FLR: What was your reaction to the news that Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! had won the Newbery Medal?
LAS: I was thunderstruck, wonderstruck, and deliriously happy.
FLR: As a school librarian, how have your students and coworkers responded to your award?
LAS: Everyone at the Park School rejoiced wholeheartedly. My colleagues hugged me and kvelled over me. My children wrapped me in paper chains and gave me a standing ovation. I was up to my ears in flowers and letters and cards. It was fantastic.
FLR: How much of an influence did your library background have when writing Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!, as far as knowing what will appeal to children?
LAS: I wrote the monologues in Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! for my Park School children, and I think it helped to have them in mind as I worked. I do a lot of storytelling at school, and I watch the children's faces as they listen. I can see when my schoolchildren are intrigued or bored or confused. Their influence on my work is incalculable.
FLR: Can you tell us about the research you did on the medieval period for Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!?
LAS: When I wrote Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! I had already been involved in the fifth grade's medieval curriculum for five years, so I was well-grounded. The Park School has a splendid library, and a large collection of books about the Middle Ages. There was also a big red crate, filled with photocopies and pamphlets. So my research materials were at my fingertips - all I had to do was dive in and explore.
FLR: What would you say to young people who believe that those times are no longer relevant to modern society?
LAS: Often when people complain that something is not relevant, what they're really worried about is being bored to death. So I suppose I would say something like, "Listen, these are dramatic pieces - they're plays, and they're short, and you can act them out. And they're about the Middle Ages, yes, but they're also about violence and injustice and sexism and poverty and prejudice, which are problems in today's world, too. But even though the monologues are about serious matters, they're not all sad and some of them are funny; and I tried very hard not to bore anybody when I was writing them. So give them a try."
FLR: How did you come to the conclusion that the book should be published?
LAS: It wasn't really my conclusion. Students and teachers and parents at Park would say, "You should try to get these published," and I would say, "No one's going to publish these," and finally I thought to myself, "All right, I'll prove that no one will publish these - I'll make eleven copies and send them off, and all eleven will come back!" But that's not what happened. After four rejections, Candlewick--elegant, daring Candlewick--said yes!
FLR: So it isn't quite true that Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! was rejected by ten different publishers before it was finally published?
LAS: This is a misunderstanding. I think I told a reporter that I sent off eleven copies, and the reporter assumed that I sent them off consecutively, and that there were ten rejections before Candlewick's acceptance. As I said before, I sent out eleven copies simultaneously. I had four rejection letters before Candlewick said yes (and several rejection letters afterwards.)
FLR: Did your confidence ever waver? Do you have any advice for other aspiring authors?
LAS: Confidence? What confidence? All right, I'm being flippant - but I think the confidence of writers is always pretty shaky. Writing is discouraging work, because what ends up on the page is never close enough to what you want it to be - and you have to keep trying to fix it, and sometimes it gets worse instead of better. And then, after you've done your very best, you have to send it out, and most of the time nobody even reads it, or if they read it, they don't like it, and if they like it, they want to change it … People who plant sea-grass work in water, and we writers work in and through and with discouragement. But that's all right, because there's something brave about beating down discouragement every time we pick up a pen. We're dueling with demons, we writers. There's honor in that.
FLR: How much impact does the Newbery Award have on an author's life? It certainly recognizes past work, but does it also provide new opportunities?
LAS: I don't think I'm ready to answer that question yet. I''m still getting used to the astonishing fact that the committee gave my book the Newbery Medal.
FLR: You are the second librarian in the last two years to win the Newbery Medal. Librarians have always had a great influence on books in the children's publishing industry, so do you think we're going to see more librarians being published?
LAS: I don't know. I'm not much of a prophet. I do think that librarians have an advantage - we know our readers, and they tell us what they like.
FLR: How did it feel to be before hundreds of librarians receiving this award? How was it different from your expectation?
LAS: The Newbery banquet was terrifying and thrilling - terrifying before I gave my speech, thrilling when I was giving it. One thing that surprised me was how friendly people were. I expected the audience to receive me as a stranger, an unknown quantity. But many of the librarians had read my book, and they welcomed me warmly. I hadn't realized that my book would make friends for me.
FLR: What gave you the idea for the plot of A Drowned Maiden's Hair (in which young orphan Maud Flynn is adopted to help stage séances)?
LAS: I loved orphan stories, and I wanted to write one. And one of the first questions I asked myself was, "What if my orphan child doesn't go to a good home? What if she was adopted for the wrong reason?" Then I started thinking about wrong reasons to adopt a child. I wrote about the strangest one that came to mind.
FLR: As a librarian, did you ever worry that the book wouldn't be accepted in more conservative communities?
LAS: No, I never got around to worrying about that. I worried that my book wasn't good, that my editor wouldn't like it, that the critics wouldn't like it, that my children at school wouldn't like it… When my editor and the critics and my children all liked it, I took a deep breath and stopped worrying.
FLR: The voice of Maud and her attachment to the unreliable Hyacinth rings very true emotionally. As an adult who could likely see through Hyacinth much more easily, did you ever find it difficult to allow Maud's character that degree of neediness?
LAS: No, I never looked down on Maud. Maud is deceived because she wants the people she loves to love her back. She wants the people that she loves to be worthy of her love. Everyone wants those things - even the most secure and sane adult.
FLR: When you wrote A Gypsy at Almack's under the pseudonym Chloe Cheshire many years ago, were you hoping for a career writing genre romance novels for adults?
LAS: No, I liked writing one comic romance, but afterward I wanted to write something else – a historical novel. I wanted to write many different kinds of books. I still do. I suppose some publishers might want to fence me in – find what I'm best at and keep me working on that kind of book - but Candlewick seems willing to let me choose my own path. I'm happy about that. And of course, I'm thrilled about the Newbery Medal.
FLR: Do you have any projects in the pipeline?
LAS: Candlewick will be publishing a new book in 2009-10. It's a shorter book than A Drowned Maiden's Hair, intended for 2nd to 4th grade readers. And I'm working on another novel right now. I'm on Chapter 30, but the last quarter of the book is still unwritten. I have a lot of work ahead of me.
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