Nikki's debut novel has just been released this week! Woo hoo!
THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY by Nikki Loftin (Razorbill , August 21, 2012)
Five quick things about THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY:
1) It's middle grade.
2) It's a Hansel & Gretel retelling.
3) It's creepy and cool and clever and unique.
4) Don't let the title scare you.
5) It's amazing! A fun read that will keep you turning pages until the very last minute!
And now, Nikki has agreed to join us here at The Enchanted Inkpot to answer a few questions!
Hi, Nikki! Thanks for being here!
PJH: You’ve just run into an old classmate from high school and you tell them your latest book just came out. They ask what it’s about. What do you say?
NL: Cannibalistic teachers! And then I would stop and let them talk about their kids and jobs. (I’m learning that not everyone wants to hear all the details of my precious book. What a strange thought!) But if they still seem interested, I would tell them it’s a modern re-imagining of Hansel and Gretel, set in a charter school that has everything a kid could want... plus some very hungry-looking teachers. And then we would totally dish about WHICH teachers from our past I drew inspiration from.
PJH: I love hearing happy publication stories. Can you tell us the path to publication for THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY?
NL: For one thing, although this is my debut novel, it is by no means my first completed manuscript! I signed with my agent, Suzie Townsend, on a funny “boy book,” and wrote Sinister Sweetness while that was on submission. By the time we realized the first book wasn’t going to sell (not that year, at least – maybe someday. Hope springs eternal!), I was about finished with this one. (Um, I’m glossing over the two other manuscripts I drafted in this same year. I write pretty fast.) My agent and I agreed Sinister Sweetness (called Gingerbread at the time) would be the best next manuscript to sub. My editor, Laura Arnold, had just signed on at Razorbill, and Suzie sent her the manuscript right off the bat. Laura says it was the first manuscript to cross her desk in the new office – and the first one she bought for Razorbill! There is something to be said for timing, I think.
PJH: So obviously you love fairy tales. Me, too! What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned or the thing that surprised you the most in researching fairy tales for the book?
NL: Well, I’ve been obsessed with fairy tales my whole life, so I didn’t expect to discover much new information. But I did, of course. Did you know that Hansel and Gretel is one of the fairy tales that exists in some form in almost every culture in the world? Most people know the Grimm Brothers’ version from Germany, but the story existed prior to that in similar forms in France, Eastern Europe, and Russia (Baba Yaga). I even read some strikingly similar Native American myths during my procrastinati- I mean, research.
PJH: When it comes to marketing, what do you think makes the biggest difference in whether a book is successful?
NL: Oh, I wish I knew this! I would sell the answer for a million dollars.
I think the most important thing is to write a great book. Then be willing to tell people about it, over and over, with a smile on your face and happy little fingers on the keyboard, for a few years.
I have a sneaking feeling that the real secret for a book like mine is getting it into the hands of the target readers – 8 to 12 year-olds -- and letting them do the work by telling their friends and teachers and parents about it. If they love it, they’ll spread the word with no extra urging, right? That’s why I’m planning to do some big book giveaways later in the fall to teachers, librarians, and book clubs. Let’s hope it works. I’m also working on a website for Splendid Academy (www.SplendidAcademy.com) that will feature extras: teacher bios, menus for the school cafeteria, and ominous lesson plans. I think adding something online for kids, so they can continue their adventures at Splendid Academy, will be fun for my readers!
PJH: What is next? WIPs? Future publications? Please tell all!
NL: Oh, my. There are quite a few things! First, I’m in an anthology coming out this November from Zest Books, called Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letters to Their Teen Selves. I wrote a very revealing essay about the most hideous kiss I’ve ever experienced (it was more like having my face stuck in car wash), and my general attitude as a teen. Which was totally awesome, by the way. (No matter what my mom says.)
Then, my second book will be coming out from Razorbill in early 2014. This one is a book I’ve been working on in some form for about five years. (For the writers out there, this one is the “book of my heart.” I cried when my editor told me that was the manuscript she’d chosen to go out with next. I am so, so grateful.)
I thought it would never be finished. I couldn’t find the right form! First, I wrote it as a picture book. And re-wrote it, ad infinitum. Over the years I attempted to re-frame it as a novel again and again, and finally hit on the right POV character last fall. It’s called Nightingale’s Nest, and it’s a modern-day re-imagining of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale “The Nightingale.” This book is more magical realism than straight-up fantasy, and it deals with some disturbing themes, but will be middle grade as well.
I also have secret news regarding future books… but I can’t spill just yet.
Just for fun:
PJH: There are tons of books out there. Tons! What are five awesome reasons why your book has to be the one for them to read?
1. Cannibalistic teachers, people. I mean, who HASN’T had at least one teacher that you swore was trying to kill you? This book goes there, and does it in a creepy, sometimes funny, way.
2. It’s a story about enchanted food. Page after page of the best things to eat I could think up. I gained a LOT of weight doing the research for this book. Enjoy the deliciousness right along with the unsuspecting characters.
3. The playground at Splendid Academy is the best one in the entire universe. All the regular stuff, plus rock walls for climbing, tree houses, a “life-size” chess set, seesaws and merry-go-rounds, ziplines, soccer and football fields, a mini-skate park… It’s irresistible to kids. Just like a certain gingerbread house…
4. Lorelei is a strong, brave girl – but she’s a regular kid. She doesn’t have super powers or super intelligence. In fact, she has a learning disability! And her friend, Andrew, has a serious problem with weight that he’s learning to overcome. These characters inspired me – I think they might inspire young readers, too.
5. As a fledgling author, I didn’t realize MG stood for Middle Grade. I was sure it stood for… Murdery Goodness. (Insert evil laughter here.) So there are a lot of scary, gruesome bits for those of you who like that sort of thing. (Or is that just me?)
PJH: If the apocalypse came, would you still find a way to write? If yes, then how and why?
NL: I live way out in the country, and I know how to shoot a rifle. Of course, I would need to buy one first… but I could set my two kids on lookout, and when they saw the zombies, shout out so Mommy could hit save on the novel, come out, and shoot the zombies’ heads clean off. Wait, this was a zombie apocalypse, right? Because that is definitely the coolest kind.
PJH: Finish this sentence, and tell us why.
Writing is a lot like….
NL: ...telling outrageous lies while eating as much chocolate as you can without dropping too much in between the keys on the keyboard, because that gets expensive, and trust me, I KNOW. Oh, wait. I mean, writing is a lot like a sunset. Or a symphony. Or something inspirational like that. Let’s forget about the chocolate-covered keyboard. Oh, I’m no good at this.
PJH: Mummy vs. Bigfoot... Who would win and why?
NL: Bigfoot because mummies aren’t REAL. Duh.
PJH: Please share your favorite inspirational thought with our readers!
NL: My favorite one? I sort of collect them; it helps when dealing with rejection. Here’s the one closest to my keyboard, by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “We are very near greatness; one step and we are safe; can we not take the leap?”
PJH: Thank you, Nikki! And good luck with everything!
P. J. Hoover is the author of the upcoming dystopia/mythology YA book, SOLSTICE (Tor Teen, June 2013), the upcoming Egyptian mythology MG book, TUT (Tor Children's, Winter 2014), and the middle-grade SFF series, THE FORGOTTEN WORLDS BOOKS (CBAY, 2008-2010). You can read more about her and her books on P. J.'s website or blog.