The DMS was lucky enough to interview Natalie Standiford, author of the middle grade novel The Secret Tree. Lizzy recently reviewed this intriguing story, and it was great to share our thoughts about it and hear yours! We are excited to learn a little bit more about the story behind the story. So, without further ado... take it away, Natalie!
What inspired you to write The Secret Tree?
I wanted to write about the neighborhood where I grew up, in Catonsville, Maryland. It was full of eccentric characters, and I wanted to show that the suburbs are not as bland as some people think. Then I saw the Wong Kar-wai film IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, which is very much an adult movie but had a scene that made an impression on me. A soldier is returning from fighting in Vietnam, where he has seen terrible things in the war. On his way home he stops at the famous ruins in Angkor Wat, Cambodia. He finds a hole in a wall and whispers all his secrets into it. Then he plugs the hole with mud and straw, hoping the secrets will never escape. I loved that idea. When it was time to think about what kind of secrets my characters should have, I was inspired by POSTSECRET, an art project by Frank Warren, where he asked people to write a secret on a postcard and mail it to him anonymously.
How long did it take you to write The Secret Tree?
I mulled the idea over and made notes on it for a year before I started writing. The first draft took about six months to write, and revisions took maybe four months. So all together, about two years.
What are some of your favorite books from childhood? Were there any specific authors who inspired you?
I loved E.B. White. STUART LITTLE was my favorite of his books, but of course I loved CHARLOTTE'S WEB too. I adored Beverly Cleary and HARRIET THE SPY, and LITTLE BEAR by Else Holmelund Minarik. There was a book called WHAT DO YOU SAY, DEAR? by Sesyle Joslin (and illustrated, like LITTLE BEAR, by Maurice Sendak) that I read over and over. It was a book of manners, but I thought it was hilarious. And GO DOG, GO! by P.D. Eastman.
Where did you come up with the characters Minty and Raymond?
Minty is kind of based on me, I suppose. Raymond was inspired by a strange boy I used to see on my school bus when I was in first and second grades. I didn't know him but I felt a distant affection for him for some reason. He seemed to have a good heart.
If you could befriend a character from any of your books, who would you befriend? Why?
It's funny but I've never thought of asking myself this question before. I've been so intensely involved with my characters that it feels as if they're already friends. But if I had to choose one to be friends with in real life, I guess I'd choose Minty. She's fun and sensible and loyal and good-hearted. Though Lennie Calderon and Jane from CONFESSIONS OF THE SULLIVAN SISTERS would be fun to hang out with, because they're so evil-minded. And I have a soft spot for Beatrice from HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT.
Where do you like to write? Do you listen to music while you are writing?
I write in a tiny office in my apartment. I can't listen to music while I'm writing, especially music with lyrics, because I need to hear the words in my head as I write. That's one reason I can't write in cafes (the other is I get distracted by eavesdropping and people-watching). But I wish I could write to music—it would make the work more fun.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? Why?
I live in New York because I'm happiest here. I've wanted to live here since I was thirteen. I'd like to try living in France or Italy or California for a while but I'd always come back to New York. There's a great sense of possibility here, as if anything could happen. Plus, most of my friends live here.
The roller derby came up throughout The Secret Tree. Have you ever been in a roller derby or is there a team you cheer for?
I've never been in roller derby—I'm a terrible skater. I've only seen it in movies. But I love the tough girl-ness of it and I especially love the skaters' clever names.
Where can we purchase your books?
Anywhere! If your favorite local book shop doesn’t have what you're looking for they can order it for you.