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Thu, Sep. 9th, 2010, 08:14 am
Interview with Hilary Wagner about writing MG books

Today, I'd like to welcome Hilary Wagner, who's here to talk about mid-grade (MG) books. Her MG novel, Nightshade City, will be released by Harmony House on October 1, although salespeople were so excited about this book they talked the publisher into having it in stores before the official release date, meaning you can buy it now. What's more, she scored a cover blurb from Rick Riordan, the Percy Jackson writer.

Here's how Amazon describes the book:

Deep beneath a modern metropolis lies the Catacombs, the kingdom of remarkable rats of superior intellect. Juniper and his maverick band of rebel rats have been plotting ever since the Bloody Coup turned the Catacombs, a once-peaceful democracy, into a brutal dictatorship ruled by decadent High Minister Killdeer and his vicious henchman, Billycan, a former lab rat with a fondness for butchery. When three young orphan rats--brothers Vincent and Victor and a clever female named Clover--flee the Catacombs in mortal peril and join forces with the rebels, it proves to be the spark that ignites the long-awaited battle to overthrow their oppressors and create a new city--Nightshade City.

Hilary, I think lots of people are unclear on the distinction between young adult (YA) and MG books. What would you say is the difference?

Wow, right out of the gate you throw a super tough question at me! ;) I think middle-grade deals a lot with breaking away from your comfort zones, your parents, realizing every single person has something unique to offer and setting out on a great adventure. With young adult, it clearly gets a bit more "grown-up." YA can deal with lighter issues, such as crushes, dating catastrophes, etc., but it can also delve into much weightier issues that face today's teens. I'm going to stop here only because this answer could go on forever! Every writer/reader has their own opinion of what MG and YA means to them and there is a lot of gray area and crossover, especially in older MG, that 10-14 age range.

Did you make changes to your writing because you knew this was an MG book? Maybe change the vocabulary or avoid something violent?

Not really. I think kids are amazingly smart and we should never underestimate them. If you go to your local bookstore and pick up a middle-grade novel, chances are the writing is similar to something you'd see in most adult books, minus the obvious of course! As far as violence, my book's got some! It's not too gory or graphic, but it's needed for the story. If you strip it away, there is no story left, no reason to fight for what's right. Sadly violence is a big part of the world and hopefully through books kids can learn it's not the right route to take--there are other solutions.

What do you like about writing MG?

I love that a book can reach a child. It can make them open their mind and really think about things and examine their own world and relationships. Like I said, kids are smart and they can be really introspective. I think books can help foster that, which is why I love writing for kids!

What's the hardest part of doing it?

Writing anything is challenging, no matter what the age range or genre. The hardest part is getting stuck, having that, "what the heck happens next" moment, but when you figure it out it's the best part of writing! I love those "A-HA!" moments in writing!

Finally, why rats???

Everyone asks me this! I never thought so many people would want to know why I chose rats. I suppose a lot of people don't like rats, but I've always thought they were misunderstood and as I did more and more research, I found out they were! I do love their "creepy" factor, that Halloween charm about them, but I discovered also how incredibly smart and loving they are. They come when called by their names. They love to play games and actually make fantastic pets! Oh, and they did not spread the plague! Fleas did! ;)

Dorothy, thanks so much for having me on your blog and asking such great questions! This has been a lot of fun!

More stops on the blog tour: If you want to read more from a successful MG writer, Hilary's on a blog tour that starts at Jen Haley's blog

Tomorrow's stop will be at shanasilver's LJ.

Thu, Sep. 9th, 2010 01:30 pm (UTC)
(Anonymous)

Wonderful interview, ladies! And Hilary, great job giving the distinction between YA and MG! I've always wondered. :)

Yay for rats!

-Amy

Thu, Sep. 9th, 2010 01:56 pm (UTC)
dawtheminstrel

Thanks, Amy. The MG/YA distinction is a tough one. One editor told me that even for his publishing house, it sometimes comes down to whick buyer for the big bookstores the salesperson is more friendly with.
(Deleted comment)

Thu, Sep. 9th, 2010 01:56 pm (UTC)
dawtheminstrel

I think Nightshade City is going to do very well. So yay Hilary!

Thu, Sep. 9th, 2010 01:36 pm (UTC)
frenchpony

Nifty! I'm always fascinated to hear writers talk about what they hope that YA/MG books can do for kids, and how much thought some people put into them. It's a little weird for me, because I never really noticed the category all that much when I was the right age for them. I think my local library just shelved them in the kids' section back then; they didn't put in a dedicated YA section until I was a senior in college. So I think a lot of the books I read as "older kid" books would now be called YA/MG. I like the idea that grownups are starting to think about how they could guide kids using these books.

Rats are awesome. I'm kind of split about my favorite rat, though. It's either Benny, The German Pet Rat Who Came To Choir Practice One Day or Alison's Amazing Clinging Rat.

Thu, Sep. 9th, 2010 01:58 pm (UTC)
dawtheminstrel

I swear there was no YA or MG category when I was a kid. It was all kids books until you were an adult.

I'm afraid I put rats in the same category with snakes. Did you ever read Elliska's story about the rat she found in the kitchen of a house she was renting as a student? I'd have run screaming into the night.

Thu, Sep. 9th, 2010 02:31 pm (UTC)
frenchpony

Rodents can startle you when you find them where they're not supposed to be, but other than that, I don't find them particularly terrible. Of course, I, too, put rats in the same category with snakes, it's just that I think snakes are pretty cool. There was this one guy around campus at Ye Olde Grad School who had a pet boa constrictor, and he let me say hi to her and pet her. She was pretty awesome.

When I was YA/MG age, I was reading through the science-fiction/fantasy section of the library. Of course, I entered first grade reading at a fifth- or sixth-grade level, so I may have just been weird, but that was the kind of stuff that interested me then. I'm really glad that this was the late 80s and early 90s, and librarians were over the whole "restrict the adult section" thing by then.

Thu, Sep. 9th, 2010 04:11 pm (UTC)
Hilary Wagner: Thank you, Dorothy!

Snakes? Oh, you can't compare my cute little ratties to snakes! ;)

Dorothy, this was a great interview. You asked great questions and it was a ton of fun!

xoxo -- Hilary

Thu, Sep. 9th, 2010 04:35 pm (UTC)
dawtheminstrel: Re: Thank you, Dorothy!

Snakes? Oh, you can't compare my cute little ratties to snakes! ;)

I'll read the book and be charmed, I'm sure!

Thanks for your thoughtful answers, Hilary. This book is going to be great.