As promised in the March/April 2010 Scribe, here is full interview with WLT member Jacqueline Kelly, who won Newbery Honor in January for The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, 2009).
What was your reaction when you found out that your book won a Newbery Honor?
I was exhausted and driving home from a long afternoon of testifying for a legal case when my phone rang. My agent, Marcy Posner, was on the line, yelling with excitement. It’s always a good sign when your agent is yelling on the phone—so far, at least!
When you set out to write Calpurnia Tate, did you ever dream of winning a major honor or landing on the New York Times best-seller list?
I had no idea that either would happen. I wasn’t sure that people would “get” my character. I’m still amazed that she has become popular in certain circles and that people are asking for a sequel.
Calpurnia started out as a short story that I showed to my writing group. They’re the ones who said the fateful words, “We think this should be a novel.” I wrote the first three chapters and entered them in the WLT Manuscript Contest, and to my everlasting surprise, I won. The judge that year was agent Marcy Posner, and the prize was a meeting with her at the WLT Agents and Editors Conference. When she asked to see the rest of the book, I mumbled something about how it needed a lot of rewriting before I could get it to her. I’m sure she’d heard that one before, but fortunately she stuck around until I’d finished the book.
What has surprised you most about the book and its effect on readers?
The most surprising thing has been receiving fan mail. I especially like the handful of letters I’ve received from grandmothers telling me about reading the book with their granddaughters. There’s also one delightful ten-year-old who writes to me regularly and wants to know when I’ll get on with a sequel. She always signs off “your devoted fan, Emma.”
How have you managed to find time to write with your day job?
I’m incredibly lucky in that I practice medicine part time and I do not have a private practice. If I had my own full-time practice and/or had to take night call, I would never have been able to write this or any other book.
What are you working on now?
I am about two-thirds of the way through The Willows Redux,a sequel to The Wind in the Willows. I must have been about nine years old or so when I first came across The Willows, and it is one of only a handful of books that I reread over the years. It’s what my publisher calls “comfort literature.” Alexander McCall Smith (The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency) writes comfort literature for adults, only he describes his work as “cup of tea books.” I like that description.
For more on Jacqueline Kelly and The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, please visit Jackie’s Web site.