Today, I am pleased to bring you an interview with M.P. Kozlowsky, author of JUNIPER BERRY. But first, a word about the book.
Juniper Berry’s parents are the most beloved actor and actress in the world—but Juniper can’t help but feel they haven’t been quite right lately. And she and her friend Giles are determined to find out why.
On a cold and rainy night, Juniper follows her parents as they sneak out of the house and enter the woods. What she discovers is an underworld filled with contradictions: one that is terrifying and enticing, lorded over by a creature both sinister and seductive, who can sell you all the world’s secrets bound in a balloon. For the first time, Juniper and Giles have a choice to make. And it will be up to them to confront their own fears in order to save the ones who couldn’t.
M.P. Kozlowsky’s debut is a modern-day fairy tale of terror, temptation, and ways in which it is our choices that make us who we are. (Description courtesy of IndieBound)
And now, on to the interview.
I just finished reading JUNIPER BERRY and am excited to have the chance to interview you. I understand you were a high school English teacher. What was your favorite literary work to teach? Did you have a least favorite?
I very much enjoyed teaching the classics (or modern classics, as they are) — Great Expectations, Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, etc. — although tackling Shakespeare with the students was most often an arduous task; they tend to balk at the language, reading the words but not fully comprehending them, regardless of my enthusiasm. Surprisingly, I pulled the best work out of my students when they wrote poetry. I am proud to say my classes took to it marvelously and won several awards in the process.
Congratulations to you and your students.
Did anything in particular spark the idea for Juniper’s story?
I was in a certain place, a certain frame of mind, when I wrote Juniper Berry. I had something very specific and personal to say and, thus, created her journey to closely mirror that of mine as a writer. There are many parallels, many similar doubts and frustrations, but can also be interpreted to reflect many varying themes aside from the one I primarily intended.
Did you draw from any particular mythology or folktales to create the underworld in the tree?
Nothing specific; the underworld in the book is more of an organic, yet severe, mashing together of childhood interests and oddities so that they bled into a unique mass, one both frightening and intriguing — my subconscious at work.
Inquiring minds, and teachers who may be reading this aloud, want to know — how do you pronounce Skeksyl?
I wanted it to be an ugly word, but never intended it to be difficult to pronounce — although it seems I have inadvertently done so by deliberately searching for a name that would be harsh and off-putting and sinister, much like the character. The syllables should crunch in your mouth, as if chewing on nails and bolts. The closest I can write it out to is: Skeck sil.
What is your favorite part of the book? Which part was the most difficult for you to write?
My favorite part of the book would be Juniper’s trek through space; I always thought that would be an enjoyable scene for a child; I could see it in a movie too — what a wonderful use of 3D that would be. That, or when she is spying on the fans gathered outside the gates of her home; there is a certain fear and horror in that scene, as well as a certain beauty and longing. The most difficult part of the book to write was Giles’s fight with his bully. It took a quite a while for that scene to come together and whether I should even have included it or not.
Which character would you prefer to be stranded on a deserted island with – Juniper, Giles, Kitty, or Theodore?
I can think up reasons for all of them — Kitty is based on my dog, Theodore would be very interesting to talk to (so many stories from a wizened old soul like that), and Giles has a personality very much like my own — but Juniper is a character I wish were real. I created her as a role model for young girls, someone for my daughter to admire. I think she is just a terrific and strong girl and would find much beauty on a deserted island (after all, she had been pretty much stranded on one her whole life).
If you could have one writing related wish fulfilled, without having to sell your soul, what would it be?
Maybe I have already. Of course writing a bestseller would be wonderful, but I won’t be greedy. I just would like to continue writing and being published, one book of quality after another until I am very old.
Tell us a little about the joys and/or frustrations of seeing your first novel published.
The joy is almost too difficult to explain, to hold the book in your hands, smell its pages; it’s like one’s arrival into the world. The greatest frustration is how long the entire process is — from the first word and through each draft and edit and marketing decision until publication; it can be years.
Are there any new writing projects on the horizon?
I am always writing; if I go days without doing so I begin to tremble, my sleep becomes restless. I just completed another middle grade novel based on the fairy tales my grandfather told me when I was younger, as well as an adult novel about the dangers and peculiarities of memory.
What is your most important piece of advice for aspiring writers?
The best advice any writer can receive is that it truly is possible to see your work in print. Too many aspiring authors are told how difficult it is, how the odds are stacked against you, and, although much of this is based on experience, much of it is actually based on the fear of those who never tried, never took the risk. If a writer blocks out all distractions, reads and writes every day for hours on end, and then some more, always trying to improve, it is very much possible. But it has to become one’s life, with much falling by the wayside.
M.P., that is excellent advice. Congratulations on the release of your debut novel, and thank you for stopping by From the Mixed-Up Files to share your experiences and insights.
JUNIPER BERRY is a good book to curl up with as the autumn days grow long and spooky. To watch the book trailer, read an excerpt, and find out more about M.P. Kozlowsky, go here.