Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #27:
Blue Rose blogger and author Libby Koponen
(and goodbye — sniff, sniff — to our BRGs interviews)

h1 May 28th, 2007 by Eisha and Jules

Libby pictured (middle) with Alvina Ling and Anna AlterIt’s with a bit of sadness that we complete our series of interviews with The Blue Rose Girls this week (you can scroll down and see some goodbye photos under this interview), but it’s with pleasure that we tell you about author Libby Koponen.

Libby is pictured here (middle) with two of her Blue Rose cohorts, Alvina Ling and Anna Alter. The photo was taken, Libby told us, during a Blue Rose Girl weekend after she’d just moved to Mystic, Connecticut (they’re standing on the Mystic Bridge in this photo).

As a co-blogger with the Blue Rose Girls, Libby’s thoughtful posts revolve around such topics as the daunting writer’s block that comes with starting a new book, and the power of fiction to inspire hope even in the face of horrific tragedy.

Libby is the author of Blow Out the Moon, an autobiographical middle-grade novel about a young girl’s experiences in England when her family is temporarily relocated for her father’s job. The novel, which had an unusual road to publication (more about that to follow…), garnered high praise from kids and professional reviewers alike, and won a Massachusetts Book Award Honor and a spot on New York Public Library’s list of its Top 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing. Booklist gave BOTM a starred review, and School Library Journal raved about Libby’s authorial skills:

Koponen is a gifted writer whose distinctive style has a conversational rhythm from frequent use of colons, dashes, and the like. She is especially good at describing what to modern children will seem like a very different time, with adults thoroughly in charge and children expected to sit quietly while the grown-ups talk. The author is very good at a kind of straightforward subtlety, an asset in a quiet book whose main focus is on emotions. The book’s visuals are another asset, with small photos placed throughout, showing the author’s childhood letters, pictures from her favorite fairy tales, the ship her family sailed on to England, and more.

We’ve really enjoyed getting to know more about Libby, and we’re pleased to be able to pass that opportunity on to our readers. So, without further ado, the interview…

* * * * * * *

7-Imp: What do you do for a living?

Libby: I edit/ghostwrite adult book proposals and books — I have also ghost-written two children’s books (so far). The children’s book work comes from the publisher (always); the work on adult books from agents and aspiring authors. All the books I’ve ghost-written have been published, I’m happy to say, and about half the proposals I’ve edited have been accepted by publishers . . . though one author did argue so much with his editor that he ended up returning the advance and withdrawing the ms.

The authors tend to be smart, successful people who are passionate about what they do (which is why they’re writing books and why those books get published!). Several of them have become friends.

At first, it was hard to do this AND write my own stuff, but I’ve learned how to go back and forth –- and I’ve also become much better at the business side (at first, I gave the authors a lot of free time: now, I’m more likely to think, “And if this isn’t worth it to you, why is it worth it to me?”) and at choosing clients. I love the work and feel lucky to have it –- and it’s interesting to learn about all the different topics.

7-Imp: How long have you been blogging?

Libby: Since July of last year.

7-Imp: Why did you start blogging? Why do you continue to do it?

Libby: Because of the Blue Rose Girls –- it’s a way to communicate and keep in touch; meeting people (who seem like friends by the time you actually meet them) through blogging has come as a pleasant surprise . . . and if you’re a freelancer and live alone (as I do), it is like having co-workers! When you get stuck you can go online and see what everyone else in Kidlit is up to.

7-Imp: What are your other favorite things to do, other than reading and
blogging?

Libby: Riding horses; traveling, in the third world especially (and it’s true that I’ve ridden horses on every continent except Antarctica); playing with kids; and, lately, doing yoga . . . giving parties and cooking, too, but these seem routines. I have mixed feelings about blogging: how much to reveal is always a huge question and my BRGs posts are probably too thought-out; but that’s better than blabbering on and then regretting it (on my personal blog, I don’t worry about that — if I blab out too much, I just delete the post!). When I say something and someone gets exactly what I mean, I LOVE blogging. When they don’t, I hate it.

7-Imp: If you could have three (living) authors over for coffee or a glass
of rich, red wine, whom would you choose?

Molly Bang; picture located at Scholastic's website -- click on image to visit that linkLibby: Aside from the Blue Rose Girls (who would definitely be my # 1 choices)? Molly Bang, because I met her once and liked her and know she’d be good company; Susan Cooper, because it would be fascinating to hear what she had to say about Nelson and Shakespeare; and Clement Freud. Just from the list of all the things he’s done, he HAS TO be interesting, and Grimble is hilarious. And it would be over dinner, not just drinks — and if we could have one more person, could one of THEM be someone NOT in Kids Lit, like a brilliant scientist or explorer? (Parties usually go better when people know each other; and Molly Bang’s husband is a scientist; so were her parents.)

7-Imp: What’s one thing not many people know about you?

Libby: I’m incredibly gullible -– and always thinking I’ve outgrown it and being proved wrong . . . or maybe everyone knows this and it’s just my illusion that I seem street-wise! If I can say two things, another is: I’ve broken the same bone riding, twice, both times when a horse refused a jump at the last instant and I fell forward onto the horse’s neck. Same bone, different horses, different countries.

7-Imp: Okay, a few more questions about your writing . . . Tell us about your new novel, which you mentioned recently is “near completion.”

Libby: It went off a few days ago! It is COMPLETELY different from Blow Out the Moon -– it has a strong plot (at least I hope the plot is strong) and is completely made up. The only true things in the book are the details about Plum Island (an island in Long Island Sound that is closed to the public and heavily guarded, because they do government research there) and the way the two girls find out about it and wangle their way onto it. They do that exactly the way I did: by riding their bikes around and asking questions and then talking to people until they get permission to go. That’s all I can say about the plot; I really hope it’s suspenseful –- but it may be that the book is more character-driven than plot-driven (a good friend had a dream that this was the case! In her dream, she read it and loved it and then said, “But it’s not that plot-driven”).

7-Imp: For those who haven’t read about it, can you tell us the story about how Blow Out the Moon started as Web-only and found its way to print with all the support from child readers?

Libby: From the reaction the ms. got from the children who read it while I was writing it, I KNEW some kids would love it, and I also thought a lot of adults would find it baffling. I actually knew this before it was even finished –- I was at a dinner party and someone asked me what my novel was about. I described the first chapter, and when I was done, the adults quickly changed the subject — the kids didn’t say anything for a bit, and then one said, passionately, “that is SO funny.”

So I decided to put the whole thing online (this was in the early days of the Web, before blogs), collect letters from kids, and only approach publishers when I had a nice fat packet of fan emails.

My original idea was that the book would be published as an interactive CD with links to things kids could DO . . . and so the original online version had things like all the moves in cat’s cradle (with each one photographed!) – this was a lot of work!

I DID get emails from kids about the book: lots of emails. BOTM is the kind of book that some people passionately love, and when I had enough letters, I sent off packets to publishers: a one-page query letter, printouts of the emails from kids, and two from school districts. Luckily for me, Little, Brown was an open house then (open to queries from people other than agents!); and even more luckily, Alvina read my letter and asked to see the manuscript. (By the way I still correspond with some of my first readers; some were ten or so when we started writing to each other and are teenagers now. One did her own graphic novel version of the book -– the reader illustrations on Amazon are hers {two are pictured below}.

I debated about whether or not to mention the characters’ ethnic backgrounds (the girls came from Asia and Africa as well as Europe), but since the whole book was from my point of view as a kid, and I never thought about things in that way (which I think is the ideal anyhow), I never mentioned it. So I was really glad that this reader imagined it (or intuited it?) for herself.

7-Imp: Can you tell us about the school visits that you do? Do you do them often? Do you still find them more inspiring than bookstore signings?

Libby: As often as I am invited and absolutely. When I visit schools, I go to one class at a time, so we can have a real conversation and the kids can talk as much as they want to. Every time I’ve done a school visit, almost all the kids in the class HAVE talked and that is hugely inspiring and energizing. I am often surprised at how perceptive and insightful their remarks are, and how intense and personal the conversations get. For example: Once, when I was explaining the title — when I was a child, I was very self-confident and felt things so strongly that it seemed like I could do ANYTHING, even blow out the moon -– lots of people lose those strong feelings and that confidence when they grow up. The title isn’t saying anyone did blow out the moon; it’s telling you, the reader, to do it -– to go for it, to have those feelings.

I don’t know if that makes sense written down, but when we’re talking about it in person, they really get it. At a recent school visit, one girl said, “but what if your parents don’t want you to have those feelings?” and I said, surprising myself, “it’s not that they don’t want you to have the feelings – it’s what you DO with those feelings that adults sometimes don’t like. It’s okay to WANT to punch someone in the nose, it’s not okay to really do it” (or something like that — I can talk about abstractions and lessons more fluently than I write about them).

Sometimes they read their stories. At one school, the children had been given the assignment (over the PA system) to write a story about something lost, kids, and one other item I’ve forgotten. One class was really excited about this, and I came back at the end of the day to hear what they’ve written: the stories were really good!

7-Imp: What advice would you give to new writers?

Libby: Kids ask this at school visits a lot and I say: Stay curious and interested in other people – then you’ll always have something interesting to write about. Read lots of good books and think about why they’re good. And JUST HAVE FUN WITH YOUR WRITING -– this last one is for kids: I think eight or ten years old is way too young to be worrying about getting published! I’d have different advice for adults, but it would assume that they had put in their time writing to please themselves and no one else (think of Jane Austen’s childhood stories: pure light-hearted fun and she never worried about finishing something that had started to bore her!). If you do this, by the time you’re ready to get things published you will have a style and know what you like writing about; and at THAT point, I’d say -– if you’re working on a novel, anyway — write every day, no matter.

7-Imp: What, if any, books do you have lined up next that you can tell us about?

Libby: I thought that I was going to take a break from writing fiction after the one I just sent out, but I really miss having characters carrying on conversations in my head. So I just started a new novel (this is also a great way to stop worrying about the fate of the current one!). It’s about a REAL princess who had a dramatic life –- internally and externally. I don’t think anyone else has written about it the way I plan to do it. There is also a ghost-written kids book waiting for the artist to be done with the paintings; when she is, there will be rewriting to do, I’m sure.

The Pivot Questionnaire:

7-Imp: What is your favorite word?

Libby: “Strength.” It sounds like what it means, and I THINK it’s the only word in the English language that has one vowel and 7 consonants.

7-Imp: What is your least favorite word?

Libby: I hate the word “whimsical” (as a word). Probably things that really are whimsical I like, but there is something about this word that I really don’t like. Also “misled,” which until I was twenty-nine I thought was pronounced miziled – and I thought of this as having a different meaning than “misled” -– miziled sounded trickier and sneakier and subtler. I was disappointed when I found out that it was just plain old “misled,” a word I’d heard all my life but never connected with miziled.

7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Libby: Natural light and lots of it; almost anything high energy; beauty (natural and in the arts); originality; curiosity; the unexpected connection (in my own mind as well as in other people’s minds and in events); laughing; the English language (I really do love it!); sincerity; kindness; delicacy/thoughtfulness.

7-Imp: What turns you off?

Libby: Meanness; self-involved people; lack of curiosity or originality; ugly buildings, especially when they’re ruining what was beautiful countryside; fake people, especially if I think they’re being sincere and they’re not; trendiness.

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word?

Libby: Well, I don’t LIKE to swear, but I do, and I usually say “fuck.” Very bad! I’m trying to train myself to say “Oh, slop” instead.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?

Libby: Leaves rustling; cars in the distance at night; children playing (even if they’re screaming — as long as it’s excited screaming, not crying or whining); a piano playing through an open window in summer — someone really playing it, not a recording; real laughs; snow falling/blowing against a window at night (yes, it has to be really quiet to hear this) -– even better if a fire is burning and you can hear it (or logs falling) at the same time (!); thunderstorms with lots of rain and wind.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?

Libby: TV; loud voices, especially when carrying on cell phone conversations in public; nervous or fake laughs; those beeping things on big trucks when they’re backing up; yipping or whining dogs.

7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Libby: Explorer or scientist in the wild; professional polo player (not that I have the skills or training for any of these, but I’d love to try!) . . .

7-Imp: What profession would you not like to do?

Libby: Nursing; coal mining; anything on a submarine — torture. But there are lots of really awful jobs in the world –- these are just what popped to mind.

7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Libby: “You were so much fun to watch; we never knew what was coming next –- glad it had such a happy ending!”

(I was a secretary in the Physics Dept. at Stanford for awhile and when I left, my boss hugged me and thanked me. I laughed and said, “what are you thanking me for; I was a terrible secretary!” and HE laughed and said, “but you were so much fun to have around!” Hmmm . . . maybe it would be better if God said something like, “Well done”) . . .

* * * * * * *

Goodbye and thanks to the Blue Rose Girls . . .

The Blue Rose Girls minus Meghan; photo credit Elaine MagliaroWe’d like to express big ‘ol thanks to all the Blue Rose Girls for letting us bring them to you here at 7-Imp in our blogger interview series. And it was remarkably easy, even with seven of them (thanks, Grace, for scheduling all the interviews! That made it much easier) . . . Here’s a recent photo of the BRGs at Grace’s recent shindig. Pictured on the left is Linda, Anna, Alvina, Libby (front), Grace, and Elaine. Unfortunately, Meghan’s not there, so we’re tacking on another Meghan McCarthyone of the great photos she sent us for her interview. Thanks to each and every Blue Rose Girl for gracing our site with your presence for a short time (and, by the way, Jules’ Peaceable Kingdom Press 2007-’08 calendar of children’s book illustrators says that Linda’s birthday was this past Saturday. Happy belated birthday, Linda!).

And in case you missed any or all of the interviews and you’re interested, here’s a list with links of all our lively discussions with them here at 7-Imp:





4 comments to “Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #27:
Blue Rose blogger and author Libby Koponen
(and goodbye — sniff, sniff — to our BRGs interviews)”

  1. Great interview ladies! Libby is just as adventurous and self posessed as she seems…

    Thanks for having the BRG’s to visit!


  2. Why thank you Jules and Eisha. It was a great pleasure and honor to be part of this fine blog. And so lovely to meet one out of two of you (so far!).


  3. Linda took the photograph and Grace made the scarves Alvina and I are wearing. Thank you, Jules and Eisha, for having us BRGs on your blog!

    libby


  4. I enjoyed the interviews. I don’t know if you participate in memes–but I’m tagging you just in case. You can check out the directions at “Check It Out”.


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