Friday, August 23, 2019

Michelle Knudsen Interview - Curse of the Evil Librarian

Photo Credit: Alvaro Keding)

Michelle Knudsen is a New York Times best-selling author of more than 45 books for young readers, including the award-winning picture book Library Lion, which has been translated into more than fourteen languages, is currently being performed as a musical stage production in Israel, the UK, and South Africa, and was selected by Time Magazine as one of the Best 100 Children's Books of All Time. She is also the author of the Trelian trilogy of fantasy novels (The Dragon of Trelian, The Princess of Trelian, and The Mage of Trelian) and the young adult novel Evil Librarian, which was awarded the 2015 Sid Fleischman Award for Humor. Her most recent picture book is Marilyn's Monster, illustrated by Matt Phelan. Next up is the third book in her YA Evil Librarian trilogy, CURSE OF THE EVIL LIBRARIAN, coming in August 2019. Michelle also works as a freelance editor and writing teacher, and is a member of the Writing for Young People MFA faculty at Lesley University. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.


What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
I loved school, but I think some of the greatest things I learned were outside of the classroom. Probably the most important things were about friendship and community—how essential it is to have true friends you can count on (and who can count on you), and how valuable it can be to find communities close to your heart. My best friends from high school are still my best friends today, and the groups I became a part of, especially theater and performing groups, played a big part in shaping the person I turned out to be.

What was your favorite book as a child and why?
I had two favorite books as a child: Mog the Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr, and The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle. I didn’t know at the time why I loved them so much, except perhaps for the delightful pictures, but looking back, I think it’s because both of those main characters had some serious flaws. Mog was always annoying everyone with her forgetfulness, and the grouchy ladybug was, well, kind of a total jerk. But Mog’s family loved her anyway, no matter what, and even the grouchy ladybug eventually found companionship thanks to the kindness of another ladybug. Those themes of unconditional love and kindness (even for those who might seem hard to be kind to) are really important to me, and they show up a lot in my own books today. 

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to have a life in writing?
The most important advice is the simplest: read and write as much as you can. Read everything—fiction in all genres, nonfiction, poetry, essays, short stories, etc. Don’t only read the kinds of things you want to write (although yes, of course, read lots of that too!) but read widely and voraciously, feeding your mind all different kinds of voices and words and styles and information. And write everything, too. Even if you know you want to be a novelist, try writing short stories and poetry (everyone should definitely write poetry at some point in their lives) and nonfiction. Get to know your own voice(s) by writing in different styles and for different audiences. The more you write the better you get at it. Even if what you’re writing seems terrible at times (and it will; it always does sometimes), just the very act of writing is helping you improve. And you can learn so much from your own mistakes! Just keep going. Actually, that’s probably the most important piece of advice of all: just keep going. Don’t stop, don’t give up, don’t get discouraged (at least not for long). The only sure way to never become a writer is to give up.

Your newest book is CURSE OF THE EVIL LIBRARIAN (EVIL LIBRARIAN #3); can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about the novel?
Curse of the Evil Librarian is the third and final book in the Evil Librarian trilogy. In the first book, we met Cyn Rothschild: a normal high school junior who has her world turned upside down when her best friend, Annie, falls under the spell of an evil demon masquerading as the new school librarian, Mr. Gabriel. Cyn, who thought her biggest problems were going to be designing the set for the school musical (Sweeney Todd) and getting Ryan Halsey (who plays the lead) to notice her, suddenly has to save Annie and the entire high school from demons while still tech-directing the musical and handling her very serious crush. Luckily, Cyn discovers she has an unusual kind of demon-resistance that gives her a fighting chance. This special ability also draws the attention of other demons, however, and Cyn ends up making a deal with one of them that requires her to return to the demon world twice more when called upon in the future. Mr. Gabriel turns out to be a hard monster to kill, which is how he’s managed to keep coming back in each book to torment our heroes anew.

Book 2 takes place at theater camp (inspired by my own experiences at theater camp in my teens, although we never had any demons show up that I know of), and in book 3 they’re back in high school. Now it’s senior year, and Cyn and friends are pretty sure that all their evil-demon woes are behind them ... but, of course, that turns out not to be the case. Mr. Gabriel places a curse on Ryan, and the only way for Cyn to try to save him—and to try to destroy Mr. Gabriel once and for all—is to go down to the demon world one more time. But this time, she’s not alone.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Ryan?
Ryan started out as the kind of perfect fantasy-boy I might have daydreamed about in high school. The kind of boy I could stare at for hours and who could turn my brain to jelly just by saying hello to me. But the more I got to know him, the more I realized there was much more to Ryan than just his very charming exterior. He’s got his own vulnerabilities and insecurities, and sometimes he makes bad choices, and sometimes he screws up and says or does completely the wrong thing. The less “perfect” he became, the more I liked him. He’s real and flawed (like Mog and the grouchy ladybug!) and those things are part of what makes him who he is. 

Aside from Cynthia, which of your characters do you feel has grown the most since book one and in what way have they changed?
Annie has definitely grown a lot since the first book. I think everything she endured in book one made her a much stronger person, and also helped her let go of some of the constraints she let other people put on her behavior. Annie felt she had to live up to certain expectations of who she was—especially ideas about being a “good” girl—and in books two and three we see her moving beyond that image and testing out her own ideas of who she is and how she wants to be.

Which character have you enjoyed getting to know the most over the course of writing the EVIL LIBRARIAN Series?
Oh, that’s a hard one. I’ve enjoyed getting to know all of these characters so much! But I think if I had to choose someone, it might have to be Peter. I wasn’t sure who he was going to be exactly when he showed up in book two—I wasn’t even sure whether he was good or evil!—and there’s something just really fun about writing him. I love his relationship with Cyn and how dedicated he is (often selfishly so) to his own personal dreams and desires. He’s definitely far from perfect, but as I’m starting to see, flawed characters are usually my favorites. 

There’s another character from book two who I enjoyed getting to know better in book three, but I can’t say anything about that without giving too much away. :)

If you could introduce Cynthia to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I’d love to introduce her to other young women learning to deal with power and difficult choices. My first thought was any of Kristin Cashore’s heroines (Katsa, Fire, Bitterblue). I also thought of Ista from Lois McMaster Bujold’s adult fantasy Paladin of Souls (one of my favorite books ever). Ista has a completely different relationship with demons (and gods) in addition to being just an amazing and strong and fascinating character. I’d also love to introduce her to Meg in my own Trelian fantasy trilogy. I think they could learn a lot from each other!

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I’ve got two new novels in the works now. I don’t like to share details before a book is pretty far along, so I’ll just say that one is a YA fantasy romance/adventure very loosely inspired by a folktale, and the other is a middle grade fantasy about magic and friendship and impossible worlds. I’m also working (slowly!) on several new picture books.

Here are 10 of my favorite fantasy worlds. There are others, but these are the first 10 favorites that came to mind, in no particular order:

  • Lois McMaster Bujold’s World of the Five Gods
  • N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth world
  • Piers Anthony’s Xanth (I read the first nine or so of these over and over endlessly as a kid)
  • Kristin Cashore’s Graceling Realm
  • Robin Hobb’s Six Duchies (in the Farseer Trilogy)
  • Robert Asprin’s Myth world (this choice might be partly nostalgia; I loved these so hard growing up)
  • Tad Williams’s cat-world in Tailchaser’s Song
  • Laini Taylor’s Weep (well, and the whole world in these books, really) in Strange the Dreamer and Muse of Nightmares
  • Megan Whelan Turner’s Sounis (the world of The Queen’s Thief series)
  • Stephen King’s Mid-World (in his Gunslinger books)
If animals could talk, which would be the rudest?
I suspect seagulls.

What is the most embarrassing thing you have ever worn? 
Probably almost anything from the 80s and early 90s. I had a huge black hoodie with assorted buttons pinned to it that I used to wear almost every day in high school—that was pretty bad (more for the daily wearing than the hoodie itself, I think). Images of various neon accessories also come to mind.

When you looked in the mirror first thing this morning, what was the first thing you thought?
Wow, I look tired.

If you could go back in time to one point in your life, where would you go?
I’m not sure I would want to go back. It might be fun to peek back at younger-me to relive some fun memories, but I don’t think I’d want to interfere or change anything. It’s too hard to know what the outcome of any such changes would be!

What was a time in your life when you were really scared?
I was in a 60-car pile-up on a Queens highway in the late 90s that was very scary. There was black ice on the road and no one could stop or turn or anything. I still remember when we could see we were going to slide right into the car in front of us—time seemed to slow down and we couldn’t do anything but sit there, horrified, trying to brace for the impact. (We were fine, and only lost the car, but in those long terrible seconds before we hit, there was no way to know what was going to happen.) 

Who was the last person you slow danced with?
My wonderful boyfriend, in his living room. :)

Will it finally be curtains for the demonic Mr. Gabriel in this climactic chapter of the Evil Librarian series?

After sending the evil librarian, Mr. Gabriel, back to the demon world once and for all at theater camp last summer, Cynthia is ready to enjoy a completely demon-free senior year of high school, especially once she learns the fall musical will be Les Mis�rables. She can't wait to create the most incredible barricade set design in all of high-school theater. And her boyfriend, Ryan, is sure to land his dream role of Javert. But down in the demon realm, an epic mishandling of Mr. Gabriel's essence leads to his escape -- and soon he's gathering strength, bent once again on revenge against Cyn and everyone she loves. Best-selling author Michelle Knudsen's Evil Librarian series overflows with horror, humor, and hot guys -- and it looks like this show's got a third act.


Fun closer to the best musical theater demon trilogy around. —Kirkus Reviews

After the bloodbath of the series’ second volume, Knudsen lightens up on the gore (though there are a few violent demonic encounters) and allows Cyn’s acerbic wit and WTF attitude to shine through. —Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

As ever, there’s a lot of Buffy-worthy silliness and snark grounded by a strong foundation of well-developed characters and relationships. Cyn and Ryan’s sweet romance and one last pitch-perfect musical number round out the satisfying conclusion to this horror-comedy saga— although Cyn’s foreboding dreams/visions at book’s end suggest there may be an encore. —The Horn Book

Curse of the Evil Librarian is a fast, funny, and irreverent almost-end to the series. —Foreword Reviews

You can purchase Curse of the Evil Librarian at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you MICHELLE KNUDSEN for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Curse of the Evil Librarian (Evil Librarian #3) by Michelle Knudsen.