This sweet, funny novel follows fifth-grader Genie Kunkle through a tumultuous year. From the first day of school, Genie knows there will be good, bad, and in-between. The good? She’s in homeroom with her best friend, Sarah. The bad? Sarah’s friend from camp, Blair, is a new student at their school, and is itching to take Genie’s place as Sarah’s BFF. The in-between? Genie is excited to be elected to write her class’s blog, where she’s tasked with tracking the wishes and dreams of her class. But expressing her opinion in public can be scary—especially when her opinion might make the rest of her class upset.
Elisabeth Dahl authentically captures the ups and downs of a tween girl’s life, and the dramas—both little and big—that fill the scary transition between childhood and adolescence.
I cannot wait to get my hands on Genie Wishes. What was your inspiration for the novel?
Before I wrote Genie Wishes, I had only ever thought to write for adults, but volunteering in my son’s elementary school library reminded me what amazingly committed readers kids are. So I decided to write a novel that would capture what it felt like for one girl (Genie Haddock Kunkle) in one place (Baltimore, Maryland, USA) to be a fifth grader today. I also wanted to try developing a main character and story from three different angles: her first-person narration, her blog posts, and her line drawings. Although I’m an underachieving blogger myself, I wanted to see what it would be like to introduce this newish mode of communication into a book.
Can you tell us a bit about the road to publication? Anything particularly surprising happen along the way?
My road to publication was of the slow and steady variety. There were no preempts or auctions or other whooshing, glamorous moments, but every stage remained thrilling anyway. In April 2009, I finished a first draft. In April 2010, I signed with an agent, Marissa Walsh. In April 2011, we got an offer from Maggie Lehrman at Amulet/ABRAMS. And now, in April 2013, ABRAMS is releasing the finished book.
Some of the most exciting moments were the small ones. Getting an ISBN, for instance: Not really a big deal, right? But it felt huge!
I’ve worked as an editor, copyeditor, and proofreader myself for many years, so I was both excited and anxious about being on the other side of a book-length manuscript project. Would I like the changes my agent suggested? What about my editor’s? But Marissa (who has since left agenting, sadly) and Maggie were the best. I was incredibly fortunate.
Since the manuscript had a visual component—Genie’s/my line drawings—I was anxious too to see what the designers at ABRAMS would do with the look of the book. From a visual standpoint, the book came out so well.
From reading the blurb and viewing the book trailer, Genie has such an amazing voice. How did you channel your inner fifth grader?
Thank you so much. For various reasons, my fifth-grade year made a deep impression, and my inner fifth grader remains remarkably close at hand. As an added bonus, my son was in fourth grade when I started the book, so elementary school felt especially immediate to me again. Genie is both savvier and more relaxed than I was in fifth grade though.
Born and raised in Maryland myself, I absolutely love that the setting is in Baltimore. (Go Ravens!) How does your hometown play a role in Genie Wishes?
I definitely tried to bring some Baltimore specifics into the book. For instance, Genie lives in one of the city’s thousands and thousands of row houses. She spends part of her birthday at the Walters Art Museum. And she discusses the taste of sky-blue snowballs (local bright-blue-syrup-over-ice summer treats) with a classmate. But, at a deeper level, I hope the book contains some of the same charms as the city and its people.
Genie Wishes releases this week! How do you plan to celebrate the big day?
I’m hoping to keep it on the quiet side. I have a launch party scheduled for the following Saturday, but I want the release day itself to be ordinary. Once I’ve done some writing or editing work, I might do some gardening or housecleaning. Faced with the still-sometimes-daunting reality of having a book in the world, I want to make sure my house is in order, literally and figuratively.
As this community is All for One and OneFour KidLit, we’d like to know what two or three books inspired you as a kid.
I loved an encyclopedic book called Tell Me Why, which explained all sorts of everything (Why do people hiccup? Why does it rain?). I read and reread Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends; bits of those poems still come to me sometimes. But above all, I adored Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, which I read and reread in my tween years. Genie Wishes owes a lot to that book.
Elisabeth, thank you so much for stopping by!
Thanks so much for the interview, and good fortune to all the OneFour KidLit-ers!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
GENIE WISHES, a middle-grade novel with line drawings, is Elisabeth Dahl’s first book (forthcoming from Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS, in April 2013). She has just completed her second book, a novel for adults. Her writing has appeared at NPR.org, at TheRumpus.net, and at Baltimore Fishbowl. Elisabeth holds a bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and a master’s degree from Georgetown University, where she was a Writing Center Associate Fellow. She now lives in Baltimore, Maryland.
This interview was conducted by OneFour member A. Lynden Rolland, and is part of an ongoing series of interviews with The Lucky13s —- YA, MG, and children’s books authors debuting in 2013.
|A. Lynden Rolland is a mother of two and a former high school English teacher who moonlights as a writing tutor and gymnastics instructor. When she isn’t chasing her two rambunctious boys, she can be found hiding behind a laptop at her local bookstore. Her debut YA novel, OF BREAKABLE THINGS, will be released from Month9Books in the spring of 2014.|