I’m thrilled to interview Ammi-Joan (A.J.) Paquette today. Not only is she an awesome author with a brand new middle-grade book out, but she’s also my wonderful agent. Can you say multi-tasking superwoman?
Joan’s latest book, Rules for Ghosting, is out this week! Here’s a summary from her website:
The ghostly adventures of twelve-year-old Dahlia, along with her new living friends Oliver and Poppy, as they dodge a creepy Ghosterminator, a town official with devious plans, and set out about solving the mystery of Dahlia’s death—before it’s too late.
It’s great to have you at the Inkpot, Joan. Can you tell us a little about the inspiration for this book? How did it become a “ghostly caper”?
Thanks so much for having me here! Well, I actually began writing RULES FOR GHOSTING about 10 years ago, and Dahlia the ghost was a part of the story from the very beginning. I have always loved ghost stories, and “Casper the Friendly Ghost” was an early favorite of mine. So all of that played into the development of Dahlia and her friends. And those were solid components of the story in its original form. What took more shape in recent years was the characters of Oliver and his siblings, and the other antagonists that shape the story and add so much action, octane, and hijinks to the story. I guess what I’m trying to say is the “ghostly” aspects were with the story from the get-go, but the “caper” was the result of more care and development.
At your launch party for Paradox last week (sci-fi thriller, anyone?) you mentioned that Rules for Ghosting was one of your earliest projects and that it’s gone through many iterations over the years. How has the book developed?
As mentioned above, this book has been taken quite a while to evolve into its current form: It was, in fact, the first novel I began writing after deciding that I wanted to seriously pursue writing for children with an eye toward publication. It began life as a 9,000 word story that was rich on character but very (very) thin on plot. It would take 9 years and more than half-a-dozen substantial revisions to get it to the eventual 60,000 word finished product that’s published today. A labor of love, but one that I’ve never gotten tired of through all of that. As you might imagine, it’s incredibly rewarding to look up today and see the finished product on my shelf!
Do you believe in real-life ghosts? If so, do you think they’d approve of your depiction of them in your book?
Ohhh, interesting question! I am not closed to the possibility of there being other beings out there lurking in the void, though I’m not wild about the thought of any spirits hanging around my messy house (particularly Mrs. Tibbs, who I’m sure would have quite a bit to say on the matter!). As to the matter of their depiction, well, I really see ghosts as being people very much like you or me: full of personality, quirks, and all, so in that respect, I have to think that Dahlia and her friends would probably get a kick out of seeing their portrayal. I hope I have done them justice J
How did you go about developing the ghost world in the story?
I had a lot of fun building up the ghost world in RULES FOR GHOSTING. It’s a world that’s full of red tape, bureaucracy, with just a few otherworldly conveniences thrown in for comfort. The world itself grew gradually around the characters and the situations they found themselves in. I think it makes a great foil to the active kid characters in the book, contrasting their take-charge approach with its own ponderous bulk.
The topic of death obviously comes up when your main character is dead! How did you go about tackling that subject for a young audience?
I think death is an inevitable part of any book that has ghosts as a subject, but it’s my hope that showing a very active, vibrant afterlife will counteract any negative side of the story’s focus on death. If anything, the ghost world is clearly shown as a bustling, entertaining place with plenty of challenges and opportunities for the enterprising ghost. Also, I really think that young readers are stronger than we sometimes give them credit for. A few chills and a judicious look at the dark side—tempered with heart and humor, of course—seems just right for the target age group.
What are some of your favorite ghostly books?
Oh boy, there are some great ghost books out there! A few which come right to mind that I’ve enjoyed in the past few years are: LILY’S GHOSTS, by Laura Ruby; GIVE UP THE GHOST, by Megan Crewe; and NOTHING BUT GHOSTS, by Beth Kephart.
You write in a variety of genres and formats (fantastical picture books, YA sci-fi thrillers, realistic middle grade, etc.). How does fantasy weave into your body of work?
I’m a huge fantasy and science fiction reader, so when it comes to writing, that tends to often be the type of story I am drawn into as well. It’s just such a rich and wide field of options for stories and plotlines—I guess I love fantasy so much because, quite literally, anything could happen. For a writer of fiction, what could be better?
Thanks again for stopping the Inkpot!
Thank YOU for having me! I hope you enjoy RULES FOR GHOSTING.
A.J. Paquette has been writing stories since early childhood. She and her sister would spend hours creating masterpieces of stapled paper and handwritten words, complete with pen-and-ink covers and boxed illustrations. The road to publication was long and winding, peppered with many small successes including: a variety of national magazine publications, being a 2005 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award honoree, and receiving the 2008 SCBWI’s Susan Landers Glass Scholarship Award, for the book that would later become Nowhere Girl. Her first picture book, The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies, was published in 2009. She now lives with her husband and two daughters in the Boston area, where she continues to write books for children and young adults. She is also an agent with the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. You can visit her at ajpaquette.com.