Title: The Matchstick Castle
Author: Keir Graff
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: G. P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 10, 2016
I am super pleased to be able to bring you a guest post from Keir Graff! Keir Graff is the author of the newly released middle grade novel entitled The Matchstick Castle! He has been kind enough to tell us about 7 authors that have inspired him and his writing. I hope you enjoy!
Seven Authors and How They Inspire MeBy Keir Graff
Seven is an impossibly reductive number, but I had to stop somewhere or I would have, months from now, ended up with a list of everyone I’ve ever read—because I do learn from everything, good and bad. Still, these seven authors are first in my mind as I talk to readers about my new middle-grade adventure novel, The Matchstick Castle, while finishing a draft of my next one.
One word: family. Well, three words: The Quimby family. Books about Ramona and her clan were some of my first middle-grade reading, and it was a formative experience to read about a fictional family that acted like a real one, with bad behavior and everything. I eventually would move on to swords, sorcery, and science fiction, but realistic fiction should form part of every kid’s reading diet—or at least books that don’t discard every last shred of family dynamics in favor of adventure. Yes, most good kidlit lets young readers imagine some degree of autonomy, but not all heroines and heroes need to be orphans.
My friend Ilene Cooper once wrote about Dahl, paraphrasing Longfellow: “When his writing is good, it’s very very good; and when it is bad, it’s horrid.” This is certainly true—for every Danny the Champion of the World (my personal favorite), there’s a George’s Marvelous Medicine. Still, I’ll always treasure him for his monstrously large imagination and for being the first children’s author to feed my appetite for stories about bizarre and sometimes disgusting things, with grown-ups portrayed as capricious, mean, and horrible. We may not like it as adults, but it’s important to remember that sometimes that’s exactly how kids see us.
I realize I’m not exactly being original here, but as I was rereading A Wrinkle in Time the other day, I was struck by how forthright her young characters are about their emotions (and emotional breakthroughs) even before the action starts in earnest. I think editors today would tell their authors to be subtler about this, to string readers along, but L’Engle’s matter-of-factness about having characters wear their hearts on their sleeves and say what they mean is just utterly refreshing—especially because kids are more like that than adults, something grown-up authors and editors sometimes forget.
I loved Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, too, but the fantasy series that really hooked me as a kid was Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain. For me, Assistant Pig-Keeper Taran was simply more relatable than Bilbo or Frodo because I recognized my aspirations and frustrations more clearly in him. Or maybe I liked the fact that Alexander didn’t fill his pages with endless odes and songs, as did Tolkien—for whatever reason, I read these books to tatters*. Incidentally, The Book of Three was the first book I remember giving as a gift, to a fourth-grade friend, with the inscription I hope you enjoy this much as I do.
Hoban was responsible for the droll narrative voice of the beloved Frances the Badger series; his wife Lillian drew the pictures. Many people labor under the misapprehension that picture books are easy, but they couldn’t be more wrong—picture-book text is hard though few made it look as effortless as Hoban, with a voice that was dry, witty, warm, and wise in a few deft strokes. I do my best to emulate his economy of words even though I’m not yet good enough to write picture books. Hoban also wrote for grown-ups (including the seminal post-apocalyptic novel Riddley Walker)—which, because I do likewise, inspires me, too.
There are a precious few artists I classify as True Creatives (capitalized because I’m thinking about trademarking the term and giving a TED talk**); they seem able to tap some deeper wellspring of creativity and tell stories authentically, without concern for commercial or critical reception. In film, I think of David Lynch and Hayao Miyazaki. In middle-grade fiction, I think of Daniel Pinkwater. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you haven’t read Lizard Music, which strikes me as a cross between Flannery O’Connor and Salvador Dali—which is to say, awesome.
Yes, yes, I could be listing James here as a shameless way to plug our collaboration on the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival (which may be coming to your town in the next few months), but BE THAT AS IT MAY, I find James a creative inspiration. Not just for his seemingly inexhaustible ability to make up weird and wondrous things in The Order of Odd-Fish and some still-to-be-published works I’ve read, but for his intense focus on what makes a story great. Too many authors want to talk about money and contracts, but James is a writer whose favorite topic is storytelling, and I’ve learned a great deal from him.
*Figuratively speaking: I still own them.
Bio:Keir Graff is the author of two middle-grade novels, including the The Matchstick Castle, published in January by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers and Listening Library. Since 2011, he has been cohost of Publishing Cocktails, an occasional literary gathering in Chicago. By day, he is the executive editor of Booklist. You can find him on Twitter (@KeirGraff), Facebook (Keir.Graff.Author), and at www.keirgraff.com.