I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Gina Linko, incredible children’s and Young Adult book author. Grab a tea/coffee and get ready to enjoy reading about a busy mom, businesswoman, busy author and just plain busy lady. We had the chance to reflect over her take on the writing profession, her new book, Flower Moon, and her thoughts about being an author. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed getting to know author, Gina Linko.
Interview with Gina Linko, author of Flower Moon!
Q. Twins. You’ve written about twins in Flower Moon who develop into very different people by the end of the book. You called them “mirror” twins. I’m under the impression that you’ve had experience with twins? I’m very curious as to why you chose twins for your debut book, Flower Moon. Was there a specific goal you were trying to achieve by doing this?
G.L. I have twins myself, but they are boy-girl twins, so not exactly the mirror twins of Tally and Tempest. But twins are cool. They’re shrouded in this inherent mystery. Books, movies, and urban legend make us think that there *could* be something really cool between twins — transcontinental psychic connections, toddler twin-talk, veritable mind reading. And I LOVE this kind of stuff — anything that straddles that hazy line between the science and the unexplained. That is the space in which all of my stories live.
My twins have a special love/hate relationship, like most brothers and sisters, I think.
G.L. It’s the same bond that they have with their older sister, but I think it’s amped up too, because they get to experience everything on the same timeline, side-by-side, like it or not. My twins are pretty well-adjusted, but I have often thought that the competition/problems would be more difficult if they were into the same kinds of things and/or if they were the same sex — like Tally and Tempest. They’d have more of the same friends, maybe more of the same hobbies. My twins have things in common — Minecraft, Wimpy Kid books, a healthy love for staging funny photos of our cats. But they are very different too: He loves wrestling, fishing, and can throw a serious fast-ball. He’s quieter, more sensitive. She’s a born leader, loves baking, reading, and playing the flute. But now I’m just telling you about my kids — one of my favorite pastimes. So back to answering your question.
G.L. Twins are kind of cool in that they spend nine months becoming alive in the same tight quarters. Right there, that’s some serious fodder for story-writing. And because they are “together” along their timeline of life, people want to ask you questions like, “Which one’s the leader? Which one’s the smart one?” Like it’s that simple. Completely black-and-white.
G.L. I love the way Tally explains it when Digger tells her that Tempest and her are “two halves of a whole.” Tally says, “It’s much more complicated than that. Tempest is the butter on my toast, the sea to my shore, the stars in my night sky.” Twins are intertwined, inseparable, the edges between where one stops and the other starts blurring sometimes.
G.L. Now my twins never did anything psychic or spooky, but they do have a strong bond. An intricate interwoven history and personality between the two of them. They did invent some weird phrases that they still use to this day to describe things: white powdered donuts are called “double-highs” and the word “nickel” is used to describe anything hilarious. One of the cutest stories though, I have about my twins is this: Before they could talk, so before one years old-ish, I would ask them, “Where’s Maia?” “Where’s Jack?” And they would point at themselves. But if I had just one of them, for instance, just Maia, and Jack was napping or out of sight, I would say, “Where’s Maia?” and she would point to herself. Then, I’d say, “Where’s Jack?” And she would furrow her brow and then look around, confused. Then she’d point to herself again. Like she didn’t quite know about their “separateness” yet. They were one being to her in her mind, in her heart. And how fantastic is that? To always have this built-in life partner, right from the get-go?
G.L. Or … maybe sometimes it’s not so great. It’s not hard to imagine the flip side, is it? Any mom can tell you, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows and double-highs. The seeds of the story of Tally and Tempest probably started sprouting even way back then.
Q. Character ARCS. I love Tally Jo and Tempest’s character arcs and how they developed as the story progressed. Without giving too much away, which of the secondary characters had the most significant affect on the twins’ growth? And why?
G.L. I love this question. I think all the secondary characters affect the twins’ growth in so many ways. Aunt Grania and her sudden appearance is certainly a catalyst for a lot that happens at the carnival, but then I think that Digger is important too in that he’s the kind of friend that helps Tally become a better version of herself. Don’t we all have that kind of friend when we’re around twelve going on thirteen? It’s the age that we’re trying things on for size, figuring out exactly what kind of person we want to be, and if we’re lucky, we surround ourselves with people who will push us to be a more authentic version of ourselves. Digger is that for Tally.
G.L. And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Pork Chop. Pork Chop forces Tally Jo’s hand. Figuratively and literally. And magically!
Q. Magical. Flower Moon is a book full of magical realism. Is this your favorite sub-genre to write about and why? Or, is there another sub-genre that you also like to write in and why?
G.L. This is SO my jam, for sure. I mentioned a little earlier how I love the fuzzy line between science and the unexplained, which is sort of where magical realism lives. I like just enough magic so that you feel you’re in this everyday, timeless world, and you don’t have to stretch your imagination too far to envision it being real. This is probably why a story like this belongs to twins, because twins already have this sort of mysterious air about them, an air of possibility. We’ve all read about the twins who feel each other’s pain across the country — one gets burned on the hand in California, and one in New Jersey jerks awake in horror with a red mark on her palm, that kind of thing. So it’s not that much of a stretch to imagine other connections, other forces, other mysteries between two twins, especially mirror twins — an embryo that doesn’t spit into two until the last possible moment in the womb.
Q. Revisiting. Do you think you’ll ever revisit these characters in another book (not necessarily a series, sequel, prequel but maybe a companion?), or is Flower Moon destined to remain a standalone, and why? Have you ever considered writing a series? What genre and sub-genre would you choose if you were to consider a series?
G.L. This question has sent me into a tail-spin. I have already discussed a sequel with my daughters, plot points, the title, that kind of thing. But now I am LOVING the prequel idea, which I think you can guess what it would be about! (I don’t want to give it away because SPOILERS! but OMG, are you sure you shouldn’t be a fiction writer? Great idea, J.L.!)
<grins> Ummm (is actually, published too shhh) Call dibs on the interview when you publish it!
Q. Tally Jo. I just love this character. She’s quirky, sweet but tries to be strong. She’s independent and very realistic. She tends to use fun when under stress, and she uses silly phrases. This is such a great aspect to her character. Where did these come from? Does she take after someone you know, read about or is she you? (sshh I won’t tell) Do you think these phrases helped define Tally Jo’s personality?
G.L. I am Tally Jo down to a tee, and I make no apologies. This is me as a kid, and as an adult. And my one daughter too. She is Tally as well. She read about three pages into Flower Moon, and she looked up and said. “Tally is me, isn’t she, Mom?”
G.L. I love Tally as a character for many reasons, but especially because I have boy/girl twins, and my Tally (Maia) happens to have a twin brother. Maia has an iron will, is opinionated and prickly, warm and sweet, and a mix of a thousand other things–just like Tally. I see her as she’s growing up, and realize how we want to socialize our girls into being ingratiating, always smiling, we want them to hug that relative even if they don’t want to, to basically conform and be good little girls. This realization stopped me in my tracks when my twins were younger, because we don’t, as a society, demand this from little boys. My very own Tally Jo, she is a leader, she is brash, she is ready to go to bat for the underdog. And I want to cultivate those qualities in her, not tell her to be polite and smile. We should all, regardless of sex, be pushed toward our most authentic selves, so that we can prosper.
Q. And Tally’s use of silly phrases? And do you think these phrases helped define Tally Jo’s personality?
G. L. So, my daughter, she doesn’t say things like, “What in the jelly sandwich?” But Tally sure does! And to be honest, I don’t know where I got Tally’s colorful language to begin with, but it certainly helped give her character life. Because can’t you just hear her voice with those sassy sayings? Sometimes, and definitely with the case of Tally, I just start to mine the story in my head, and the characters come to life. I spend a lot of time imagining the characters, getting to know them in my mind before I actually sit down to write. And as strange as it may sound, I feel like, in a lot of ways, Tally Jo just *was*. I just had to listen to her.
“Sometimes with my characters, I don’t even feel like I’m creating them. It’s more like revealing them. They’re already there, with a life of their own.”
Q. Elements. I absolutely love your method of introducing magic into your story. But there’s other elements that should be noted, such as: sibling relationships, coming of age moments, the mystery factor, usage of history and science references, and even a bit of legend and folklore. Quite the mix and done very well, by the way. Do you have a process for putting a story so intricate together? Do you use charts, outlines, a special computer program, notebooks or something else as a way of mapping or fleshing out a story?
G.L. When I do school presentations, I always show my students some of my handwritten notes. I explain: I start out old-fashioned. I take a big poster board or something like it, and I draw a story arc on it, just that big hill shape that we all learned in junior-high literature class. Next, I write little phrases at different spots on the story arc — ideas for scenes in different spots, like the rising action, the climax, etc. Then, I do a lot of thinking. I will think about a story for weeks before I actually sit down to write. I let it “percolate,” as I always tell my kids. When my ideas are percolating, I’m kind of flighty, with my brain living halfway in the story world, with scribbled notes to myself on post-its and scraps of paper all over the house. I spend a lot of time thinking about the story, always there in the back of my mind, letting my characters come to life. By the time I sit down to actually write, it’s like I can’t get it out fast enough. I usually write my first drafts VERY quickly. And then spend forever revising — it’s hard to say something’s finished, you know? That final okay is rough. I feel like I could always be fiddling with it forever.
Q. Plans. What’s next for Gina Linko-the author? Do you have other projects on the go? How many years have you been writing? Where do you do most of your writing, a special room, place? Do you adhere to a schedule, play the juggling game or use a planner?
G.L. I have another middle-grade book hopefully finishing soon. It’s about a daring rebel of a girl, Piper, who loves dinosaurs and ancient rock art and Banksy-like graffiti. She attends an archaeological camp in Red Hill, Wyoming, where she and her newfound friends spend their days digging for bones and dusting off fossils, and their nights sneaking out of their cabins, dodging rattlesnakes and scorpions, in order to follow clues of a decade-old scavenger-hunt riddle that promises prestige and power to whoever truly solves it.
…and there’s the inside scoop folks!
Q. Genres. You’ve tried your hand at children’s books in the easy reader and young adult sub-genres, and now, you’re debuting a middle-grade novel. Well done! What attracted you to this particular genre? How does your own experiences as a middle-grader reflect in what you’ve written in Flower Moon? Do you often use personal experiences as a template for your books?
G. L. For me, I am drawn to a character, a voice, a story first; and then, as I’m working I have to figure out what exactly it is genre-wise. Middle-grade has been especially rewarding I think because of where I am in my life, with two middle-school children. I just feel like this is such a great time in a kids’ lives when they are truly becoming themselves, and to be able to write for this age group feels like an honor.
They are very lucky to have your books to enjoy! Not everyone can write for kids.
Q. Which Twin. Which sister, Tally Jo or Tempest, do you relate or identify with the most? Why?
G.L. As I said before, I am Tally Jo. I’ve always felt like I’m a little too much. Too bossy, too loud, too opinionated, too enthusiastic, that kind of thing. Too prickly for sure. In my best moments, these are all things I like best about myself. In my worst, well, it’s the opposite. I think that, really, if anything, when a reader picks up Flower Moon and relates to Tally or Tempest or whomever, I want that reader to understand that, “Yes, you are great just the way you are.”
Q. Your Ideas. Where do you get your ideas? Do you get them from issues of the times? Do you get them from media like television, movies, online? Or, do you secretly have a muse?
G.L. Ah, this is the great question. I’m not exactly sure. They come to me in odd moments, when I read something interesting, see something on TV, sure. But I don’t really buy into the whole lightning bolt idea. My ideas don’t hit me that way. I cultivate them. When I get that itch to start a new project, I go searching for what exactly it might be about — I read cool things about early carnivals or open up articles about recent dinosaur discoveries. Somehow I will match up some of these slivers of ideas with a voice usually. A lot can come from a character’s voice. **spoiler**
Q. Reviews. My research shows that so far, Flower Moon, has been receiving amazing reviews. It’s been considered bang on for today’s kids. How do you handle bad news about any of your books, if you’ve even received any? What advice can you offer other writers when dealing with rejection or bad reviews even if you’ve never received them yourself?
G. L. I try not to give it too much attention. The good reviews really do feel wonderful! Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love that Flower Moon is getting such good reviews–it makes you feel like what you set out to do with this story, had succeeded. But the bad reviews or even the so-so ones, I can’t give them too much energy, because as a writer, some days it’s hard to put words on the page. To take that confident leap, and I don’t want those reviews keeping me from my next work. Because I love the process too much! And truthfully, I know that my stories won’t be everyone’s jam. That’s okay. Because as a reader, I completely understand how some books are good, well written, whatever, but they just don’t speak to me.
Q. Support. All over social media, I’ve run across writers who don’t have much support for their writing. What’s your support network like?
G. L. I am feeling super lucky to have bloggers/readers like you to help get the word out about Flower Moon to readers and librarians. You are so incredibly important to books, especially indie books like Flower Moon. I can’t say thank you enough.
It’s been my pleasure. I’ve enjoyed getting to know the author of a book I thoroughly enjoyed!
G.L. Also, I’ve been so very lucky to have so many talented authors read and blurb Flower Moon. I just got to see the actual book jacket, and on the back of the final book, it is just filled with quotes from these mentors, these writers that I admire so much. I’m tearing up just thinking about this. These women that took the time out of their busy, day-to-day life. It means so much. For example, Elana K. Arnol, she is a National Book Awards finalist! And, I have a really great editor, Rachel. She is amazing. I mean, I don’t know if every editor makes their authors feel like rock stars, but she does.
Q. South. I love the southern feel to your novel, it’s very distinctive in Flower Moon’s characters’ behaviors, speech, and the general ‘feel’ of the novel. Do you research places you want to use as a setting for a book? Is there a special place that you’d like to incorporate into a future book? Why? What was the attraction to the South? A special memory or visit, perhaps?
G.L. While growing up, every spring break, we would visit St. Simon’s Island. Now, my brother, sister, and I, all try and take our kids down there together every few years. We LOVE that place. We are serious Midwesterners, so just being on the coast is a little bit magical to us. The surf and sand, the ocean life, the kudzu, all of it is just COOL. Different. And we’re always there on vacation with our family–our favorite people in the world, so that’s a recipe for magic right there. Of course I would set Flower Moon on St. Simon’s. It’s where everything is possible.
Q. Fav. What’s YOUR favorite part of Flower Moon. Why? When you were writing Flower Moon, be honest now, was there ever a moment after writing, where you sat back and said…wow!
G.L. Oh boy, it’s hard for me to pick favorite parts. It’s like picking a favorite child. I love the scene, when Digger and Tally are at the cemetery, and Digger’s getting a little too close to telling Tally something she doesn’t want to hear, that she’s fighting to accept:
Excerpt: **spoiler alert**
“It was on the tip of my tongue to apologize to Digger, for being cross, for never listening … I don’t know, for just being in general a bad friend that never really gave him the time of day. But I couldn’t do it. The kindness and tenderness toward Digger just sort of dried up on my tongue. I didn’t know why I found it so hard to be nice to him, but I did. So instead of saying something he needed to hear, instead of being the friend I knew I should be, I swatted a mosquito off his cheek, darn-near slapping him in the face. “You’re welcome,” I said, and I took off back toward the carnival, fighting the tears all the way.”
G. L. I love this. It encapsulates Tally, I think.
Q. Author Platform. This is a hot topic on social media. Many would-be authors don’t quite understand the importance of having a strong author’s platform prior to becoming published. What are your thoughts on this topic?
G. L. I come from a place where I used to be a middle-school teacher, and I used to work as a children’s librarian, so I feel like that is my platform. As for social media, I only do what I’m comfortable with, but really with having three kids, working full time, and then fitting in writing, I like to focus on the words on the page–my actual stories. That’s what I have control over. That’s what I absolutely love. I love the process of writing — it really lights me up.
Q. Marketing. How much marketing do/did you do on your own for Flower Moon? In your opinion, what has worked the most in getting your book into the hands of readers and what hasn’t?
G.L. Sky Pony is the absolute best when it comes to getting books in librarians’ hands, and this is the most important thing for middle-grade, I think. Librarians get books to our readers, so things like trade reviews and showing up at ALA, those are important things, and Sky Pony is all over it. I’m soooo thankful.
Q. Published. Has it been easy getting published? Has your background and education played an important part in your success? Your love for the written word is apparent in your writing. What do you consider the hardest part of writing? Do you use Beta readers?
G.L. My mother is my first reader. Isn’t that awesome? She’s honest with me, and gives me very good feedback. As far as getting published, every step is hard. I have a fabulous agent, whom I trust completely. This is important in this business. Plus, it frees me up to focus on words on the page, because to me, the business end of things is the hardest part — going on submission, etc. But I really think that it comes down to perseverance. There are obstacles every step of the way. For me, I just love the process of writing so much. I will always do it, getting published or not. Sharing my stories with the world, this is the icing on the cake.
Q. Editing. You’re an editor of text books. Do you edit your own books too? Now, I don’t want you to get a rush of writers sending you requests, but have you ever considered editing non fiction and fictional manuscripts?
G.L. I am a textbook editor by day, which is its own kind of animal. But for fiction, I don’t really consider myself a very good editor. I edit my own books, yes. But I watch what Rachel does with my manuscripts, and I’m kind of in awe. She sees it from above, in this big picture way, and she can pinpoint where change needs to happen. I think that’s a very special kind of intelligence, to be able to hold so many variables in your head at once — plot, character, voice, dynamics, etc– and be able to see where things need to be tweaked, both in huge ways with pacing or storylines, and in micro ways at the sentence level. It continues to amaze me. I don’t necessarily have that talent.
Q. Names. Where did Tally Jo and Tempest come from?
G.L. This is a good question. I don’t really know! They just came to me, as I was trying to come up with two names that started with the same letter. They had to be different enough, but also whimsical sounding, giving off a little sense of magic themselves!
Q. Carnivals. Tell me how you decided to add a carnival element to Flower Moon. What is it about carnivals that made you think it would fit this story? What about carnivals do you think attract middle-graders? Were you ever involved with a carnival?
G.L. I did a lot of research about the carnival. Some I used, some I didn’t. It was super interesting, and I could get lost down that research hole for hours! But I can remember as a kid thinking that carnivals were so exciting, so full of life and light, like anything could happen! And I just loved the sights and sounds of a carnival: the flashing lights, the calliope music, the smell of the cotton-candy clouds. And I knew that I wanted to have the girls be inside that setting, a magical surrounding for a magical summer.
Q. Values. Old-fashioned values are important to you? I can see the use of them throughout your writing of Flower Moon. Would you consider yourself somewhat of an old-fashioned girl? Do you purposely strive for this element in all your stories or, was this just for Flower Moon? Were you raised in an old-fashioned environment? Do your values directly tie-in to your novels? Do you think this is something especially needed today for middle-grade books?
G.L. This is a great question. This really got me thinking. I love the idea of my book having values to pass on to readers: like the importance of family, loyalty, that kind of thing. Certainly these are themes running through Flower Moon. But I also want to think of Flower Moon as progressive in that it is telling readers, especially young girls, you can be anything you want. You go be yourself, whether it’s a prickly and domineering vet assistant, or a techno-geek who likes to rebuild old Philco radios. You be YOURSELF. You be powerful.
G.L. I suppose I want my books to challenge some of the sexist old-fashioned ideas, but embrace good old-fashioned ideas like integrity and strength of character, polite manners, that kind of thing. I suppose I’m a mix of old-fashioned girl and powerful feminist. Shouldn’t we all be?
Q. Cover. I love the cover for the ARC I reviewed. How much input did you have in choosing this cover? What elements did you want to see in the design before choosing the final cover?
G.L. Sky Pony is awesome. I cannot say that enough. They asked me to put together sort of a mood board for the cover. This was so much fun. I have never had much say in any of my book covers before, so this was a real treat. I pinned a lot of pictures of full moons and gorgeous night skies with fireworks. Ferris wheels and carnival lights. And then as we got closer to the cover illustration being designed by the wonderful and talented Manuel Sumberac, my editor and I talked about having the girls on the cover in silhouette. She came up with the idea of Tally reaching out for Tempest like she is. I just can’t explain how wonderfully the cover encapsulates the mood of Flower Moon. I absolutely love it, and I’ve gotten so many messages from readers who have the ARCs about how much they love the cover. So this was for sure a slam-dunk.
This sadly concludes my interview with Gina Linko. My thanks to Gina Linko for spending some time with me and sharing her insights about her latest book: Flower Moon, due out: January 2nd, 2018.
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