Friday, May 2, 2014

Feature Friday: Rebecca Hahn

Rebecca Hahn grew up in Iowa, went to college in Minnesota, and soon after moved to New York City. She worked for two years there as an editorial assistant at a children’s book publisher while writing her first novel, A Creature of Moonlight, on the side. But her Midwest blood was calling her back; these days she keeps a cozy apartment in Minneapolis, where she converses with the winter cold, the wide sky, and many whispering trees.

Interview:

A.L.:
What piece of advice would you give to a budding author?

Rebecca:
You’re going to hear a lot of advice about writing. Feel free to experiment with any or all of this advice; experimenting is how you learn and grow as a writer. But—and this is the important bit—there are no rules that you can’t break. Nobody can write what you write. Nobody sees the world in the exact way that you do. Not everybody is going to like what you write, even if someday you sell as many copies of your books as J. K. Rowling or Stephen King. The point isn’t making people like your writing. The point is the writing. Write and write and write, because it’s what you do, because it’s magic.

A.L.:
What's your favorite book and why?

Rebecca:
Oh goodness. I used to think this was an easy sort of question, and now it’s like picking a favorite moment in time or (if I had children) a favorite child. A book that recently blew me away with its genuineness, its joy, and its sparkling language was A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson. For a long time the answer to this question was The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley (if you haven’t read Robin McKinley, go find her books!). Again, I love the language in that book. And the main character, Harry, and her refusal to fit into societal molds. And the subtle mysticism of the kelar (the magic in the book).

A more recent book that is now one of my all-time favorites is Laini Taylor’s Lips Touch: Three Times, which is beautifully illustrated by Jim Di Bartolo. It’s completely original, gorgeously written, altogether stunning. I felt as though I was eating the richest, most exquisite dark chocolate as I read it.

A.L.:
Where did you get the idea for A Creature of Moonlight?

Rebecca:
I had just given up on another project that wasn’t coming together. I was frustrated; I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to write something that worked. So I thought, “Fine. I’ll just write whatever I want. If it’s not going to work anyway, it doesn’t matter what I try.” I was staring into space, waiting for some sort of idea to come to me, and I saw the sunlight in my apartment shining through a half-filled water glass with flowers around the top. Something about that image brought a story into my head about a woman picking flowers, and a man who rides up next to her (except it wasn’t a man, it was a sorcerer), and a melancholy ending. After I’d written that story down, I realized that someone had been telling it—someone not me. It was Marni, of course, bitter, angry at the world. That was the beginning.

A.L.:
Did you hit any snags while writing A Creature of Moonlight?  What were they and how did you fix them?

Rebecca:
I try to think of “snags”—places where the story isn’t quite working yet, times of waiting for a new solution to present itself, uncertainty about whether anything I’ve written is any good at all—as opportunities rather than problems. I don’t always succeed in thinking this way! But I absolutely believe that there is no such thing as “perfect” writing, any more than there is a “perfect” person. We’re constantly changing and thinking new things, and that’s how I try to grow a story too—by building ideas and playing with character, getting stuck and sitting very still, hoping that the back of my mind will come up with something new to do—it almost always does, when I am willing to listen to crazy ideas. The crazy ideas sometimes turn out to be the most creative, and the detours—the parts of the story that go in some “wrong” direction before they start falling into place—often inform and add depth to the final book, even if they’ve been entirely written out.

In a very general way, when I didn’t know what to do next with A Creature of Moonlight, I either sent it to a friend to get a new perspective or stepped away from it and let my questions simmer and age.

A.L.:
Which one of the characters in A Creature of Moonlight is your favorite and why?

Rebecca:
Hmmm. This is difficult. Of course I am very attached to Marni, but because it’s maybe a more interesting answer, I am going to talk a bit about her aunt, the queen. I love the queen. From the moment she first looked up from her sewing and smiled her shatteringly pretty smile, she was consistently surprising me. I had no sense of her character before she showed up. And then there she was. I adore her.

A.L.:
Can you tell us a little bit about your journey as an author?

Rebecca:
I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing in one way or another (journals, poetry, etc.), but I started focusing more seriously on trying to write novels after graduating from college. A Creature of Moonlight was far from my first attempt at novel-writing. Every time I write a new story, I think it is going to be the BEST THING EVER. That’s part of writing, and a really great part—being excited about your story, falling in love with it. And I still think fondly of all my stories. They might not be readable, but they’re all trying to say something about my life, and they were all a part of me growing as a writer.

My writing was definitely influenced by my time as an editorial assistant at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. Just being surrounded by stories and by people who were constantly thinking about stories was stimulating and broadened my understanding of what a published book looks like. Also reading tons of submissions and thinking about why they do or don’t work, why one makes me catch my breath and another leaves me feeling flat—it helped me realize what I value in a book and what sort of conventions don’t work as well for me.

As for the business part of my journey to being an “author”—I was very lucky in finding a home for A Creature of Moonlight in a fairly quick and painless way. Having worked in the industry definitely helped with networking, and it was just pure serendipity that my editor, Reka Simonsen, connected with the story.

A.L.:
What are you working on now?  Sequel?  Something new?

Rebecca:
No sequels at the moment! I’m tinkering with a few new stories—one narrated by the youngest of the Greek fates, one inspired by ancient Persia—both young adult, both fantasy.

A.L.:
Why did you choose to write a human/dragon halfling?

Rebecca:
Good question! I don’t know if there was ever a specific conscious choice. By the time I realized Marni’s parentage, it made sense with the rest of the book—it gives her multiple conflicting pulls on her identity; it ties in with the theme of transformation; it provides her with interesting powers and responsibilities and choices. A simpler, maybe truer answer might be that I just love dragons. I would love to be a dragon, at least for a day. They’re so . . . fierce. And beautiful and graceful and glorious. They don’t care about danger—they fly straight into it, screaming.

A.L.:
Was it cooler living in NYC or do you prefer Minneapolis?

Rebecca:
Ha, what a complicated answer I could give to this! I love aspects of both cities. It took me a long time to get used to living in NYC (I grew up in rural Iowa), but by the time I left I loved its vibrancy. I especially love the city on summer nights, when the air has cooled and everyone’s out going places. It seems very young then, filled with—well, with opportunities. New York is a great place to connect with your passions and to find people who share them—if you can afford it, of course. And I never got over the joy of being at the center of children’s book publishing. Books are magic. They are absolutely magic, and there’s a definite magical hotspot in NYC.

On the other hand, I also never stopped missing the open sky and trees and grass of the Midwest. Minneapolis is filled with beautiful parks, and I have a great view of trees and sky right outside my own apartment windows! There’s more of a focus here on spending time outdoors, and a bit less of the drive to succeed which makes New York both exhilarating and exhausting. Ultimately, what I love most about Minneapolis are the quiet moments: sitting by a lake, walking to a friend’s house, watching the snow fall. Quiet moments are good for thinking, and thinking is good for writing.

So I love both cities in different ways, but for the moment I am very happy in Minneapolis.

A.L.:
If you could pick one literary female character to be best friends with your main character, Marni, who would you pick and why?

Rebecca:
I am going to pick Lyra Belacqua from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (which begins with The Golden Compass). It’s possible that Marni and Lyra would butt heads a bit, but I’m choosing to think that ultimately they’d be fiercely loyal to each another and take on the world(s) together. They’re both stubborn and passionate, and they both have small patience for artifice. And they’ve grown up in completely different lands, so hopefully they’d find each another fascinating.

This is a heady question, by the way. Just imagining my Marni meeting Philip Pullman’s Lyra is making me a bit breathless.

The Giveaway:
A signed copy of A CREATURE OF MOONLIGHT. (US)

A Creature Of Moonlight:  A stunning debut novel about a girl who is half dragon, half human, and wholly herself.

As the only heir to the throne, Marni should have been surrounded by wealth and privilege, not living in exile-but now the time has come when she must choose between claiming her birthright as princess of a realm whose king wants her dead, and life with the father she has never known: a wild dragon who is sending his magical woods to capture her.

Fans of Bitterblue and Seraphina will be captured by A Creature of Moonlight, with its richly layered storytelling and the powerful choices its strong heroine must make.


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