Hi guys. Today we’re talking to one of my all time favorite authors! She was one of the first authors I had on my auto-buy list and has remained there for over a decade. Come to think of it, it may soon be time for a Shadow Children reread.
Please welcome Margaret Peterson Haddix!
She has since written more than 25 books for kids and teens, including Running Out of Time; Don’t You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey; Leaving Fishers; Just Ella; Turnabout; Takeoffs and Landings; The Girl with 500 Middle Names; Because of Anya; Escape from Memory; Say What?; The House on the Gulf; Double Identity; Dexter the Tough; Uprising; Palace of Mirrors;Claim to Fame; the Shadow Children series; and the Missing series. She also wrote Into the Gauntlet, the tenth book in the 39 Clues series. Her books have been honored with New York Times bestseller status, the International Reading Association’s Children’s Book Award; American Library Association Best Book and Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers notations; and more than a dozen state reader’s choice awards.
Haddix and her husband, Doug, now live in Columbus, Ohio, with their two children.
- Hi Margaret! Welcome back. You’re an OAAA veteran so what have you been doing in the past year since we last had you on?
I spent a lot of 2016 traveling. I now have a new answer to the question, “What’s the furthest you’ve ever traveled to talk about your books?” since I spent two weeks in Shanghai last year speaking at the Shanghai American School. Then I traveled around China afterward with my husband simply being a tourist. It was fascinating to be in China, but I have to say, I always meet interesting kids, teachers, librarians, booksellers, and/or parents anywhere I go for book-related trips. I really appreciate those opportunities.
I also launched two new series: UNDER THEIR SKIN and CHILDREN OF EXILE, which was a lot of fun.
- You hop genres a lot, do you have a favorite? Do you find it difficult to switch from one to another?
I like most genres, and in some ways it’s actually easier switching between genres rather than writing the same kind of book again and again and again. A kid once pointed out that mostly what I do is write about secrets, and I thought that was a good way to put it. Sometimes the secrets are sci-fi, sometimes they’re mysteries, sometimes they’re historical—I like them all.
- Have you ever thought about going back into one of your worlds and exploring some more? If so, which would you want to choose?
I actually did that with JUST ELLA, when I wrote PALACE OF MIRRORS and then PALACE OF LIES more than a decade after the original book. While I was working on TURNABOUT, THE ALWAYS WAR, ESCAPE FROM MEMORY, and CLAIM TO FAME, I had the notion that I would do a sequel to one or all of them, but somehow once they were finished and out in the world, I mostly thought, “No, that’s the past. On to something new!” The sequel idea I had for TURNABOUT does occasionally entice me even now, but new ideas entice me even more, so I probably won’t ever pursue it. But who knows what the future holds?
- You have a book coming out on April 11 called IN OVER THEIR HEADS, can you tell us a little bit about it?
IN OVER THEIR HEADS is the sequel to UNDER THEIR SKIN, and the final book in that story arc. UNDER THEIR SKIN begins with sixth grade twins, Nick and Eryn, being told they will never be allowed to meet their new stepbrother and stepsister. Of course that makes them intensely curious, and they ultimately do manage to meet their step-sibings—and find out why their parents were so determined to keep them apart. I was rather cruel and ended UNDER THEIR SKIN on a bit of a cliffhanger, as Nick and Eryn are left with an enormous, earth-shattering secret they believe nobody else in the world knows. With IN OVER THEIR HEADS, they have to grapple with both that decision and new danger. Meanwhile, their stepsiblings are facing big decisions of their own, because of course they also have secrets. In UNDER THEIR SKIN, the story is told only from Nick and Eryn’s perspective, but the stepsiblings, Ava and Jackson, get to tell their stories in IN OVER THEIR HEADS as well.
- Do you follow what is the current trend in publishing or do you like to go off and do your own thing?
I pay attention to the trends just because I don’t want to be ignorant. But following them seems a lot like surfing: You have to catch the wave at exactly the right moment or else you risk having it just crash down on you or—let’s be extreme here—possibly even drowning you. (I have never actually tried surfing myself. I’ve just watched other people, and stood in awe of those who do it well.) By the time I’d try to write something to follow a trend, the trend would probably already be on the way out. I think it makes more sense for writers to write about what they really care about, and even if their work never becomes “the big trend,” that’s okay.
- Do you have a favorite book that you’ve written or do you think it’s too hard to pick. Why?
I don’t. IN OVER MY HEADS is my 39th book, with more on the way, so it gets harder and harder to choose every year! I also treasure different things about each book, so that makes it hard to compare.
- You have written a lot of books, what is the first thing you do when you finish one?
What I go through is a little like the stages of grief, though not so grim. First I agonize that the ending is bad (my first draft endings are almost always really, really bad) and so I become obsessive about fixing it. Once that’s done, I have a spell of joy. I don’t think I’ve ever actually run around my house singing, “It’s done! It’s done! It’s done!” but that’s always what I want to do. And then, usually within about twenty-four, I get a little depressed, and I find myself complaining, “Well, this is really boring, not to have a book growing in my head right now!” Usually I tell myself that I’m not even going to think about starting something new right away but… I almost always do. And then I’m excited and thrilled about the new idea.
- How do you build a world for one of your books?
Sometimes I go back and read history from time periods and places that had circumstances I want to emulate. When I was working on the Shadow Children series, I concentrated on repressive governments and periods of economic distress such as the Great Depression. (I also read a lot about population control efforts, which shaped that series.) Then when I was getting toward the end of the series where I knew there would be a rebellion against the repressive government, I read a lot about the resistance movement during World War II and the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in the 1980s. It was good to be reminded that revolutions aren’t ever as easy or predictable as they seem, looking back.
For my newer series, CHILDREN OF EXILE, I read a lot of anthropology, because I knew the adults in the book would be setting up a completely new civilization and culture. I had previously known very little about anthropology, and the books I read made me wish I had taken a lot of anthropology classes in college!
- What is your favorite writing drink or snack?
I don’t snack much while I’m writing, because I mostly think I would get so immersed in the story that I wouldn’t even notice what I was eating. Often in the wintertime I sit down with a mug of hot tea, and then at the end of the writing day, I realize that it’s still a full (but very, very cold) mug because I forgot it was even there.
- Is there anything else you want to talk about?
Yes–CHILDREN OF EXILE! It will ultimately be a trilogy. The first book, CHILDREN OF EXILE, came out last year, as I mentioned, and the second, CHILDREN OF REFUGE, comes out this coming September. Then I’ll finish with CHILDREN OF JUBILEE in the fall of 2018. The series starts out with an entire community of children growing up in a place that’s essentially designed to be the perfect place for kids to grow up. But the kids aren’t being raised by their actual parents. And everytime they ask why, they’re simply told, “It wasn’t safe.” Then when the two oldest kids in the community, Rosi and Edwy, are twelve years old, suddenly every single kid is sent home—back to their original parents, back to original town. Rosi and Edwy in particular are mystified and desperate to find out answers about why they were taken away, why they were sent back—and what exactly happened in their hometown the year they were born.
And thank you once again for including me in OAAA! Hurray for Ohio authors AND bloggers!
Margaret is offering some books as part of our giveaway, check it out here.
From my shelf to yours,