August 2, 2011

Author Interview: Peggy Tibbetts - Letters to Juniper

Today for Tween Tuesday I'm very excited to welcome Peggy Tibbetts author of Letters to Juniper.  I just finished reading the book, and I'll be reviewing it later today.  Peggy was kind enough to answer some questions about the book and her writing.

Before we get to that, here's a bit about the book:

Twelve-year old Sarah Smith remembers when she was six years old her mother died and she moved to northern Idaho with her brother and father. Their lives changed drastically. The only vivid memory she has of her early childhood is her best friend Juniper Holland. In her letters to Juniper, Sarah reveals her innermost thoughts and feelings about her reclusive life with three younger brothers under the rigid oppression of her father and stepmother who call themselves Separatists. Their lives are turned upside down by an FBI investigation into her father’s association with members of the Aryan Nation. As the tension and violence escalate, Sarah faces life and death decisions in order to survive.

Welcome Peggy to The O.W.L.!

For your Letters to Juniper - what part/character/event are you most excited/proud about?
The unexpected ending of “Letters to Juniper” has been described by reviewers as “shocking”, “mind-numbing”, “brilliant”, and “similar to the surprise kick in the movie ‘Sixth Sense’”. I can appreciate the readers’ astonishment. It surprised me, too.

Tell about your writing process.  How long did it take you to write Letters from idea to finish?  Please tell about revision if you can!
I wrote “Letters to Juniper” in less time than it took me to write my other novels. It took about six months to write it. Usually I spend a couple months researching and outlining my books. But in this case, the story came to me so quickly I had to do the research as I wrote it. Then I spent another two months editing and revising. Revision is my favorite part of the process because I have a story to work with instead of a blank page.

During the revision process I use this list of questions to improve my story:
 1) Can you summarize the story in a sentence or two?
 2) Have you checked spelling, grammar and formatting?
 3) Does your main character have flaws? Is she/he someone readers will be interested in?
 4) Does the beginning draw the reader in?
 5) Did your main character change throughout the story?
 6) Have you chosen the best point of view?
 7) Does your dialogue move the story forward, as in no idle conversations? Does everyone sound alike? Or can readers tell who’s talking without dialogue tags?
 8) Is there tension in this story?
 9) Is there unanswered conflict until the end?
10) Is every character necessary to this story?
11) Does each chapter offer information that moves the story forward?
12) Does every scene?
13) Does the story end where it’s supposed to?
14) Do you like this story?

Is the story and/or characters based on anything/anyone in your real life?
“Letters to Juniper” isn’t based on anything or anyone in my own life. However during the 90s, I was as horrified as everyone else at news stories about the Montana Freemen, Ruby Ridge, and the Waco Siege. In all three cases, children were living inside the compounds during the standoff. I asked the question: “What would it be like to be a child, yet old enough to be aware of what was happening?” The skeleton for the story is based on the events at Ruby Ridge in 1992, which involved a standoff between federal agents and the Randy Weaver family at their home in northern Idaho.

How much say did you have in the cover of this book?  What is the process for creating a cover (my students are always curious about this!)
I trust the cover design to my publisher, although I do have final approval and I’m allowed to make changes. Big publishers with big budgets use artists and cover designers and original design and artwork. I work with a very small publisher who uses stock photos and Photoshop to create eye-catching covers that pop. By “pop” I mean in today’s digital world the cover needs to stand out not only in full color paperback but even when it shows up as a tiny thumbnail image in black-&-white on an ereader screen.

Now something not related to your book or writing!  What kind of student were you?  Was English your favorite subject in school and did you always write?
When I was in first grade, every morning our teacher, Miss Knight helped the class compose a "Today" story, which she wrote on the blackboard. Then we had to copy it on blue-lined manuscript paper. Through that daily exercise I grew to love writing and learned how to tell a story. I still write my first drafts in long hand, only now I use yellow legal pads. In school I enjoyed English and History equally and I was definitely a good student. Actually I was kind of a nerd with glasses and my nose always stuck in a book. But it was a good background for a writer because I spend a lot of time reading and a lot of time doing research.

And because it's the owl my standard question always is: WHOOO do you admire when it comes to writing? Whoooo are your favorite authors now and when you were growing up?
L'Engle. She was a great writer and a great teacher. She taught me how to write fiction in two weeks. I have been practicing ever since.

As a child my favorite authors were Madeleine L’Engle, Beverly Cleary, Albert Payson Terhune, Jack London, and Phyllis Whitney.  As an adult, and probably because I am also a writer, my favorites have changed over the years. These days in young adult authors I also admire the works of M.T. Anderson, Cynthia Voight, Louis Sachar, S.E. Hinton, Philip Pullman, and Gary Paulsen, to name a few. For me favorite authors tend to be about what I’m into at the time. So currently I like Natalie Collins for her edgy mysteries that give readers a glimpse behind the veil of Mormon life – and for her friendship. I like Bruce Cameron and Sara Gruen’s amazing animal stories. And because I am currently writing a dogoir – a memoir about a dog – I have been reading lots of nonfiction dog stories. My favorite so far is Jon Katz because he really delves into understanding animal behavior.

 Thank you Peggy! And please stay tuned because later today my review for Letters to Juniper will be posted! 
And if you want to learn more about Peggy check out her website 
and follow her on Twitter.

Tween Tuesday was started by GreenBeanTeenQueen!

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