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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Kristin Kladstrup

Once again I've "broken ranks." :-) But check out my review on Friday of The Nutcracker Mice and you will understand why. If you are wondering if I have a penchant for mice, winter, and or Christmas, you may be right. Or maybe, this is just the time of year these books are being released. Hmm.

With Perfect Picture Book Friday (#PPBF) on hiatus, due to the 7th Annual Halloweensie Writing Contest (write a 100 word story that contains - shadow, monster, & candy corn), I am taking the opportunity to interview an author who has written picture books, but whose newest book - due out tomorrow - is a delightful, illustrated MG novel.

Kristin Kladstrup is an editor who grew up with a very active imagination and a love of drawing. She can still draw "princesses, monsters, and trolls—the plastic kind with fluffy hair." She believes that her "drawings were probably stories waiting to happen." As of tomorrow, she's published three MG novels and two picture books.

Welcome Kristin Kladstrup.

ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing?)

KRISTIN: I wrote at least one picture book manuscript in my twenties. I also tried writing a novel, but didn’t get very far. When my children were very young, I made up my mind to try writing a middle-grade novel. This effort became The Book of Story Beginnings, my first published book. It took years to finish because I didn’t have much time to write. (I worked full time and had two young boys in the house.) Luckily, I can write in little pockets of time, which is what I did. I still do the same thing because I still work full time. Every so often I get a break in my work schedule. When that happens I try to concentrate on writing for a few hours every day.

As a child, who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book?

I was one of those children who read constantly, so I have a long list of favorites. I also liked to draw when I was a child, so I paid attention to illustrations in the novels I read. Some authors who always come to mind are Eleanor Estes (Ginger Pye/The Moffats), Elizabeth Enright (The Saturdays/Gone-Away Lake), Rumer Godden (The Story of Holly & Ivy), and Esther Averill. Favorite illustrators I remember from my youth include Garth Williams, Erik Blegvad, Tasha Tudor, and Esther Averill (illustrating her wonderful Jenny and the Cat Club books). But really, my lists of favorites are much, much longer. (Note: I added some titles, for any unfamiliar with these authors.)

Williams and Tudor's illustrations are timeless and graced so many of my own childhood books. What inspired you to write about The Nutcracker Mice?

It’s hard for me not to love the music from The Nutcracker ballet. It’s easy to imagine that mice would love the music, too, but even easier to imagine that mice might not like the story told in The Nutcracker. Why would they like being portrayed as villains? Inspiration is a very long process for me, one that involves input from friends and from my editor. Over time, an initial idea evolved into The Nutcracker Mice. Along the way, I must have listened to the score of the ballet hundreds of times. I can probably sing along from start to finish!

You have written two picture books The Gingerbread Pirates (2009) and A Night in Santa’s Great Big Bag (2010) involving Santa and Christmas. Besides being a MG novel, how does The Nutcracker Mice differ or compare to these earlier books? Do you have a favorite type of book (PB/MG/holiday) to write? (Is it easier for you to write a MG novel or a PB?)

It feels like kind of an accident that I’ve had three holiday-themed books published. I’ve written other picture book manuscripts, but haven’t been fortunate enough to have them published.

As for The Nutcracker Mice, an early draft barely made mention of Christmas. I thought of it as an adventure story more than anything else. As for which type of book is easiest to write—picture book or middle grade novel—they both present their own challenges. Picture books seem like they would be easier, but I usually go through dozens and dozens of versions and drafts even before submitting to a publisher. Of course, a novel goes through dozens of drafts as well, and it takes a much longer time to write.

What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

Like Irina, the female heroine of The Nutcracker Mice, I used to sew dresses for my small dolls. Except in my case, the dolls were trolls. Not many people know that I have been a dressmaker for trolls!

That is indeed an unusual occupation, thank you for sharing this with me. What was the hardest part about writing The Nutcracker Mice? The most fun part?

One thing that was hard was figuring out how my two main characters (a girl mouse and a little girl) would communicate with each other. Their communication had to be plausible. I ended up making those two characters share one important characteristic, empathy. Each character tries to imagine how the other character might feel or react, and they are usually not too far off in their suppositions about each other.

Your two previous MG novels were mysteries - The Book of Story Beginnings (2006) and The Garden Princess (2013). Though seemingly different from The Nutcracker Mice, they also involved or revolved around key animal figures - a magician turned into a crow or a prince turned into a magpie. Why do you think animals play such a large role in your writing?

I don’t know! I usually think of myself as a plot-driven sort of writer. I guess animals kind of show up and help me in that regard. They’re also fun to write about. I remember that I really looked forward to writing about all the birds in The Book of Story Beginnings, and I especially enjoyed writing a scene where one of the characters is turned into a bird. I liked writing from a pigeon’s point of view.

Loving birds myself, I can empathize. I would love to write a PB from a bird's perspective. How different is it to have a MG novel illustrated versus a PB? Is there any more contact with the illustrator?

For both picture books, I don’t think I provided any notes to the illustrators — besides the text of the story. It’s really up to the illustrator to have fun with the picture part of the story, and I think both illustrators did just that. For The Nutcracker Mice, I shared some notes about the text with my editor that I thought might be helpful to the illustrator.

For example, there are historical characters in the novel, and also some historical references to things like set design illustrations and mousetraps. Sometimes Brett Helquist had questions that were fun to answer: How do the young mice using their training ribbons to bind up their tails? And how do the adult mice keep their tails in the proper ballet position? I didn’t speak directly with Brett, but my editor and the book’s designer helped us communicate with each other effectively.

Interesting, seems in either genre it's the illustrator's job to bring the detail and expressiveness to life. Brett does a wonderful job! What do you hope your readers take away from The Nutcracker Mice?

I hope they enjoy the story, of course, and want to read more books. In the case of this particular story, I hope they are subtly inspired to show empathy toward others and to use their imaginations in a way that helps them act upon their kindly impulses.

Something we can all use a bit more of these days. What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (either as a child, now as a writer, or both.)

The one constant that I carry around with me are my parents. They are no longer living, but I think of them almost every day. Most of the confidence I have in myself comes from the love they gave me.

Any new project(s) you are working on that you can share a tidbit with us? Are you working on any more picture books?

Just now, I’m working on a novel that does not involve dancing mice. I’m afraid I can’t say more than that because it’s in a very early stage.

Is there anything about writing, illustrating, or publishing you know now that you wished you had known when you started? Or something you are glad you did not know in advance?

Many years ago, a friend asked me what I wanted “when I grew up.” I said I’d like to have a group of friends who were writers. I think I’d like to have known that writing and having my books published has more than fulfilled that wish.

What is your favorite animal? Why?

Though I don’t own any pets because some of my family members are allergic, I love cats. I also love watching animals in the wild, especially birds and insects and spiders. I like just about any animal, including mice, as long as they stay outside my house.

For the mice and spiders, I wholeheartedly agree. Thank you Kristin for sharing with us a bit of yourself and your new book.

Find out more about Kristin Kladstrup, or get in touch with her:

If you are in Minnesota, Massachusetts, or Iowa on the weekends from October 28th to December 9th, be sure to check out Kristin's book events. Including Sunday, 12/3/17, 2:00–4:00 pm - a two-author book signing with Ammi-Joan Paquette at Newtonville Books, Newton, MA

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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