Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Lisa Graff is in the house!

Welcome to day three of Lisa Graff's blog tour! I'm thrilled to welcome her here to Big A little a.

Lisa Graff's debut novel, The Thing About Georgie, has just been released (check my previous post for a review) and you can win a copy now! How? Here's the scoop:

The first three people to send an email to, saying that you saw the Lisa Graff interview here on Big A little a, will get a free copy of the book. You should write "Georgie Giveaway" in the subject line, and include your name and address. (And don't forget to mention that you read the interview [and review] here at Big A little a.)

Okay, on to the interview:

Kelly: The thing is, Lisa...I noticed in your author bio that you're a former Californian. I am too! Do you miss the Golden State, or are you a New Yorker for life now?

Lisa: Hooray for fellow former Californians! I'm not sure I'm a New Yorker for life, but I do love it for right now. People usually assume that since I'm from California, I can't stand the winters out here, but I actually grew up in a ski resort town in southern California (go Big Bear!), so I'm a snow bunny at heart. It's the summers that drive me crazy--so humid and hot! California definitely has better summers.

Kelly: Beer, wine, or a soft drink?

Lisa: I'll pick a nice white wine. That sounds writerly, right?

Kelly: Are you sick of the phrase "the thing is" yet?

Lisa: Actually I kind of like it. I hope it begins to sweep the nation soon, so I can be the founder of the next big catchphrase. Also, I've always sort of wanted to be responsible for something that "sweeps the nation." (This would probably an easier goal to accomplish if I were from a really small nation, like Luxembourg.)

Kelly: Beach, city, or forest?

Lisa: Ooh, a forest sounds lovely right about now, with the trees rustling softly all about and stars you can actually see and a gentle breeze that lulls you off to sleep. No bears, though. My forest doesn't have any bears in it.

Kelly: What draws you to children's literature in particular? What I mean is, why Middle Grade fiction and not, say, mystery, chick lit, or "literary fiction"?

Lisa: I guess I write children's books because I love to read them, even now as an adult. I think good middle grade novels are some of the best examples of fine storytelling--a clear story arc, tight plotting and characterization, and no excess words. There's no room for mucking about in children's novels, because kids won't put up with that. They'll just close the book. Writing something that will amuse kids and also say the things I want to say is both a challenge and a joy for me.

Kelly: Coffee, tea, or a triple skinny latte?

Lisa: This is a difficult choice, but I'll pick tea. I've been doing a lot of writing at night lately, and I find that a good cup of tea gives me just enough oomph to get my brain churning without keeping me wide-eyed for hours when it's time to go to sleep.

Kelly: The Thing About Georgie is your first novel. How long did it take you to write? And I mean from the very beginning--from the spark in your eye to the lovely product I just received?

Lisa: From spark in my eye to publication, a little over three years. I first got the idea to write about a dwarf in Fall 2003, and then I did some research and took some notes before I started writing. The first draft didn't take too long, probably only about six months. It was rather horrendous, though. There was a long period where my agent was sending the novel out to editors and no one wanted it at all. They were all very nice and encouraging, but still, lots of rejections. Then I found my amazing editor at HarperCollins, and she led me through two more drafts of the book, with major overhauls--characters were added, plotlines were taken away or changed or revamped, scenes were switched around for emphasis or clarity...It was a lot of work, but I couldn't be happier with the finished product. And it made me realize that I'm not the kind of writer who can sit down and whip out the next Great American Novel in one go (I'd like to say this type of writer doesn't exist, but sadly I know a few). I'm the kind of writer who has to write something, read it, scratch half of it out, and re-write it. Writing is like a puzzle for me, and it always takes me a few tries before I can get everything in just the right place, but along the way I learn so much about my characters and what it is I'm trying to say, that revision has actually become my favorite part of the process.

Kelly: Movie, Theater, or a Concert?

Lisa: Definitely the theater. I'm a huge musical theater fan.

Kelly: If you had an entire week and unlimited resources to do whatever you'd like, what would you do and why?

Lisa: I'd do some traveling. My dream travel destination at the moment is the Galapagos Islands. I'm dying to meet 100-year-old Galapagos tortoises, and do some snorkeling, and get a little sun too. Oh, I'm ready to go right now!

Kelly: Halloween, New Year's, or Valentine's Day?

Lisa: Well, even though today is Valentine's Day (Happy Valentine's!), I think I'd have to go with Halloween. It involves more candy than Valentine's and New Years combined, and you really can't beat that.


Kelly: What I particularly admired about The Thing About Georgie is that, while Georgie is a dwarf and faces challenges uniquely his own, in all other respects The Thing About Georgie is about the challenges all children face when they're moving on to the Middle School age. You could replace Georgie with Jeanie the Meanie (ADHD? Family problems?) or Andy (your grandmother from Italy sharing your room? Yikes!) and tell the same story. Can you elaborate on why you decided to make Georgie your hero specifically?

Lisa: Oh, I'm so glad you felt that way! I tried very hard not to pound readers over the head with the fact that Georgie is a dwarf, because really, most of the experiences he has and the challenges he faces are similar to those of any child.

I think most children, at one point or another, feel like an outsider. Whether it's on their soccer team or at school or within their group of friends, most kids feel that there's something different about them that prevents them from fitting in. What drew me to the idea of writing about a dwarf was that these differences would be undeniably apparent. No one can try to comfort Georgie by telling him, "Oh, don't worry, I'm sure no one notices you're short," because Georgie knows people notice. So I wanted to see how he would deal with that -- to what degree he'd overcome his differences and to what degree he'd embrace them--because it seemed like a good way to talk about the experiences every child goes through.

Kelly: All the adults in The Thing About Georgie are intelligent and well meaning, yet the children still face challenges of one sort or another. This is fairly unusual in Middle Grade fiction. (Often, in children's fiction, parents are absent, defective, or otherwise strange.) Was this a conscious decision on your part?

Lisa: I'm not sure it was a conscious decision; I think I simply wanted to write about parents who felt real, and most of the parents I knew growing up were pretty darn good ones. No matter how great our parents are, though, we're still going to have our share of problems. Part of this is probably due to the fact that adults and kids look at the world in very different ways, and the adult solution to a problem doesn't always work in a child situation. Georgie's parents help their son deal with his dwarfism by buying him special furniture and adapting their house to fit his needs, which is exactly what they should do. But it takes Jeanie the Meanie to tell him that when he can't reach something he should stop whining and get a chair. And I think she's right, too.

Kelly: I found myself gaining an appreciation of Jeanie the Meanie over the course of the novel. Will we see more of her in the future?

Lisa: I'm so glad you grew to like her! I had a great time writing Jeanie. She's such a loose cannon, and just says whatever pops into her head without any sort of filter, but I think at heart she always means well. That said, I don't think she'll show up in any more stories. I spend so much time writing and re-writing a book that when I'm done I can't wait to try new characters on for size, and see what they have to say. Who knows for certain, though? Jeanie might just decide she wants to be in another novel (and if she does decide that, I'd better pay attention).

Kelly: What can we look forward to next from Lisa Graff?

Lisa: Right now I'm working on my second novel, which is also middle-grade, although it's very different from Georgie. It's called The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower, and it's a con-artist novel, in the spirit of The Sting or Paper Moon. I've just gotten it back from copyediting, so it's fun to see all the many colored pencil marks everywhere. That one comes out a year from now. I'm also in the midst of writing a third novel, which is about an eight-year-old hypochondriac and the strange old lady who moves in across the street