Wednesday, April 21, 2010

AMERICAN GIRL DOLL AUTHOR MARY CASANOVA DROPS BY TO CHAT...(and two lucky commenters will win signed copies of CHRISSA and CHRISSA STAND STRONG)

Mary Casanova lives in Ranier, Minnesota and is an award-winning children's author of picture books and novels, including several American Girl Doll novels. Many of her books are based on her life on the Minnesota-Canadian border, but some of her books have taken her as far away as France, Norway, and Belize for research. I had the privilege of meeting and befriending Mary in July of 2008 at the Highlights Foundation Summer Workshop.


Mary Casanova was voted (unanimously) as an honorary WAD member when we met her at the Highlight's Foundation Summer Workshop at Chautauqua in July of 2008.

I'd like to thank Mary for taking the time to stop by Random Thoughts to visit with us...and I hope that she'll forgive my techno skills, as I was unable to copy the photos from her awesome website, so I had to get creative with my camera...
Me: First, tell us about your most recent book?

Mary: Last year was big for me with the release of CHRISSA and CHRISSA STANDS STRONG with American Girl. Not only did I celebrate the release of two books with the “Girl of the Year” Chrissa doll for 2009, but an HBO-American Girl movie came out based on my stories. It meant lots of touring around the country, lots of book signings with American Girl fans. And though it was at times exhausting, I always consider it an honor and great opportunity to be asked to write for that company.

Me: Can you tell us about your American Girl Doll experiences?

Mary: I was first asked to write for them after publishing an historical novel, called CURSE OF A WINTER MOON, set in France in the 1500s. Shortly after my book came out, American Girl launched a series called “Girls of Many Lands” with stories and characters from around the world. They were looking for an author who could write a convincing story about a girl at the palace of Versailles during the time of King Louis XIV. And of course, I said “oui, oui!” I spent a week at the palace, roaming inside and out, to do research and find my story, which ended up being called CECILE: GATES OF GOLD. (Now that the series is out of print, I have hundreds of copies on hand, so if anyone needs a signed copy for $6 plus $3.50 shipping, just e-mail me via my website: http://www.marycasanova.com/).

Me: What is your role in the development of the dolls?

Mary: Before I write a story, American Girl asks for a few parameters. For JESS, set in Belize, I knew I would be writing about a 10-year old girl going on an archeological dig with her parents. They wanted an adventurous story with the potential for my character to have her own passport and some outdoor experiences, such as camping or canoeing. Hair color and eye color—the least important to me—are determined by AG. But I get to discover my character and her story, and that’s what keeps me writing for them. I still have the freedom to write a story that I care about and that comes from within (informed by lots of research, of course.)

Me: What is the most interesting place you’ve traveled to for research?

Mary: Interesting? That’s hard to say. Each location has been immensely interesting. I loved Versailles, and trying to imagine palace life in l711. I loved tyorropean History when I was in college, but writing a novel about a specific time and place in history is nearly like time-travel. While writing and researching the novel, I “lived” that setting.

Equally interesting: the jungles of Belize, camping in caves, scaling the Mayan pyramid structures, roaming archeological sites... My discomfort with poisonous snakes and spiders helped me write about a character who thinks she’s very brave and adventurous, until she finds herself in the jungles with its dangers and discoveries. Everything Jess does in the story, I pretty much experienced first, including getting bitten by fire ants. Ouch.

But how can I forget going to Norway? I did a research trip to the western coast, exploring islands and fjords, so I could write THE KLIPFISH CODE, set in Norway in WWII.
With Norwegian ancestors, I felt completely at home in that country, yet stunned by the breath-taking beauty—and the courage of its citizens during a brutal five-year occupation.
Me: What is the name of your next book and when does it come out?

Mary: THE DAY DIRK YELLER CAME TO TOWN is a picture book, illustrated by Ard Hoyt, about a restless, probably ADHD, cowboy. It starts out, “The day Dirk Yeller came to town, the wind curled its lip, the cattle quit lowin’ and the tumbleweeds stopped tumblin’ along.”

Those are the very lines that I woke up with in my head a few years back. I was in NYC with my husband, ready to visit editors the next day. I don’t as a rule cultivate ideas during the middle of the night, but these words came so clearly into my head that I stepped into the bathroom and wrote them down. I was sure that the next morning it would amount to nothing. But before leaving for appointments the next morning, I sat down and had to framework of the whole story in my head. Dirk Yeller is misunderstood, restless, and looking for something to stop his “itchin’ and twitchin’”… A boy named Sam, who has been in some trouble of his own, identifies with Dirk and eventually risks stepping into the outlaw’s shadow. He leads him to the one place that has always helped him—the new Carnagie Library in town. At first Dirk isn’t a real good reader, but Sam helps him sound out words, and soon the outlaw is reading and sitting still. Well, you get the idea! This story came as a gift. I have no other explanation, other than I also have years of writing and working this craft to be receptive when a good idea strikes.

Me: Where do you find inspiration?

Mary: I love to get away from my desk and get outside. My favorite way to relax is to trail ride with Charlie, my husband. It’s a time when my mind is completely focused on our horses and the natural world.

I believe we need “moodling time” (Eudora Welty’s description of writers needing time to putter) so that our subconscious brains can work at their best. So whether it’s baking cookies, playing the piano, relaxing with a good book, getting outside for a hike—I trust that I will do better writing after getting time away from it. And all of the time away is potentially time when new ideas can strike, when new experiences may lead to a new topic of interest.

If you have a specific question for Mary, you can email me (skmayh at q dot com) and I'll pass it along to Mary. I'll send you a response when Mary's able to get back to me. Right now she's on a speaking tour.

I'll be drawing a for a signed copy of CHRISSA and a signed copy of CHRISSA STANDS STRONG. To enter be a follower, leave a comment and go check out Mary's blog. I'll choose two winners using random.org on Tuesday, April 27th.

In case you haven't been over to Susan's blog lately, she's having an awesome contest.  She's giving away bookstore gift cards...what could be better than that (well other than winning signed books)!

20 comments:

  1. What a fabulous interview! I love that she can cross genres with the American Girl books and the cowboy picture books (which sounds like a rootin' tootin' hoot!).

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  2. This was an incredibly fun interview to read. Thanks Sharon and Mary! I've already written to Mary to buy a copy of Cecile: Gates of Gold for my daughter. Sounds wonderful!

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  3. My daughter has these books!! She saved her money and bought Chrissa last year and we read these together. How fun to read this interview and find out more about how the books are written. I think the travel alone would be incentive to write for them! Thank you for this interview.

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  4. What a lot of fun to be a writer. I enjoyed this interview very much. Thank you. I'm gonna' try to dig out my pennies so I can order Cecile: Gates of Gold. All of these books sound like so much fun.

    ~ Yaya
    Yaya's Home

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  5. What a great interview! I love the American Girl books. I won my own American doll when I was a kid. Still have her!

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  6. I like the term "moodling time". She has written some great books.It makes it more fun that she experienced what Jess did in Belize. This is a wonderful interview. And you did a great job with your camera.

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  7. Wonderful interview, Sharon! I love the American Girl stories, especially those set in history (of course, because most of the story ideas that hit me are set in history -- I can't seem to keep away from it :)). I would love to explore some of the titles that Mary talked about in the interview. So, if I were to win the two Chrissa books in your lucky draw, yeay!! :)

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  8. ah, I miss Mary -- good to see her over here.

    is it snowing there? we woke up to about 3 inches. will spring never come?

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  9. Hello fellow Iowan :) I left you an award on my blog!!!

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  10. Hi

    What a great intro to Mary Casanova and her varied books. What a prolific eclectic writer!

    Thanks for this!

    Take care
    x

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  11. This was a really interesting interview. Thanks for sharing it with everyone!

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  12. I hope you told Mary the Wad all say "hello!" Great interview, Sharon - thanks for sharing your chat with Mary with us.

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  13. Terrific interview! I enjoyed it very much. Best wishes for your continued success!

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  14. Great interview, Sharon! Hi Mary! :)

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  15. Terrific interview! Thanks for sharing!

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  16. My daughter is only five, but I've been collecting American Girl books for her already. I know she's going to love them one day (until then, mommy loves them!) :-)

    Fabulous interview, Sharon!

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  17. What a fantastic interview, Sharon! I'm really enjoying your blog! And, excited to be included in this contest.

    Mary--traveling AND writing--I'm terribly jealous!! What an amazing experience, I imagine.

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  18. Great interview--and a lovely contest, all in one!

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  19. I'd surely love to win those books, but I couldn't see anyplace where I could leave a comment on Mary's Blog. I absolutely looooove American Girl, though, and once submitted a whole book of puzzles to them, in hopes of having them published.

    ~ Yaya
    Yaya's Home

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