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The Powell's Playlist | June 18, 2014 0 comments
Like many writers, I'm constantly haunting coffee shops with a laptop out and my headphones on. I listen to a lot of music while I write, and songs... Continue »
Ellen KlagesDescribe your new book.
The Green Glass Sea is about two 11-year-old girls who live at "the Hill," a top-secret army base during World War II, while their parents are building the atomic bomb. It's a fascinating place to grow up, with a lot of freedom all the adults are too busy with their work to pay much attention to what the kids are up to, and because the base is surrounded by barbed-wire fences, it's perfectly safe. No strangers can get in. Nothing bad can happen inside the fence unless their parents accidentally blow up the universe.
Dewey is kind of a geek, a budding engineer who likes to build things, and who isn't liked by the other girls. She doesn't pay much attention she's busy. Suze is also an outsider, who'll do almost anything to fit in, including taunting "Screwy Dewey." Then the two of them have to live together for awhile, and...
The fictional story of the two girls and their unlikely alliance is set against the true events of the Manhattan Project, the struggle to build the weapon that will end the war.
One afternoon when I was about 11, a squirrel came down the chimney. It panicked and ran up the living room curtains. My mother went and got a box to block the doorway, so that when the squirrel came down, she could trap it and take it outside. She told me to go and get my father's trout-fishing net, and stand under the curtains, just in case. My little sister, who was about 7, went upstairs and got her bullwhip. (I don't remember why she had one.)
Right about then my father pulled into the driveway, home from work. He walked up the front steps, picked up the evening paper, came inside.
He stopped, stared at his wife and daughters holding a box, a net, and a whip, and at the terrified squirrel chittering up near the ceiling.
Without saying a word, he put the paper under his arm, turned, walked back to his car and drove away. I have no idea where he went, but when he came back an hour later, the squirrel had made a mad dash for it, and my mother was cooking dinner. No one ever mentioned it again.
Introduce one other author/illustrator you think people should read, and suggest a good book.
Do you read the Sunday funnies, and which are your favorites?
I read some comics in the paper, some on-line. (I've got a Mac, and on my "Dashboard" is a great little program called Wimic that delivers my favorites to me, some in full color, even on weekdays Calvin and Hobbes, Doonesbury, For Better or for Worse, Funky Winkerbean, Zits.) I like the ones with an on-going story that unfolds day-by-day best, but I'm getting very fond of the alligators in Pearls Before Swine.
What was your favorite story as a child?
When I was very small, my mother read me A. A. Milne. I liked Piglet and Eeyore best. But what has stuck with me over the years, more than the Pooh stories, are the poems in When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six. I can't always remember my friends' phone numbers, but I can still recite dozens of those verses from memory.
When I was four, I was totally into Sleeping Beauty. I didn't like the princess or the three good fairies, but I loved the witch, Maleficent. I even had a Maleficent hand-puppet. This alarmed my mother and my nursery school teacher a bit.
When I was seven, I would read anything about Joan of Arc. Anything.
Then I discovered comic books. Superman (and -boy) and his friends. A lot of my concepts about science fiction (time-travel, faster-than-light speeds, x-rays) came from those comics, and I can still talk more about different kinds of kryptonite than anyone wants to hear. (I seem to have an attraction for powerful green minerals. Hmm...)
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
The kind of grown-up that I turned out to be didn't exist back then (or at least not in my neighborhood). My house is cluttered and full of piles of books and vintage magazines, lots and lots of old toys and other odd, random objects. I can wear anything I want. I'd like to go back in time and invite my kid-self to come to my (now) house for the weekend. She'd be enchanted and relieved.
But to answer the original question I have always been a book and word person. I started reading when I was four, and writing stories a few years later.
When I was in junior high, I wrote a novel called GIPET (Girls Industrial and Professional Educational Training), which was about a school for the girls who had survived World War Three. It was underground in Alaska. They only took six girls from each state, and from Ohio, they picked me and my five best friends! And the faculty were my favorite teachers and camp counselors!
I was positive that it was going to be a best-seller.
(I still have it, in a box somewhere, in a blue cloth three-ring binder 160 pages, hand-written with a blue Bic pen. I will show it to no one.)
Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
"You're not supposed to write in books," he said solemnly.
I explained that I was the author. I wrote this book. He looked skeptical, so I opened the back cover and showed him my picture. He looked at it, looked at me, then nodded. Then he pointed to the stack of books about 10 of them.
"Did you have to make all of those?" he asked. He sounded either awe-struck or horrified.
I explained about publishers and printing and we had a lovely, long chat about the business of producing the objects we call books. (He didn't seem to care much what my book was about, but his older brother, who was about nine, ended up taking one home, because he thought the bomb part sounded cool.)
Tell us about your pets.
As an adult, I've had a rat (whose name was Rat), a gerbil (Mr. Rayban), and some cats. Dagny, Xner, and Bonox Margaret Buckfang are now gone. My current cats are both striped tabbies Fluffy (who is 14) and Jaxx (who is 12). I've gotten a lot of flack for having a cat named Fluffy. ("You're a writer. Don't you have more imagination than that?"), but there's a long, involved, funny story behind that.
Make a question of your own, then answer it.
Right this very minute? I'm typing the answers to questions from the nice people at Powell's. But in general, I'm working on the sequel to The Green Glass Sea, for Viking, the further adventures of Dewey and Suze. It starts about nine months after the first book ends, at the beginning of the Atomic Age, the Space Age, and the Cold War. A lot of it is about the future or what people thought the future was going to be. Some people are excited. Rockets! Television! Frozen dinners! And others are scared that there's not even going to be a future, because of the bomb. Dewey and Suze are in junior high in a small town in rural New Mexico. I think it's going to be interesting...
And in April, Tachyon Publications is putting out a collection of my short stories science fiction and fantasy, mostly called Portable Childhoods. It is not a children's book.
You can also check out my website: www.ellenklages.com.