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Interview: Megan McDonald

March 18th, 2012 (12:10 pm)
silly

Current Mood: silly
Current Song: Rosemary by Katy Rose

I've been a fan of the Judy Moody series ever since the first book was published. When I found it in the bookstore, I pounced on it like the cat that I am and I started laughing as soon as I started reading it. As I wrote in my review of the series, I see a lot of myself in Judy, an energetic, dramatic, and determined little firecracker who just may rule the world someday. In the meantime, she'll rule her own little corner of the world, interacting with her parents, her cat, Mouse, her brother, Stink, her friends, and her teachers. Packed with witty dialogue, zany mishaps, and adorable illustrations, the Judy Moody books are a must-have for any household, classroom, library, or bookstore with elementary school-aged kids.

The Judy Moody series made me a fan of author Megan McDonald and illustrator Peter H. Reynolds. I've been following both of their careers, reading their other works and recommending them for book clubs and classrooms. I was recently given the opportunity to interview Megan, and I will be speaking with Peter in the fall. What a joy to converse with creative people whose works I find so delightful! I'm very grateful for this opportunity, especially because I know both Megan and Peter are so busy.

Here now is my interview with the one and only Megan McDonald.

You hold a bachelor's degree in English from Oberlin College and a master's degree in Library Science from the University of Pittsburgh. While working in libraries, bookstores, and museums, did you write your own stories as often as you read and recommended the stories of others?

I was a reader first, long before becoming a writer. As a children's bookseller and librarian, my greatest pleasure was connecting a child with that book. The one. The story or character that would change a life by turning a kid into a reader. When that book is a Judy Moody book, or a book about Stink, I'm thrilled. And honored.

What was the title and premise of your first completed novel?

Completed novel? I like that. My first completed novel was a YA book called The Bridge to Nowhere. It's a coming-of-age story, a bildungsroman if you will, set in Pittsburgh, where I grew up. The novel centers around a dramatic incident: A young teenager picks up the newspaper and reads that her father has driven off of a bridge, a story that was part of local lore I grew up with, since my dad was a bridge builder. (That doesn't happen until the end, though, so I wrote the book backwards!)

Did it take longer to write the first Judy Moody book or to sell it?

To write it. And even longer to re-write it once it sold!

How did you come to team up with Peter Reynolds?

That would be the genius of my beloved editor, Mary Lee Donovan, at Candlewick Press. She had wanted to work with Peter for some time, and thought this might be a good fit. Peter's drawings ARE Judy Moody to me now. I can't remember what was in my imagination before Peter came along.

Was the initial deal for a series?

Judy Moody was not initially conceived as a series. In fact, it started out as a collection of easy-to-read stories. My editor had the idea to connect the "episodes" and turn it into a short novel for third graders. Everything about Judy Moody at the beginning was intuitive and serendipitous!

How many books are planned in the Judy Moody series and the Stink series? Are they written as inspiration strikes, or do you have deadlines?

I don't have a magic number in mind, but often in the middle of writing the current book, the next one springs to mind. But once inspiration strikes, there are deadlines! The Stink series was inspired by my readers - boys who read Judy Moody kept asking for a Stink book.

You were heavily involved in the Judy Moody movie. What was it like to see your story come to life?

In a word, surreal. Even though I worked on the screenplay, it still didn't feel real until I got to the movie set and met Jordana Beatty, the spunky Australian redhead who plays Judy. There she was - my character - standing right in front of my very eyes! A whole constellation of creative people - producers, directors, artists, actors - brought Judy Moody to life, in eye-popping color, with her many funny moods. It's truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

What was your favorite scene to write or film?

My favorite scene to write was the "fun sponge" scene. Judy and her friend Frank Pearl have a falling out, and he calls her a "fun sponge" for taking all the fun out of everything. My favorite scene to film was the black-and-white zombie movie within the film!

Will there be additional books in The Sisters Club line?

So far, it's meant to be a trilogy - though I do think about those characters and miss them.

I'm so sad that it's over! Which of the sisters most resembles a young Megan?

I'd have to say Stevie most resembles me, because she's always searching, trying to make sense of the world around her, hoping to discover who she is.

You also wrote the Julie series for American Girl, which was set in the mid-1970s. What, if any, of Julie's experiences resemble your own childhood?

A lot of the anecdotes in the Julie stories are based on my own growing-up years in the 1970s. Having a teenage sister (I have 4!), carrying a tape recorder around everywhere, fighting the metric system, sticking up for an important cause, trying to save the planet - these are all things that characterized my own youth.

You've written picture books, juvenile fiction, non-fiction, and more. What audience or genre would you love to write for next?

I love mysteries...and historical fiction.

Did you frequent a hometown library or bookstore when you were little?

We didn't have a library building nearby when I was growing up. But we did have a Carnegie library bookmobile come to the local shopping center. My sisters and I would pile on, and they'd tell me all the good books to read (measured by whether the ending made you cry or not). We had the idea to try to read ALL the children's books on the bookmobile. I didn't realize until I grew up that the truck went back each week and loaded up with more books!

In the newest Stink story, Stink and the Midnight Zombie Walk, Stink and his classmates attempt to stack up one million minutes of reading for a school event. Did you ever participate in a reading marathon or reading-related fundraiser when you were in school?

Sadly, no. But I did have reading races with my sisters and book clubs with my friends.

What are your ten all-time favorite books?

Okay, I confess - I absolutely LOVE discovering what other writers are reading, but find it frustrating to answer this question myself. Here goes:

The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
One-Eyed Cat by Paula Fox
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Memories, Dreams, and Reflections by Carl Jung

Oh, and reading Alice Munro once saved my life. But that's another story!

Visit Megan's website.

Related posts at Bildungsroman:
Author/Illustrator Spotlight: Peter H. Reynolds
Interview: Peter H. Reynolds
Judy Moody & Stink by Megan McDonald and Peter H. Reynolds
The Sisters Club books by Megan McDonald
American Girl: Julie books by Megan McDonald

Comments

Posted by: Jama Rattigan (jamarattigan)
Posted at: March 19th, 2012 01:31 pm (UTC)

Oh, thanks so much for this. Love Judy and Stink!

Posted by: Little Willow (slayground)
Posted at: March 19th, 2012 03:21 pm (UTC)

Thanks for reading, Jama!

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