Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Interview with Joanne Levy, author of SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE

Today we’re delighted to have Joanne Levy visiting the Inkpot, author of the middle-grade novel, SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE. Can’t you just tell from the title that this book is going to be funny? Well, I've read it, and it is!  Here’s a book description from the publisher’s website.

Lilah Bloom hears ghosts. And boy, are they annoying!

After she's hit by lightning at a wedding, twelve-year-old Lilah Bloom develops a new talent: she hears dead people. Among them, there's her over-opinionated bubby Dora; a comically prissy fashion designer; and an approval-seeking clown who livens up a seance. With Bubby Dora leading the way, these and other sweetly imperfect ghosts haunt Lilah through seventh grade, and help her face her one fear: talking to and possibly going to the seventh-grade dance with her big crush, Andrew Finkel.

Welcome to the Enchanted Inkpot, Joanne, and congratulations on your debut!

Thanks so much for having me here!

Your book made me laugh more than any other book I’ve read this year. Many reviewers have mentioned the hilarious bra-shopping scene, where main character Lilah is accompanied by the ghost of her over-opinionated Bubby Dora, but you’ve also got the ghost of a clown haunting a birthday party, a scene where your main character shouts “I know about your underwear!” to a cute boy in a crowded cafe, and many more.  Everyone wants to write humor and yet so few can.  Can you give us some tips?

Thanks so much for mentioning the humor! As a recovering class clown, it means a lot to know that I can still make people laugh! I used to write much more serious books, but I am learning that humor is where I naturally shine. A wise editor told me I was very funny and that she had so much trouble finding funny books, so I took that and ran with it. I’m sure stand-up comedians will tell you that one of the big parts of being funny is the timing and I believe that’s no different in writing to make people laugh. Some of this is instinct, but I recommend listening to people. Especially funny people—listen to the cadence of how they talk and how they tell stories and develop your funny ‘ear’. Also, I will stop at nothing when it comes to humiliating and embarrassing my characters, especially if it guarantees a laugh. My jokes at Lilah’s expense are never mean spirited, but the poor girl gets herself into a lot of really embarrassing situations. This is the kind of stuff I remember well from my own childhood, so I often mine my own past for stories, too.

Were there any middle-grade novels that particularly inspired you?

 I’m a huge fan of Judy Blume, so when I started writing MG, I went back and read several of her books and also some of the Phyllis Reynolds Naylor Alice books. These books really helped me with the tween voice.

One thing I loved about your story is the father/daughter relationship.  For part of my childhood I was also an only child living with a single Dad, and I really felt you understood what that was like.  Is his character, or any of the other characters, based on a real person in your life?

I’m so glad the father/daughter relationship resonated with you, Lena. I come from a two parent family and I have three older brothers, so my childhood couldn’t be any more different from Lilah’s. Her family situation came about organically when I wrote that she got hit by lightning at her mom’s wedding. And to be honest, it just seemed easier writing her without siblings. I love writing dorky dads, though, so I really love Marty in this book. Their relationship reminds me a bit of the one I had with my dad as a kid—we used to go on ‘dates’ and hang out and I did draw on that somewhat when writing their scenes together. Bubby Dora is sort of a mashup of my real Bubby Dora (my great grandmother) and her granddaughter, my mom. Strong, smart and so funny, they made for great models for the Jewish grandmother character.

In YA there seems to be many more female protagonists than male, but in middle-grade that seems to be turned around, especially in comic middle-grade.  How important was it for you to create a strong, female character?

I will be honest and say that when I was writing Lilah, I was completely channeling myself as a twelve year old. I think I was a pretty kick-butt tween and didn’t take any crap from anyone (thanks, I’m sure, to having older brothers that I had to stand up to), and it’s important to me to write girls like that. Lilah stands up for herself and finds her way in the world, even if she’s not really sure of herself a hundred percent of the time. That’s what I want for girls—no one says you need to know everything, but being brave and true to yourself is what’s really important.

Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process? For instance, do have a writing group; and do you plot your novels beforehand, or are you a “pantster?”

I am a total pantser—I’ve tried to plot and outline, but it just doesn’t work for me. I need to just sit and write to allow the story to unfold for me, so any attempt at plotting just turns into a hot mess.  That said, I recently bought Scrivener and do like how organized it’s making me, so although I still don’t outline in advance, I do sort of outline as I go and can see scenes at a glance and keep my manuscript files really clean and tidy. It also makes life a lot easier for keeping files and details together—I no longer have to go searching through a manuscript manually for the name of a secondary character that I’ve forgotten halfway through!

Once you were accepted at Bloomsbury, what was the editing process like?

It was actually pretty easy and straightforward. I’d made a few changes on the ms for them before they bought it, so by the time they made the offer, it was pretty much what they wanted. I had a very simple editorial letter that just outlined a few plot tweaks and after that, we just went right into line edits. I did change editors after that, so there was a small transition, but no major changes to the book at that point. I’m very thankful that my first experience was fairly painless! 

Joanne's toes on the Star Princess
I’d love to know a little more about you.  What do you do in your spare time (if any!)?

Well, I do have a full time job, so there isn’t a lot of spare time these days, but aside from finding time to read for pleasure, I do enjoy hanging out with my pets, particularly my black Lab, Zoe, who drags me and my husband to the park every day for some serious ball-throwing.  I’m also a big fan of Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory, which I usually watch with a cat in my lap and a bowl of popcorn (for me, not the cat). My husband and I are avid cruisers, and we try to get on a ship once a year—our next one is booked for February 2013 and I can’t wait!

I couldn’t help noticing that there was a bit of room for a sequel at the end of SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE.  Will there be one and if not, what’s next?

I’m hoping there will be a sequel, but no word on that just yet. There’s another MG I’ve been working on that’s also funny, but has a touch of magic realism to it. It’s about a boy who gets left in the woods and how he has only his wits and a talking spider to help him find his way home.

I’ve also just finished up a YA that I’m hoping to shop very soon. I can’t talk about it just yet, but I can tell you that it’s funny AND semi-autobiographical (especially the funny parts).

I’m so glad to hear that there is more humor coming.  Can’t wait! Thanks so much for stopping by the Inkpot, Joanne!


  1. This book sounds wonderful; I look forward to reading it!

  2. I love everything about your comment, Leah! I hope the bra-shopping scene lives up to the hype. ;-)

  3. I went straight from this post to my library's online system - and there are already two holds on this book! Hmph. I may have to buy it. Not sure how long I can wait before reading the bra-shopping scene...

  4. Aw, Anne - how nice of you to say so. Thanks so much (although you just made me very thirsty).

  5. I have to say I LOVE this book! It's funny, touching, and just generally terrific! Like a nice cold glass of lemonade (with mint) on a really hot day . . . .

  6. Thanks, Natalie! Congrats on your win - hope you enjoy it!

  7. Thanks, Helene! I hope you and your chicklets get a few chuckles out of it!

  8. Great interview! I love humourous books and SMALL, MEDIUM at LARGE sounds wonderful. I think the chicklets and I would love it. :-)

  9. Great interview. I always love learning about authors who are able to write and work full-time like me. It gives me hope. I just won Joanne's book. Can't wait to read it.

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