Interview with Diana Leszczynski, author of "Fern Verdant and the Silver Rose"
This is my first author interview and basically, I am an excited fan asking questions about things that I would like to hear the answers to. I hope that my interests are somewhat universal and that my interview skills develop over time so that this is not my first and last author interview ever... If you read this interview before reading Fern Verdant & the Silver Rose, thank you! If not, please be sure to come back to it after you finish reading this remarkable new book! You will want to know the nuts and bolts as well as the inspiration behind the story.
Do you read children's literature, if so, what?
Yes, I read children’s literature and adult literature, and any literature I can get my hands on. I read old and new. Most recently, I finished Hoot; which I liked a great deal. I am looking forward to Scat. Carl Hiaasen’s sense of humor is great. I read The Penderwicks, which I loved because it took me back, tonally, to books I read as a child. One of my favorites is Holes.
What were your favorite chapter books as a child?
Alice in Wonderland, Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven Series, Noel Streatfield’s Ballet Shoes, Tom Sawyer and Treasure Island. Mostly, I loved adventures and travels to new and exciting places; be they real or imagined. I also liked the Nancy Drew series, just because I love ferreting out a mystery.
Have any authors influenced you as a writer?
Lewis Carrol, for the adventure and absurdity. Dicken’s characters are inspiring, and right now, because I think they’re brilliant, I’m trying to figure out how Kate Atkinson, David Sedaris and Ian McEwan can influence me.
How did you come up with the idea for Fern's gift - the ability to communicate with plants?
So many things combined to come up with the concept. It seemed to me that Fern’s mother, as a super-botanist, must have a special skill in order to make her a super botanist. As a woman whose mission it was to save dying species, what could be more powerful than to be able to hear the cries of failing plants all around the world. Also, people talk to animals. Some people talk to their plants to encourage them to grow. I just wondered, what they would answer back, and what would they think of us?
I was born in England and one of my first strong memories, from when I was very small, is of a television show called Bill and Ben, The Flower Pot Men. In it an anthropomorphosized weed, named Weed, shouts out one single word, Weeeeeeed! In one of my favorite books, Alice in Wonderland, in the Through the Looking Glass book, Alice has a lengthy conversation with plants, and that image always stayed with me.
Did you worry about making Henry Saagwalla too evil and creepy for readers and parents?
No, I really didn’t. Henry had a back story which did not make it into this book, and in that back story we see that he is the way he is because of something bad that happened to him. He was not always that way.
Your writing is so descriptive and visual that I have to assume you have a pretty fair knowledge of the plant world. Is that an accurate assumption?
My mother is British, and like most Brits, loves her garden. Summers were spent in the garden, and winters were spent cultivating an indoor garden. We were always surrounded by plants. While I don’t live in a place that has an outdoor space, I do have an indoor garden.
I was fortunate to spend several months in Sri Lanka, one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen, and much of the description for that segment comes from my memory of that magnificent island.
I love flowers and plants and greenery. Right now I have a dozen giant sunflowers smiling at me from across the room.
How did you decide to make Fern turn 13 in the course of the story? Why not 10 or 12?
It seems to me that thirteen is an age when we begin to look at the world differently. We are lurching towards adulthood. Thirteen is a time of great change. By developing the gift at the age of thirteen, it goes hand in hand with becoming more responsible and viewing the world in a less innocent fashion. The gift itself is a huge responsibility.
I have to say, at the end of the book I was really sad that Lily lost her ability to communicate with plants and that that was no longer a bond that mother and daughter could share. Because it was a kid's book I thought maybe there might be a reversal at some point, but there wasn't. Was that a hard decision to make, taking away Lily's power? And having Fern wipe any memory of it from her? I have to admit, I am hoping for a sequel but also a little worried for Fern and her talent without her mother there to guide her.
(OK, I got pretty attached to Fern...)
Fern grows during the course of this story, and when she makes that decision to wipe away the memory of Lily’s gift, I thought of it as a very caring and loving thing to do. She wanted to protect her mother from a life of sadness; from missing the gift and having that sorrow color her life. Any future Fern story will center around Fern attempting to discover the source of the gift, so that she might somehow have it returned to her mother. Also, having this disconnect between Fern and Lily is symbolic of the disconnect that can occur between teenage girls and their mothers.
You do a remarkable job of presenting earth friendly lifestyle choices and ideas, as well as illustrating, through the character of Henry Saagwalla, the ways in which humans destroy nature. As a reader and environmentally conscious person, I appreciated your descriptions and laughed a little bit to myself at some of them (Lily's heels that go down instead of up - Earth shoes!). How did you maintain what to me seems a fine balance between presenting these ideas and choices without being dogmatic or ironic?
Thank you. That’s a lovely compliment. I don’t like messages being hammered home, and because of the nature of the story (excuse the pun), the message came through organically (excuse the second pun). I also feel that serious issues can often be dealt with with humor, and lessons learned may be more memorable because of that humor.
Do you care to talk about your stance on the environment and living a green life and how it came to be part of your book? Does it really matter?
I just don’t like to see any living thing destroyed, be they plants or animals. I recycle. I am part of a compost collective. I rescue plants and our cat, the wonderful Mouse, is a rescue cat.
Why did you make Olivier Verdant French?
I grew up in Canada; an English/French bilingual country, so French was always somewhere in our consciousness. Lily and Olivier have a wonderful deep love, and when I think of love, I think of Paris. Also, the French have such a long standing regard for botany and the medicinal properties of plants, as is evident with the Jardin des Plantes.
Will there be more books for Fern in the future?
That is my hope. There is still so much more to tell.
Do you have any other book ideas you are working on?
I do. I have two that I am zooming ahead on. Well, zoom and sputter and segue; then zoom sputter and segue some more.
What would you like readers to know about you, or do you prefer to remain anonymous?
Anonymous, which is the name of our cat, shortened to Mouse.
Are there any little tidbits or details about the characters from "Fern Verdant" that didn't make it into the book that you would like to share with the readers?
As I mentioned earlier, I chose to edit out the longer version of Saagwalla’s back story, as it interrupted the flow. I really had a brilliant experience with my editor, Michelle Frey. The editing process was brief and beautiful and nothing went missing.
To wrap it up, I'd like to say, above all else, thank you to Diana for answering my questions and thank you thank you for adding this book to the shelves! Your responses expanded and deepened my enjoyment of Fern Verdant & the Silver Rose as well as eased my fears for Fern and Lily. I eagerly look anticipate more books starring Fern and those two that you are zooming and sputtering on. And, a book influenced by David Sedaris - especially if it is for young adults - will definitely be something to look forward to! My family and I are huge fans of his and often fall asleep listening to his audiobooks.