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Kids’ Q&A: Emily Whitman

Describe your new book.
Wildwing is a tale of love, time travel, and the wisdom of following your heart. Fifteen-year-old Addy is pulled from school and set to work as a maid for an eccentric old man, but she knows there must be more to life. So when she enters a locked room and finds a time travel machine, she grabs her chance and runs away to the Middle Ages. There, she's found wandering amidst the splintered remains of a shipwreck, and mistaken for the young woman arriving to marry the lord of the castle. If Addy can play her part, she'll have the respect and riches she's always dreamed of. But soon she's falling in love with the falconer's son, and the castle has dangerous secrets of its own — secrets to which Addy holds the only key.

Why do you write books for kids?
I write YA because I want to write about transformation and having the guts to change; because teens insist on emotional honesty; because I like the pace and excitement of YA; because talking with teen readers and writers is so damn fun; and because the world of YA lit is such an interesting place to be these days.

What was your favorite story as a child?
I can still recite long sections of Edward Lear's The Jumblies. "Far and few, far and few, are the lands where the Jumblies live; their heads are green, and their hands are blue, and they went to sea in a sieve." If you go to my website, you can see a picture of me as a toddler, reading the book with that poem in it. I find it very reassuring, because when everyone cries, "You'll all be drowned!" the Jumblies merely reply, "We don't care a button! We don't care a fig! In a sieve we'll go to sea!"

How did the last good book you read end up in your hands?
Every month, my book group has a list of about 15 kids' books, from picture books to YA, and you read what you can. That's how I found Ship Breaker, which threw me into a gripping future world with great characters. Can I mention one more? A bookseller, knowing my book Radiant Darkness is a retelling of the myth of Persephone, steered me to another re-imagining: David Malouf's An Imaginary Life. On my own, I wouldn't have picked it up, but this was the first book in years that moved me to tears. Thank God for savvy booksellers!

What's your clean, kid-friendly curse word substitute of choice?
When my children were young, I leaned toward "Jumpin' Jehosaphat!" A fat lot of good that did: they're both in college now, and capable of cursing with the best of them. Now, when I'm trying to be good, I tend to say, "Bother!"

What is your favorite family story?
My father, Warren Rovetch, led a rambunctious life. At 19 he went to postwar Eastern Europe with the World Student Congress. When they met with Yugoslav dictator Tito, my father asked some unscripted questions, and was asked to leave the country. But he had a few things to do first, hanging out with some newspaper correspondents; and thus he found himself on a train approaching the border with an expired exit visa and a conductor telling him to wait at the station for the authorities. A plan was hatched. As the train pulled in, his companions blocked the aisles while my father clambered out the train window with his trusty portable typewriter. (I love this image!) He ran to the U. S. Army jeep waiting for the correspondents and drove with them to their hotel in the Allied Zone, where he was handed a pen and a form demanding, "Newspaper or Agency Represented." He scribbled the only thing he could think of: "SPCA." The next morning a pretty WAC appeared at his door with a certificate identifying him as the official representative of the SPCA. "Will you be needing a jeep today, sir?" she asked. That's my father for you.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be Emma Peel from the TV show The Avengers. As played by Diana Rigg, she was a brilliant, sexy spy who brewed up chemical concoctions, tossed off witty one-liners, and karate-chopped evildoers, all with equal aplomb. My other early career aspirations included writing lyrics for Broadway musicals, and whistling. ("Practical" and "financially viable" weren't stressed around my house as much as they might have been.)

Who are your favorite characters in history?
I don't know about characters, but the best names are old English. It's lots of fun to call your friends "Edwy the Fair" and "Aelfgifu." Try it sometime.

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Emily Whitman's first novel, Radiant Darkness, was an #1 IndieBound pick. She lives on a tree-lined street in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, two children, and a gray cat.

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