|It's a fabulous title, yes? All dark and deliciously grim and humorous but not? THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY debuts today from my Austin friend, the delightful and whip-smart Nikki Loftin.|
Nikki has an amazing way with words and characters and in her MG debut novel she turns any number of fairy tales inside out and back again, including but not limited to the Russian fairy tale that I also use in my DREAMING ANASTASIA series, Vasilisa the Brave! Nikki talks about that some on her own blog .
Here's what Amazon has to say:
“A mesmerizing read…a fantasy that feels simultaneously classic and new.”—Publishers Weekly
“A pinch of Grimm, a dash of Greek mythology and a heaping helping of fresh chills make for an irresistible contemporary fairy tale…Deliciously scary and satisfying.”--Kirkus
Lorelei is bowled over by Splendid Academy--Principal Trapp encourages the students to run in the hallways, the classrooms are stocked with candy dishes, and the cafeteria serves lavish meals featuring all Lorelei's favorite foods. But the more time she spends at school, the more suspicious she becomes. Why are her classmates growing so chubby? And why do the teachers seem so sinister?
It's up to Lorelei and her new friend Andrew to figure out what secret this supposedly splendid school is hiding. What they discover chills their bones--and might even pick them clean!
Mix one part magic, one part mystery, and just a dash of Grimm, and you've got the recipe for a cozy-creepy read that kids will gobble up like candy.
I know, right? You totally have to read this book!
Nikki is here today, answering some questions.
And scroll to the end, because I'm giving away my ARC copy of her book today! It's signed!!
Joy: I love to hear about debut journeys. Tell us about yours.
Nikki: Where to start? I always wanted to be a writer -- I even got a Master’s degree in writing. But life, kids, and jobs got in the way of chasing my dream. Then one day when I looked in the mirror, I realized I had a whole LOT of gray hairs all of a sudden – and the same dream I’d had when I was young. So I started writing like I might only have a few days left to get my stories out into the world. I don’t know why, but that sense of urgency has stayed with me since then. I suppose I feel like I spent so many years just dreaming the dream, I have that many fewer to live it!
Sinister Sweetness was the second book my agent submitted to editors, after a previous one gained nothing but kind words and gentle rejections. (Sigh!) My agent sent Sinister Sweetness to my editor on her first day at Razorbill. It was the first manuscript to cross her new desk, and the first one she acquired in her new position. Hooray for good timing!
I’ve been extremely lucky to find friends in the writing community to help me navigate the perilous waters of the first novel (including you!), and I am so grateful for all of them. In fact, between the debut author group The Apocalypsies, SCBWI, and the Austin/Houston writing communities, I feel like I’ve found my tribe at last.
Joy: One thing I adore about you is your dark sense of humor. Tell us about the title of this book and about where the story came from. And perhaps about how your world view sneaks in here in this delightfully subversive MG.
Nikki: “Delightfully subversive” – I love it! (Can I use that in a blurb? J)
The book was originally called Gingerbread, after Hansel and Gretel’s architectural snack bar. But one of my very wise editor’s initial requests was that we change the title. It took (and I am not exaggerating) hundreds of title ideas before we landed on this one. And I adore it!
Okay, I’m going to pull an imaginary soapbox over for your next question. The germ of this story came from two things: my obsessive, lifelong love of fairy tales, and my dismay that they were/are being sanitized for today’s kids. Seriously! The first two little pigs in The Three Little Pigs are not supposed to live, people. They made stupid decisions, and they get EATEN by that Big, Bad Wolf! And Red Riding Hood ended with the wolf being KILLED, not running off, tail between his legs. The Gingerbread Man? Does not, ever, swim away from the fox. Somehow, in the past few years, these familiar, wonderful, scary, gruesome, amazing stories that had survived for centuries were being systematically turned into literary paste.
My husband and I were bemoaning this over lunch one day, when I mentioned that what kids needed (and what I wanted our boys to have, to spark their bloodthirsty interest) was the old fairy tales – scary bits and all – re-written for modern readers, in a modern setting, like a charter school, where the witches were the teachers… Then I left my husband with the bill and ran home to start writing as fast as I could!
Joy: What were you doing before you began writing? What else can we find you doing now besides writing?
Nikki: I was a teacher at a wonderful school in Central Texas. I taught… music. (Only funny if you’ve read the book, of course. And then you’ll never look at me the same way again. NO, I did not model the music teacher after myself.) I also taught the Gifted and Talented program. After I left to finish my Master’s degree, I started a career as a Director of Family Ministries for Presbyterian churches. I’ve worked with kids for my whole professional life; it seems natural to write for them now.
These days, I wrangle my two boys, 2 dogs, and however many chickens we have this week, as well as teaching Zumba 5 or 6 times a week. The Zumba helps to work off some of the chocolate I eat rather compulsively as I write.
No, really. There are little bits of melted chocolate between most of the keys on my keyboard. Sad. I may need help.
Joy: In reading Sinister Sweetness, I discovered that, just as I have used Slavic folklore and specifically the Baba Yaga the witch fairy tale of Vasalisa the Brave in the DREAMING ANASTASIA series, you have used it here! I was so excited. Tell us about how this came into the story for you, how you use it, whether reviewers/readers notice it... whatever comes to mind on this topic.
Nikki: That is such a cool coincidence! I haven’t had many readers yet, of course, and the reviewers haven’t mentioned that particular strand! I think the Hansel and Gretel story is much more familiar, so people latch onto that. But I have fairy tales from all over the world in this book, and Greek mythology, too. I drew from one story of Vasalisa the Brave (which mirrors Hansel and Gretel in many ways) to bring one of my secondary characters out as a sort of cautionary figure and mentor for the main character. But I sprinkled little-known details from fairy tales all over the world into my book: the story of La Llorona, the Rusalka, Baba Yaga, the Lorelei, and more are all there for the attentive reader.
Joy: Readers always want to know about writing process and habits. Tell us about how you get the job done.
Of course, we all know that every writer has his/her own process, right? And none of them are necessarily better than any others (unless yours includes watching Jersey Shore marathons all day and night, in which case, it needs improvement).
Nikki: What works for me are word quotas. I will give myself a deadline (if I don’t have an editorial one), and work out how many words per day I need to write to meet it. Usually it’s between 1,000 and 5,000 words per day, with one day off each week. I get up in the morning, send the kids to school, make a pot of herbal tea, locate a chocolate bar, and get to work. I stop every 500 words or so to rest my fingers and walk around. But I sit right back down and keep writing until I meet my quota for the day.
Of course, this schedule varies! Recently, I was asked to write a first draft of a novel in five weeks. For some reason, I had to take a nap every day – 30 minutes or so – to keep the energy needed to meet my insane word count for each day. But it worked! And usually, any weird plot holes and/or loose threads got taken care of while I was dozing – I woke up knowing what to write to fix them.
If I get stuck in a manuscript, I take a walk and meditate a bit. Usually, I’m stuck because I’m not paying attention to what the story wants – I’m trying to force it into a wrong plot direction. It’s so important to let the story unspool, and edit later!
Joy: Twizzlers or M and M's?
Nikki: Ha! You’ve read the book, Joy. You KNOW it’s M&Ms.
Joy: What's next for Nikki Loftin?
Nikki: Well, I have a VERY embarrassing letter coming out in the Dear Teen Me anthology this November! It’s the story of the Worst Kiss Ever, and how I never really learned to shut up.
Then, I have another book coming out from Razorbill in early 2014. Another re-imagined fairy tale (this time Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Nightingale”), this book is more magical realism and less straight-up fantasy. It’s called Nightingale’s Nest, and it’s the book of my heart – so I’m thrilled it’s going to be out in the world.
Thank you so much for giving me this space on your blog – and for being such an amazing author and friend!
Nikki Loftin lives with her Scottish photographer husband just outside Austin, Texas, surrounded by dogs, chickens, and small, loud boys. Her middle-grade novel, The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, will debut on August 21, 2012. You can visit her online at www.nikkiloftin.com.
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