In the Spotlight: Leila Howland

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?



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.) 


19 thoughts on “In the Spotlight: Leila Howland”

  1. Ooo Cape Cod! I love stories set in my home town (like this one!) because it gives you a new outlook on a place you have become so accustomed to, and just in time for summer! I don’t think you’re ever too old for a good middle school read, perfect for the beach 🙂 Being away at school just makes you a bit more appreciative of home, and I can’t wait to get back to the beach 🙂

  2. Favorite Memory? wow that’s hard!
    Well, as silly as it may seem, I just like being home for the summer, being able to spend time with my family and firends, and of course pets! I loved thos evenings where its so nice ouside, and but even though its already 7pm, you don’t have to worry about school or work or much of anything else! That’s what I love. 🙂

  3. Oh that book sounds amazing! I’ll definitely enter the giveaway! Although, I have loads of memories to share so I’ll have to share this on all my social media!!

  4. Hmm… this is a hard one. I don’t know if this is considered summer since it was in September and October. My mom, my sister, and myself where visiting my grandma and grandpa since my grandma was really sick. I had so many sleepovers with my cousin/best friend. We stayed up late talking every time she came over to our grandparents house. She even got to stay over for a four day weekend. We became super close that trip( we where close before but not this close). The ending is sad because our grandma died. We went to the funeral together and cried together. It was a bittersweet time but its the best one I can think of.
    How was New York? Did you win?

  5. My favorite summer memory is when I met my best friend Lottie! She had just moved across the the street from us, she came from Berlin. My sister and I went to introduce our selves but she didn’t speak much English so we did a lot of had gestures! We were with each other that whole summer playing in the day and sleepovers at night. She and her family had to move back to Germany later that year but we still keep in touch! That summer changed my life for the better.:)

  6. My favorite summer memory is when we went to the James River ( I live in Virginia), and I got to sit on the rocks with my friends and family, and I was actually reading and MDBC book. It was so nice to feel the waves crashing on my feet, and the breeze blowing nicely.

  7. The second time I went to the California Science Center with my best friend, Diana, I came upon the Endeavor. It was so cool looking and it was fun learning facts about it. It was a perfect day when we went. The sun was shining and it was fun spending time with my friend. One of the highlights of the trip besides looking at the space shuttle, was taking notes about it! I was learning a lot and enjoying myself as well! When all of a sudden, someone who worked in the museum, gave my mom a set of bookmarks for me because she observed how well I took notes. It was so nice! I had no idea a person could win bookmarks about space shuttles just for taking notes! My best friend won a set too for asking an important question! She loves to learn as well. It was a really great summer memory that I always keep close to my heart. The best part was discovering the space shuttle the Endeavor with my best friend.

  8. New England?! Somehow they always have the best stories set in New England (The Penderwicks and of course the MDBC!! )
    My favorite summer memories are the ones I get to enjoy every single year…. Sitting on the beach on a warm summer day reading one of my favorite books. It’s like heaven on earth to me!!!

  9. My favorite summer memory is going to a small community pool near my house. My family would go with some great family friends of ours and afterwards we would go over to their house. Once we got there, us kids would either set up a makeshift lemonade stand, ride bikes down these huge dirt mounds behind their house, kick a soccer ball around in the dirt, or just sit around in the super hot sun. That is what I love about summer.

  10. my favorite summer memory happened when i went to summer camp each day i would wake up refreshed and ready for something fun and new to happen. the Pocono mountains were a wonderful haven as if we could all shed our outside troubles and have a care free summer it was the best feeling knowing nothing but happiness and bliss awaited me

  11. Hmm, I have some many favorite summer memories! One of them is living in my hometown in northern california were if we were lucky got up to 72 degrees (which is pretty warm for north cali) but when it did get warm, my best friend and I would run through the sprinklers with our siblings spending the afternoon laughing and joking. I remember the feeling of the wet grass under my feet and you could practically smell the sun’s rays. Its a really simple memory but a very special one. <3 what one of your special summer memory's with your friends? are you still friends with your middle school class mates?

  12. i’ve shared this post on google+ so this is my next entry. 🙂

    one of the memories I have is going to visit family in L.A when I was in 3rd grade. We went to an art museum and looked at all the extravagant pieces of art, some of which I didn’t understand and others were just really beautiful. afterwards, we had gone to yummy mexican restaurant. it had an outdoor eating space that was full of HUGE mosaics, the tables were mosaics, the benches were mosaics and anything that wasn’t a colorful mosaic, was re-purposed art. lots of huts and sculptures were made of old kids toy or cans, a roof to a small hut was made entirely out of bottle caps and so many more things of that sort.
    Do you remember taking any trips for summer vacation when you were in highschool? oh and will you announce the winner to this giveaway in a post?

  13. heehee, this is my last comment! 😉 (Ive shared this post on twitter as well!)

    this memory was actually last year.
    My sister and I were still adjusting to our new home and looking for friends in the neighborhood. there was 1 girl my sister’s age, and one my age (13 last year) and a 15 year old girl. so they were all girls. I tried reaching out to them inviting them to my house or going to theirs, and I never really got anywhere. A couple times last summer I heard them playing with water balloons and using sprinklers and fun stuff like that. my sister had went with her friend and I went along so I could be with the two girls. they were nice and nevr rude, we talked but they never wanted to come over to hang out with me. they once saw that i had a huge pool in my yard and kept dropping hints that they “soooooo” wish someone had a pool, even though they knew I had one. I stayed quiet and never said anything, because I didn’t want to be used for my pool. I didn’t try after that. and even though it’s not a fun memory i learned how to find out who your friends are and not everyone is going to like you just because your kind. It was a learning summer for me.
    did you ever run into becca chadwick’s when you were in high/middle school?
    Sorry for this long comment! thanks for reading!

  14. This looks so good!
    My favorite summer memory is probably going to VBS with my cousins. We went every year until we were too old, and had a blast. I remember when our moms came to pick us up, we’d get icecream or go to the pool for the rest of the day. Sometimes my cousins and I would end up having a sleepover! It was one of the best times of the summer. 🙂

  15. Treating ourselves to soft serve at the Whippi Dip ( love the name!) while on our annual camping trip in Michigan.

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