Hi, Ellen! Thanks for stopping by The Book Rat and letting me pick your brain! I loved The Humming Room, so we'll get right into the Qs I had for you! =)
What made you decide to write a contemporary version of The Secret Garden?
I have loved The Secret Garden since I was a child, and there were elements in it that made me think I could do it. Ghosts, tough girls, a creepy setting. I’ve written books about these things before and I was sort of cocky about being able to pull it off; in the beginning, that is. Once I started writing The Humming Room, I realized what a task I had before me. It was, without a doubt, the scariest writing process I’ve ever experienced.
That was very, very tricky. I knew I wanted to stick with the original storyline—why mess with a good thing? But I also needed to put my own stamp on it. I didn’t want it to be so close to the original that readers would wonder why on earth I had even bothered to retell it. For me, the key was finding the right setting. I considered placing the story in New York City at first. I thought that would be sort of cool and different. But I quickly realized that it wouldn’t work. My main character, Roo, needed to feel isolated. I was living up in The Thousand Islands region of New York at the time, and I decided that an island on the Saint Lawrence River fit the bill perfectly.
[Note from Misty: It really did. Loved the setting.]
Since The Secret Garden is so important to you, as you were writing The Humming Room, did you ever struggle with capturing the right tone, or feeling like you had to do The Secret Garden justice?
All the time. I’ve read interviews with young actors who are thrown into a film with their idols, like Robert De Niro. They almost always say that they were starstruck into speechlessness until De Niro (or Streep or Clooney ) put them at ease. I felt that same paralysis for many months. I generally launch right into a new book with silly abandon, but for The Humming Room I spent a long time trying to nail the setting and the tone. I wish that Frances Hodgson Burnett had been around to pal around with me and put me at ease. Or maybe she would have slugged me.
There is a bit of a magical realist element to The Humming Room, which is something that was there in The Secret Garden, but I think is heightened in The Humming Room ; can you tell us a bit about creating the world and the sort of magical realist aspects, and why you chose to take that approach with the story?
Many of my books skew toward magical realism. Honestly, I feel like real life skews toward magical realism. But The Secret Garden is filled with magical realism too, which was part of the reason why I felt I could tackle this retelling.
As for the magical elements, I think I began to see the possibilities while sitting by the St. Lawrence. The river seemed to be alive, with its own moods. It became a character in the novel, and out of the river emerged the legend of the Faigne, a sea creature. Is he real? We never find out for sure, though I have my suspicions.
|This Penguin Threads edition|
is SO on my wishlist!
I think Roo’s story feels complete. If you had asked me the second part of this question while I was writing The Humming Room, I would have said NO! It was the hardest book I’ve ever written. But you know, it’s one of those childbirth kinds of things. Once it’s over you start thinking about possibly doing it again.
If you could be friends with any characters you met in books as a child, who would you chose now, and who would you have chosen then (excluding The Secret Garden characters)?
Interesting question. As an adult, I think I would choose Jamie in From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. He was so practical but also game for adventures. Plus he was a card shark, which always comes in handy.
As a kid I probably would have chosen Calvin O’Keefe from A Wrinkle in Time. Because he was cute.
Roo has a penchant for stealing little odds and ends; in your mind, what is her most prized piece of thievery?
I don’t really think she valued any of the things that she stole. The act of stealing was a way of comforting herself.
If you could cast The Humming Room, who would be your ideal actors?
As for Jack . . . well, it would have to be someone pretty hot, but I’m out of the loop on hot young actors. Any suggestions?
If you could introduce one of your characters from either the original The Secret Garden or from one of your other books, who would you introduce and how would they react to each other?
Love these questions! Okay, I would introduce Mrs. Medlock, the mean housekeeper in The Secret Garden to Mrs. Carnival, the mean neighbor in my book The Kneebone Boy. Then I’d let those two old ladies have a Friday Night smackdown.
[Misty's note: Future Friday Face Off, anyone? ;P ]
Thanks so much for stopping by, Ellen!
For all the rest of you, I would highly suggest you pick up a copy of The Humming Room - whether you intend to share it with a kid in your life or keep it all to yourself, I promise you, it will be worth it.
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