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
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
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
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
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,
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
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