Clare Vanderpool: VAN-der-pool
In two separate interviews Clare Vanderpool explains how her schooling at Blessed Sacrament Elementary School in Wichita influenced her 2010 Newberry Award-winning novel, Moon Over Manifest and the challenges of writing her second novel, Navigating Early
A Conversation with Clare Vanderpool about Navigating Early
Congratulations on winning the Newbery Medal
for Moon Over Manifest. What was it like writing
your next book, Navigating Early, after winning
this prestigious award?
It was challenging. Fortunately, I was well into the story before the Newbery was announced. Part of the challenge, even before the Newbery, was just getting acquainted with and really falling in love with these new characters and spending time figuring out the story they have to tell. Of course, winning a Newbery on a first book does come with a certain amount of pressure. I knew the next book would be ripe for comparison. I really had to work at setting aside thoughts of expectations and comparisons and just let the story take its course. Jack and Early are fairly assertive characters and, once I could let go a little, they were more than willing to take the lead.
Where do you find inspiration for your characters and settings?
As far as the inspiration for my characters, I don't know if I'm unusually observant of the real-life characters around me or if they are just unusually colorful, quirky, interesting, and real, and therefore hard to miss. Either way, I do draw from people I've come across in my own life. Most of my characters are not based on real people, but they usually have some personality traits or mannerisms that I've observed along the way. It could be a family member, a high school teacher, or the guy who bags groceries at the grocery store.
In terms of setting, I'm very rooted in my geography and I have a very strong sense of place. So for me, the setting of any story I write will probably always be significant. Moon Over Manifest was very much rooted in Kansas and my grandparents' hometown. The setting for Navigating Early is also significant in that Jack is a Kansas boy suddenly uprooted from his home and I wanted to put him in the place that would be most out of his element. So I took this land-locked Kansas kid and placed him in Maine at the edge of the country and the brink of the ocean. Maine was a great location for the story also because the Appalachian Trail runs throughout the state and provided an interesting path for Jack and Early's quest.
What were some of your favorite stories as a young reader?
I was a constant reader and read in a lot of strange places: dressing rooms, math class, church. Some of my favorite books were Island of the Blue Dolphins, A Wrinkle in Time, Anne of Green Gables, The Jungle Book, The Phantom Tollbooth. I loved mysterieseverything from Nancy Drew to Encyclopedia Brown to Agatha Christie.
What is your writing process typically like? Do you have a set system or routine that works for you?
Writing a book is typically broken up into three different stages that require different locations. First is the Imagining-Dreaming-Wondering stage. When I'm beginning a story I like to spread out a blanket on the floor in my bedroom where I sit with my back up against an ottoman. I have a cup of hot tea in my hand and a dog in my lap and I stare off into space. It looks like I'm doing nothing, but I'm actually in the beginning stages of getting to know my main character and asking him or her a lot of questions. I also have a notebook where I write lots of "what if" questions and start jotting down ideas that begin with, "Maybe..."
The second stage is the Crank It Out stage. This requires a good deal of discipline and I usually sit at the dining room table and work on my laptop to avoid the distractions of the desk computer. This stage is a little higher in calories because I get up and down a lot and end up eating too many M & Ms while I'm thinking through a scene.
After I have a draft, there is the Sticky Note stage. I try not to edit too much as I'm writing the first draft so I use sticky notes to mark places that I know I need to go back and fix. It's helpful to go to my sister's garage apartment where I can lay out all my papers and notes and be fairly confident they will not be tampered with during the days and weeks that I'm trying to get rid of all the sticky notes.
The important thing in all three stages is to be open to the element of surprise. It's a wonderful thing when the characters speak up and take the story in a direction I hadn't expected.
What do you enjoy doing when you're not writing?
Besides writing I like to go to the pool with my kids, browse at the bookstore, have a neighbor over for tea, travel, watch reruns of Monk, read, have a lot of kids at our house, and go out for dinner with my husband. Life is good.
Have you received any interesting feedback or questions from young readers?
Their letters are always very sweet and sometimes funny. One young boy wrote to me and said that with Moon Over Manifest winning a Newbery Award, he was glad that Kansas was now known for something besides tornadoes and basketball. And since Kansas is pretty much the birthplace of basketball, that's a huge compliment.
Do you have any advice for young writers?
My advice sounds a little bit like a recipe for a really rich and hearty soup. You start with a base of lots and lots of reading. Next you throw in a good mix of imagination, playfulness, and observation. Then, for seasoning, you add a dash of this and a pinch of that until you find your own voice and it sounds just right. Then you have to let the whole thing simmer with hours and hours of writing. Like a soup, if you taste it right after you've added all the ingredients, it might not taste very good. Some parts are hard and the flavors are a bit strong, but with lots of writing and simmering, the ingredients blend together and start to take on a texture and flavor that weren't there at first. Give it time and stick with it.
Clare Vanderpool explains how her schooling at Blessed Sacrament Elementary School in Wichita influenced her 2010 Newberry Award-winning novel, Moon Over Manifest
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
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