What better way to start 2015 than an interview with one of my all-time favorite authors: the warm, wise, wonderful and multi-talented Mary Amato?
Mary and I first “met” back in 2008 when, as Program & Events Coordinator for Children’s Literature, I sent her a fan letter – including a review I’d written for one of her hilarious RIOT BROTHERS books several years earlier – and invited her to join our author booking service.
Since then, our paths have crossed many times. I witnessed her outstanding rapport with students on a school visit; then was lucky enough to be one of her students when she taught a class on writing with humor in 2009. The same year, I laughed, and cried, with fellow writers when Mary delivered an inspirational speech at an SCBWI conference. In 2010, when I began the Authors Book Club (ABC) workshops, she was my first choice, and first speaker.
I am so privileged to know Mary as teacher, speaker, mentor and, most of all, friend.
This interview was originally meant to focus on her latest wonderful book, GET HAPPY. However, as a long-standing fan, I couldn’t restrain myself from asking about some of her other novels, too. To find out more about Mary, please visit her irresistible website at http://www.thrumsociety.com/
Here’s wishing you all a very “Mary” New Year, and happy thrumming!!
Q: What is the hardest book you wrote, and why? And what was the easiest?
A: Invisible Lines was the hardest book that I have written so far. That’s because I began with an agenda rather than a character. I originally wanted to write a book about how coming from a low-income household can put a kid at an educational disadvantage. It took me a long time to put aside that agenda and just find the character. Once I found the voice of Trevor, then the story became much easier to write. Stories should always come from character, in my opinion.
As for the easiest, my picture book The Chicken of the Family was definitely the easiest to write.
Q: Will you ever write a companion book, or a sequel, to any (other than your series)? (PLEASE?)
Q: Do you relate more to Ayanna or Frankie?
A: I relate to both Frankie and Ayanna. I have to relate to all of my characters in some way in order to write their voices. My books have some autobiographical elements, but none of my books are truly autobiographical.
Q: Did you conceive of the book solely being composed of e-mails and diary entries from the get-go?
A: I played around a lot with format at first. The diary format interspersed with emails felt the most natural to me.
Q: SEQUEL PLEASE! I adore this book so much. Does Ayanna ever show up in Pepper Blossom? Do she and Frankie ever meet? What happens to Johnny? He is one of my favorite characters ever. Period.
A: Sequels are tricky. It’s not always up to the writer to decide. Publishers aren’t interested in them if they are too long in coming after a book is first published or if they stray far in terms of audience or style.
I believe my publisher would have been interested in a sequel to The Naked Mole-Rat Letters at the time. I have to say, though, that I typically have five or six other new ideas for characters and books that I’m dying to write, so my mind doesn’t immediately go to a sequel.
Q: Did you ever live in a town like Pepper Blossom?
A: I did work in a town that has some elements that are similar to Pepper Blossom in Indiana, but Pepper Blossom is a fictional place that has elements of other towns mixed in.
The sunset ritual idea comes from Key West. The sunrise pancake breakfast comes from my hometown in Libertyville, Illinois.
Q: As far as I can remember, this is the only book you’ve written with two narrators. Did you know that would be the case from the start? Do you think you’ll have two narrators again sometime? Did you consider writing both pov’s in first person?
A: I did play around with writing Guitar Notes in the first person. I usually play around with point of view and tense before grabbing onto something that feels right. Usually, it has to do more with a gut feeling than an analytical one, and I have to just write in various ways to see which way works best.
Q: Did you, at any time, consider having Tripp and Lyla romantically involved? Why/why not?
A: I never wanted the story to be about a romance per se. I wanted it to be about that excitement that one feels when discovering a kindred spirit. Tripp and Lyla could become romantically involved or they could remain friends.
Q: Can “thrumming” be applied to writing, and other arts, as well as music? What makes you thrum?
A: Yes, thrumming to me means feeling a connection. It’s when you feel as if your soul is vibrating at the same frequency with whatever it is you’re experiencing, whether that is a song, dance, or even a conversation. Many things make me thrum: music, literature, theater, art, dance, nature—the list could go on.
Q: Are the illustrations of lyrics authentic? In other words, was that how YOU came up with them?
A: I do brainstorm on paper when I write songs, and the brainstorms that you see in Guitar Notes are mine—just tidier. I have horrible handwriting. I make webs a lot.
Q: What inspired you to research sea horses? Do you feel you incorporated them in a similar way to that of naked mole-rats?
A: I love metaphors. Yes, I use the seahorse in Get Happy in similar way to the naked mole-rat in The Naked Mole-Rat Letters. The irony of an absentee father being a seahorse expert was too perfect to ignore. I did consider other marine-related metaphors, but that one was the richest.
Q: Is this how you personally feel about writing and/or songwriting? “When I’m emotional, it’s like a song is inside me, and if I can just pull the song out, the anxiety and anger and pain flow out, too.”
A: Yes, I feel the same way that Minerva feels about songwriting. Thanks for finding that quote. I forgot I wrote that.
Q: Did you get your ukulele before or after this book?
A: I got a ukulele for my birthday before I wrote the book and wished I had received one as a teen. It’s a great teen instrument. As I learned to play, I kept imagining a teen character who would be uke-obsessed.
Now I have three ukes. My newest is the most special. I have a lovely relationship with Luna Guitars. When I was writing Get Happy I spoke with the artist who designs Luna’s beautiful instruments, and she created this amazing seahorse uke to serve as the book’s instrumental mascot of sorts. It’s a joy to behold.
Q: What made you decide to have Jamey cover the songs from GET HAPPY, rather than yourself?
A: For Get Happy, I decided to ask a high school girl to record covers of my songs because I wanted to showcase young talent and also to inspire my readers. At sixteen, Jamey Geston is already a pro. You can see her versions of my songs on my website. I’d love to re-do all the Guitar Notes songs with teens sometime.
Q: Does the songwriting process differ from novel writing?
A: The songwriting process is similar to the novel writing process. I brainstorm. I create rough drafts. I revise, revise, revise. The only difference is songs are shorter. J