Monday, May 6, 2013

First Sentence of 'Savvy' Inspired Ingrid Law's Newbery Book

I've always been fascinated by the marking of milestones. I'm the type that looks for some sort of glorious transformation when experiencing an important event, like the chiming of midnight on New Year's Eve – or even buying a new car that is not a minivan. But these moments tend to pass, like so many others, and life resumes its same old familiar routine. Thank goodness for Ingrid Law. With her Newbery Honor book Savvy (Puffin, 2008), she took the ordinary passage from 12 to 13 and made it electrifying. Then she followed it up with the equally extraordinary Scumble (Puffin, 2010).

In Ingrid's books, 13th birthdays are the moments when a "savvy" hits for the members of the Beaumont family. Grandpa's savvy power is that he can move mountains. For one brother, it's the power to cause hurricanes. For another, he can create electricity. On the eve of Mississippi "Mibs" Beaumont's 13th birthday, her father is involved in a car accident and winds up in the hospital. Mibs is convinced she'll get a savvy that can save him. And she sneaks onto a rickety old bus and heads out on an odyssey of sorts enroute to the hospital to help.

Scumble takes place nine years later, and it involves Mibs' cousin, Ledger. His savvy is that he can destroy anything, so he's been sent to a Wyoming ranch to learn to deal with his new powers while making sure nobody outside the family uncovers the Beaumont family's secrets.

Question: Where did the idea for Savvy come from? What was the spark that made you sit down and begin writing?

Ingrid Law: I knew I wanted to start a new book, but I didn't know what I wanted it to be about. I did know I wanted to push my creativity to its limits and to make the voice of the book quirky and unusual. So the first thing I decided to do was to sit down and write the first crazy sentence that popped into my mind without thinking too hard. Without judging. I wrote: "When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland, because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he'd caused it." It's still the very first sentence of the book! I think that sentence was magical.

Q: Can you talk about your creative process: How did you choose the savvies that each child receives? What was it like to dream up their particular powers? Are any of them powers you personally wish you had?

IL: I like choosing powers for my main characters that help them grow and learn in some way. Sometimes I think of savvy talents as metaphors for all of the crazy changes that start to happen for kids when then become teenagers. Other times a savvy talent might be a quirky exaggeration of a real-life talent. Mibs has to learn to regulate the voices in her head, real and imagined. Ledge learns that sometimes, when things fall apart, the broken pieces of a thing can be put back together in a different, more meaningful way. Grandma Dollop cans radio waves – my grandmother canned jam and peaches. Rocket is electric. . . mostly because writing about an electric character was fun. Samson is a savvy-powered introvert, able to build up stores of strength whenever he becomes invisible – strength he can share with other people whenever he chooses to reappear.

If I had a savvy, I'd wish for the ability to clone myself. Then two of me could be writing, two of me could be reading, one of me could be at the movies, and another me could be washing the dishes.

Q: Savvy was your debut novel, followed quickly by Scumble. Had you been writing for a long time before you began these story ideas? Or did these characters appear fully formed in your mind, and you had to race to keep up?

IL: I wrote off and on for 15 years before I tried submitting my work for publication. But the ideas for my "savvy" books were fresh and new when I began writing them in 2007. I hadn't written anything quite like them before. Sometimes writing is a giddy race to keep up with wild and wonderful ideas. . . other times, it's a meditation on patience and waiting for the right ideas – the really good ideas – to find their way into my imagination. Sometimes it's hard to be patient. It's easy to call such times "writers block," when really, perhaps, such times should be called "incubation" instead.

Q: You received a Newbery Honor right out of the chute with Savvy. How did this impact your world? What effect, if any, did it have on your writing life?

IL: A couple of years ago, I was on a panel titled: Newbies and Newberys, the Wows and Woes of Winning a Newbery Honor for Your First Book. I was joined by Kirby Larson and Jenni Holm. Originally, Cynthia Lord was going to be on the panel as well. I think the title of the panel says a lot. It was, of course, a thrilling, amazing, jaw-dropping experience to earn such an honor for my first book. But the award also took a toll on my writing life by setting the bar very high from the get-go. I used to worry about that bar a lot. But I'm learning to let go of all that and get back to writing for the sheer joy of creating a fun and compelling story, rather than worrying about awards and reviews and comparisons. Yet, it is nice to know that because of that shiny silver sticker, young people will be reading my book for years to come.

Q: You followed up Savvy with the equally delightful Scumble, whose cast of hilarious and outrageous characters is as long and satisfying as Savvy's. Was it natural to return to the Beaumont family and further explore its particular "gift"? Are they living, breathing members of your own family now? Will it be hard to ever step away from this remarkable world you've created?

IL: I do feel very attached to my characters – particularly Ledger, the main character in Scumble. I just love that kid! The world of savvy families I've created is very warm and welcoming to me; it's an easy world to return to again and again. I hope readers feel the same way.

Q: What do you hope young readers take away from your writing?

IL: With the "savvy" books, I hope that young readers can find inspiration to be themselves, to be the unique individuals they were born to be, and to value the innate talents that belong to them, whether those talents come easily or require a lot of hard work.

Q: What's ahead for you? What can your fans hope to see next?

IL: I'm working on a third "savvy" book now, starring Gypsy Beaumont, and focusing on her 13th birthday. Gypsy was 3 years old in Savvy and 12 years old in Scumble. Now it's her turn to have a savvy birthday. I'm such a perfectionist, I think I'm getting slower with every book I write, but I'm really loving this one a lot right now, so I hope my readers don't mind being patient with me a little longer, while I try to make Gypsy's coming of age story the best it can be.

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