Sixth-grader Vannie Taylor’s mom has just died. Her father, completely lost without his wife, brings Vannie and her younger brother to live in a dismal cottage on the estate where he manages craft fairs, dinners, and other events. When strange events start happening around the estate, Vannie decides to investigate, and soon discovers a ghost who wants her to help him make amends for something in his past. Vannie’s life is starting to get back to normal, but in a way she’s never imagined.
I’ve been fortunate enough to know Marilyn Levinson for several years, during which time she’s always had a smile on her face and a new story on her mind. In her years as an author, Marilyn has written across a variety of genres. But while she is perhaps best known for her timeless children’s books such as No Boys Allowed and And Don’t Bring Jeremy, she’s with us on this Halloween to give us a glimpse into her YA debut, Getting Back to Normal. Why is that pertinent today? Because it’s … well, we’ll get to that : ) Read on…
1. What book spoke to you most during your teen years?
I read adult novels in my teen years. We didn’t have YA novels back then:) I remember coming upon Catcher in the Rye in the library. I took it home to read. It must have struck a note with me, because it prompted me to write an essay afterwards—about teenagers and how they’re often misunderstood. I didn’t show anyone what I’d written.
2. Do you have a favorite book or author that you re-read regularly?
I have many favorite authors, and try to read their new books as they’re published. I don’t reread books.
3. What YA book are you most looking forward to reading?
Believe it or not, I’ve yet to read The Hunger Games. I’d like to read the series, even though I’ve seen the first movie.
4. You taught high school Spanish for years. How doyou think that impacts your ability or desire to write for teens?
Years ago I probably started writing for kids because my own sons were growing up and I’d taught high school.
5. But wait. You’ve been writing books for the adult audience. What lured you back to writing for kids/teens?
The sleuth in my [work in progress] is twenty-nine and female. Before that I revised a YA about a 15-year-old boy who’s been orphaned and must combat an evil uncle who wants to take over his body. I’ve even written a short novel about a street cat who finds himself living in a house with a family, a sheepdog and a hamster. I suppose I go with the story in my head, regardless of the protagonist’s gender or age. I’ve recently completed a sequel to Rufus and Magic Run Amok. It was fun writing the story from Rufus’s perspective: coping with his magic, his first boy-girl relationship, rescuing someone with his friends.
6. So here’s the million-dollar topic: why we thought Halloween would be a fun day for your guest interview. Your YA debut, Getting Back to Normal, features a ghost. eep! What inspired you to add a ghost to your fiction?
Ghosts “haunt” a few of my books. These are friendly, likable ghosts who have remained here on Earth for specific reasons. I think they add a dimension to my novels. (Forgive the pun:) Archie, the ghost in Getting Back to Normal, helps Vannie adjust to her new home on the estate with her father works. He also wants Vannie to help him with his plan concerning his granddaughter, which conflicts with Vannie’s wishes.There is a big Halloween party at the end of the book.
7. When your main character, Vannie, first meets the ghost of Archibald Heatherton (the third) she’s a bit disbelieving but not afraid. As an author, what prompted you to make that choice, to allow her to face the ghost bravely? Or was it something in the character herself that made the choice for you?
Archie appears in a friendly and comical way. Vannie wonders aloud what to make her little brother for dinner and Archie gives her sensible, practical advice. Also, his manner is far from threatening. In fact, Vannie is a bit annoyed because she thinks he might be mocking her.
8. How do you personally feel about ghosts? Are you a believer, a non-believer, or an open-minded skeptic? And how do you think you would react if the specter of a deceased nobleman popped into your kitchen?
I’ve never met a ghost, but from all I’ve read I believe they exist. If one suddenly appeared, I’d be terrified at first. But I’d be curious to find out what he or she wanted.
9. We have a lot of aspiring authors among our readers. What advice would you give to the next generation of authors?
Read a lot, Write a lot. Find a good critique group. Join on-line and in-person writing groups, but always concentrate on your writing. And learn about marketing and promoting, as this is constantly in flux.
10. What’s next for you?
I’m working on a mystery, a proposal for a series. And yes, there’s a ghost in it— an older woman who haunts the library and helps my sleuth, who’s one of the few people who can see her.
Now how about you folks? Ghosts! Exist or don't exist? Afraid or unafraid? Let us know!
Check out all Marilyn's books here
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