Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Author Claudia Mills shares about the writing of ONE SQUARE INCH

Many years ago now, I met Claudia Mills at a Hodge-Podge Book/Reading Conference in Albany, NY. We started to chat and ended up having breakfast together with another good friend, author Pat Brisson . Then Claudia came to my presentation. She laughed in all  the right places and then everyone else did too! I was forever after charmed. If you don't already know her, you will be charmed, too, after reading her interview below and checking out her web-site and books. She's wise and whimsical! Click here to learn all about Claudia:  www.claudiamillsauthor.com 

Join me in celebrating  with Claudia Mills the soon to be released One Square Inch:

Pre-order ONE SQUARE INCH here:        http://amzn.to/dun54a

From the publisher, Farrar Straus Giroux: Cooper’s grandfather gives him and his little sister, Carly, deeds to square inches of land in the Yukon. Carly uses them to invent her own imaginary kingdom of Inchland—far away from the silence of their home, where their single mother stays in bed all day. When their mom comes out of her season of sadness bursting with sometimes-frightening energy, Carly retreats into Inchland while sixth-grader Cooper tries to control the chaos. But can Cooper really keep Carly—and himself—safe? Ages 10-14  Sept 14, 2010


How did you come to write One Square Inch?

     When my husband was growing up in the 1950s, he participated in the marketing frenzy created by Quaker Oats when they began offering in every box of cereal a deed to one square inch of the Yukon, a tie-in the popular radio program, “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.”  When he first showed his deeds to me, I thought nothing could be more magical than having a claim to such a tiny piece of land, one’s own square inch, with all its possibilities. I knew I wanted to write a book about this someday.

     I knew it would be about a boy and his sister who escape from something difficult in their lives by creating an imaginary world in their one square inch, but I didn’t yet know the source of their need to escape.  Finally, some twenty years later, my own life was touched in a painful way by mental illness.  So then I knew that Cooper and Carly would be trying to create a refuge from their mother’s bipolar disorder, and that they would discover that the only safe place anyone can ever find is the one we create for ourselves within.

You’ve said that this was the hardest book you ever wrote.  Why was that?

     Oh, so many reasons!  For starters, the topic itself had the potential for being simply depressing and painful to read about. While I wanted readers to connect with the sad core of the story, and to be moved by it, I also didn’t want them to refuse to read on because they found the story a “downer.”  So I tried to develop the sweet beauty of Cooper and Carly’s shared fantasy life, as well as creating some humor in the story by setting various scenes in the “Food Fun” class Cooper is taking in middle school, taught by the comical Mr. Costa, whom the kids of course nickname Mr. Pasta.

What other challenges did you find along the way?

     Of all my books, ever, this was the one I had to rewrite the most extensively.  My editor, Margaret Ferguson at FSG, kept telling me, correctly I’m afraid, that the story ran the danger of being too much the story of Cooper’s mother, rather than Cooper’s story.  All the changes I made from my original version of the manuscript were in the service of making this be Cooper’s story. The first thing I did was to kill off Cooper’s father, who had been fairly distant and ineffectual, anyway.  Now Cooper and Carly are alone with their mother as she becomes progressively more ill.  Then (and this broke my heart to do!), I killed off Cooper’s lovely, warm, caring grandmother and turned his lovely, warm, caring grandfather into someone more like his distant, ineffectual father had been – before I killed him off.  Now the peril of Cooper’s situation is intensified, because he doesn’t have the refuge of a concerned, available family member in whom he can confide.  Finally, I changed the book from third person (the voice of almost all of my books) to first person, so that Cooper himself is telling us the story.  So I’ll be eager to hear what readers say now: have I succeeded in making this Cooper’s story?  I hope so!

What else are you working on?

     Next year FSG is publishing the sequel to my chapter book, 7 x 9 = Trouble!, titled Fractions = Trouble!, in which poor Wilson Williams, who struggled so with learning his times tables in the first book, now has to try to master the fiendish difficulty of fractions – worse, with the help of a math tutor.  Wilson is convinced he’s the only kid in the history of Hill Elementary School to have a math tutor – and he’s determined that nobody else ever finds this out.  And I’ve also been working on a humorous series for Random House, about a curmudgeonly boy and his hyper-enthusiastic best friend (sort of a friendship between immovable object and irresistible force).  The first book, Mason Dixon: Pet Disasters, is coming out in March.

Do you have any advice to give aspiring writers?

     Years ago, I read somewhere this pithy thought about writing: “You don’t have an idea until you have two ideas.”  That really came alive for me in writing One Square Inch.  When all I had was the idea for the imaginary world of Inchland, I didn’t yet have a full-fledged idea for a book.  It was when I combined that idea with the idea of writing about a family burdened with mental illness that I could proceed with writing the book.  So: you don’t have an idea until you have two ideas.  Whoever first said that was right!

Claudia's BIO:

Claudia Mills grew up in New Jersey, with her one-year-younger sister. Together they dreamed up the magical kingdoms of Bladen (perfectly round), Maloone (shaped like a star), Socker (shaped like a sock), and Moo (shaped like a cow), ruled by princesses with names like Candleceina and Moonerette. So they had a lot in common with Cooper and Carly in One Square Inch.

In addition to being a children's book author, Claudia is a professor in the philosophy department at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and the mother of two almost-grown-up sons. One Square Inch is her 43rd book for young readers. [Yes, this is Claudia's 43rd book! Hope some of her magic rubs off on us!]

Her magic is sure to rub off on one of you, because she has graciously donated a signed copy of an ARC (Advance Reading Copy) to one of you who writes in and leaves a comment. You can congratulate Claudia on her new book, or for more fun, add what you would call your make believe Inchland if you had those Quaker Oats Certificates.

Claudia's web-site link again--be sure to check out her inspiring blog about a writer's day to day life when you're over there:  www.claudiamillsauthor.com

The lucky winner will be selected by random.org on September 1, 2010!



  1. I really enjoyed this interview and sounds like a great book. I would love to win the ARC!


  2. Thanks for joining the celebration, Margo! I just finished reading my copy of ONE SQUARE INCH. I really love Carly and Cooper and how brave they are, and I know you will, too!

  3. The Tiny World of Bits - my inch land title. :)

    Great interview! I applaud you for writing about mental illness from a child's pov. A difficult subject but a necessary one.

    Please put me in the ARC running!

  4. Claudia, I love the cover of One Square Inch and I love the advice - You don't have one idea until you have two- and thanks for your explanation of that- it helped make sense of it for me.
    Thanks for your blog and enthusiasm for writers and their craft.
    I love you both!

  5. Love you, Pat Brisson! Thanks for your pearls! xo

  6. Hi Karen, Thanks for adding your own Inchland title. You'll want to create a whole world after you read the book.

    You're in the running for the ARC, Karen!

  7. I love this: You don't have an idea until you have two ideas. It is so brilliantly Claudia!

  8. Susan, I agree; it is so brilliantly Claudia! Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Prernatutors--Thanks for visiting and taking the time to leave a comment! Glad that you enjoyed the blog.

  10. This sounds like such a great book. Thanks to Claudia for sharing her experience with us :D

  11. Thanks SonshineMusic! It is a great book. You're in the running for the ARC, too!

  12. Hi Clara,
    Great interview. ONE SQUARE INCH sounds like a fascinating book.
    Claudia's advice about needing two ideas is a keeper.
    Donna V.

  13. So nice of you to stop by, Donna (irishoma) Claudia's writing tip has really connected with a lot of writers.

  14. Fantastic advice that two ideas make a book. I love it! Great interview Clara. So much fun to meet all these talented authors. 43 books - Wow!

  15. Hi Jen, Thanks so much for stopping by! Congratulations on your new book, too!

  16. Thanks, everyone, for stopping by!

  17. And thank YOU, Claudia! It was a special treat for me.

  18. Clara, you've done it again. An excellent interview, and I love the premise of Claudia's book and the idea of two ideas knocking together. Very true. I hope she writes books about Candleceina and Moonerette sometime. :)

    And I wanna win an arc!

  19. Thanks for leaving a comment, Toby! I vote that Claudia writes a book about Candleceina and Moonerette, too! Those names capture the imagination, don't they?

    Yup, your name is added for a chance to win the ARC!

  20. My sister was the one who thought up all the best bits in our shared fantasy life, so maybe she and I can write the Candlecina book together.

  21. A tiny make believe world sounds wonderful. I asked my kindergarten daughter and she said she would call her Inchland "Little Leaf Land."

  22. Looks like a great book! Can't wait to read it. :)

  23. I look forward to reading this book with my class, I hope I win.


  24. Dear Brimful of Curiosities,

    I think your kindergarten daughter has a great imagination. "Little Leaf Land" is delightful!

  25. Claudia, How sweet--a sister duo! You must ask her right away!

  26. Dear Sonflower and Love2Teach2day--Thanks for stopping by to leave a comment. You're both in the drawing for a chance to win the autographed ARC of ONE SQUARE INCH. Good luck!

  27. My first grader takes things very literally, and we just talked about inches today for his math lesson, and his green lego was an inch long. So when I asked him what he would call his "Inchland" he said Greenland. Obviously we haven't gotten far enough in Georgraphy yet, LOL:)
    Congrats on the book!

  28. Karen, Thanks for sharing the sweet story about your first grader! Greenland is perfect.

  29. I enjoyed reading this interview! Please include me!

    nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

  30. Hi Nancye, Thanks for dropping by to leave a comment for Claudia! (Thanks, too, for joining the blog!) Your name goes in for the drawing of the ARC!

  31. Thanks to all of you for sharing your comments and HUGE thanks to Clara for letting me visit on her blog. She makes everything so much fun, doesn't she?

  32. You're so sweet, Claudia, in addition to being wise and whimsical! Thank YOU for your wonderful books and writing wisdom!