Interview: Linda Urban
Current Mood: thirsty
Current Song: Operation Mad Ball score music
I absolutely adore A Crooked Kind of Perfect, Linda Urban's first novel for kids. Filled with sweet sensibility and quirky characters, I highly recommend it. (Read my full-length book review.)
After playing email tag with Linda for a good year and a half, interviewing her was truly a delight.
Describe a crooked kind of perfect day.
I'm an early riser. I love when my house is quiet. A crooked perfect day would start in that quiet with one of those magical writing sessions where words just appear on the page. Then my kids would wake and want to eat something I actually have in the house.
Other components of a perfect day: a great book to read, a walk down the beautiful country road on which I live, PG Tips tea, a funny conversation with my husband, a slice of chocolate bourbon cake, pants that fit, a chat with friends.
Actually, I'm rather easy to please. A good morning of writing colors the whole rest of the day. And a bad one? Then make that two slices of bourbon cake.
In your novel A Crooked Kind of Perfect, Zoe dreams of playing the piano, but ends up playing the organ. Which musical instruments do you play? Which do you wish you could play?
I can't play any instrument now, though as a kid I did play violin for a year and then the organ for a couple more. And yes, I really wanted to play the piano, but my dad bought an organ instead. He was an engineer and I think he liked the gadgetry of an organ.
I'd still love to be able to play the piano - but my first choice would be to play the cello. Such a warm sound.
Zoe's father earns all sorts of 'degrees' from Living Room University. What wild and wacky or practical courses would you love to take?
There are so many things I'd like to learn. I want to learn to make artisan bread and to weave on a loom and spin wool into yarn. I'd love to know how to tap dance and how to use a potter's wheel. I've toyed with the idea of taking one of those Great Books correspondence courses but the truth is that I always bristle when I'm required to read something (one of the reasons I
never last very long in reading groups).
I will gladly teach you how to tap dance!
Writers and publishers must acquire the right to use copyrighted song lyrics in their texts. How easy or difficult was this process for you? Did you always plan for Zoe's big performance piece to be Neil Diamond's Forever in Blue Jeans?
Ugh. Getting (and paying for) song permission was a twisty bureaucratic nightmare. I was lucky to have some help from Harcourt in identifying the right music folks to talk to and the proper language to use, but the financial stuff was mine to do - as was the nagging. My requests were small potatoes for the rights people at Sony, etc., so it was very difficult to
even get them to answer my letters. Initially, I had plans to use lyrics from The Brady Bunch and Green Acres in the text, but one request was flat-out denied and the other was prohibitively expensive, so I rewrote those scenes to allude to lyrics rather than really quoting them. I also rewrote the Forever in Blue Jeans scenes for the audio and the foreign rights. Only the English and Australian texts actually quote Mr. Diamond's song.
As for always planning for Forever in Blue Jeans to be the performance piece, I'm not sure I actually planned it. It just showed up as a title in the first draft. I hadn't even thought about what the lyrics were until much later, when I was writing the scene in which Zoe hears them for the first time. They were just perfect for the story. I'm really glad I was
able to obtain the rights to use them.
Toe-socks: love 'em or leave 'em? (I am an eternal schoolgirl and love wearing knee-highs with plaid skirts, but the pair I acquired along with your book were the first toe socks I dared to wear!)
I find them adorable in principle and uncomfortable in practice.
Where do you see Zoe in five years? Her parents? Wheeler?
Will you forgive me if I say I don't see them in five years? Kids always ask me what happened to them - does Zoe keep playing? Does her dad do okay at his job? Will Wheeler ever see his mom again? - and I always have to ask them: What do you think?
My gut says that they are all going to be okay. But I haven't thought much about the specifics of that.
The biography page of your website mentions Superbox, a story about a crime-fighting shoebox which you wrote in elementary school. Do you ever revisit your early writings? Have you ever thought of reworking them into novels or picture books?
I've looked at a few things, but mostly I just keep them in a box in the basement. I don't think there's anything there worth reworking, but they do serve as a great reminder of how free my imagination used to be. They also serve as a great reminder of how a middle-grade kid really lives with one foot in the adult world. The year before I wrote Superbox, I wrote a story about missing labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa whose disappearance was big news on the Detroit radio station my parents listened to.
Let's talk about Mouse Was Mad, your picture book that's coming out in May. Who is the little mouse, and why is he or she upset?
I think we're hitting on a theme here. I don't know why poor Mouse is so mad. The book starts with him mad and getting madder all the time. I had left it up to the illustrator to figure out how he got that way in the first place. The illustrator, who turned out to be the talented Henry Cole, chose not to explain it either. It was his feeling that kids might want to decide for themselves what happened before the book begins.
We're both booksellers. What was one of your favorite parts of working at Vroman's Bookstore?
I have to name just one? I LOVED being a bookseller. It really was the best job I ever had. I loved all the ARCs and I loved sharing great reads with customers and I loved meeting authors and I loved learning the history of the business. The whole culture of books - I loved all of that. And I miss it.
Are you presently working on any other stories?
I am at work on two novels right now - a contemporary and a not-so-contemporary - both for middle grades. I've also got a transitional reader that I really adore. Doesn't seem like the best time to be shopping that, however, the market being what it is.
What are your ten favorite books of all time?
Dang. Such a question. This list changes every day. I'm going to leave off the books by friends and tell you the first ten that come to mind:
Granny Torelli Makes Soup by Sharon Creech
Straight Man by Richard Russo
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
Andrew Henry's Meadow by Doris Burn
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Missing May by Cynthia Rylant
A Place on Earth by Wendell Berry
Jim the Boy by Tony Early
The Gardener by Sarah Stewart and David Small
Linda gave me permission to post something she wrote at her website about writing:
There is no Perfect Book.
But there is a novel to be written that is perfectly you.
And when you write it, it will be so right and true and real that people are going to want to read it.
Somewhere, right now, there is a young reader waiting for that very book. For her it will be as warm as a quilt. Every word, proof that somebody else in the world gets her, in all her wild (or quiet) imperfection.
Maybe your book will even be pink. Or not.
In any case, that book will be perfect for her. Write that book.
Visit Linda's website and LiveJournal.