Monday, October 14, 2013

Spooky Fun With Ammi-Joan Paquette's 'Ghost in the House'

Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year for picture books. And among the most adorable titles I came across this year is Ghost in the House by Ammi-Joan Paquette (Candlewick Press, July 2013) and illustrated by Adam Record. It's a cozy little rhyming book that features a sweet ghost in a spooky old house. What's lurking around each corner? It could be something frightening, but instead our little ghost finds another friend at every turn. That is until the end, when the gang of ghouls discovers the scariest thing around: a little boy!

Paquette is having a good year, with the publication of two novels, Paradox (Random House Books for Young Readers, June 2013) and Rules for Ghosting (Walker/Bloomsbury, July 2013), and two picture books, Petey and Pru and the Hullabaloo (Clarion Books, October 2013) and Ghost in the House.

Ghost makes the list for School Library Journal's great books for Halloween: "Bouncing rhymes, bold artwork, and endearingly depicted ghouls make this counting book a read-aloud must." And Horn Book Magazine praised Paquette's tale, saying "The bouncy rhyme in this cumulative story is engaging, and the scariness level is just right for the very young."

Question: While little ones can enjoy Ghost in the House any time of year, it makes an especially good read at Halloween. Where did you get the idea for the story? Did you like to read spooky tales when you were a young reader?

Ammi-Joan Paquette: Oh, I was a big fan of spooky stories when I was young! And goofy, bouncy rhyme is something that I really enjoy playing with (and let’s be honest—reading, too). This particular book has an interesting history: An editor came very close to acquiring another manuscript of mine—a different spooky story. For various reasons, though, she wasn’t clicking with that piece all the way. So she asked, “Do you have any other spooky rhyming picture books you could send me?” I did not; but I quickly set about creating some! I launched a brainstorming session fleshing out five different ideas. Three of these I pursued into manuscript drafts. One of these became Ghost in the House.

Q: This has been a big year for you as a writer, with not just one, not just two, but THREE books out! And a fourth hitting shelves this month. That's a grand slam! What made the stars align so well for you in 2013?

AJP: I know, this year has been pretty hectic, to say the least! That’s the thing about publishing—it’s always going to keep you guessing. My four manuscripts sold to four different publishers, over a period of time from July 2010 to January 2012. Yet somehow they were all released within a three-month stretch. (And the first three came out within two weeks of each other!) There’s just no predicting how things will turn out. Which I guess makes the writing life even more exciting, yes?

Q: Writing for a very young audience is challenging for a host of reasons. How did you manage to strike the right balance between thrills and not-so-scary fun in Ghost in the House?

AJP: Gosh, that’s a good question! In this particular case, the story itself came to me pretty effortlessly. The actual polishing and rhythm flow and all of that took longer to figure out. But this story overall really feels like a gift (maybe the universe’s reward for the ill-fated spooky manuscript I mentioned above; which I toiled over for years only to then have it torpedoed by an adorable blue ghost! J).

Q: You write both picture books as well as middle-grade novels. Do you prefer one genre over the other, such as the read-aloud pleasure of picture books vs. connecting with independent readers? Can you do more in one form than the other?

AJP: I really love both of the genres equally; I feel like they exercise different sides of my creative brain, and I love adapting to the restrictions and the rewards of each one. With picture books, I adore playing with language, and the challenge of packing a full story arc, character growth, and meaningful subtext into 500 words or less. And then I also love digging deeper into character and story and building worlds that spring to life in the longer form of a novel. I guess I’m glad that I don’t have to choose just one form, because I don’t know if I could!

Q: What is your creative process like – do you have multiple projects going at one time? Will we see more books from you next year? 

AJP: Oh, yes! I am a big-time multi-tasker. In fact, I really think that the pause between projects is a big part of my own creative process. When I’m stuck on a problem—whether it’s a novel plot hole, or a stubborn rhyme—stepping away and doing something else has a way of freeing up my subconscious mind to nag away at the problem organically. More often than not, by the time I return to my original manuscript the solution has magically appeared at the tips of my fingers. Not everybody’s process, I know, but it works for me!  And as far as what’s to come? I don’t have anything new scheduled just at this moment… but good things are brewing. Stay tuned!

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