Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Besty Red Hoodie Blog Event Day Three - An interview with Gail Carson Levine

For this third day in the Betsy Red Hoodie blog event I have an interview with Gail Carson Levine. 

Betsy Who Cried WolfMarya: The story of Little Red Riding Hood has been told dozens of times in dozens of different ways. Why did you decide to tell this story? 
Gail: I was looking for another story for Betsy the shepherd girl and Zimmo the shepherd wolf.  Their first book, Betsy Who Cried Wolf! was based on The Boy Who Cried Wolf, so I thought the second should also have folklore roots.  There’s tension in the original tale of Little Red Riding Hood, which is always a plus, and the story features three distinct characters, two separated by many years, and one by species.  And then I knew I’d bring in the sheep for a fourth contrast and for the mayhem they add to every moment.
Marya: Most of the versions of this story that I have read have been quite grim. In your tale, no one is eaten or is cut open with an ax. What made you decide to make this story an altogether happier tale? 
Gail: I knew Little Red Riding Hood when I was a child, and I was glad that the hunter pulled Little Red and her grandmother out of the wolf’s belly, but I wasn’t particularly troubled by their descent down his throat.  My parents never kept me from reading the story; they may even have read it to me themselves with an assurance that it was ‘just a story.’ Seems to me parents are more vigilant today, and I may have been especially hard to rattle.  Nowadays, told in all its gory detail, the story would succeed only as parody, so I took a softer approach, easier on the stomachs of all concerned!

Marya: One of the things that I liked in the book was the role the sheep play in it. They are wonderfully chatty and silly. Were they your creation?
Gail: In this book, yes, but not in Betsy Who Cried Wolf.  In that book, I didn’t expect the speech bubbles, but Scott Nash made them up, and I filled them in, a felicitous collaboration.  In Betsy Red Hoodie, I knew what to expect, so I wrote sheep speech from the get-go, and Scott obligingly made room for them.

Marya: This book is presented in a very unique way with full page illustrations, multiple panel spreads, and pages that look much like a cell in a comic book strip. How did this format come about?
Gail: All the credit goes to illustrator Scott Nash.  Going back to the first book again, I didn’t anticipate the look or expect either a contemporary setting or sheep and wolves who stand on two legs.  I was astonished!  But I loved the innovations.  Scott has outdone himself in Betsy Red Hoodie by dressing Zimmo so nattily and giving the sheep stout shoes, hats, backpacks, and in the case of one sheep, a guitar.

Ella EnchantedMarya: You clearly have a fondness for fairy tales. Where did this fondness come from?
Gail: As a child I adored fairy tales.  I loved the exoticism - the seven-league boots, the maidens and princes becoming toads, the fairies, the magic wands, the genies in old lamps (I could go on and on), the nonstop action, and, I think without realizing, the deep themes - love, danger, transformation, courage, and much more.  Today I’m still drawn to the magic and the deep themes.  I love to stretch the tales out, add detail, and tell myself a story.

Marya: You have written a book called Writing Magic for people who are interested in writing for young readers. Tell us a little about the book. Do you enjoy helping people explore the world of writing for children?
Gail: I love to think, write, talk, dream about writing. Writing Magic can be used by adults to write for children or by adults to write for adults, but its target audience is children who’ve been bitten by the writing bug.  I’ve been volunteering locally for about twelve years, teaching creative writing to kids ten and up.  After six years I decided to put what I’d learned in teaching into a book that is full of the exercises I’d developed.  Writing is both hard and marvelous, the best road to self-knowledge I know of.  I want to hold the reader’s hand and set off together down the uneven, bumpy, exhilarating writing road.

Thank you so much Gail for this wonderful interview. 

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