Jodi Kendall interviewed fellow author S.A. Larsen about her debut novel, a middle-grade fantasy adventure just published by Leap Books. S.A. is part of the online author group the Sweet Sixteens, which is dedicated to writers making their debut in 2016. Jodi rolls with the Swanky Seventeens.
ABOUT THE NOVEL
In Motley Education, a class assignment sends misfit medium Ebony Charmed and her legless lizard totting best friend on a ghostly journey for their lives battling creatures from Norse mythology to find a relic that is vital to saving both the spirit world and themselves. But when things go terribly wrong, Ebony must dig deep to find the true meaning of her quest, which has been inside her all along.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
S.A. Larsen is a writer, reader, and Maine-iac ice hockey fan, who has watched more hockey games than she could ever count. She loves books that open up secret passageways and hidden worlds to inspire and challenge the heart. Her debut novel for middle grade readers, Motley Education, will be published October 10, 2016 by Leap Books Seek and her debut young adult novel, Marked Beauty, is set for release by Ellysian Press in 2017. She can be found in the land of lobsters, snowy winters, and the occasional Eh’ya with her husband of over twenty years, four children (yes, they all play hockey), a playful pooch, and two kittens.
TALKING ABOUT “MOTLEY EDUCATION”
JK: Hi there! Thanks for chatting with us today–We’re excited to learn more about you, your book, and your process. First things first, when and how did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
SL: I’m thrilled to be joining you and the Swanky 17s for a chat! Thanks for having me. I’d say from a young age I knew that I wanted to be a creator, though not specifically a writer. I’ve always had that urge to make something new or unique. Being a former dancer and theater kid, I loved telling tales or exploring emotions through movement, music, and words. My younger self would write up scenes to dance and act out. I recall mentally transforming my childhood bed into a pirate ship, a deserted island, a magic carpet, and the strangest one of all – a lily pad. Journaling was my way to get through high school, taking real life events and turning them into dark poetry or characters I could vent to; it was my therapy. Then life happened, marriage, and kids. As each of our children grew, I continued feeding my creative gene by making up stories and treasure hunts in our house. I used to write songs with them. Around my mid-thirties, as our youngest of four was heading off to kindergarten, I realized all those years of jotting down life notes and mind mapping different worlds had really been about me honing the craft of writing. When I figured that out, I decided it was time to explore what being a children’s author was all about.
JK: How did you come up with the idea for your novel?
SL: Exploring history – real or fantasized – is a passion of mine; it’s all living and breathing, depending on your vantage point. I’m curious about pretty much everything. I wonder how and why societies differ in cultures, customs, and languages. Why other people have their accent, while I have mine. Why figures from the past made certain choices over other ones. Motivations, environment, and emotions interest me. My youngest child (kiddo #4 and dedication for this first book in the series) is fascinated with mythology. I guess his interest fueled my own intrigue. I began to ponder the similarities and differences between mythology characters, real life people, and us today. And seeing how I’m also a lover of the paranormal, the unseen, and the unknown, I figured mixing a group of oddly-gifted kids with the mythological world of Yggdrasil would create a fresh arena to explore the psychology of family, friendship, sacrifice, and self-acceptance.
JK: There is incredible imagery and fantastical experience in your debut novel. What inspires your imagination and creativity? Were you always a fan of mythology?
SA: You could say the reel in my head has a mind of its own. I’m a visual person by nature. The scenes on my corkboard are set up mostly with images I can see or touch. Once I began research about Norse Mythology, I searched out colorful and abstract images. Those always sparked some new idea or scene. And just like factual history, I’ve always been a fan of mythology.
JK: What was your publication journey like?
SA: Like most writers, I had my ups and downs. I immersed myself in the industry – taking classes, attending online conferences, blogging, and reviewing – for about two years before I started working on my own projects. During that time I also freelanced for local newspapers and publications. I signed with an agent, but after about a year and a half we amicably parted ways. That experience left me a little jaded. Not so much with my former agent, but at the thought of starting over again. I hung up my typing fingers for a few months, but missed creating. My husband continually urged me to forgo finding another agent for a while and submit on my own. “What could it hurt,” he kept saying.
So I decided to revisit my completed young adult manuscript. I submitted it, received a few offers, and sold it. (It’s due out in 2017.) During that time I also tweaked Motley Education. My publisher just happened to open up to unsolicited manuscripts for two weeks, and I sent them the manuscript. And it sold.
JK: As a book reviewer, active participant in kidlit Twitter chats, industry blogger, and founder of Writer Support 4 U!, an online writer support group, you are quite connected within the Kidlit community. What favorite resources would you recommend to aspiring writers with dreams of ‘breaking in’ to this industry?
SA: Gosh there are so many amazing sites, but I’ll just name a few: Literary Rambles, Fiction University, Writers Helping Writers, Insecure Writer’s Support Group, Spunk On A Stick, Cynsations, From The Mixed Up Files (MG), and #MGLitchat.
Oddest job you’ve ever had?
When I was in high school, I used to babysit for these people, whose house was haunted. I remember my first time at the house the kids told me about the ghosts. Of course, I smiled gently at them, but was thinking ‘yeah, okay’. Well, come to find out the house was really haunted, which I discovered in a very eerily way. But that’s a story for another day.
Favorite sports team?
Book you could read over and over again?
Pride and Prejudice
Best spot to get a Lobster Roll?
Ooh, that’s a tough one! So many in Maine…hmm…Okay, I’ll go with The Red Barn in Augusta. The lobster roll is huge and it’s real (real) lobster with a ton of claw meat! #ToDieFor
Writing session must-have?
Candles, coffee or wine – depending on the time of day/night, sometimes music, and my trusty gargoyle statue Lars, who sits on a stack of books titled Potions, Magic, & Spells.
Middle grade novel at the top of your TBR pile?
Well, I’m currently reading Howard Wallace, P.I. by the fabulous Casey Lyall.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Jodi Kendall is a writer based in New York City and the woods of Connecticut. Her work is represented on several National Geographic Channel websites (including Inside Wild, Nat Geo Dogs, Mysterious Science and Inside NGC), NBC Health, ABC News and in Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine and Bare Essentials Magazine.
Her middle grade debut novel, THE UNLIKELY STORY OF A PIG IN THE CITY, will publish in Fall 2017 with its sequel to follow in 2018. You can follow her travel and writing adventures on Instagram @Jodi_Kendall.