Both of these New England writers had debut titles this fall. Alice's book is called NO CASTLES HERE (Random House). Check out behind the cut to see the exciting interview.
Later this week we'll feature some more about A.C.E's debut book, and more about the writer, herself.
Could you describe for us the road to publication? Any bumps along the way? (haha)
My road was very bumpy. I wrote three novels before No Castles Here and numerous short stories--one was published by Ladybug Magazine in 2003--and I garnered lots and lots of rejections. I began writing No Castles Here in 1999 and by the time I was offered a contract in 2005, the manuscript had received 13 rejections from editors and 3 from agents.
I sent No Castles Here to Random House in 2002, just as their offices were about to move. The manuscript was placed in a box which they lost in the shuffle. My editor found the box in the summer of 2005 (yes, three years later) and remembered the manuscript which she had read shortly before the move. She phoned me to inquire whether it was still available, and the rest is happy history.
What was your initial inspiration for this story?
I read The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg and Holes by Louis Sachar, and loved both books. I liked especially their structures: in different ways they wove several story lines into one overarching plot, using multiple settings and points of view. Neither author sacrificed characterization nor action. My reaction was, "Cool!" So I thought maybe I could experiment with two or three or maybe even four points of view and see where it took me. The result was an unholy mess, but with lots of cutting, revising, and rewriting, it turned into a real story.
Because I initially wanted to use multiple points of view, I decided to start by interviewing a series of characters to get a better sense of them: I asked a bunch of nosy questions that I made the characters answer in a stream-of-consciousness kind of way. The first character I created was Augie, and at the end of the interview, I asked him what his biggest secret was--I ended up with a story about him stealing a book from a bookstore, and I knew that that was where my story had to start.
When and how did you decide to use a fairy tale in such a contemporary story?
That came from the second character I interviewed: the bookstore owner. Her life was plenty interesting, but sometime late in the interview, I had her recounting a fairy tale--Donkey Skin. I was puzzled by this, but realized that I really wanted to incorporate this tale into the novel, in some way. So as I wrote Augie’s story, I kept writing fairy tales, which took on a life of their own. To my surprise (although apparently not to the surprise of several members of my critique group) these tales ended up dovetailing into Augie’s story, which to be honest, was an enormous relief to me.
Bullying is a big issue for kids today, but there is also a lot of talk that parents shelter their children too much from all risk. In your book, adults play a key role. Could you talk a little about this?
I wrote about bullying because, when developing Augie’s character, I knew that it was one of his problems--he was a weak kid in a tough neighborhood without any real friends (his best friend moved away). I didn’t know how it would play out--I rarely plot out my stories beforehand. I did not expect adults to play such a vital role in its solution.
I had been taught, and it had been reinforced to me over and over, that when writing a children’s book, the kids had to be in charge. They must have the problem, suffer its consequences and find its solution, like The Boxcar Children. But when I thought about to the children’s books I enjoyed as a kid and that I currently loved to read, strong adult characters were always part of the picture. (Anne of Green Gables, the Hobbit, the Phantom Tollbooth, Walk Two Moons.) After all, in real life, every child grows up in a community that includes adults, some being the most interesting people around. And adults influence children enormously, both well and poorly. Why shouldn’t this also be the case in fiction?
So I decided to include strong adult characters in Augie’s community. They couldn’t solve his problems for him, after all, this was his story. Rather, they became role models and provided Augie with opportunities to grow and find respect.
And let’s talk about setting. Why Camden, NJ?
I wanted to set the story in an inner-city, and I wanted Augie to escape to someplace else to start his adventure. Home had to be where he dealt with reality, whereas the place he escaped to had to have a hint of magic. Camden worked perfectly. Philadelphia lay across the Delaware River making it "elsewhere," and it was easy to get to--requiring only a fifteen minute train ride.
The Camden I described, however, is fictional. I kept most of the basic grid of the city, the larger landmarks, and the flavor of its architecture and streets. But I imagined a neighborhood that doesn’t exist: it’s an agglomeration of neighborhoods and spaces from the several inner-cities I worked in, lived in, or wandered around--including Camden--over more than a decade.
What is it like to be a debut novelist in 2007?
It’s exciting and scary. Exciting because my novel is being published at a time where some other unbelievably talented people are writing. And children’s books are breaking molds: they’re using graphics, genres, points of view and structures in new and interesting ways. It’s scary because I’m just one book out there among so many others. The business is, if anything, more cut-throat than ever, and more and more of the work to keep a book in print is given to authors. That’s one of the reasons I am grateful for the Class of 2k7--not only for the marketing leg up, which is undeniable, but also for the support I get from other writers going through exactly what I’m going through.
What advice would you offer to new writers?
Read. Write. Read some more. Write some more. Repeat.
And never give up.
What do you like to read in your spare time?
Lots of different things. I love graphic novels, which dates back to my childhood comics addiction. I read children’s books for every age level. I’ll read nonfiction--history, science, newspapers, social sciences, and books and articles on whatever subject I may be researching for a novel. I’ll read some poetry, and also adult novels--a smattering of mystery, science fiction, fantasy and contemporary fiction. I’ll check out the occasional memoir, but like very few. In the last year, I’ve been slowly going through a compilation of Icelandic Sagas.
How can readers find out more about you?
You can read about me and my work on my website, http://acebauer.com , and on my Class of 2k7 page, http://classof2k7.com/authors/ace_bauer.php . I have what I call an unblog, which I update occasionally at http://acebauer.livejournal.com/ mostly with silly snippets and almost zero news, but it’s fun.