Today we’re talking to Heather Mackey, author of DREAMWOOD, a middle-grade fantasy adventure involving ghosts, haunted forests, absent-minded scientists, Lupine huntresses, unusual gadgets and a growing friendship between a girl and a boy who initially want nothing to do with each other. DREAMWOOD is out from Putnam on June 12, 2014.
Hey, you’re getting published! How’d that happen?
I had a weird and twisty path full of breathtaking shortcuts and very long detours. Basically, it happened absolutely backward. I sold the book on accident, before I knew how to write it. And luckily no one gave up on me while I worked to get it right.
I’d taken a playwriting class and in one of our exercises a scene came to me that was of a young girl with a scientist father and ghosts. I took that scene and did nothing with it for a long time. At some point, I went on a camping trip to a mysterious redwood forest near the California-Oregon border and thought, “this is where it happens.” I started writing stuff around it. If you squinted at it in the right light it almost looked like a first draft.
Very randomly a friend told me about SCBWI and suggested we go to a conference. I signed up for a manuscript critique, and was stunned when Putnam editor Timothy Travaglini (who is now at Open Road Media) was interested in my humble ten pages. In an email he later said, “I think I startled you.” Which is a very understated way of saying “you seemed completely freaked out.”
Putnam acquired the manuscript, with Tracey Adams representing me. And all was good, except that then I worked on the book for years because I had no idea how to write a novel let alone a novel for children. Midway through, Tim left Putnam and I started working with the amazing Arianne Lewin. AMAZING. More revisions followed. Fun stuff like taking apart the entire book and starting all over with a new plot. Still, I kept suiting up and going to work in the fiction trenches. At a certain point they told me I could come out.
What’s your debut book about? Can you share any cool details with us?
Yes! DREAMWOOD is the story of Lucy Darrington, a spunky young girl who runs away from boarding school to find her father, an early 19th century ghost buster and expert on the supernatural.
Her quest takes her to an alternate Pacific Northwest, where her father has disappeared into the haunted woods of Devil’s Thumb in search of the mysterious dreamwood, a tree with magical properties. To find him, she joins forces with Pete Knightly, a slightly older boy with (initially) annoying competencies and superstitions. Along the way she has help from Niwa Sillamook, a member of the Lupine Nation, which controls most of the area. Spookiness and adventure ensue.
Cool detail? I made up a whole science of ghost physics (despite being not all that sure about ordinary physics!). I also needed to figure out if a tree could be scary. I spent many late-night hours thinking of bad trees. Everything from Old Man Willow in The Fellowship of the Ring to the apple trees that scared the bejesus out of me in The Wizard of Oz. I finally came to the conclusion that if you have seen The Wizard of Oz as a child you will have enough irrational fear in you to fuel a lifetime of novel writing.
What cool facts might readers not know about you?
Not exactly cool, but certainly little-known: To look at me you wouldn’t know I listen to a ton of rap and am a CrossFit addict. I won a prize for ancient Greek in college (the same college that later kicked me out of student housing for, um, a very raucous party). Despite working for years in high tech, I don’t know how to use a GPS, and honestly, I’d rather get lost.
Do you have any writing quirks–places you need to write or things you need to have with you?
I listen to one particular piece of music over and over again while I write. It has to be wordless, classical, dreamlike, and modern. For DREAMWOOD I listened to Arvo Pärt’s “Silentium.” To me it sounds like sneaking into a forbidden room in a magician’s mansion and nervously, cautiously opening a hidden door. Whenever I was stuck or mired in doubt (i.e., always) I would put this on and listen to it and talk to my imagination and say, “Okay, so now you tell me what is behind that door.”
|Heather Mackey is the author of DREAMWOOD, a middle-grade fantasy adventure coming in June 2014 from Penguin-Putnam. She lives in Northern California with her husband and two kids, and thinks the woods are spooky. That’s why she wrote about a homicidal forest!|