight."  I love this, because it seems so old-fashioned, and at the same time, so futuristic, which I think is perfect and super-logical for dystopian fiction.  Can you tell us about how you came up with such great ideas for your setting?

JA:  The book is set thirty years in the future, which is not really that far away. However, while technology will probably grow in leaps and bounds (if the last ten years are any indication), an economic collapse would most likely bring development to a screeching halt. So what I tried to do was use things we’re familiar with now, like cell phones, and change them, like making them solar. That way they’re more modern than what we have now, but to Molly they’re unreliable and outdated. And by mixing the use of things like the e-reader with an old-technology kerosene lamp, which is something people would return to if they didn’t have electricity, you get a nice contrast.

KHT:  Molly is a middle child in a literary world that seems to be most densely populated by orphans, oldest/youngest children, or only children.  There just doesn't seem to be a lot of fiction about middle kids!  Why do you think this is the trend, and why did you decide to break away from it?

JA:  My best guess is it’s a writer thing and not necessarily intentional. When I was in high school, I directed a play. My mother helped me find it and it was called The Dollar. It was great, and it had just enough roles for all my friends who weren’t directing their own plays. I think there were seven roles. For the whole play, six characters were on stage at once, and at the end, the seventh one came on. What I learned then is something all writers know. Six characters standing around on the stage (or the page) are a LOT harder to deal with than two. The play was deceivingly simple when you read it, and extremely hard to direct because you can’t just have characters twiddling their thumbs until it’s their turn to talk.

It’s the same in books. That’s why you find writers grouping characters together too. Like it’s easier to have twins for best friends than two separate friends when you’re writing a scene. And it’s much easier to have one brother than five siblings of different ages and sexes. So, while Molly is a middle child, I have to admit, I didn’t have to deal with her siblings because they aren’t in it that much! If the book had taken place on the farm, we might have found Molly an only child.

That said, I do want to point out that I really try (in all my writing) to have multiple generations in my books from the very young to the grandparents. And especially middle-age people (not just parents, but friends) because life is multi-generational and so often in YA, you find yourself reading about teens and only teens, which isn’t very realistic to me.

KHT:  In many adventure stories (especially in Quests), the hero has a companion—usually a side-kick who provides comic relief, or, if we're thinking Quests, a loyal servant who comes along for the ride.  In RESTORING HARMONY, Molly has Jewels.  Tell us about Jewels and what makes her unique.

JA:  Well, Jewels is Molly’s fiddle, so she’s definitely not a silent partner, but she doesn’t give Molly much advice. She does step in and help save Molly a few times, like a good sidekick should though. I think of Jewels as more like Molly’s right arm than a friend though. Molly wouldn’t know how to live without music and Jewels is how she makes music.

KHT:  When did you decide you wanted to become a writer?

JA:  I’ve always liked books, and until about junior high, I thought I’d be a writer, but then I got sidetracked by the theatre. My university degree is in Theatre Arts, and I worked as a professional actress for a while in my thirties. I mostly did comedy and improvisation. But a theatre background is a good foundation for writing, so it all sort of melds together. It’s all storytelling, isn’t it?

KHT:  Tell us about your writing day.  Because I know you better than most of the visitors to this blog, I know you own an ingenious...contraption...that allows you to be physically active while you work.  Please tell us all about it!

JA:  I do all my writing (and this interview) at my treadmill desk—writing while walking. The writer, Arthur Slade, first introduced me to the idea of it. It’s a desk built across my treadmill and my laptop sits on it. Because I’m tall, it made me kind of dizzy to have to look down at the screen, so I had a shelf put on the wall in front of me and I put a large monitor on it which I plug my laptop into. I walk about 1.5 mph while I write, and it sounds hard, but it’s not. At the end of the day, I feel much more energized than I do when I sit all day.

Also, I should say, I probably only actually walk about 3-4 miles per day. On long writing days, I do have to sit down after I reach 4 miles or so.

KHT:  How does being a reader help you be a writer?

JA:  Reading is at least half of writing. In fact, it’s probably more like 75% of writing. If you don’t read, you can’t write. I don’t care what anyone tells me, I’ll never believe otherwise. Last year was a busy year, launching RH and writing my next book, The Right & the Real (May 2012), and so I read less than usual…maybe only a hundred books (usually, I read about a hundred and fifty). This year, I expect to read a lot more because I will only be writing, and not doing much marketing. I’ve already read six novels (one really long one) in the first two weeks of the year. I never consider reading slacking off, I consider it just as important as my writing time.

KHT:  Do you have any advice for young people who want to become writers?

JA:  Read. Read. Read. And then read some more. Also, my friend, and wonderful author, Kerry Madden, wrote a fantastic book full of writing exercises and ideas which is perfect for anyone who wants to get started writing. It’s targeted toward younger girls, but I use it in the writing classes I teach and the boys do the exercises too. It’s called WRITING SMARTS – A Girl’s Guide to Writing Great Poetry, Stories, School Reports, and More! I highly recommend it.
There are two things I tell my Grade 6/7 writing students, which I think are worth remembering.
“Respect the writer.” That goes for your friend who writes, as well as for yourself. Be encouraging and only share writing if you’re comfortable doing so.
“Less talking, more writing.” Pretty self explanatory.
Oh, and I guess, there is one more thing. Have fun!

Thank you so much, Joëlle, for visiting with us on Bookshop Talk!

You can read Bookshop Talk's review of RESTORING HARMONY, posted on January 16 (it's the post right before this one).
To learn more about the author, visit: Joëlle Anthony


Alix said...

Great questions Kim and great answers Joelle, I loved this insight into Molly's world.

Amy Finnegan {} said...

Great interview! Thanks, Kim. Joelle sounds like a fantastic author (and nice person, too!) I'm really excited to read RESTORING HARMONY :)

Kim said...

Joelle is such a wonderful writer and friend! I'm so glad she let me interview her.

Alexa, it's fun to learn more about Molly, isn't it? I feel like she's a real person!

Amy, you'll love RH. It's very heartwarming, but also super exciting!