What inspired you to write Shakespeare’s Secret?
Shakespeare's Secret came about from a combination of ideas. I thought it would be fun to create a modern story that was loosely based on a Shakespeare play, much the way the movie Clueless is based on Jane Austen's Emma, but takes place in a modern Beverly Hills high school. The play Much Ado About Nothing is full of gossip, betrayal, and intrigue, so those themes seemed like a good fit for a modern middle school. I started with two characters named Hero and Beatrice (after the two main female characters in the play) and then created the missing diamond mystery for the plot, though questions of identity and popularity were always a big part of the story.
But the original manuscript actually had nothing in it about the Shakespeare authorship question, if you can believe that. When I was doing the revisions, I decided I wanted to connect the missing diamond to something Shakespearean, so I made it the critical clue to Shakespeare's true identity. I always loved studying that period of history (I lived in England when I was 12, 13, and 14) so it was fun to include that in a book, and I thought it deepened the questions of personal identity that were already so important to the story: who we are, who we say we are, and who other people think we are.
How long did it take you to write Shakespeare’s Secret?
It took me about a year and a half to write the first draft of Shakespeare's Secret. I started it when my children were young; my daughter Grace was just a toddler, so I didn't really have much time to write. I made a commitment to myself (and my wonderful writing group) to write a chapter every three weeks, and that's what I did until the book was finished. I had never written a novel before, and the experience was such an important lesson for me in the value of breaking down a seemingly overwhelming project into small, easily completed chunks.
What are some of your favorite books from childhood? Were there any specific authors who inspired you?
Oh, this is too hard! I have so many favorites. I read all the time as a child. I guess the books that stand out in my memory are Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, A Little Princess, The Great Brain series, the Little House books, and the Albert Payson Terhune dog books. The two books I loved when I was a little older were Daphne Du Maurier's Frenchman's Creek and the Canadian adventure Mrs. Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freedman. As far as authors, E. B. White was a huge inspiration - as my readers can see in my third novel, Masterpiece.
Where did you come up with the characters Hero, Danny, and Mrs.Roth?
I wish I had a good answer to the question "How do you come up with your characters?" I think there are some parts of the writing process that come more easily to certain writers, and some parts that are really hard - and characters tend to be the easy part for me. I never base characters on anybody I know, and I never do those exercises that writing workshops recommend, like "What would be in your character's closet? What's her deepest secret? What does your character want most?" It's hard to explain, but my characters really just emerge in my imagination fully-formed. Hero's experience of moving around a lot is similar to my experience growing up, because my father worked for General Electric and my family moved every two or three years. But beyond that, her quirks and personality are her own.
If you could befriend a character from any of your books, who would you befriend? Why?
Oh, let's see... maybe Lucy from my YA novel Desert Crossing. She's passionate and impulsive, so she keeps things interesting, and at least in that story, she could really use a friend.
Where do you like to write? Do you listen to music while you are writing?
One thing I've learned the longer I've been doing this is to write anywhere. I carry a notebook with me, in case of that wondrous event when I'm struck by an idea for a picture book or novel. I have a desk and computer set up at home, and I often work there, but I'm just as likely to work at one of the local libraries or in a nearby coffee shop. When I'm home, I don't listen to music while I work, but when I'm in a cafe, there's a lot of background noise - music, other people's conversations, street noise. It doesn't bother me. Once I'm working, I tend to get lost in the world of the book.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? Why?
I love the West, and I really miss it; I went to high school in northern California, and my parents still live there, and I miss the scale of the landscape... the mountains, the long views. But I have to say, I really love where I live now, in the woods of Connecticut. We are in a tiny town of only a few thousand people, with woods and creeks and farms in every direction, but we're still only an hour away from New York City, which is one of the most vibrant and interesting places on the planet.
What is your favorite of Shakespeare’s plays?
Of the tragedies, my favorite is Macbeth. I first read that when my family moved to England, and I really loved the language and the darkness of the plot. Of the comedies, Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night are my favorites. They are very funny and have great romantic entanglements and confusions.
Where can we purchase your books?
I hope you can find many of my books in your local bookstores! They are also available online.
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