I’m so excited to present the first in a new series of author interviews. Kathryn Fitzmaurice agreed to answer a few questions, AND she’s graciously offered a signed copy of The Year the Swallows Came Early! Just leave a comment below by September 14 and I’ll pick someone at random to win!
WT: Tell us about your novel, The Year the Swallows Came Early.
KF: The book is about an eleven year old girl named Eleanor “Groovy” Robinson who dreams of attending cooking school one day. Only she discovers that someone close to her has taken away something very important that may keep her from ever going. She has to decide if she can forgive the failings of someone she loves, and accept him for who he is, rather than who she wants him to be. But it’s also about how she keeps working to achieve her dreams despite the obstacles that are put in her way.
WT: How did you get the idea, and how long was it between your first spark and publication?
KF: It took almost exactly three years from when I wrote my first sentence to receiving the offer from HarperCollins. Then it took another 16 months after the offer for the book to be on bookshelves.
The idea for the book had been stirring since the summer I turned 13, when my mother sent me to New York City to visit my grandmother, who was a science fiction author. My grandmother led a very eclectic lifestyle. I remember we never did anything until late afternoon, and then we stayed up until 2 or 3am. Sometimes, we went to dinner as late as 11pm. When we returned, she’d sit down to write until very early in the morning. She told me she did this because the middle of the night was when people said and did things they normally wouldn’t. She had a collection of porcelain owls, because they were creatures of the night. She studied paranormal events. She discussed things like inner motivations and secret desires. She helped me to write my very first story that summer, and stayed up all night typing it so I could have a real story like she had. At thirteen, it was my first real writing lesson.
She worked very hard that summer revising a novel entitled Chrysalis of Death. And one day, we met her literary agent for lunch, and after listening to them discuss how my grandmother could make her characters into whomever she wanted, I decided that someday, I’d like to be a writer, too. So after I told her this, my grandmother proceeded to send me books about writing techniques, books by classic authors, and literary essays for every birthday and Christmas holiday after. In most of these books, she would write inside the cover, “K: Write what you know. “ One of my favorite books she sent to me when I was deep into a teenage poetry writing stage was a volume of poetry by Emily Dickinson. Inside this book she wrote: “Emily Dickinson is a revered poet. Perhaps the same can be said of K.H. someday. Love, Grandma Eleanor. “
When she passed away, she left me a big box with all of her unfinished manuscripts in it, which have been a tremendous inspiration to me.
So because of all of the encouragement she gave me and to honor her, I decided that when I sat down to write my own novel many years later, that I would name my main character after her and give her a grandmother very much like my own. In fact, because I remember her revising Chrysalis of Death the summer I visited, I decided to include it in The Year the Swallows Came Early. So on page 148, my main character and her best friend find this manuscript along with a few of her others stories. I included her book inside my book.
She never got to read even the first draft of my novel. But I did send it to her agent, Phyllis Westberg, four years ago, who is still alive and working in NYC. After reading it, my Ms. Westberg made the comment that she thought my grandmother would have been very happy.
WT: How different was your final draft from your first draft? Were the themes consistent? Any surprises?
KF: As far as themes go, the final draft was very similar to the first draft. But the format, the chapter orders, the way things were laid out; those all changed quite a bit over the course of three years. There was one good surprise. I had changed the title of the book probably twenty times while I was writing it, but Brenda Bowen, who was the editor who bought it, asked if we could change the title to The Year the Swallows Came Early, which was the exact working title I had used while writing it. So even though I had used many different tiles over three years, (mostly because I couldn’t decide on what I wanted) we went back to my first one. I suppose some things are meant to be.
WT: I noticed you were at the SCBWI Summer Conference. What was the highlight for you?
KF: It was either Richard Peck’s speech, or Sherman Alexie’s speech. Both made me tear up and want to be a better writer. And actually, while I was listening to Richard Peck, I was so inspired by him that the idea for my newest title came to me about half way through his talk.
WT: I read that you’re working on a companion book for The Year the Swallows Came Early. Anything you can tell us about it?
KF: Yes, thank you for asking. The companion book is about one of the other characters in Swallows, named Frankie. It’s written from his point of view, which took some getting used to. I had to separate from Eleanor, which was where I’d been for three years, and get into Frankie’s head. I think it took me a good six months before I was able to think about him without thinking of how Eleanor saw the world.
WT: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
KF: I enjoy walking my dog, Holly, and I spend a lot of time on the pool deck watching my two boys play water polo, or at swim meets. I also like to think up first lines as I see things happen around me. And, I’m kind of a neat freak. I like to clean out things. Give me an unorganized pantry or garage, and a trash can, and I’m happy.
WT: How has your teaching experience impacted your writing?
KF: Every day we had twenty minutes of uninterrupted silent reading right after lunch. I think back a lot to the books my students chose to read over and over. They are the same books I love today. Honestly, I hope someday I can write one of those books that kids wait in line to check out from the school library, or use their lunch money to buy at book fairs. That is a well written book.
WT: How do you stay in touch with the writing community (e.g. critique group, SCBWI, social media, etc.)?
KF: I attend many writing conferences each year and am part of a terrific critique group which meets once or twice a month. I also twitter and facebook, like many other writers do. I am also a part of two fantastic author’s networks. The Class of 2k9, and AuthorsNow.
WT: What have you enjoyed reading recently?
WT: Any writing/revision tips you’d like to share?
KF: I am no expert; I have a lot to learn myself. But I suppose I would encourage writers to join a critique group because it’s a very good way to get honest feedback that helps you see what you’re missing. Sometimes I learn more about my writing by critiquing their writing because I can be objective with someone else’s work, and so it helps me to be more open to receive criticism from others. Like everyone else, I enjoy hearing positive comments about my work, but it’s the criticism that helps me grow while I’m writing my first drafts. I can open my book to most any page and see a line that one of my critique group members wrote or revised. I can see whole paragraphs and chapters that were inspired by a question one of them asked. I’m so thankful they cared enough to push me.
Don’t forget to comment for a chance to win a free, signed copy!
Thanks for reading!