Janet Fox Talks About Her New MG Historical.

Children’s book author JANET FOX has always been one of my favorite authors.  Her YA historical novels are part of my collection and when I heard she was writing an MG, I knew I wanted to read it.  THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE did not disappoint.  Here is MY review of this wonderful novel:  CharmedChildrencover (1)

“This creepy, scary, spine-tingly middle grade novel takes place in Scotland in 1940.  Kat and her younger siblings Rob and Amelie, are sent by their parents to Rookskill Castle Boarding School in Scotland to escape Hitler’s blitz bombing of London at the start of WWII.  Rookskill is no ordinary boarding school.  And the Lady Eleanor who runs it, is no ordinary headmistress.  As soon as they enter its doors, Kat feels off balance and at odds with the place.  Teachers behave strangely.  Ghostly figures roam the grounds.  Children seem to disappear.  Secret passages, hidden doors, ghosts, strange noises and even stranger nightmares fill Kat’s days and nights.

Kat suspects the castle – and its occupants – are under some kind of spell.  But for what purpose?  Are there German spies about?  And, what does it all have to do with the mysterious chatelaine Lady Eleanor keeps fastened to her waist?  Is it good magic or a more sinister dark magic? 

     This is a splendid page turner for anyone who enjoys mystery, fantasy, or historical fiction.  Rich in details and grounded in time and place, it will keep you up at night and make you contemplate the very nature of good and evil.”

Now here is the interview:

How did you come to write for children?

I began writing for children when my son was little and it was clear he has dyslexia. I tried making stories for him that would help him learn – they were terrible! But it got me hooked on writing for children. I joined SCBWI, became friends with Kathi Appelt, who became a mentor to me, and then found my agent and Vermont College of Fine Arts, where I earned my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

You’ve had a successful career writing for YA with FORGIVEN, FAITHFUL, and SIRENS. What made you decide to write a book for the middle grade crowd?

I was actually trying to write new and different material, through my MFA program. I was trying to stretch and grow outside my comfort zone. When I had the idea for THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE, I began writing and right away knew that the book had a middle grade voice and a middle grade sensibility. It reminded me of the books I read when I was that middle grade age. Plus Kat was a middle grade character. The novel couldn’t have been written any other way.

Where did the idea for THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE come about? 

I’d just finished drafting SIRENS, and lazily perusing the internet, when a friend of mine posted a picture of a piece of jewelry called a chatelaine. I’d heard of chatelaines, and seen a few (check out the chatelaine worn by Mrs. Hughes on Downton Abbey), but this one was weird. So weird that I pulled the image off the internet and put it on my desktop. So weird that I couldn’t stop staring at it. So weird that it made a story in my mind, and it wouldn’t leave me alone until I’d put that story down on paper.

You can see that chatelaine as a drawing in the opening pages of the novel. It served as a guide for the concept of this story.

 The Cover of the book is amazing!  Care to comment on it?

I love my cover art!! Greg Ruth is the artist. He perfectly captured several things about the story: the dark, foreboding, mysterious, huge castle; the rooks, my antagonist’s familiars; the moonlight and the wavery sun; the odd Lady; the four children who stand in the circle of light, not really sure they should enter. One of the themes of the novel is that “the power is within you” – to solve problems, to grow – and so the suggestion of crossing a threshold and how that holds both fear and hope is perfect and resonant.

blurb:  “Keep calm and carry on.”

  That’s what Katherine Bateson’s father told her, and that’s what she’s trying to do: when her father goes off to the war, when her mother sends Kat and her brother and sister away from London to escape the incessant bombing, even when the children arrive at Rookskill Castle, an ancient, crumbling manor on the misty Scottish highlands.

            But it’s hard to keep calm in the strange castle that seems haunted by ghosts or worse. What’s making those terrifying screeches and groans at night? Why do the castle’s walls seem to have a mind of their own? And why do people seem to mysteriously appear and disappear?

Kat believes she knows the answer: Lady Eleanor, who rules Rookskill Castle, is harboring a Nazi spy. But when her classmates begin to vanish, one by one, Kat must uncover the truth about what the castle actually harbors—and who Lady Eleanor really is—before it’s too late.

Tell us THREE things about the main character in the story.

Kat – Katherine Bateson – worships her father, who works for MI5 and is a spy abroad during World War 2. Kat has a knack for puzzle-solving and a facility for math and science, and is very practical-minded. And Kat must learn that the power of magic, and the power to rescue her friends and family, lies within her.

What’s next?      IMG_8226b

I’m working on a sequel, although nothing is sure yet that Viking will want one – but I have such a fun idea that I’m going to run with it. I’m also working on another middle grade fantasy. My agent is shopping a YA science fiction and a non-fiction picture book, and I’ve got a solid draft of a YA contemporary novel set in Montana. I’ve got lots on my desktop!

Interview With YA Author Janet Fox.

I “met” Janet after reading her fabulous YA historical novels and letting her know how much I enjoyed them.  She was kind enough to read  WHEELS OF CHANGE before it was published and wrote a wonderful blurb that appears in the book. We’ve had an e-mail friendship ever since. I couldn’t wait to talk to Janet about her YA novels and her new venture: a debut MG. Janet was also kind enough to feature me on her blog today.  You can check out that post at: http://www.kidswriterjfox.blogspot.com

1. SIRENS takes place in the “Roaring Twenties”. What attracted you to writing about that era?                   Sirens front cover.indd
SIRENS is set in New York City in 1925. When seventeen-year-old Josephine Winter’s father ships her off to live with her rich cousins on the glittering island of Manhattan, he says it’s to find a husband. But Jo knows better–there’s trouble brewing, and in 1925, all that glitters is not gold. Caught up in a swirl of her cousin’s bobbed-hair set–and the men that court them–Jo soon realizes that this world of jazz and gangsters and their molls hides a nest of lies. But when she befriends the girlfriend of one of the most powerful and dangerous gangsters in town, Jo begins to uncover secrets–secrets that threaten an empire and could destroy everyone she loves. Jo is faced with a choice: hang on to her soul, or lose herself in the decade of decadence.

My first two YA historical novels were contracted for together, and I linked them by tying in  characters, although the second is not strictly a sequel. Just as I was putting the finishing touches on FORGIVEN my publisher contacted my agent and asked if I would be interested in trying my hand at a novel set in the 1920s. I said yes, and wrote a proposal, and they accepted it.

I don’t always say yes to suggestions like this. But I’ve always been fascinated by the twenties – it was a time of such rapid social change as to be explosive. Plus there are nuances like the fascination with the supernatural and the subtle political rumblings that led straight toward World War II. I had a lot of fun researching and writing SIRENS.

2. You wrote two other wonderful YA Historical Fiction books: FAITHFUL and FORGIVEN. How did you come to be a writer of historical fiction?

Thank you! It was a total accident. I don’t consider myself to be an historical fiction author, and in fact most of my current projects are anything but. FAITHFUL, my first novel, was really written as a way for me to deal with the sudden death of my mother. When I went to craft Maggie’s story about her search for her mother, I picked Yellowstone as a setting, and 1904 as the year only because I was interested in that period of history and it’s a fantastic period within the Park.                Faithful high res

FORGIVEN carries on from FAITHFUL but I set it in San Francisco because as a former geologist I wanted to write about the 1906 earthquake.    Forgiven with award

3. As someone who also writes historical fiction, I’m interested in how you conduct your research. Tell us about your process.

I almost never research ahead. It’s important to me to know my character first, so I often write quite a bit before I feel the need to dig into research. Once I know my character, then I try to craft a story that will delve into the rich human experience. And then I often research on the fly – hunting for material that I need to know.

For example, with SIRENS, I knew Jo and I knew she was going to befriend Lou, and I knew the two girls would get mixed up somehow with a gangster and bootlegging. But it wasn’t until I heard a radio interview one winter night with the author of a book about the 1920’s magician Howard Thurston that I realized that the twenties’ obsession with spiritualism would be central to my theme. It fit my character, it fit the story, and it was an interesting aspect of the twenties that doesn’t get much attention.

That said, at some point I do the following: read newspaper ads and articles of the period; read something written in the period; read the society columns of the time; find vocabulary lists or terms popular at the time; find clothing catalogs of the time; look for popular pastimes. These all comprise my socio-economic understanding, the atmosphere that surrounds my character.

4. You recently sold your first middle grade historical titled CHATELAINE: THE THIRTEENTH CHARM. Can you tell us about that and how it was writing your first MG novel?

Actually CHATELAINE is much more fantasy than historical. Yes, it’s set in 1940 and the children are escaping the blitz; yes, there is a German spy and an enigma machine. But after that, it’s very much a story about ghosts, a steampunk witch, an immortal wizard, children who are disappearing, artifacts with magical powers, peculiar teachers, a creepy castle, the rainy Scottish Highlands…in short, a slightly scary run-for-your-life mystery.
I loved writing this novel. It came out of nowhere – actually it was inspired by a piece of jewelry I saw on the internet – but as I was writing I was remembering all those days as a preteen when I was holed up in the corner on a rainy afternoon with one of the Narnia books or an Agatha Christie novel. Kat is such a great character and I had so much fun writing her story and then embellishing it with wild and crazy twists and turns…I hope readers will love it, too.

It sounds amazing Janet. I will definitely be adding that one to my reading list!

5. Of all your memorable characters, which one is your favorite and why?

Wow. That’s like loving one of your children more than the others!

I guess if I had to be pinned to the wall, I would say Maggie, because she’s my first. But then there’s Kula, feisty Kula, who begged to have her story told. And Jo – she’s such a determined, strong-willed girl – and Lou, who comes from nothing and has street-smarts. Now Kat, she’s the pragmatic girl who has to develop her imagination…and then there’s Rima, from my next novel…obviously, this is the impossible choice!

Thanks so much, Darlene!                                    janet fox

Janet Fox writes award-winning fiction and non-fiction for children of all ages. She became a children’s author in the mid-90s, when her son’s learning differences led her to develop her non-fiction book for Free Spirit Publishing, GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT (2006). Other work for children includes short fiction (Spider Magazine) and science non-fiction (Highlights for Children). Her young adult debut novel, FAITHFUL (Speak/Penguin Group, 2010) was an Amelia Bloomer List pick, and was followed by a companion novel, FORGIVEN (Penguin, 2011), a Junior Library Guild selection and WILLA Literary Award Finalist, and a YA historical set in the 1920s, SIRENS (Penguin, 2012).
Her debut middle grade novel CHATELAINE: THE THIRTEENTH CHARM is an historical fantasy (Viking, 2016). She is a 2010 graduate of the MFA/Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, a former Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and a former high school English teacher. Janet lives in Bozeman, Montana, where Janet and her husband enjoy the mountain vistas.

You can also find her at http://www.janetsfox.com and at http://www.kidswriterjfox.blogspot.com