What inspired you to become an author?
Honestly? It was the desire to have stories to illustrate, because my first love was art. It has since grown out of being second banana, to being one of the things I love to do most.
Do you title the book first or wait until after it’s complete?
This book initially was named Plague Rat, a title which I quite liked. It came to me, with the story premise, in a flash. That title, which came before the first word was ever written, gave me a focus in the years it took to write the story. But it gave the impression of something much less nuanced than the story I ended up writing. In the end, an editor (Marianne Ward, who is awesome!) pointed out to me that maybe a title change was in order. The only other title I love more than Plague Rat is the one it ended up with, The Great & the Small. To have found two titles that I love (and I struggle with titles!!) is like hitting the jackpot twice.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
There is a character in the book, a blind rat named Balthazar, who says at one point, “Seek truth!” If I had to sum up the book’s message, that would be it. Thinking for oneself and striving to make conscious choices, keeps us from heading down some very dark roads. Blind obedience has cause so much suffering, so many unnecessary deaths and wars. The antidote: seek truth.
Is the book, characters, or any scenes based on a true life experience, someone you know, or events in your own life?
Yes and No. The book is an allegory, but the inspiration for the story was based on real events.
What books/authors have influenced your life?
I think JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, affected me greatly growing up. It framed everything in terms of heroism, and the importance of doing the right thing, even if it appears doomed, or ridiculous. It made a huge impression on me that the littlest of people, the hobbits, were the ones who saved the day.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I loved Harper Lee’s book, To Kill a Mockingbird. I love how she wrote an intricate, sensitive story that seemed to be a “coming of age” story, when in reality it was a treatise against racism. It didn’t preach to people, but instead allowed the reader to come to their own conclusions. I love that in stories. I hate to be preached to, or talked down to, and try to avoid it in my stories at all costs.
What book are you reading now?
Because I get too influenced by the “voice” of whatever fiction I’m reading (and end up writing exactly like it!!) I only read nonfiction when I am writing. Now that I am between writing projects, I am binging on fiction. I am reading The Last Kingdom series. I love it!
What books are in your to read pile?
Oh. Wow. So many. There is The History of Bees, an annotated Jane Eyre, a nonfiction book about the American civil war, another nonfiction book about ancient China, a book about particle theory for non-scientist-types, and research for a picture book I’m doing on modern-day slavery. I find that books are like rabbits—there seem to be more every time you turn around.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I think the voice in my head that tells me, in a voice reminiscent of Eeyore of Winnie-the-Pooh fame, “It’ll never work!” My own inner critic is the most challenging thing, as well as comparing my paycheck (haha!) to my husbands’. I have had to realize that artists often have to do the work just for love, because no one else might “get” it, much less buy it. Vincent Van Gogh is my patron saint for artists; in spite of never finding success in the world’s eyes during his lifetime, he painted the most exquisite art. He painted anyway, not knowing if anyone would ever really “see” his art. He did it for love.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Don’t give up. Don’t write something because you think it will sell. Write something because it will keep you up at night until you do. Write for love. Write for passion. It’s the only reward you may get out of your labours. There are shelves and shelves of forgotten books in old dusty libraries, and eventually even the best sellers will be forgotten, so don’t let your desire to be published outweigh why you started writing in the first place. In the end, that pure desire to express something from within, regardless of outcome, will have a greater impact on the world and on your life.
Do you have a song or playlist (book soundtrack) that you think represents this book?
Pretty much anything by Delerium! For specific scenes, I have a few “soundtracks” from other artists, like Deep Forest, and Amadou & Miriam, which I talk about in the blog post. When I needed general mood music for The Great & the Small, Delerium always delivered.
Just for fun- If you could have one paranormal ability, what would it be?
I wish I could fly around and be an invisible guardian angel to animals and children. When I read about innocent, helpless creatures, animals and children alike, being mistreated it really rips me up inside. I have wished on many occasions that I could swoop in and make things right. In the end, all I can do is support animal protection and human rights groups, sign petitions and write letters to the government, and try to live my life with love.
The Great and The Small
Genre: Young Adult
Publisher: Common Deer Press
Date of Publication: October 31, 2017
Number of pages: 292 pages
Cover Artist: Ellie Sipila of Move to the Write
Deep below the market, in the dark tunnels no human knows exist, a war has begun. Lead by the charismatic Beloved Chairman, a colony of rats plots to exterminate the ugly two-legs who have tortured them in labs, crushed them with boots, and looked at them with disgust for as long as anyone can remember.
When the Chairman’s nephew is injured and a young two-leg nurses him back to health, however, doubt about the war creeps in. Now the colony is split—obey the Chairman and infect the two-legs with the ancient sickness passed down from the Old Ones, or do the unthinkable...
Excerpt from The Great & the Small: Ananda and Fin meet
Ananda eased the door open. Patting along the wall, she found the light switch and flipped it on. She stepped slowly down the stairs and peered into the room. The light bulb cast harsh shadows across the concrete floor. “Hello?”
Something moved. Ananda stifled a scream. A small lump quivered under the window, in a mess of metal and fur. Her dad’s trap had caught something.
She moved closer. The creature’s eyes were half-closed. Soot-grey fur capped its head and ran down its back. White fluff trembled between steel jaws. And then she saw its tail: naked and pale, stretched out like a bristly snake.
Ananda jumped back. The thing twitched and its eyelids fluttered, but it sank back onto the floor, ribs heaving.
She crept closer. Her shadow flickered across the creature.
Its eyes popped open.
It squealed, thrashing against the trap. Fresh blood seeped onto the concrete, adding to the dried pool already there. Ananda stepped back and the rat went still.
Wearily it closed its eyes. Its head slumped down.
What was she supposed to do now? Was it somebody’s pet? It looked like the rat from the market, but that was impossible.
Ananda leaned forward to see how badly it was hurt. The rat went crazy again. It squealed shrilly, biting at its trapped leg to free itself.
“Okay! Okay!” she said, and moved back. This was not someone’s pet. It was wild, no matter how it looked. And that meant it might have fleas. Fleas infected with plague bacilli.
Backing up the basement stairs, Ananda turned and raced out the back door and to the shed. She hauled open the rickety door and scanned the shelves. There were thick gardening gloves. She put them on. A dusty cinder block sat on the shed floor. She picked it up, staggered back a step under its weight, and waddled into the house and back down the stairs.
Standing over the rat, she gripped the cinder block with both hands. She’d try to make it painless.
Fin couldn’t move. His hind leg felt bitten in two. Some evil thing had its teeth into him. Why didn’t it just kill him? What was it waiting for?
The floor was cold. A chill crept through his fur, into his bones. The red curtain of pain shifted. He thought, drifting, It’s not so bad….
The peaceful dark was shattered. Buzzing light split the gloom. Red pain bit into him again. He pressed his eyes closed, trembling.
A shadow moved over him. Fin opened his eyes a crack and saw two boggle eyes staring down at him. He thrashed against the cold teeth. Bit at his leg to free it. “Help! Help! Papa!” he screamed.
The bulbous eyes floated away. Panting, Fin stopped, listening. He couldn’t see it, but the thing was nearby. He could hear it breathing. Lifting his nose, he feebly scanned the air and froze. There it was, an odour rank and pungent: two-leg stench.
The eyes hovered close again, its foul smell filling Fin’s nostrils. He shrieked, “Let me go! Let me go!” yanking at his pinned foot. Once again the ugly two-leg moved back. Was it toying with him? Like a cat toying with a mouse?
Barely able to make out its blurry shape, Fin threw ultrasonic screams at it, calling it every insult he could think of, but his cries fell like stones, unheard. The thing was too brutish to understand him.
He was grateful Papa couldn’t witness his shame. He was no Hero of the Tunnels now.
When the two-leg stood over him one last time, Fin did not feel a thing. He had already fainted.
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