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“Don’t be afraid to be weird.” Advice for young writers from WEAVE A CIRCLE ROUND’s debut author, Kari Maaren in a Three Questions interview

I met Kari Maaren through a filk music convention, and fell in love with her song Being Watson (which almost always makes teary-eyed). She also is cartoonist with a webcomic, West of Bathurst, and an active one, It Never Rains. After being a fan of her other work, I was VERY excited to find out she was writing a book.

Her debut novel for young readers, WEAVE A CIRCLE ROUND, is a thoroughly engaging read with an irresistible main character (I love 14-year-old Freddy Duchamp’s voice, both inner and outer) in a fearless and original take on time travel and coming-of-age. If you want to read what others say about the book, I encourage you to check out the Globe & Mail reviewthe starred Kirkus reviewstarred Publishers Weekly review, starred School Library Journal review.

Also, don’t you love the cover? It was designed by Jamie Stafford-Hill with the help of Tor editor Diana M. Pho:

You can find out more about Kari Maaren and her work at KariMaaren.comTwitterher blogcurrent webcomicYouTube channel and Bandcamp.

Synopsis of WEAVE A CIRCLE ROUND: Fourteen-year-old Freddy’s complicated life becomes even more complicated when two strange new neighbours move in next door. Her subsequent adventures involve mythology, unfinished poems, pipe-organ music, and the repeated breaking of the rules of physics.

Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?

My “office” is my living-room couch. I live in a tiny apartment. One benefit of the cramped quarters is that I get to do my writing two feet from my harp.

I started learning the harp about three years ago, and it’s a great instrument to play when you are drowning in stress. Granted, harp fingering and technique can cause stress too, but it’s a different kind of stress. Just being in the same space as a harp makes me happy. Also, when I lose my temper and shout at the computer screen, the harp strings resonate, and the harp underlines the screaming with ghostly, whispery music.

Q. What advice do you have for young writers?

Don’t be afraid to be weird. Everybody thinks there’s a secret formula for succeeding as a writer, and published writers all know it and meet in caves at the dark of the moon to chant arcane rituals about it. Unpublished writers tend to be afraid they’re breaking the rules of this secret formula if they deviate from the standard advice: follow the market, give the publishers what they want, concentrate completely on writing to the exclusion of everything else in your life so you become a master of your artform, search for an agent in X way, don’t break Y taboo, and so on. The truth is, however, that there’s no secret formula.

I got a book deal by writing a song entitled “Beowulf Pulled My Arm Off.” I wasn’t trying to get a book deal when I wrote the song. I mean, sure, I very much wanted a book deal, and I was trying to get one, but I did that by attempting to guess and adhere to the secret formula, just like everybody else. Yet the right person heard the song, and then he talked to a friend of mine who knew I also wrote novels, and everything just sort of went from there.

So be weird. Produce things you want to produce. Don’t go, “I guess no one will ever want this story about talking bears because there aren’t any talking-bear stories on the market right now.” The market now and the market in several years, when your book is likely to appear, may be very different. Also, who cares if there aren’t any talking-bear books? Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe an editor will love how different your book is. Maybe your book is astounding. If you want to write about talking bears while you balance paper clips on your nose, go for it. I wrote an old-fashioned kids’ book that was set now but could, with a bit of tweaking, have been set in 1985. I was sure editors would feel it was outdated. It was published a few months after the second season of Stranger Things was released.

Sometimes, weird is fine.

Q. What are you excited about right now?

Weave a Circle Round has been nominated for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book, so that’s pretty exciting. I’m also excited by the fact that I’m writing another book, though I can’t tell you anything about it yet. Chocolate excites me quite a lot. I get excited when birds land on my fingers. Friends of mine (including David Nickle, Kate Blair, Stephen Michell, Rati Mehrotra, Kelly Robson, Sarah Henstra, Aaron Tucker, and-drumroll-Debbie Ridpath Ohi) keep publishing their books, and that’s exciting too. I’m excited by student essays that go in unexpected directions, by getting to try new musical instruments, by my webcomic, by other people’s webcomics, by my recent discovery that making weird little bookmarks is fun, by the things my sister’s kids do, and by Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle, which I’ve been reading through for the first time.

For more insights from book creators, see my Inkygirl Interview Archives and Advice For Young Writers And Illustrators From Book Creators.