Friday, November 24, 2006

Mysteries for the Young at Heart: An Interview with Brenda Chapman

Growing up, I loved books. I found myself drawn to strong characters around my own age, and I adored anything that captivated me and gave me the chance to solve a new mystery…other than what was under my bed. I recently discovered a new author who took me happily back to my youth. In a society filled with anger and rage, this fresh voice offers an alternative for young readers by giving them stories filled with danger, intrigue and a lot of fun.

Brenda Chapman has written a series of books that will give young teens a fresh new set of adventures to embark upon. Her first book, Running Scared, featuring young heroine Jennifer Bannon, was published in 2004, and the second, Hiding in Hawk’s Creek was published in 2006, both by Napoleon Publishing in Toronto. I was pleased to interview this delightfully talented author and to be able to share this new treasure with all of you.

KS: Brenda, you grew up in Terrace Bay, a small mill town in Northwestern Ontario. I once wondered if foreigners, including Canadians, were influenced by the same authors as us Americans. Who would you say were the three most influential voices in fiction for you?

BC: When I was growing up, the Canadian curriculum certainly drew from American authors. I remember reading Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Telltale Heart” and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter in high school and both have stayed with me. I also studied American Literature in university, in addition to Canadian and British. My favorite American books include Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, and Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and The Old Man and the Sea. I particularly like Hemingway’s sparse use of language and his imagery. I’ve also read widely in the American mystery genre, including all the books in the series by Elizabeth George and Sue Grafton.

KS: Nancy Drew comes up more often than not when talking to women and girls. Why do you think Nancy has become such a significant role model?

BC: Nancy Drew is a heroine who uncovers puzzles and injustices and who sorts them out, always with a satisfactory ending. While the puzzle draws readers in, she is a character that young girls (the intended audience at the time) can identify with, or at the very least, someone they would like to have as a friend. The books are simplistic on an emotional level, but good, escapist reading.

KS: You've created an incredible character in Jennifer Bannon. Is there any part of you in this character? Did you derive any of the familial bonds from growing up with siblings? Was your vivid imagination an escape from the "middle child syndrome"?

BC: Jennifer Bannon has my sense of humor, my love of sports and my aversion to confrontation. She has a strong soul but isn't confident–an odd juxtaposition, but one I admit to sharing. Jennifer also has a close relationship with her sister Leslie not unlike the relationships I had with my sister and brother growing up. I was a middle child and perhaps that helps me to understand both the older and younger sibling roles in my stories. My two daughters have also been a great resource for me in creating Jennifer and Leslie. As for my vivid imagination, I’m not sure where it came from, but it's always been with me. I’m still something of a daydreamer and writing gives me a good outlet.

KS: Growing up in a small community with few of the perks kids have today–computers, video games, etc. – what made you decide to write mysteries instead of the typical high tech adventure kids seem to crave?

BC: I like to write about characters and relationships, issues that we're all dealing with at all stages in our lives. I do not believe these themes ever go out of style. The outward trappings may change, but kids will always want to read about peers grappling with the same problems they're facing. When I read to groups of kids about Jennifer’s parents separating, I wonder how many of them are dealing with the same sadness. I also want to show kids that people are not all on the surface – what we see is never the whole story. I use the mystery genre to hook kids into a good, suspenseful story while weaving in characters they can relate to, empathize with, and perhaps, learn from.

KS: I can only speak from the American side of things, but most people I know don't think of Canada as foreign, but there is a definite distinction. I know you write for your market, but have you had to make any adjustments to suit the American market?

BC: We’re always told that to sell to the American audience, Canadian authors have to use an American setting. As a reader, I enjoy stories set in other countries, be they the United States, China, France or wherever; I cannot imagine that American readers are any different. My books are for sale in many countries, and my publisher has not asked me to tailor my writing in any way to suit other cultures. I am currently working on a story set mainly in Minnesota, and my agent suggested that I use American spelling, but that’s simply a grammatical change that does not affect the story.

KS: What do you hope readers will gain from the stories you tell from Jennifer's point of view?

BC: I hope young readers will gain insights into Jennifer’s thought processes and see that while she reacts one way, she may be thinking or feeling something completely different. For instance, Jennifer hides how desperately she wants her parents to get back together, even while pretending that she accepts her mother’s new boyfriend. I’d like kids to know that it’s okay to have mixed feelings about people and situations. I’d also like to have them share in Jennifer’s curiosity, her compassion and her ability to see humor in life.

KS: In a world filled with Rowling fans who clamor for their imaginations to be stretched beyond belief, how do you think your writing will affect readers as a whole being more of a realistic tone?

BC: I believe there is room for the fantastical world of J.K. Rowling and the more realistic, mysterious world of Jennifer Bannon. Both series offer escapist reading with characters that age and develop, although Jennifer Bannon is more likely to be the friend they have at school. Having taught reading for a number of years, I am thrilled when kids discover an author they like and thrilled that they are reading from a wide variety of offerings.

KS: What is your personal favorite type of fiction? Do you find inspiration in the stories you read?

BC: I have always been drawn to suspense, a good storyline and vivid characters, everything the mystery genre offers. I tend to read mysteries for relaxation, but I also enjoy poetry and have a well thumbed copy of T. S. Eliot poems that I pull out every so often.

KS: What can readers/fans expect from your future stories? Do you have any plans to allow Jennifer to grow or do see a limit for the series?

BC: The third Jennifer Bannon book entitled Where Trouble Leads will be released by Napoleon Publishing in spring 2007, and I have just submitted the fourth manuscript. Jennifer is thirteen in Running Scared, fourteen in Hiding in Hawk’s Creek and fifteen in the last two books. I currently have no plans for a fifth book but might at some point in the future.

KS: What would you say to young readers and writers?

BC: Read widely. Learn new vocabulary and embrace ideas. I would also advise young writers to learn grammar because it is the tool writers need to construct stories, just as carpenters need tools to build houses. Finally, I would say to write about your own experiences and to find your own voice – the best stories are those that make a reader feel or think about something that matters personally or globally.

RUNNING SCARED by Brenda Chapman
Review by Karen Syed

Jennifer Bannon is thirteen years old and she's beginning to wonder if she will make it to fourteen. Things are weird at school, her best friend is acting strangely, and she isn't sure what’s going to happen now that her dad is back in town. But none of that means anything when Jennifer watches a neighbourhood women run down by a familiar car that speeds away into the night.

Scared what might happen to her, Jennifer tucks the secret deep inside while she tries to figure out what to do next. Then, things get really tricky when Jennifer receives warnings to keep quiet and she starts feeling that she is being followed. Reluctantly, she decides that she has to discover who was driving the car, but before she can uncover the truth, Jennifer's little sister goes missing and Jennifer fears the worst. Will she find her sister unhurt, or will she become the next victim of a mystery attacker?

Brenda Chapman is an excellent storyteller with a style that will appeal to readers of all ages. Her characters are likable and realistic. RUNNING SCARED is full of adventure and thrills – a good solid mystery that will have readers turning pages until the very end. This one should be in every kid's backpack for a fun read.

1 comment:

Mary Cunningham said...

Very interesting, insightful interview. As a writer AND a reader, I don't think readers from the U.S. are stuck on books being set in the States. I find stories set in other lands to be especially intriguing.

I look forward to reading Brenda Chapman's books.