Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Author Interview: Maggie Thrash

ShelfNotes was thrilled to get the chance to interview Maggie Thrash at BEA this year for her upcoming comic/graphic novel “ Honor Girl” publishing this Fall with Candlewick Press. Maggie completely knocked us back when we saw her - she looks very much like her depicted self in the comic. Before we got to meet her, she was in a comics panel earlier on, when we asked her about it, she referred to it as the panel with “me and the dudes”, which was spot on.

Sitting down with Maggie, we felt completely relaxed and talking with her felt like a “pow-wow” with a good friend. Not only was she completely honest and open about herself, the book and the process but she was also charming and funny. When asked how she got into comics and if she had been drawing all her life, she told us that she had no art background but,

“had this really lofty goal of doing my memoirs... I had these things… I’ve been very secretive about and have been holding onto for years, and so I wanted to express these things to get some catharsis and move on.”

She then goes on to tell us how writing about herself was “abysmal” and she found trying to describe yourself very “limiting and awkward”. Her change of format can be credited to her roommate who suggested making a comic, and that she would have an easier time with it. Maggie now says,

“I’m obsessed with comics and I will never go back to prose, except for fiction.”
Comics have this way of being able to present yourself, she mentions being able to show - “this is what I look like, these are the sorts of things I say and you can watch me and be with me” and how this process is much more objective. Thinking on that, it would be really uncomfortable to have to describe yourself in that way, or even environments. Even though it might sound easier to write about yourself through a comic format, one could imagine how hard it would be to draw yourself and to convey emotion and expression. Maggie does this so well with her sparse drawings, just a circle and an eyebrow for an eye conveys so much.

Speaking of art and drawing, a look at Maggie’s website (her older one) gives you a feel for her roots. She says it’s fun to look back and see that was the best she could do then.

“If I keep doing comics, I’m going to keep evolving. That’s going to be interesting.”

When questioned if she wanted to tackle the illustrations herself, she told us a great story that had her fall into Candlewick’s lap. While Maggie was shopping around for publishers, one (who she states will remain nameless) said ‘we like this story, will she hire an artist?’ and her agent stood up for her and said, “No, we’re not even considering that.” Then Candlewick came around and Maggie describes her love for them as “just all new best friends”. I think we can all agree Candlewick is a very special press.

After a small chat about the color in the finished book (we read black and white galleys), we came to discussing the cover (which we love). Maggie admits that she can’t take credit for it, even though she did the drawings.

“I love the cover too, that they let me do this just really moody and quiet, contemplative and intense thing instead of CAMP, flowers, tents, smiles…. I love that they let me do that.”

Getting into the heart of the story, we asked Maggie what she wanted the readers to come away with. Her response was very honest and brought us back to that feeling she describes,

“I mean EVERYONE can identify with this moment when they’re a teenager, flooded with intense new feelings and how you can NEVER go back from that. In a way I think the innocence of childhood is actually just not having those emotions, like you can be confused, and you can be sad and you can be angry but you don’t have those feelings that knock you down and make you just like debilitated with emotion... like whether you’re soaring or your heart is being smashed, you’re going to spend the rest of your adult (life) looking for those feelings again because they’re so exciting, and that's… the line you draw between childhood and when childhood is over.”

Hearing this made us automatically think of the Kirkus review and how much they nailed it with this line, “She has so carefully and skillfully captured a universal moment—the first time one realizes that things will never be the same”.

We got very curious as to how her family was handling this comic with them featured in it. She said her brother has handled it well but her mom asked if she could change her name… which left Maggie a little speechless because what else could she call her but “Mom”? Her brother plays a charming part in the comic and we absolutely adored him, we can only hope they collaborate on something in the future.

The process of writing “Honor Girl” was very therapeutic to Maggie, she feels good about it now. When she first wrote about it as a webcomic, she titled it “This is a Secret” thinking that her readers wouldn’t tell anyone. Initially Maggie wanted to write this comic about being in college but realized that she couldn’t express herself fully without telling this origin story,

“this is actually where my life began. and this is the moment that haunts me, and has stuck with me.”

This left us with the big question everyone will want to know… what will the next comic be about? She hinted that it wouldn’t be college but she will be taking things a little slower and the readers will get a glimpse at her high school years (ending). We can’t wait to see where she takes us and will have grabby hands when the next one comes out.

Want to be a first to read “Honor Girl”, Armchair BEA teamed up with Candlewick Press and Maggie Thrash to give a lucky reader a copy of the ARC, a color sampler and an original drawing done by Maggie herself. Click here to be directed to the contest. 


P.S. ShelfNotes asked our signature question - What is your favorite candy? Maggie loves one of our own favorites, Nerds Rope! If you haven’t tasted this stuff, find your nearest gas station (the only place we’ve found them) and chomp away.

Thank you to Candlewick Press and Maggie Thrash for the opportunity to discuss and ultimately have a fun chat with such a talented young author. We believe she will be paving the way for the future of comics, hopefully giving the courage for other female artists/authors to try a hand in this male-heavy world of comics.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Author Interview: Pat Schmatz

Shelf Notes had the pleasure of sitting down with author Pat Schmatz (it rhymes with “lots”) the other day at BEA 2015. We got a chance to discuss her upcoming new YA novel Lizard Radio, as well as her favorite books, her writing process, and potentially dangerous adventures with aliens and Komodo dragons!

We sat down with Pat first thing on Wednesday, shortly after she had arrived in the city. She had flown in the night before, just in time to catch the Candlewick Press dinner, which she’d really enjoyed. Pat hails from Minneapolis, a city she loves for its bicycling and the students to whom she teaches writing. 

We began by asking Pat what she thought the book’s genre was, because we were stumped! It doesn’t clearly fit into any genre (YA? dystopian fiction? LGBTQ?); Pat claims she was somewhat startled herself when Kirkus categorized it as science fiction. She also doesn’t see the setting as futuristic so much as just a slight shift from our own, current world - a cracked lens, a possible other existence that is happening parallel to our own.

This world spawned from a drawing of a lizard wearing headphones that came out of Pat’s pencil point one day. She realized that lizard was trying to tell her something, so she stopped to listen. “I knew right away it was a lonely lizard, and that the lizard was trying to get a signal,” she related. “The lizard would only speak very cryptically for a long time, and maybe in poetry, but not very much else” and Pat had to figure out from there where her story was going. She says she often doesn’t know until the copyediting stage what her story is really going to mean for her, because she is telling herself the story the whole time, watching it unravel. 

What are you?

Ultimately, she realized that the story encompassed two questions for her: “What are you?” and “What if she’s not?” The former she asked of the lizard drawing as she worked to determine where the story was going. The latter has a more complicated backstory which traces its origins to Pat’s childhood. At age 12, while at summer camp, she made friends with a yellow-eyed girl who pulled her aside one day to tell Pat that she was “part of an interplanetary coalition in the war against evil”, and had been sent to recruit Pat because she would someday play a major role in this war. Pat shrugged the girl off as crazy, but always remained niggled by the little question in the back of her mind: “What if she’s not?” The book, then, tries to answer both of these questions for the author. She tries to answer them through the conflicted protagonist, Kivali, who struggles to figure out who she is and what her role is: Is she really supposed to save the world? For what, for who, in what way? 

What if she’s not?

We thought this book would resonate with young adults trying to figure their own selves out during adolescence. Kivali is ultimately trying to figure out who she is, and the author hopes that Kivali’s situation and strength will resonate with readers.

She ties Kivali’s strength into that of lizards, which are very resilient and strong creatures. In the course of writing the book, Pat did a ton of research on lizards, and became particularly fascinated with the Komodo dragon. She loves how they can do anything: climb trees, swim, run 30 miles an hour - and she loves their distinctive walk. She became so interested that she even reached out to a friend who owns a Komodo dragon, and had the opportunity to get dangerously close to the creature - they can be deadly! They are quick and their teeth contain venomous pockets which slow any bitten prey and ultimately kill them. So Pat put her life on the line in her pursuit of research for this book!

This fascination also lends Pat some great material for when she teaches writing to her own students - mostly sixth graders in the Minneapolis area. She loves to share facts with her students about lizards, as well as read them some great passages from her favorite books. One which she loves to use to teach from is A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (always a favorite author), because she draws them in with the suspenseful introduction which shows the students how to describe the feeling of fear in such a real way.
And speaking of favorite authors, here are a few books that Pat mentioned loving right now (but warned that her list changes all the time!) --

(And we were thrilled to hear that she also shares a long-time love of The Outsiders!)

We finished up our interview asking Pat to name her favorite candy, and her answer was: kickshaw*! You’ll have to read the book to understand that reference, but you will understand when you do. Please don’t hesitate to immerse yourself in this incredible new world that Pat has created, complete with its own very fitting vocabulary!

Pat Schmatz signing copies of her new book

* Fascinating origin story, too: Pat tells us that “kickshaw” originates from a French word for “a sweetness or a morsel.” I looked it up, and it’s related to “quelque chose” - neat!

Monday, June 1, 2015


The lovely Maggie Thrash, author of Honor Girl, is giving away one ARC (B&W with a color sampler) and an original piece of artwork, signed!

Maggie's website
Find Honor Girl:
Official Summary:
All-girl camp. First love. First heartbreak. At once romantic and devastating, brutally honest and full of humor, this graphic-novel memoir is a debut of the rarest sort.
Maggie Thrash has spent basically every summer of her fifteen-year-old life at the one-hundred-year-old Camp Bellflower for Girls, set deep in the heart of Appalachia. She’s from Atlanta, she’s never kissed a guy, she’s into Backstreet Boys in a really deep way, and her long summer days are full of a pleasant, peaceful nothing . . . until one confounding moment. A split-second of innocent physical contact pulls Maggie into a gut-twisting love for an older, wiser, and most surprising of all (at least to Maggie), female counselor named Erin. But Camp Bellflower is an impossible place for a girl to fall in love with another girl, and Maggie’s savant-like proficiency at the camp’s rifle range is the only thing keeping her heart from exploding. When it seems as if Erin maybe feels the same way about Maggie, it’s too much for both Maggie and Camp Bellflower to handle, let alone to understand. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Thank you all for participating! To be entered in our final prize drawing(s), you must fill out your name and email, your blog's name, and your blog URL. If you are co-bloggers, you can fill out one survey each! Also, please answer as many questions as you can to be eligible. Meaning, don't just fill out your personal information and ignore the survey.

Good luck! See you next year! :)