Katie Davis is the author of The Curse of Addy McMahon as well as several picture books. She’s one of the nicest authors I have talked to so far! Be sure to drop by her website or her blog. The release party for her book will be at Bank Street Books on May 1st from five to seven p.m. If you can’t make it, you can order a signed copy from the store here. I interviewed Katie recently and I’m happy to share with you her fabulous answers!

Alvina Ling suggested that you take out the fantasy in then titled The Fairy Curse. What kind of fantasy did you have in the book?

I had everything including the kitchen sink plus the bathroom sink and a couple of old junky sinks that didn’t work at all. A few chapters after the reader – and Addy – is led to believe there is no curse, who appears but this very funny little beanie baby looking fairy named Fletcher who spoke an odd Katie language. He told Addy she was obligated to save the entire fairy population from extinction due to her great granddad’s chopping job on the lair all those years ago. There were all kinds of sense memories that were very The Giver-like, despite the fact that I hadn’t yet read it! All this was in addition to the relational stuff that is still in the book – and Alvina made the exact right suggestion that I concentrate on just the human relationships. The manuscript went from 360 pages to 188. And then I had to build it up again.

What did you do before you were a writer? Did you always want to write for children?

I had a company called Dirty Dishes, and also created a character called Scared Guy that was licensed for awhile in the early 90’s. I’ve written stories since I was a kid (many, with pictures, are on the info page of my web site under “sketchbook”). After college I got jobs that required writing – but it was PR or advertising – nothing really creative.

I continued working on my stories, but most of them weren’t any good. It didn’t occur to me that I could write fiction for a living – for me, authors existed only as a lofty name printed in a book. It’s not like now, where an author can be in touch with her readers. You can’t imagine how exciting that is. Actually, I had no idea how exciting this would be! The great bonus of that is it makes writing a real possibility for younger people.

In the process of editing The Curse of Addy McMahon, did you add or take away more illustrations?

The text changed far more than the art. However, it did take me awhile to get the hang of thinking in terms of a graphic novel. My experience is in picture books, and when I first started Addy’s autobiogra-strip, I wasn’t drawing sequentially and therefore it didn’t work (and was, in fact, pretty boring!) So I did toss all that work until it finally clicked for me. As usual, I did lots of sketches, reworking, and redrawing. But it still wasn’t edited as much as the text. And since Addy is the artist, I constantly questioned myself whether it looked like a 12-year-old had drawn it.

Did you draw the cover?

Wow, you’re very observant. No, I didn’t. Victoria Jamieson, my art director at Greenwillow drew it. The book begins with Addy’s first autobiogra-strip where she’s walking in the rain, claiming she’s cursed, so it’s a really nice extension of that. I’m thrilled with Vicki’s art and think it came out better than had I tried it. She also just debuted as a first-time book illustrator, with The Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman.

Who are some of your favorite authors? Favorite books?

As a child I loved Roald Dahl (still do – he’s really pretty sick). The fave authors go hand-in-hand with my latest fave books: Shannon Hale (Goose Girl, Princess Academy), Gregory Maguire (Wicked), Markus Zusak (The Book Thief), Deborah Wiles (Love, Ruby Lavender), Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak), Gail Giles (Right Behind You), The Facttracker by Jason Carter Eaton, A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears, by Jules Feiffer to name a very insufficient few.

What are you currently working on?

I have a couple of things, though they haven’t sold yet. I have a young middle grade novel about a reluctant girl superhero, a very dark YA about a strong girl who survives sexual abuse, and another middle grade that is so early in the works I’m still figuring it out.

You got the idea for the book in 1999. Was it hard to work on one project for so long? What kept you writing?

When I started I never thought it would take so long to get it right, or that I would have the temerity to stick with it. On those days I didn’t work on the writing, I was still cooking something on my cerebral back burner while I completed other projects. Also, I had NO idea what I was doing the first few years I worked on it so if we really count the time where it was actually going somewhere, it was maybe four years. It wasn’t hard because I love Addy so much, and this story was very personal to me. Rather, it was hard, but I was obsessed because I love Addy, and being with her was fun.

Are you most like Addy, Jackie or Marsha?

I have a lot of Addy, a drop of Jackie and Marsha? Not so much – I was definitely not the popular girl in school. But I also have some of the jokiness of Ezra and Leon, and come to think of it, I’m like the mom, Cassie, as well. But not Jonathan. On second thought, maybe Jonathan too, in that he wants to share what he knows. But I have more hair.

Did any person inspire any of the characters?

Phew. Lots. First and foremost, my dad. He died of lung cancer, like Addy’s dad, and like Addy, I felt guilty for not throwing out his cigarettes. Writing this book worked out those demons for me. I have a friend named Jackie I’ve known since childhood, whom I adore and revere. I hurt her terribly (as adults) and was so embarrassed by what I had done that for a long time I couldn’t apologize. I finally did, and we have worked our way back to a friendship. She inspired a lot of the hurting/apologizing stuff in the book, but more indirectly.

How did you come up with the idea of Addy interviewing people?

At first there were no interviews and there was no autobiogra-strip – that started as an autobiography paper for history, then it morphed into her diary with lots of doodles and collaged headlines, etc. Her other writing revolved around Addy working on the school paper, but it wasn’t specifically interviews. I think it might’ve been after Carolyn Crimi (Henry & the Buccaneer Bunnies) said, “Why don’t you make her an illustrator and an author, like you?” and from that, I thought, “GRAPHIC NOVEL!” And then I needed a kind of writing that would be very different from her autobiogra-strip, but had the potential to get her into trouble.

Cancer plays a big part in The Curse of Addy McMahon. Was this always so? How did you balance the humor and the sadness of the loss of Addy’s Dad?

Boy, do you ask great questions.

Yes, it was in there from the first draft, but it was just how her dad had died. His role grew as her loyalty and anger toward him became entangled with her anger at Jonathan and her desire for a father figure.

At first the manuscript was rejected and I got a couple of comments that indicated people were put off and confused by the intermingling of humor and tragedy. That confounded me, since that is how life is – then I remembered that didn’t matter, and it still had to be palatable to a reader. That’s why I ended up putting all the hardest stuff in the autobiogra-strips, where it’s easier to take. It’s the Babar factor. Could you imagine a picture book where a mother gets shot and killed front of her child? Of course not! But make it an elephant halfway across the globe and we can accept the tragedy because there’s distance.

Have your kids inspired any of your books?

Definitely, yes! My picture books, definitely, but I have to say, if my (now eleven-year-old) daughter, Ruby hadn’t given me her editorial suggestions on ADDY, it wouldn’t be as good. Truly. For example, when Addy gives Jackie her belated Christmas gift, Jackie says she has no present for Addy. Originally Addy expressed gratitude, saying it was enough that Jackie had just forgiven her. Ruby read it and said, “A kid would never say that! All kids want presents!” So I changed it. She also edited the instant messages, helping me take out all the proper punctuation, which killed me!

Did you build your website? How long did it take?

Up till this version, I’d always built and maintained them myself. But since I was ready for an all-Flash site, I needed some help and hired a great guy named David Reedy (http://www.drdezign.com). It took me a year – but I was busy on Addy during that time, so I had a lot of delays.

Do you plan on writing a sequel to The Curse of Addy McMahon?

I had wanted to when I first sold it to Greenwillow, but my editor, who isbrilliant, by the way, felt it was satisfying as a self-contained novel. I didn’t agree with him then, but I think I do now (the hesitation only comes from my not wanting to leave Addy behind!) I may bring out Fletcher for something else because he was such a funny character, but for now, it doesn’t look like Addy will be making a reappearance (unless I sell a bazillion copies and all those kids insist!)

Felicity, you have a bright future as an interviewer. No, wait, you have a bright PRESENT as an interviewer! You ask astute questions. Thank you for having me here, it is my very first interview regarding The Curse of Addy McMahon, so I really appreciate it.

Thank you Katie! I had a great time interviewing you.

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