Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Interview with Linda Ulleseit

Linda Ulleseit was kind enough to answer a few questions for me this week about her YA novel, On A Wing And A Dare, her writing, and a little about herself. Read on to find out more about Evan, Emma, and David and the mystery of what is happening to the flying horses. 



1. What was your inspiration for On a Wing and a Dare? 


I actually spent five years writing my first novel, Wings, Waves, and Wisteria. You’ve never heard of it because it had some severe plot problems. I discovered I had to more fully explore the world of flying horses. On a Wing and a Dare is the result. It is set almost 20 years before Wings, Waves, and Wisteria. I will go back and work WWW into shape, but I think there is one more book between the two.


2. The three main characters are all very different. How did you develop each character? 


Character development can be hard. Since they all come out of my head, they tend to sound like me. To force myself to make them unique, I pushed them into over-the-top stereotypes: Davyd the safe and practical quiet one, Evan the handsome jock, and Emma the rebellious teen. On rewrites I tempered them so they weren’t caricatures.  


3. A big focus of your novel is the idea of having balance in your life. You use the four elements to illustrate this balance. Can you tell us more about the idea behind this aspect of the book? 


My book is set in medieval Wales, and a lot of ancient religions were based on balancing the elements. Some even talk about the personality traits associated with each element. This appealed to me because while I was writing this book, my sons were trying to balance college, part time jobs, friends, and video games. It seemed like I was always making statements like, “No, four hours of video games don’t equal ten minutes of studying.” 


4. Tradition also plays a big role in OWD. How much research into Welsh life did you do to make sure you were accurate to the culture? 


I researched medieval Europe for setting, clothing, and food details. Wales is a perfect setting because it was so mysterious. It isn’t a big stretch of the imagination to believe that flying horses, and therefore any type of culture, could have existed in those remote mist-shrouded mountains. Most of the society in the flying horse town I could make up. For example, I felt it was safe to assume that if people really rode flying horses back then, they would have developed divided riding skirts and heftier helmets than existed elsewhere. I gave women a bigger role in my book than truly existed, as far as I know, in true history. I wanted to give more of a flavor of medieval times than a true retelling, since the story of becoming an adult and falling in love is not limited to any particular era.


5. The relationships between the three main characters (Emma, and brothers Evan and Davyd) becomes complicated when both boys develop feelings for Emma, and she is not sure which one is right for her. How did you incorporate the romantic aspect of the book without having it overshadow the mystery? 


The original draft of the novel had only the horses dying of poison story line. It was quite short and boring. I went back and added the teens disappointing their parents, which is something every modern day teen can relate to. I also added Emma’s confusion over the boys as well as Tristan’s interest in her. I have a particular aversion to writing (and reading) sex scenes, so I didn’t want to go there. I also didn’t want Emma to be a character that spent the whole book sighing over a boy. Weaving it into the overall story but keeping it in the background was challenging. I’m glad you think I managed it!


6. The flying horses in OWD are obviously a huge part of the story. You do a great job of making the interaction with the horses realistic. Can you tell us about any personal experiences with horses that may have shaped this? 


When I was a little girl, I absolutely loved horses. That was pretty normal for girls growing up in the 1960s, I think, but not so much any more. I went riding with my Girl Scout troop whenever I could, and with my family on vacation. Something about the grace and agility of such a large animal still calls to my heart. One of my favorite images from the Lord of the Rings is the beautiful horses of the Rohirrim galloping across Rohan. When I read that part, I felt in my heart that they could only be more special if they could fly. When I got ready to write the first novel, which is also about rebellious teens, I had to find a setting for them. That’s when my idea of magnificent winged horses returned.


7. This is your first full length novel to be published. What was the publishing experience like for you? 


On a Wing and a Dare was picked up by the first publisher I offered it to, which is by no means common! Briona Glen Publishing is a small independent publisher that has made the whole process seem like a family project. I enjoyed having a voice in the title of the book, the cover selection, and interior artwork. That doesn’t always happen with larger publishers. I signed the contract with Briona Glen in September of 2011, and the book came out May, 2012. That’s pretty fast although there were times when it seemed each step was taking forever! The people at BG were patient and helpful all along the way. They are as excited as I am about the release of the book! 


8. Do you have any interesting habits or rituals when you write? 


I work full time as a teacher, so my writing time is often taken up with grading papers or planning lessons. Summer break and November’s National Novel Writing Month are my most productive writing times. I write on a laptop in my office, which is the center of action in my house. No quiet corners for me! Sometimes when I sit down to write it’s been a week since I’ve written and it’s hard getting my head back into the story. I read the previous chapter, then I go outside into the yard and water, trim, or weed for about an hour. During that time I run scenarios through my head, envisioning my characters in all kinds of ‘what if’ situations. Then I pour a cup of coffee and sit down at the computer. Sometimes I still stall by checking Facebook, updating my blogs, or reviewing someone’s working on theNextBigWriter.com. When I start, though, I usually work uninterrupted for as long as possible. My longest writing day was twelve hours on a Sunday when I was alone in the house. I wrote an entire chapter!


9. Who are your favorite authors? 


My all-time favorite author is Anne McCaffrey. I love her Dragonriders of Pern series and laughed when an early writing group critic suggested that my flying horses should be dragons instead of horses. 
I also love everything Diana Gabaldon writes. She can make the reader feel as though they stepped into another century just like her character did.
As for Young Adult authors, there are so many. I love the way my students’ faces light up when they discover Trenton Lee Stewart, Rick Riordan, and Suzanne Collins. 


10. Can you tell us more about your other works, and what you are working on now? 


I have three projects in the works now. In the Winds of Danger is the sequel to On a Wing and a Dare. It is four years later and centered around Owain, the redheaded groom from the first book. He is troubled by nightmares, the disappearance of his sister, and guilt that he might have been responsible for her death. 


I am also talking to Briona Glen about publishing a picture book that I wrote and a fifth grade student of mine illustrated. It is called Xavier’s Desk Monster and is about a student with an incredibly messy desk.


My last project has been on the shelf for a year, but it is near and dear to my heart. It is called Under the Almond Trees, and focuses on three very independent pioneer women in California in the late 1800s. My grandmother owned a photography studio in the 1920s, her grandmother sued for the right to vote in 1872, and her great aunt was a respected architect. I come from a line of strong, independent, and interesting women! 


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Thanks so much to Linda for taking the time to answer my questions. You can dive into the world of flying horses by getting your copy of On A Wing And A Dare on Amazon now!