"My favorite qualities in any book are humor and heart. Our
interview subject this month puts plenty of both in her works to
date." Although I enjoyed both of Linda Zinnen's first books,
I really looked forward to reading her third: The Dragons of
Spratt, Ohio. It had all the things I like in a book -- dragons,
humor, dragons, a family that has both the mom and the dad, dragons,
and page turning action. Hey, if she could make books with rats
and baseball lively and interesting, I knew I'd love it when she
tried some light fantasy. And it sounds like there's more fun books
like this coming in the future. Okay, enough gushing -- let's hear
Jan: Linda, thank you for doing the interview for BABES
TO TEENS. I've been a fan ever since The Truth About Rats, Rules,
And Seventh Grade, which I found both funny and moving. I appreciate
you taking the time to answer questions.
Linda: It's my pleasure.
Jan: The whole rat scene in The Truth was very
real for me -- almost too real. I recently talked with another YA
author who said she actually walks through action scenes to make
sure she gets the details right. Did you have to do anything special
to create such a realistically funny/frantic and slightly creepsome
Linda: Hee! Now that is one of the very few instances
where I lifted something nearly straight from real life—my
husband and I were knocked out of a dead sleep one rainy November
night by an uproarious hullabaloo coming from our kitchen. Seems
a rat had made its way into our basement apartment through a window
we had left open, and our cats had chased it into our stove. It
was quite a night, and with every bit of the screeching and broom-bashing
Larch and her poor mom suffered through.
Most of the time, though, I tend to stay away from using true-to-life
experiences in my fiction. I much prefer to give my characters a
life and outlook completely different from my own. Why? Because
I already know what I've done, what I've thought, how I've lived.
Frankly I'd be a wee bit bored to write from what I already know
so intimately and so thoroughly. But trying to see life through
different eyes, to feel it through different experiences -- whoa.
It's definitely the best part of writing—living a wild and
crazy and brand-new life...and still getting to bed by ten pm.
Jan: Do you do anything specific to keep a feel for realistic
teen voices? I know The Truth was written in first person
and Larch seemed very real. Matt from Holding At Third
has a totally different voice but still seems like a real kid. How
do you ensure your characters stay real?
Linda: I have no idea. I do know that I consciously try
to stay out of it: after all a kind, earnest, middle-aged white
lady like me has no business sticking her nose into the point-of-
view of a kid's book, yes? So I am absolutely ruthless with myself---I
write the story for the characters and the characters for the story.
(And save all that kind earnestness for my own real-time children!)
Jan: Although all three of your books deal with serious
stuff, I know The Truth has some very funny moments and
even Holding At Third made me smile a time or two. And
the whole idea of dragons in Ohio is very funny and the book took
me on a hilarious ride. How large a part do you feel humor plays
in your writing?
Linda: Oh, everything, everything. Life is suffering,
life is absurd, life is sad. Life will break your heart, guaranteed.
On the other hand, life is the most funnest, breath-taking, exciting
adventure ever, and if I can't or won't take advantage of that whilst
writing then I am doing a terrible disservice to the readers who
have to mope their way through my books.
Jan: The Dragons Of Spratt, Ohio was really my
favorite of your books because I'm a fantasy groupie and because
it made me laugh the most. Was Dragons fun to write?
Linda: I really enjoy writing in general, but I truly
had tons o' fun with Dragons. Dragons is a light, frothy, fun novel.
There's not a serious bone in its wee body. I think my next one
will be more in the Dragons vein, only with more rain.…
Jan: Do you finish a book with the next book already brewing
in your head or do you need some down time to come up with the next
novel? Each book is so different that I would love to know if there's
any idea overlap as you move from writing one to the next. I know
for me, a new story is sometimes trying to usurp the one I'm working
on -- so how separate is each book for you?
Linda: I work on one book at a time, because it's hard
enough to wrestle with one story and its several characters without
getting confused (and I can get very confused).
It takes me anywhere from one to three years to write a book. I
pretty much stay with daydreaming on that story and theme the whole
time. That's a long time to focus on a story, and because I have
a medically certifiable lunatic imagination to begin with, I often
end up having to do an idea-ectomy at the end of the second draft—you
know, excising all the accumulated bright notions, twists of fate,
flights of fancy, and those couple of useless kitchen-sink sub-plots
in Chapter Ten—everything that doesn't tell the story for
the characters or reveal the characters via the story. Linear, linear,
I tell myself. Keep it linear. This ain't the Odyssey and you sure
Jan: How big of a part does reading play in writing for
you? I know different writers can be almost superstitious about
reading while they are in the middle of a novel. How's your reading
Linda: I read a ton and a half of stuff, even while writing.
I am very drawn to non-fiction, and I just love biographies, because
I am always fascinated to hear about people and their problems.
And everybody's got something— sometimes a lot of something!
Right now I'm reading a collection of science essays, a Lord Peter
Wimsey mystery, and an autobiography of Neil deGrasse Tyson. He's
is an astrophysicist, and the exact same age I am. In June of 1973,
when he was fifteen years old, Tyson was invited to join the prestigious
New York Explorer's Club and sail down to the tip of Africa to observe
a full solar eclipse in the company of scientists and educators
from all over the country. I, on the other hand, spent that selfsame
June lollygagging my way around the beaches of Lake Michigan getting
Same sun, different adventure!
Jan: Although things got a little fantastic in The Truth
once or twice, it still seems The Dragons Of Spratt, Ohio
is a pretty big change from your very real novels. What made dragons
enter your writing life?
Linda: There's a place called the Wilds (www.thewilds.org)
about thirty miles away from my long-time home of Zanesville, Ohio.
The Wilds is fourteen square miles of reclaimed coal mines, and
supports a wonderful exotic wild-life refuge—think San Diego
Zoo, only in the Midwest.
The first time I visited there, the Big Muskie,( http://www.little-mountain.com/bigmuskie/
) the world's largest dragline, had been recently decommissioned
and was parked about three miles away. From the Wilds' Visitor Center,
the Big Muskie, with its huge boom and bucket, looked very mysterious
and yet very much at home, sunning itself on the horizon like a
bird on a wire.
The rest, as they say, was several years of rewrites.
Jan: Quite a few of our readers have future writing hopes.
What advice would you give them?
Linda: Oh dear. Put down that pencil, turn off the computer,
go outside, and live your life. Take an art class—no no, take
two! Sing, dance, fall desperately in love. Learn how to read a
map. Scrub behind a few toilets.
Look for God. Maintain your sense of humor, cultivate a healthy
skepticism, and never buy anything on the so-called easy-installment
plan, because it never is. Above all, become a generous soul. And
if, along the way you find you still like to write—why, then
write! Let nothing stand in your way.
Jan: What are you working on now? Any clues for what we
might see from your pen next?
Linda: I'm working on this absolutely fabulous time-slip
thingamabob. I've sent a brother and sister from the far future
into the relatively near future, and so far, they're fighting like
cats in a bag. It's raining every day, they haven't had a shower
in weeks, they're eating nothing but beanie weenies morning noon
and night and frankly I couldn't be happier!
Dragons of Spratt, Ohio
HarperCollins -- November 2004
Ages: 9 - 12
Read an Excerpt
by Jan Fields, MyShelf.com
Like a lot of kids, John Salt loves dragons,
but unlike you or me, John actually has some. A nest of young
Chinese dragons fall under John's responsibility and he's determined
to protect them -- even from the suspicious interest of his
Aunt Mary Athena, cosmetics guru. John is a great character
-- warm and a bit befuddled -- but the highlight of the book
for me was John's classmate Candi Clark. She's the
shallow, popular twin sister of John's best friend, but Candi's
experiencing a crisis of faith. She's discovered she's smart
-- and she likes it! Will her popularity survive her brains?
And will her brains help John save the dragons, whether he likes
it or not? Or will Candi be seduced by the dark side of free
cosmetics? The answers to these burning questions are well worth
reading for in this lively, fast-paced fantasy. I enjoyed it
from start to finish.
by Jan Fields, MyShelf.com
Given that I hate sports
and books with sick kids, I was supposed to hate this book.
Honestly, I sort of planned on it. But I couldn't. Zinnen creates
such a totally believable character in young Matt Bainter, that
I simply couldn't put the book down. I cared about his pain
over the way cancer was ravaging his big brother, his idol.
I cared about what Matt's personal pain did to his baseball
playing, which was the other great love of his life. And I cared
deeply about how he handled these things. I also appreciated
the way Zinnen's prose didn't leave a sports illiterate like
me behind -- I never wondered what was going on. I never felt
the need to rush through the baseball scenes to get to the real
story. It all worked together to bring in incredibly powerful
story into reality. This book made me cry but it also made me
smile. And ultimately, it showed me again the power of hope,
love and sheer determination. I found it exceptional.
Truth aobut Rats, Rules, and the Seventh Grade
HarperCollins -- Feb. 2001
Ages 9 - 12
by Jan Fields, MyShelf.com
A life lived by strict adherence to
"the rules" makes Larch Wysorta successful in the
classroom but doesn't help much in dealing with the messy details
of life. And her life is very messy. The rules won't help her
do the right thing about a stray rat-catching dog. The rules
won't help her learn about her dad. And the rules won't help
her connect with her mother. Although Larch deals with some
serious family problems, she does so with such a great quirky
voice that this book bursts with humor and warmth. It's a far
cry from your traditional "problem" novel, and an
enjoyable read from start to finish. And if the rat in the stove
scene doesn't creep you out, you're made of sterner stuff than
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