Today, I'm excited to be taking part in the tour for Erin E. Moulton's second middle-grade novel: Tracing Stars! As part of the stop, I am interviewing Erin, and she has generously offered a signed hardcover of the book.
Indie Lee Chickory knows she's not as cool as her older sister Bebe. Bebe has more friends, for one. And no one tells Bebe she's a fish freak, for two. So when Indie accidentally brings her pet lobster to school, makes a scene, loses him in the ocean and embarrasses Bebe worse than usual, she makes a wish on a star to become a better Chickory. She tries to do this by joining the stage crew of the community's theater production, The Sound of Music. (Bebe has a starring role.) But Bebe is worried that Indie will embarrass her again, so she gives her a makeover and tells her who she should be friends with. That means Owen is out. But he's fun and smart, so Indie keeps her friendship with him a secret. At night, Indie and Owen rebuild a tree house into a ship in the sky to catch Indie's pet lobster. But during the day, Indie has to hide her friendship with Owen.
When things come to a head, Indie realizes that being true to yourself is more important than being cool. But what's even more surprising is that Bebe realizes it, too.
Where do you find inspiration for your books?
The easy answer: everywhere. I get some from outside in the world, from my family and friends, from people I see randomly, from the teens I work with at the Derry Public Library. Admittedly, I do tend to be awe struck by the world, either in a good way or in an awful depressing way, depending on what’s in the news. In any case, it’s all fascinating. So, yes, just about everything inspires me in a good way or a bad way. I am constantly feeling inspired. Sometimes obsessive, but mostly inspired.
Both of your stories (Flutter and Tracing Stars) include a relationship between/among sisters. How is this significant for you?
I agree. I have a younger brother I wouldn't trade for anyone else, but some of my good friends and I have a similar sibling-like relationship. Flutter and Tracing Stars take place in very different locations. Are you as well traveled as your books?
Am I as well traveled as my books? Hrm. Let’s see, I have been to Italy, Switzerland, France, Ireland (twice), Scotland, England, Belize, Mexico, Hawaii and Canada (of course). I currently live in New Hampshire but I am from Vermont, so the landscape for Flutter came very easily to me, as it all took place in the mountains of home. Tracing Stars, on the other hand, is a coastal story. Everyone presumes Maine, even though its specific location is not mentioned anywhere in the book. Still, I guess readers are picking up on the time I have spent in Maine and the small touristy towns that you find there. Perhaps I pulled a little too heavily on York Beach to make it anywhere else? My hope is that it could be any coastal town.
If you could vacation anywhere in the world, where would you go and would what you do?
I think I would have to say somewhere I have never been. I desperately want to go to Crete, Greece. Crete is fascinating. I am currently working on a story that has to do with the Minoans. So if/when I go to Crete I would spend my time soaking up the culture, eating local food, and visiting all of the old palace ruins. When my husband and I travel together (most of our traveling is together), we like to go off the beaten path, get a little lost, explore the outdoors, backpack and camp if possible. So that would be on the agenda.
That sounds like fun. My dad tells me stories about his backpacking and camping days, and I'm always telling myself that I will go one day. I just need the time and supplies! Where is your favorite place to write and brainstorm ideas?
I love writing right here in the sitting room. One dog curls up at my feet and the other lies down next to me. There are three floor-to-ceiling windows so it is nice and bright. And in the winter I put a fire in the fireplace. I have four bookshelves around me and two comfy Papasan chairs in case I need to take a break(nap). If I get really stuck, I strike out of doors. Specifically, I live about 5 minutes from the Robert Frost Farm in Derry, NH. A quick walk around the grounds while thinking on the great poet and his words is the perfect way to clear a fuzzy brain. If in need of inspiration, I will often bring my manuscript for a walk with me, over the mending wall and past the birches, hoping the pages will absorb some of the magic.
Books are a magic of their own kind. What to you are the most important characteristics in a character for your books?
Great question. I love characters who are imperfect. One, because imperfection is about as human as you can get, and two, because imperfect characters have plenty of room to grow. It adds a level of “real-ness.” It’s very important to me that my characters are real, that they have special quirks and that they are multidimensional. I strive to be better and better at creating multidimensional characters. I especially like to make sure the girls in my stories are as unique and wide ranging as they are in reality. I find that in the media and in books (especially YA) we see a lot of the same type of girl. And in reality, I see a whole broad spectrum of girls.
So, as my body of work grows and as I think more and more about what is important to me in character, I look at how to let my work reflect reality in a plausible way; not an aspirational reality and not a reality that only depicts traditional gender roles. I know girls who like to build stuff, and carry stuff, and wrestle, and do science, and I know girls who have short hair, and long hair, and mid length hair. And I know girls who are skinny, and who are fat, and who are curvy, and who are just plain full of brawn and muscle. So it’s important to me that these girls are reflected in my work as much as the girls who doll up and care about popularity, clothes and boys. That was a bit of a rant, but you get what I mean. I like my characters, especially the girls, to be real. No tropes. No stereotypes. No excuses. To me, depiction of true individuality is the most important thing. (I suppose that’s true in life, too).
That's a great goal. It's important to give each individual personality a chance to shine in literature. Indie goes through some embarrassing and trying times in Tracing Stars before finding out who she wants to be. If you could go back and relive a childhood memory, which one would it be?
I know just the one I would choose. It was end-of-day recess and all of the classes were out on the playground. That meant that my little sister, Casey, and I were there. Moie hadn’t started school yet, and Amber had moved over to the middle school. I don’t know how exactly everything went down, but one of the kids in my grade was pushing Casey and then he picked her up by the arms and started swinging her around in circles. I can still see her little legs flying outstretched. We were on a hill and if he let her go at the wrong time, she really would have gone for a ride. I remember feeling like I didn’t have any control of the situation. But I also knew that he was looking to get a rise out of me.
It was hard to get me worked up about anything. I was always playing it cool, but this kid thought this would really throw me for a loop. Of course, I didn’t want him to have the satisfaction of knowing that this bothered me, that I was panicking inside, so I was all like, “ha, whatever, no big deal. It’s cool.” And Casey did the same thing, laughed like she was having a good time. Eventually, the spinning stopped and Casey managed to swing to the ground fairly softly. If I could play it another way, if I could go back, I would tackle that kid before he got a hold of her. As it is, even today, we bring it up and laugh but I keep apologizing for it. I should have been braver. I know I wouldn’t have won the fight, but at least I would have felt better because I stuck up for my little sis. If the roles were reversed Casey probably would have had the kid in a hammerlock before he knew what hit him.
That's the nasty side to hindsight. It isn't until later that we think about what we might have done better. It happens a lot to me for smaller reasons. What are some of your favorite childhood reads?
When I was really small I liked The Little Mailman of Bayberry Lane by Ian Munn. I loved it so much I stole it from the Moretown Memorial Library. I still have it, today. Don’t worry, my fines have been forgiven and the book has been withdrawn. I still love it! When I was a middle grader I loved everything from Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar to Shakespeare. My teacher, Mr. Alligator had us do A Midsummer Nights Dream in 5th grade and Macbeth in 6th grade. I have loved the bard ever since!
Anything else you'd like to add?
Thank you so much for having me on and for reviewing Tracing Stars! It’s been a pleasure.
Erin E. Moulton graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2007. She is the author of Flutter: The Story of Four Sisters and One Incredible Journey(Philomel/Penguin 2011), and Tracing Stars(Philomel/Penguin 2012). Erin is co-founder of the Kinship Writers Association and is currently the YA librarian at the Derry Public Library. Erin lives in Southern New Hampshire with her husband and puppy where she writes, reads, drinks tea and dreams.
You can visit her online at her website, Facebook, or Twitter.
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