Thursday, November 17, 2011

INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR, PEPPER THORN

INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR, PEPPER THORN OF TYPING CAT PRESS

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Thank you Pepper for agreeing to do this interview, it's great to have you as a guest. My first question is an ice breaker, what is it like living with three cats?

Heaven, for me, is spending a rainy Saturday with a steaming mug of tea, a brand new book, and a purring cat curled in my lap. So having three cats is like being three times closer to heaven.

Of course it's also three times the trouble. They get into everything. And they work together too! We came home one evening and they were chowing down on a bag of food we hadn't left out. They had worked together to open the cabinet, drag out and open the box we keep the dry food in, drag out the bag of food, and rip it open. It's a good thing they don't have opposable thumbs or we'd be in serious trouble!

What was another major draw for you, other than having the "exact opposite personality for a school teacher", that led you to teaching?

I have always enjoyed working with children. As a teenager I had a regular babysitting job and worked as a camp counselor during the summer. But two experiences really sold me on being a teacher.

My senior year of high school the counselor came and asked me to tutor a student who was struggling with Algebra. Now I had dropped out of Trigonometry to be a teacher’s aid, so math was obviously not my strong suite, but he felt I was the perfect person to help this guy. And I did. In one grading period he went from an F to a C. It felt so good to see someone succeed who otherwise would have failed because of me. I was hooked.

But I already knew the difference a teacher could make in a child's life thanks to Ms. Lane. Fifth grade was a strange year for me. My family moved over the summer, so when school started I didn't know a soul. The school was really tiny and my class was the biggest bunch of misfits I have ever met. Within the first month of school we had burned through three teachers. They had to bring Ms. Lane out of retirement to take our class. By that point we were convinced that we were flawed as a group and as individuals beyond any teacher's help. Every one of us was out of control in our own unique way. She came in, made each of us feel special and important, and turned that disaster of a year into one of my best.

You mentioned in your biography that you run book clubs for advanced readers, can you tell us more about that?

Teachers have to spend so much of their time these days focusing on what students can't do that students who can do things fall through the cracks. This is especially true for advanced readers. We spend hours each day on direct reading instruction at or below grade level. And since our school is kindergarten through fifth, our school library only has books up through the sixth grade level. I knew our school had a sizable group of students who read several years above their current grade level. Not only were they never engaged in any real reading but they couldn't even find challenging books.

I had recently joined my local sci-fi/ fantasy book club and I was loving it. Even when I didn't like the book we read, getting together to discuss it with other readers was a blast. I wanted the students to experience that too. So many children quit reading as they move into middle and high school and I didn't want that to happen to these great readers. (This drop-off is especially true for boys and half my book club is boys!) So I got together with the nearest Books-a-Million and they agreed to donate books for our club. I run three different clubs that each meet once a month. We eat snacks, talk about the book we read, rate it, get a new book for the next month, and fun is had by all.

Tell us about your books and how you started writing.

I honestly can't remember a time when I didn't invent stories, if only for myself. And I've always loved fairytales. I think myths and fairytales are the building blocks from which all other stories are made. There is something fundamental in them that feeds the soul and fires the imagination.

Princess Rose and the Crystal Castle does have an interesting story behind it though. As I mentioned above, I did a lot of babysitting as a teenager. The family I sat for had three small children and, being the conscientious person I am, I wouldn’t let them watch TV until after dark. Dark in the southern summer comes very late. Often we would sit in the shade on the back porch telling stories. I let each child choose one element for the story and then I simply started talking as we all waited to see where it would go. Those stories wouldn't have fared well against an English teacher with a red pen, but the kids loved them and they made they made the long, hot days pass faster. The only one I still remember was about a princess who lived in a castle made of glass.

After I was all grown up and writing real, not-off-the-top-of-my-head stories, I thought about that princess and her glass castle. I thought about all the retellings and reworking of fairytales and all the books inspired by fairytales I had read over the intervening years. And I wondered, what would that story look like if I were telling it now?

The answer is, a lot different. First off the Crystal Castle (no longer actually made of glass) belongs to the dark, handsome prince who uses his magic to steal away Princess Rose after she turns down all of the princes desperate to marry her. Second, Princess Rose carries a strange and dangerous curse that makes everyone she meets fall in love with her. And last but not least, nothing in the Crystal Castle is quite what it seems: not the handsome prince, not the mad king she never sees, not even the silent page who becomes her only friend. But there is still a dragon, sort of. :)

You mentioned watching science fiction and fantasy shows. What are you favorite shows on TV right now?

I watch most of my TV online so I'm always a season or two behind on shows. Right now my favorite is Dr. Who. It's really a dark fairytale dressed up in science fiction clothes, which makes it double the fun for me. Nothing is quite what it seems. The Doctor is a wonderful, mad magician who takes a lucky few on amazing adventures through time and space. And all the monsters from your dreams and nightmares are real. What's not to love in that?

When you talk about playing games, what games do you play?

I like all kinds of games but I prefer games that have some element of strategy or tactics. Games that entirely depend on chance get old really fast for me. I grew up playing card and board games like UNO and Monopoly with my family. Now my favorites are Shadows Over Camelot, a cooperative board game based on Arthurian legend, and Guillotine, a silly but cutthroat card game based on the French Revolution. Another favorite is Wings of War where you play WWI fighter planes in tabletop dogfights.

In college I discovered roleplaying games and fell in love! Literally. I met this really cute guy and he asked if I wanted to sit in on a session of the Star Wars roleplaying game he ran for a group of friends. I rolled up a character, married that cute GM, and still play with some of those same friends.

Have you always lived in the South?

Other than a summer that I spent in England, yes. I know the world is full of beautiful places but there is something magical about the South. My favorite quote is by C.S. Lewis who says "I have seen landscapes ... which, under a particular light, made me feel that at any moment a giant might raise his head over the next ridge. Nature has that in her which compels us to invent giants: and only giants will do." I think it sums up both how I feel about the South and why I love fantasy.

Have you ever given thought to writing a different genre of books?

Not really. The first original story I remember writing was about a psychic girl whose headaches predicted an alien invasion. The second was about a magical land hidden behind a waterfall. My story brain starts working as soon as you cross the line at the edge of the possible.

One of the best things about speculative fiction is that its so flexible. You can tell any kind of story imaginable in this genre. Why would I change?

If you could choose only one thing to do for the rest of your life what would it be and why?

That is such a hard question! I like to do so many things that I can't choose just one. My perfect life would be to teach part time and write part time. I would run book clubs and academic teams after school and knit in my free time.

Do you have any advice you'd like to give to other authors?

The problem with writing advice is that at its best it is both completely right and totally wrong. See, every writer and every story is different. Anything beyond the most basic advice only applies some of the time, to some authors with some stories.

In fact the only thing that I can think of that is always important and always applies is this quote from Nike, "Just do it!"

Thank you so much for taking time to do interviews with us. We are honored to have the opportunity to read and review your books!


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