Friday, September 29, 2017

Mira Bartók Author Interview

Photo Content from Mira Bartók

Mira Bartók is an artist and writer, and the creator of The Wonderling: Songcatcher, the first book in an illustrated middle-grade fantasy series, forthcoming by Candlewick Press on September 26th, 2017. As luck would have it, The Wonderling will also be a movie, directed by award-winning British director, Stephen Daldry (The Crown, Billy Elliot, The Reader,etc.), and produced by Working Title Films and Fox2000. (You can read more about the crazy book to movie deal HERE and HERE). She is also the author of The Memory Palace, a New York Times bestselling memoir and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography. She has written numerous books on ancient and indigenous cultures for children (The Ancient and Living Stencil Series), and her writing for adults has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, noted in The Best American Essays series and has appeared in many literary journals, magazines and anthologies. She lives in Western Massachusetts with her musician/producer husband Doug Plavin and their little bat-eared dog Sadie.


Age Range: 10 - 14 years
Grade Level: 5 - 9
Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Candlewick (September 26, 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0763691216
ISBN-13: 978-0763691219


Bartók’s language is full of rich description and effulgent inventories of food and places…Bartók’s lovely, detailed illustrations and drawings throughout support the sense of enchantment in this imaginative adventure. Captivating and with great potential as a read-aloud. —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Written with clear and detailed descriptions, this novel drops readers into a strange, magical, mythical, and mechanical world…Bearing some similarities to Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” with shades of Erin Hunter’s “Warriors” series, Bartók’s title will appeal to readers who appreciate anthropomorphized animal characters, high-stakes adventure, and Dickensian settings. A stellar new contribution to fantasy that should find a place in every middle grade collection. —School Library Journal (starred review)

Bartók’s prose is as alluring as the story she weaves. Every song, every food, every object adds texture to the world, layering the known, the unknown and the magical…A gentle, modern-day nod to the children’s books of old, The Wonderling is a sweet, uplifting adventure. —Shelf Awareness Pro

Bartók doesn’t delve into the origins of groundlings but uses them successfully as a stand-in for other disenfranchised groups, with the groundlings subjected to derision and menial tasks by most of the upper classes. Music plays an important role in the story, both as a means of connection and a force for good…Bartók gives readers a richly imagined fantasy landscape to lose themselves in. —Publishers Weekly

This beguiling fiction debut from Bartók (The Memory Palace, 2011) is just the ticket for readers who revel in quest stories, or those with a soft spot for animal fantasies. Bartók carefully constructs her world, gracing it with a classed society, music, and a touch of steampunk. —Booklist Online

Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that writing was not just a hobby, but that it would be your life and your living?
I was 31 and living in Italy at the time, doing art restoration, substitute teaching art history at the American School in Florence. I was living with a bunch of wonderful Italians on a vineyard outside of the city in an ancient house surrounded by an olive grove and lemon trees. I only spoke and read in Italian, and I tried to only speak Italian with my one American friend there. I was away from friends and family and although it was lonely sometimes, and I was almost always broke it was exhilarating. Living in another country can definitely strengthen one’s character, confidence, and resilience in the world. You really find what metal you are made of when you have to live on the edge outside of your comfort zone and adapt to another culture. It was then that I began to seriously write. The cadence of the Italian language had an enormous influence on my writing, as did being separated from my “normal” life back home in Chicago. When I returned to Chicago during the 1st Gulf War, I realized that writing had to be a crucial part of my life. How, I didn’t know, only that I had to pursue it in some way or another.

What makes writing great for you?
My favorite part is immersing myself in the music of language. Making up beautiful sentences that sing when you read them out loud, that’s what makes it all worthwhile to me. My second favorite part of writing is visualizing a story, and realizing that it is a great, epic adventure, not just an idea. I see the whole thing in my head, as if I am unfolding a grand tapestry of images before me. My brain lights up all over the place when I get that feeling!

In your new book; THE WONDERLING, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it and why they should read your novel?
I try not to tell anyone that they should do anything! But, if some members of the esteemed and illustrious Book Nerd community have a hankering for an adventure story that lingers on that borderline between the real and the unreal, and if they love novels with strong plots as well as lyrical sentences, this might be the book for them.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters?
The most surprising thing was that even the worst baddies can be written with compassion if you try hard enough.

Why do you feel you had to tell this story?
I have no idea! I just fell in love with my little one-eared fellow and wanted to see what happened to him.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why? 

I suppose I wouldn’t mind introducing a couple characters who are somewhat similar to other characters in books I’ve loved. For instance, in my portrayal of Peevil the Bold, I tip my hat to Reep-a-cheep from the Narnia books. I think the two brave little mice would get along famously. And Arthur, AKA Number 13, would probably be good friends with Babe, the sheep pig. They both have innocent hearts, and are humble and kind.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
How much time do you have? J Well, first there’s Book Two of The Wonderling series which is clearly next on the docket. But I periodically work on a YA illustrated book called The Forgotten Island. I’m writing it with my brilliant friend, author Jedediah Berry (The Manual of Detection). It’s set around 1900, although there will probably be touches of steampunk somewhere in there. The book is about an island that no one believes exists, and on this mysterious island…oh what strange creatures they discover! There’s danger, there’s darkness, there’s lots of humour, and, dare I say, perhaps a little love between the two explorers? You can read a little more about it as it unfolds on my website 
( Then of course, there’s my long term project called The Echoers, which might be a trilogy—part text, part graphic novel. The first book is set in WW II above the Arctic Circle in Northern Norway (where I lived in the late 90s). I had some of that written, but got side tracked by this little project called The Wonderling…And I am forever slowly adding to a book of short stories for adults called Pilgrims and Penitents.

Which character have you enjoyed getting to know while writing THE WONDERLING?
I think my favorite character other than Arthur is Quintus. He’s a rogue, a slyboots, an opportunist, and yet, despite it all, he has a very good heart. Plus, he makes a mean pot of soup.

If you could live in any period in history, what would it be and why?
Definitely the middle ages but I’d have to be a man or I’d get burnt at the stake or locked in a tower somewhere. I’d illuminate manuscripts in an Italian monastery, and sing Gregorian chants. But then, there’s the whole plague thing….on second thought, I’d rather be part of the wild, frenzied, insanely creative bunch of artists during the 20s in Paris OR living in Berlin during the same time.

If you wrote a journal entry today, what would it say
I’d probably say: “Oh, how I miss drawing and playing my harp…but I have so many questions to answer! So many interviews, so little time. Sigh. 

Something or someone you miss the most from childhood?
I miss being in an orchestra. As for people, I’m so lucky that I am in touch with my closest childhood pals. We even get together every year at a cottage on a lake and hang out for a few days. Some of these girls I have known since I was four or five! My sister comes too. It’s a blast.

Who has had the most influence in your life?
Definitely my mother. She was a creative genius, a musical prodigy, and a kind and generous soul who happened to be afflicted with schizophrenia. She ended up homeless for the last 17 years of her life, but after I found her, my sister Natalia and I were fortunate to spend the last month of our mother’s life with her. After her death, when I was sifting through her boxes in storage, I realized even more how deeply we were connected and how much her brilliant mind and tastes in art and music influenced me. And naturally, I understood more profoundly how her terrible illness had influenced me. I think it made me more compassionate a person, and and at times, more guarded. Hers is a very sad story, but like all sad stories, there’s the potential to turn loss into beauty and art, which is what I try to do in my work. There’s a lot of my mom in The Wonderling—her love of music and her humble and kind heart.

When you looked in the mirror first thing this morning, what was the first thing you thought?
What’s with my hair?

Where can readers find you?
On my website (which I hope to redo after my book tour!):
Or on Facebook (Mira Bartok and/or The Wonderling) and twitter @mirabartok

1. The idea came from a quick sketch I made of a one-eared rabbit (that morphed into a fox/dog)

2. There are some secret clues in the book that will be revealed in Book Two. One has to do with the words inscribed in Latin above the town gate of Lumentown. Another clue involves the ancient words carved into the oak table in Pinecone’s house. It’s from the ancient Celtic language of trees called Ogham. There are lots more so stay tuned for Book Two!

3. The wonderful British actress Kate Winslet read the book and loved it. She really wanted to do the audiobook narration but her schedule and the audiobook company’s schedule couldn’t mesh. Hopefully, she’ll do another version or maybe Book Two when the movie comes out. However, we have Simon Vance doing the audio book now, and he’s absolutely brilliant.

4. If you reverse the name of the Norahc, the three headed frog-like creature that ferries Arthur across the river, you will discover the name of a mythological character who ferried the dead across the River Styx. Go look it up. I highly suggest Robert Graves book on Greek myths. It’s a classic.

5. I used to stutter like Number 13/Arthur after I had a serious brain injury in 1999.

6. Pinecone’s mother is named for Cathleen Oakley, my best friend from childhood who I am still friends with.

7. The Man with White Gloves will become a very important character in Book Two. He is a notorious BADDIE! Beware!

8. The idea for Miss Carbunkle’s gigantic orange wig came from an Italian teacher I had in Chicago years ago. She wore a gigantic bright orange wig that often slipped off to the side. She was a very mean teacher, and some of us called her “The Wig” behind her back. Not very nice of us either, I’m afraid!

9. If you take a magnifying glass and examine the illustration of the little coin I drew on page 300, you will find a saying in Latin from ancient Rome that reflects the U.S.’s current political climate. Around the top it says: Auctoritas Non Veritas Facit Legem. Meaning: “Authority, not truth, makes the law.” Yeah. I know. Pretty scary.

10. At the end of the chapter called “Flight,” I slipped in a little reference to Dante’s Inferno at the end. Try to see if you can find it. Then go read Dante’s epic trilogy. If you do, you might even be inspired to move to Italy like I did. Then who knows who you might become?

You can purchase The Wonderling at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you CANDLEWICK for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of The Wonderling by Mira Bartók


  1. My favorite thing to do on a Saturday is to knit and read

  2. "What's your favorite thing to do on a Saturday night?" Sipping tea and eating bon-bons!

  3. dinner out with husband, shopping, and wine