Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Andi Buchanan talks about Gift, writing for kids, graphic novels and more

I can't remember when I first met Andi Buchanan.  What I do remember is sitting down with her at a New York City Cafe and having a blast over coffee, talking about why we both favored big cities over the country, writing, success, and so much more. She's the author of the international mega-bestseller, The Daring Book for Girls and seven other books, and she's a classically trained pianist who has performed at Carnegie Hall. Gift is fascinating not just because it's Andi's first YA novel, but because it's also multimedia (images and texts fade away and appear, there are music tracks, and lots of other nifty things.) Thank you a million times, Andi for gracing my blog. I'm honored to host you.

I'm always fascinated with how and why writers write about what they write. Where did the idea of a gift come from? And do you secretly ( or not so secretly believe in gifts like these?)

I think anyone who's ever been an insecure teenager can probably relate to the worry that anything that makes you noticeably different from everyone else might be a bad thing -- and most of us who have been insecure teenagers have grown up to realize that actually that the things that made us stick out as being "different" are often the things that make us awesome (or at the very least, we discover that they're the things that make us who we are, and that that's a good thing). I wanted to write about a girl coming to grips with her outsider status and taking ownership of the power she has instead of trying to hide it. And I wanted to tell a ghost story!   

 How is it different writing for kids than for adults? What really impressed me is how you got the tone exactly right--almost as if you tunneled into kids' psyches. How'd you do that alchemy?

Well, I'm lucky in that I have an almost-teenager at home that I get to overhear having prolonged Skype calls with her Minecraft friends. But also I feel like that teenager I used to be isn't so far away sometimes, and I tried to channel the kinds of conversations I used to have back then (and still have with my friends now who've known me since we were teenagers!). In terms of writing for kids versus adults, no matter what I'm writing, I try to write something that I, myself, would want to read. But I think there's an immediacy of point of view in writing for teens, and a sense of action and forward momentum that I tried to be conscious of as I was constructing the story.

I loved the whole idea of adding an illustrated graphic novel and especially Danielle's journal, which I think kids will just adore. How and why did you come up with the idea for these great extras?

From the beginning, I conceived of this book as a book made to be read on a digital platform, and I really wanted to have the kinds of "extra" content that's possible on a digital device be content that was important to the story -- that came from the story and out of the story, and would allow the reader to explore an aspect of a character or the story itself in a different or deeper way. So, since I had one character who spent a lot of time scribbling in a sketchbook, a graphic novel from her point of view, illustrated "by" her, seemed a perfect thing to include. Same with the music (included with the iBooks edition of GIFT): with a character who's a musician, who sings a song to the main character at one point in the book, it just seemed like a perfect thing to include an actual music video and musical tracks "by" that character. And Danielle's diary gives a closer look at the reasons behind a surprising decision she makes at a crucial point in the book. All of these "extras" are really "bonus" content that connects to the story and furthers it in some way. 

I also really love the whole idea that sometimes the things we try to hide (because they make us different), are actually the most powerful things about us. Have you had any feedback from kids yet?

It's so hard to have perspective on that, especially when you're right in the middle of it, and messages from adults often sound so hollow or out of touch. (Do you remember your mom telling you about mean friends, "Oh, they're just jealous!" ? Even if she was right -- sooooo not helpful!) So I hope that that's something readers can take away from the book -- that, as you put it, often the things we wish we could hide are the most powerful things about us.  

What's obsessing you now?

A Rachmaninoff piano piece I'm working on!

What question didn't I ask that I should have? 

How much fun did I have with having a Minecraft map made of the world of my book? And I'll tell you: Lots! 

I thought about making a map for GIFT sometime after attending Minecon last year (yes, I went to a Minecraft convention with my kids in Las Vegas!), and even started trying to go about creating it myself. But I quickly realized that this was something that called for a master mapmaker. So I commissioned Vechs, a Minecraft mapper known for his incredibly creative and challenging Super Hostile series of Minecraft maps, to make a playable map of the book. I sketched out the basic geography of the Overworld for him, and sent him descriptive passages from the book so that he'd know what things were generally supposed to look like... and then he did his thing and created a wonderful, pixelated replica of the book world within the game. It's really fantastic, and a lot of fun to play, whether or not you've read the book. (Though if you have, you have a bit of a head start as to where to go to look for things, as locations that figure prominently in the book are generally locations that figure prominently in the map.) The map went live last week and has already been downloaded around 6,000 times. Joe Hills is currently playing through the entire thing on his YouTube channel, which is a nice introduction to the book, the map, and to Minecraft, if you're not familiar with it.

You can download the map (and character skins) at

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