A little while ago, I got the chance to interview Dianne Salerni, author of THE EIGHTH DAY. You may know her from her previous novels, WE HEAR THE DEAD and THE CAGED GRAVES–but right now, we’re gearing up to get ready for her next awesome release, which is coming out tomorrow! I’m really looking forward to THE EIGHTH DAY, it’s one of my most anticipated MG picks of 2014–so I was super excited to interview her. Dianne is also hosting a giveaway for a hardback copy of THE EIGHTH DAY! Enter to win at the bottom…
Connect with Dianne:
1) If you had to describe your book as a mash of two or three other books, what would it be?
Eli, first of all, thanks for having me here at your blog to talk about my book!
Readers familiar with the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander might recognize some of the same names from Celtic mythology in The Eighth Day, although I’ve put my own spin on the characters and the myths. But the story takes place in the modern U.S., just like the Percy Jackson series. And since the eighth day – the secret day – is only experienced by a few people, the emptiness of the world will probably remind readers of apocalyptic books, except the people are all back on the next day!
2) What’s your favorite part about writing middle-grade fiction?
I think it’s the voice. Even though I write from a third person POV, the voice of my main character, Jax, came to me very strongly. I never felt as if I had to work for it, even when writing the first draft. Jax just spoke up for himself. He has a seventh grade way of looking at things and a snappy comeback for everyone. He’s honest in a way that YA characters often aren’t. I think YA characters are always worried about their image, but Jax has no problem admitting when he screws up. That’s the fun of middle-grade fiction. They characters are too young to be vain and driven by angst.
3) What inspired THE EIGHTH DAY?
It started as a family joke. Whenever my daughters bugged my husband about “when” we were going to do something, he would reply, “Grunsday. We’ll do it on Grunsday.” One day, I said to the family, “What if there really is a Grunsday in the middle of the week, but only a few people know about it?”
Now Grunsday is an institution in our house. We’re convinced there really is a secret day and somebody (like Evangeline in my book) living in our house during that day. How else can you explain the pantry closet door always being left open, the missing food in the refrigerator, and the mysterious pair of sneakers we found in the laundry room that nobody will claim?
4) I think THE EIGHTH DAY could be my favorite middle grade cover of 2014 that I’ve seen so far. What did you think when you first saw it?
I absolutely loved it – and so did my fifth grade class. I had already read an early draft of the book to my class when HarperCollins shared the cover with me, so I immediately shared it with my students. They literally jumped up and down.
HarperCollins asked for my input before designing it, and I gave a couple different suggestions. The author doesn’t really get a final say – the publisher makes the call. But out of all the things I mentioned, this was my favorite: Jax and his bike and the empty town. The big letter I he’s running into – well, that’s not the way it happens in the story, but it does convey a fantasy element, so you don’t mistake the premise as apocalyptic.
5) Were there any new experiences that you went through while writing this book?
Writing a fantasy was a new experience in itself. It required a lot of world-building that had to be carefully planned. Any “rules” I lay down in the first book will have to be followed in all the others. It took several drafts to get it right.
The other new experience is – I climbed a pyramid! The climax of the book takes place in Mexico, atop the Pyramid of the Sun. (Obviously the best place in North America to conduct an evil ritual to end the world, right?) In order to get the scene right, my husband and I traveled to Teotihuacan, Mexico to visit the ruins and climb the pyramid. It’s a place we always wanted to visit, and my book research provided us with a reason to go.
6) Were there any lessons or morals you were trying to convey through THE EIGHTH DAY?
I didn’t have any lessons or morals in mind when I started the book, and – as is usual for me – I didn’t discover the themes of the story until I finished writing it. I think Jax learns a lot about loyalty and commitment. He starts out restless, unhappy — the kind of kid who never finishes anything he starts. He makes mistakes and lies to cover them, which ends up putting his friends and even the world in danger. That’s when he finally takes action to fix what he’s done. He commits himself to a cause for the first time and puts his life on the line.
He also starts to develop a brotherly relationship with someone he thought he hated in the beginning of the book. This is a relationship that continues to grow in the second book, when Jax’s loyalty is tested and he has to decide what “family” really means to him.
7) If you could have Jax or any of your other characters meet any character or person from any time or place, who would it be?
Oh, definitely King Arthur! The connection will be obvious once people read the story. To say more than that would be giving away spoilers!
8) Is there any advice you have for aspiring middle-grade authors out there?
A lot of emphasis is placed on action and pacing in middle grade novels, but I think authors need to pay attention to characters, too. The characters are the reason readers become invested in the story, not the action. My advice is to write characters who lift off the page and become your friends (and possibly your enemies). Not just the main characters, either. Even the minor characters should be vivid and well-rounded. And nothing is better than a character who surprises you.