Thursday, July 21, 2011

Interview with Ingrid Law, author of Savvy and Scumble

I didn't think today could get any better after I got my favorite sushi for lunch... and then it did. My email box revealed answers to the interview questions from exciting Newbery Honor author,
Ingrid Law. I met Ingrid at the ALA Conference in New Orleans, and she had some thoughtful answers at the panel on Newbery authors, particularly on research and how it fits into the fantasy genre. Ingrid graciously offered to answer a few questions for me regarding her new book, Scumble and other tidbits of writing lore. If you get a chance, please check out Scumble. I read it from cover to cover on the plane home from the conference and enjoyed it throughly. But it would be better to hear about it from the author herself, so here are Ingrid's thoughts:

Could you tell us a bit about how Scumble is different from your first book, Savvy?

While both books are about children who belong to a family of people who come into extraordinary talents on their thirteenth birthdays, the two books do have some differences. From the outset, I knew I wanted to write a companion to my first book, Savvy, not a sequel.
I did this because my 'savvy' books are, at their core, coming-of-age stories. In my second book, Scumble, I felt it was important to show the challenges of growing up from a new point of view. Savvy is told in the voice of a girl named Mibs. Scumble is from the point of view of Mibs's cousin, a boy named Ledge.Scumble also takes place nine years after Savvy. So, while Scumble is (in my opinion) richer if one reads Savvy first, the two books can stand alone. I'd I've heard from people who have read Scumble first and still loved both books.

Which one of your characters in Scumble was the most challenging to write?

At first, I thought my main character in Scumble, Ledger Kale, was going to be the most challenging to write because I'd been writing from a girl's POV for so long while working on Savvy. It took me a few months of writing before the voice patterns of Mibs, my main character in Savvy, let go and Ledge stepped forward with his own unique character and tone. But after that happened, he became great fun. I loved writing him.

Your characters bring to mind the likes of Pecos Bill and Calamity Jane. Grandpa's ability to move mountains even calls Paul Bunyan to mind. Was your intention to recall tall tales to reader's minds since they relate so heavily to setting that your book is written in?

Most definitely! When I started working on Savvy, I knew right away that I wanted to write a book about magical children and 1) never use the word 'magic,' and 2) present what I imagined American Magic to look like. So instead of leaning toward wands, spells, and potions, I relied a whole lot more on the tall tale tradition here in the U.S. instead. The voice of the tall tale also lent itself to the overall tone of both books.

Did anything in Scumble change as you were editing it?

Ha! Did anything NOT change? In all honesty, I spent a long time making sure this book was just the way it needed to be. The final book is very different from my first draft. It's almost easier to say what stayed the same: the wedding, for one. The wedding scene shifted places a few times... sometimes it was in the very first chapter, sometimes it came a lot later. But the wedding was always there. The basics around Ledge's character never changed much either--I always knew that his savvy would--in the words of his little sister, Fedora--"Bust! Things! Up!"

If you could spend a day with any of your characters who would it be and why?

Probably Rocket... because I admit to having a creator-crush on him. Or Momma, because she makes perfect pie.

What savvy do you think you need? (vs. what savvy do you want)

This is a very good question, since the talents my characters receive are sometimes the ones they need in order to learn important things about themselves, rather than the talents that they most desire or dream about.

So, while I
want to be able to be in three places at the same time so that I can be simultaneously writing, reading, and watching a movie... I think I need a larger-than-life ability that will help me be more confident in public (sometimes I'm very shy)--maybe my savvy would make me glow!

Are there things about your favorite fantasy books as a child (such as Diana Wynne Jones) that inspired your writing as an adult?

I recently re-read a couple of my favorites by Diana Wynne Jones--Charmed Life and The Lives of Christopher Chant (two of her many Chrestomanci books)--and I can say that there are elements in her writing that may certainly have influenced me without my realizing it. Diana Wynne Jones uses robust and playful words and imagery, and her Chrestomanci books (along with Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels--more personal favorites) may have been instrumental in inspiring me, subconsciously, to write companion novels in the same 'world' rather than direct sequels. I love seeing crossover characters in books, and seeing a world or characters from a different point of view.

Why did you choose to write a fantasy book? What do you like about the genre?

I think in metaphors. I see the world, and understand it, through metaphor. Fantasy, beyond being sheer delight and fun, and an escape from the humdrum of ordinary life, gives me the opportunity to explore real-life issues and challenges through metaphor. I would say that metaphor is my palette, fantasy is one of the colors on that palette. Or maybe the other way around? But, see? I just did it again.

When on school visits, do you find that students have interpreted your books in ways that you haven't even thought of?

Oh, yes! That is one of the coolest things about writing a book and having others read it. I've quickly come to see that, while I initiate a story, providing the plot, setting, and characters, my readers finish the story when they fully realize it all inside the realm of their imaginations, adding their own personal touches. No one ever reads the same book in the exact same way. I think that's one of the biggest reasons people can have such trouble with book-to-film adaptations--a film presents a different person's vision.

But students make some amazing connections--I had a fourth grader tell me recently that he thought that the antagonist in Scumble, a man who keeps foreclosing on people's houses, is himself 'emotionally foreclosed'--brilliant!

What kind of stories can we expect to see from you in the future?

I am working on a new savvy book right now. But it will be some time yet before anyone other than my editor and I see even a little bit of it. After that? Who knows? Maybe a little voyage into science fiction just to shake things up a little...


I'm excited to see what comes next from this stellar fantasy author. It would be great to see some Sci-fi. We have a serious drought in our Children's section for that particular genre. Whatever she ends up writing next, I'd like to thank Ingrid for her insightful answers. I look forward to the next savvy adventure!


  1. Good interview and an interesting book. I like that it's a companion book and not a sequel.

    1. Eh, i've read the Savvy...and i'm waiting to read the SCUMBLE. please tell me if it's an interesting book. :)