Monday, June 25, 2007

Janet Muirhead Hill is my guest today. She is the author of the acclaimed, young reader/teen series, Miranda and Starlight, about the bond between a girl and her horse. Danny's Dragon, the award-winning story of a ten-year-old boy facing heartache and uncertainty when his father is killed in Iraq. And, if that isn't enough, she is also president of Raven Publishing, Norris, Montana.

MARY: Welcome, Janet. In your Miranda and Starlight series, are you Miranda? And, if so, how much of your childhood translates to the series?

JANET: Thanks, Mary. I am Miranda to the extent that I am whatever character I’m writing about. I get into all of my characters’ heads, experience their trauma and emotion to varying degrees. But Miranda began as a composite of my granddaughter Jayme, for whom I told the story, and a younger me. Many experiences of my daughters and my siblings were integrated along the way. Of course Miranda, with her impulsive nature and tendency to take things into her own hands, much like Jayme’s, takes on a life of her own. Miranda’s fearlessness and willingness to take dares and risks came mostly from me. As a child I was a dreamer. Though I had horses to ride, I longed for a horse of my own. I was determined to own a horse ranch when I grew up, because I had a stronger bond with horses than I had with peers. Jayme, as an eight year old, shared those desires. She lived with me, her grandmother, missed her mom, and had a hard time fitting into a new school. Starlight, the handsome black stallion, is the horse of my childhood daydreams.

MARY: Miranda grows older with each successive book. Was this planned when you wrote Book One?

JANET: No, not really. Each book called for another, and Miranda continued to grow and face new challenges that could not be contained in one book.

MARY: You ended the series with Book Six. How difficult was it to "let go" of Miranda and Starlight?

JANET: I felt that Miranda had grown up through her experiences. The problems and challenges facing her throughout the series were resolved—at least to the extent that the reader could fill in the rest of the story with their own imaginations. However, I haven’t forgotten Miranda. I recently revised the second book, making a few slight changes. It was fun to “be” her again in the process. I have plans to combine the six books in an anthology some day. Young readers still ask for book seven, however, so I haven’t ruled that out. In fact, I just started a blog, Miranda and Starlight Blogspot, inviting kids to talk to Miranda. I let Miranda speak through me, as I write “journal entries” of her experiences prior to the beginning of the story. I can hardly wait to see where it goes when kids become familiar with the blog and write their questions and comments to her.

MARY: Although Miranda faces many challenges, Danny's Dragon focuses on a child's worst nightmare; the loss of a parent. Was this experience based on a true story, or just a composite of the many challenges facing children today?

JANET: All of my stories begin with a “what if,” based on challenges I see kids facing. How would I feel if I were in their shoes? How would I react? This was especially true when writing Danny’s Dragon. I’d seen a news clip on TV of a very young child saying a tearful goodbye to both parents as they were deployed to Iraq. About the same time, I asked Jayme about the new kid on her bus route. “He moved in with his grandparents because his dad is in Iraq,” she told me. I was filled with sadness for the losses these kids were experiencing. I remember how hard it was for me to be separated from my parents at the age of nine, when I stayed with neighbors for a week or two. I thought I’d die of homesickness. That was nothing compared to having a parent sent thousands of miles away into a very dangerous situation. Thousands of kids have a parent missing, and in some cases both parents, because of the war. I became very passionate about speaking to this problem, giving these kids a voice. “What if the parent never returns?” became the next question. Danny’s Dragon answers that through the eyes of a Montana rancher’s son. Like all my stories, the characters take control of the story, and many challenges and adventures pop up. Danny’s horse, Dragon, powered by Danny’s imagination, plays an important role.

MARY: Has your dream of owning a horse ranch come true?

JANET: (Laugh) I made a bet with my brother when I was about 8 or 9 years old, that I would be the one to own a horse ranch. He said he would. We bet five dollars, and neither of us has paid up yet. He owns a cattle ranch and has three or four horses now, but more in the past. Years ago, I raised a few Arabians, though it was hardly big enough to be called the ranch of my dreams. Today I own three horses on our acreage in rural Montana, so no, I’d have to say I never realized that dream. But dreams change, and I’m living my dream daily when I write and publish books.

MARY: And, finally, what is your latest project? Another series?

JANET: Yes, I’m currently working on a trilogy about twins who were separated at the age of four when their parents divorced. I have the first book written (about the girl twin, who at age eleven lives in a foster home in Kansas after her mother’s death—and runs away). The second book (her brother’s story) is well started. Then there will be a third one in which they get together—or at least that’s what I think is going to happen. Like I say, the characters lead the story.

Now that I’ve learned to blog, I thought it would be fun to invite readers to participate in my stories—give me some ideas as I write, present challenges for my characters, for example. With this in mind, I started another blog where I list several projects they can write about. One is the trilogy I mentioned, another is a book and its sequel, which I wrote before the Miranda and Starlight series. When people read the manuscript they say, “You’ve got to publish this book!” So I’m considering it. I could certainly use some help from my readers, however, as it is part fantasy and quite “scary.” At least that’s the reason I’ve put off publishing it. Is it TOO scary for kids? Maybe not for middle-grade or young adults. I’d love to hear from kids to find out. They can find the blog at fictionwritingwithkids.blogspot. There are links to all my blogs on my publishing website: Raven Publishing and soon will be on my author website.

Janet Muirhead Hill

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