BWW Interview: Holly Schindler, author of SPARK
The first thing that drew me to SPARK was the theatre influence. What are some of your favorite stage plays and/or musicals?
You don't have to live in the heart of New York City to love the theater, do you? I'm a lifelong resident of Springfield, Missouri, which has a fairly long history of producing actors-Brad Pitt, John Goodman, Kathleen Turner, Tess Harper have all lived here. There's definitely something in the air!
Springfield's also home to several vintage theaters-I grew up going to productions inside them. I referenced a few in SPARK (The Fantasticks), as well as a few Shakespeare works (especially Romeo and Juliet). But I also wanted to show my readers what was in my mind's eye as I created the Avery theater. My local color video takes you on a tour:
What made you choose Anything Goes as the musical to set your book around?
There were several reasons, really. I loved the possibilities of the set-the way most productions use two staircases and a platform to create the illusion of looking into a ship. It provides the possibility for the final death scene in the past section. The title itself also allowed me to engage in some wordplay regarding the Cass and Dylan storyline-this shows up during their performance at the end of the book. Also, the musical was the perfect age to be something that could feasibly be performed in the Avery that fateful night in 1947.
As a bonus, the title song is still recognizable-often, when you're writing YA, your copyeditor will keep you from making pop culture references that are out of date. I had a bit of leeway since SPARK had a historical element-but I do think that title song remains well-known, especially among the drama / music kids.
A huge element in SPARK is The Senior Project. Did you have to do one in high school?
That was fictional. But I'm a total sucker for underdog stories (aren't we all?), and love the idea of the "bland" colors in the crayon box being responsible not only for a getting a production together, but for the fate of the Avery Theater. They've got so much resting on their shoulders! You really get to see the best of people when you expect a lot...
What writing advice do you have for writers interested in writing magical realism?
The thing with magical realism is that if you're not careful, your main character can wind up sounding as though she / he is losing their grip on reality. I mean, magical realism doesn't take place in a completely made-up world-it's our world with a twist, a magical element thrown in. So if you appear to be carving out a completely realistic story, and suddenly, something extraordinary takes place, your character can seem at best to be unstable and at worst to be having a complete psychological break. I think you've got to do some worldbuilding at the very front that establishes magical realism-that way, it doesn't completely shock your readers when it shows up. That was a big part of the reason why I started with that dream sequence-I felt it was important to show readers the magical element of the Avery's history at the get-go, establish that part of the novel's world.
How did you go about developing your "past" scenes and merging them into the "present" story? Every author seems to have a different fascinating process for twisting two timelines together!
I love all things vintage-when I was in high school, I was very much a Cass-into vintage, funky clothes. I also love classic movies and books. My family's long been involved in buying and selling antiques. (I even have an antique souvenir bracelet from a Fred Harvey's shop-a Fred Harvey's depot restaurant / shop is referenced in SPARK). To a great extent, writing about that time frame was totally natural to me. I did only minor research-into Anything Goes productions, into what Verona High might have looked like, what brands of candies might have been in the Avery stand; for the most part, though, I already had a pretty strong grasp of both the area and timeframe.
Holly Schindler's work has received starred reviews in Booklist and Publishers Weekly, has won silver and gold medals in ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year and the IPPY Awards, respectively, has been featured on Booklist's Best First Novels for Youth and School Library Journal's What's Hot in YA, and has been a PW Pick of the Week. She is owned by a Pekingese named Jake, and can be found working on her next book in her hometown of Springfield, Missouri. She can also be found at hollyschindler.com.
The local Avery Theater was just a run-down building to Quin-until her mother told her the tragic love story of Nick and Emma that played out on the theater's stage all those years ago.
Quin is convinced it's the perfect story to rewrite for her drama class, but when she goes searching for more information, she makes a startling discovery-the Avery is rapidly regaining its former splendor and setting the stage for her classmates Dylan and Cass to relive Nick and Emma's romance.
Quin can see the spark between them, but it's up to her to make sure her friends-and the Avery-can both be saved this time around.
--SPARK was published by HarperCollins on May 17, 2016.