In the Spotlight: Leila Howland

May 6th, 2015

There are few things I enjoy more than shining a spotlight on authors and books that I love. I have a treat for you all today — Leila Howland is stopping by my blog to dish about her delightful new book The Forget-Me-Not Summer.

LeilaHowlandsmallLeila Howland

Isn’t she gorgeous? Talented, too. Leila is best known for her YA novels Nantucket Blue and Nantucket Red, but she’s got something new up her sleeve for readers this Spring, with the release of her first middle-grade novel.

For anyone who has sisters (that would be me, the eldest and bossiest of three), for anyone who’s ever dreamed of a summer on Cape Cod, I guarantee you’ll fall head-over-heels in love with The Forget-Me-Not Summer. I did, right from the moment I first met Marigold and Zinnia and Lily. How could I resist a trio of sisters with names like these?

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Q:  So Leila, tell us a bit about how this book came about.

A:  Several years ago I rescued a puppy. He needed two long walks a day around my Los Angeles neighborhood. On one of our walks I saw a girl I recognized from a TV show, hanging out with her friends from school. She was so poised and stylish, and I wondered what it would be like to be her. Then I thought, even more interesting, what would it be like to be her quirky little sister? Even though I’d lived in L.A. for years, for the first time I was really noticing the flowers in my neighbors’ beautiful gardens. I started looking up the names of the flowers and before I knew it Marigold, Zinnia and Lily had started to come to life in my imagination. 

 Q:  Your previous books – Nantucket Blue and Nantucket Red – were young adult novels. What drew you to middle grade? Were there any particular surprises/challenges in writing for this audience?

 A:  I absolutely love writing for teenagers. However, teenagers tend be more inwardly focused than tweens. After reading a lot of YA, I rediscovered a love for the more outwardly focused middle grade fiction. I loved connecting to a character’s search for meaning in the wider world. I started with Walk Two Moons [by Sharon Creech], moved on to When You Reach Me [by Rebecca Stead], and then I was hooked! Although I wouldn’t say it surprises me, I am continually in awe of how deep and profound middle grade fiction often is.   

 Q:  Your books (at least so far) are all set in New England – Nantucket and now Cape Cod, to be exact. Is this setting particularly meaningful for you?

 A:  I grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, and spent many summer days in small coastal towns in New England. There is something so unique and idyllic about New England in the summertime. Now I live so far from there. The Los Angeles summers are brutally hot and dry and I long for those small town New England moments. Writing about them is a way for me to be there in spirit.

 Q:  Let’s talk about family dynamics. The Forget-Me-Not Summer features three sisters (I was the eldest of three sisters, by the way!). Where were you in the sibling lineup? What prompted you to write about three sisters?

 A:  I grew up with an older brother, Gifford, and a younger sister, Maryhope. (And later in life I was lucky enough to acquire an amazing younger stepsister, Elizabeth.)  While Gifford and I were always relatively harmonious together, my relationship with Maryhope could be a little fraught. I wasn’t always the nicest big sister. As an adult I also know that some of that behavior stemmed from me trying to negotiate my place in the world and forge my own identity. I thought that tension would be rich material for a middle grade novel and a fun and meaningful way to honor the close bond that Maryhope and I now share.

 Q:  Is there an Aunt Sunny in your life?

 A:  I was lucky enough to grow up with my Great Aunt Dot, who lived just down the street from us in Providence. We had tea together every afternoon. Just like Aunt Sunny, she was a science teacher for many years. She was the kindest and wisest person I have ever met. A few summers ago when I was doing research for Nantucket Blue, I connected with an old friend and colleague of hers who lives on the island. She made me laugh as she told me stories about growing up on Nantucket. She also brought memories of Aunt Dot vividly to life. I knew I had to write about a smart, funny and wise great aunt.

 Q:  Favorite books when you were Zinnia and Marigold’s age?

 My favorite book hands down was Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt. I must have read it ten times.

 Q:  What are you reading now?

 A:  The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. One day I’d love to write a novel in verse. I bet it’s a lot harder than it looks.

Q:  Favorite thing about being a writer?

A:  Letters from readers!

Q:  What’s next for you, writing-wise?

A: Readers can look for a sequel to The Forget-Me-Not Summer, which will be out next year. It’s called The Brightest Stars of Summer, featuring the Silver sisters back in Pruet for another season of fun in the sun!

Q:  Anything else we haven’t covered that you’d care to share?

A:  I’m obsessed with the new ice cream store near my house. It’s called Salt & Straw and they have the craziest flavors. My favorite one so far is almond brittle with salted ganache. 

Ooo, Salt & Straw! I know it well — it actually started here in Portland, Oregon. You have to try their Honey Lavender!  Yum…

Thanks so much, Leila, for stepping into the spotlight and visiting with us today! And now, my friends, a giveaway: a copy of The Forget-Me-Not Summer awaits one of you — just leave a comment below, sharing one of your favorite summer memories with us. Winners will be chosen at random at midnight on May 17th. US and Canada only, please. Share this giveaway on your blog or Facebook or Twitter or other social media for additional entries. (And if you tweet or blog or otherwise share on social media, please leave a link in the comments below so I can assign you an extra entry.) 

 

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