Interview with Heather Dixon Wallwork, author of THE ENCHANTED SONATA (+ a giveaway!)
I am so excited on this Marvelous Middle Grade Monday to welcome Heather Dixon Wallwork, author of Entwined, Illusionarium, and The Enchanted Sonata. She's been one of my favorite authors for years, and I'm especially enjoying sharing her stories now with my daughters. Today we chat about the power of music, maintaining a creativity balancing act, the ties between faith and creativity--and more! Bonus #1: Heather shared lots of her gorgeous artwork for us to enjoy on this post. Bonus #2: We're giving away a copy of The Enchanted Sonata! (Details at the end of the post.)
Hello, Heather, and welcome! I have to admit, I've been fan-girling over your books and illustrations (your comic-style stories on your blog are my go-to rainy day therapy) for such a long time that I might be just a little bit freaking out right now. (I'll try to hold it in and pretend I'm a normal person.)
HDW: Hahaha. Back atcha ;)
Let's talk first about your newest book, The Enchanted Sonata, a historical fantasy re-imagining of The Nutcracker. What did you enjoy most about writing this story? How was it especially meaningful to you?
HDW: Oh gosh, I loved everything about writing the story. Learning more about Imperial Russia (what a rich history!), studying the Ballet, getting to know the characters as I developed them. My favorite thing, though, was the music. I loved listening to Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff and trying to put those emotions and music notes into words. I grew up playing the piano and flute and I loved returning to that. My oldest sister, Katie, was a huge inspiration as well--she was an incredible pianist, and I would wake up in the mornings hearing her play. A lot of Clara is based on her. She has since passed away from cancer, so writing Clara's character was bittersweet.
You write beautifully in The Enchanted Sonata of the power of music; I know that you also studied music before choosing a career in the visual arts and writing. Do you still find time for music? And how do you balance all the various forms of art in your life?
HDW: I still find a little! If I can fit in 15 minutes of piano a day, I'm pretty happy about it. I'm also trying to learn the ukelele and--don't laugh--how to yodel. My husband can yodel. We went on a road trip a couple of weeks ago and he brought his "You Can Yodel" CD, and I practiced along with it. Poor guy, he was trapped We decided it was going to take a while longer than just a car ride.
I once heard somewhere that balancing everything in your life is like that spinning plates act--you have to keep running to every plate and spin it to keep them from falling over. I think the key is to find which plates you're willing to balance. If they're all falling over, time to get rid of some plates. The book "Get It Done" by Sam Bennett was a great resource--she talks about how to do important tasks in 15 minutes at a time. That was a big game-changer for me. Starting is the hardest part, and if I tackle something without reserve, I usually can get a good chunk done in 15 minutes.
The world-building in your stories is always so incredible; it's clear your research muscles are strong. :) Did you come across any interesting bits of research that didn't make it into your final draft?
HDW: My word, thank you! I loved researching for this book. I watched documentaries on the Romanovs (crazy history), and learned everything I could about Imperial Russia. My best resource was a book called "The Court of the Last Tsar". That really went into the nitty gritty details. For example, if the Tsar wanted to get a gift for his wife, there was a giant room in the Palace full of gifts. He'd pick one out and have it wrapped for her. Another detail: the Romanov jewels were heavily guarded in the treasury, and if the Empress want to wear a necklace, she had to check it out--like at the library--have the receipt, and return it after she was finished. It was a very structured lifestyle.
So, I read an awesome interview with you, in which you mentioned that your faith plays a large role in your life as a creator. To me, faith and creativity are intrinsically linked (since we're made in the image of God the Creator). Would you care to share about how your faith influences your life as a creative person? And does your creativity influence your faith?
HDW: I think you are exactly right. I also strongly believe that God wants and expects us to create beautiful things. I've had many experiences where I'm stuck on a project, and after seeking divine help, the answer strikes me (hard) and I'm able to create something better than I even expected. Another thing I have discovered, as a creative--if I hold myself to really high standards in my creative work, He helps me keep them. I always figured out what I can have my characters say instead of profanity, or how to avoid going into morally gray area theme-wise. It always turns into a better story.
How does my creativity affect my faith? I really like this question! I've noticed I can approach things like prayer or reaching out to others in more creative ways. It's also very humbling; creative work isn't like math, where 2+2 is always 4. There's ALWAYS some way to improve, which is both disheartening and exciting.
We also have a background of big families in common. :) I'm one of five, which I always considered a tiny family, since my dad was the oldest of twelve. I have six children now, and my life is full of wonderful big families and so, so many wonderful children. There's a perfidious stereotype out there that children in big families don't get much individual attention (I mean, I totally got to talk to my mom one-one-one at least twice a year! Kidding, kidding...) and can't possibly thrive as much as their peers in smaller families. On the other hand, some of my friends with big families do struggle to incorporate creative pursuits into their already-busy lives. Was art a big part of your very big family life growing up? Do you have any advice for large families hoping to bring more creativity into their days? (Sorry for the insanely long lead-up to a fairly simple question!)
HDW: Hahaha I love hearing about your families! Big families are so wonderful--I feel grateful every day I was able to grow up with a lot of brothers and sisters. I guess it's true you don't get much one-on-one time with the parents, but as siblings, we did get a lot of one-on-one time with each other. It was my older brother who got me into drawing (my parents weren't artists), and my older sister whose bedtime stories gave me a passion for storytelling, and another brother who convinced me to pursue storyboarding anyway, even though the university that taught it wouldn't accept me. (They later did.) I owe a lot to my siblings.
I'd say the best way to foster creativity in a large family is to let the siblings create together. Your siblings will give you the best ideas and encouragement...and also tell you if what you're doing is awful. They are unfiltered like that haha. In many ways they're much better than parents for creativity.
One last question, because I can't resist: what's your favorite Mary Poppins song? :)
HDW: Ask me to pick a star in the sky...I can't pick one! I love "Chim Chiminy," "Step in Time," and "Spoonful of Sugar." But they are all amazing
Thank you so much for joining me, Heather! Keep writing awesome stories and making beautiful art!
HDW: Thank you, Faith! I love your work as well! It is such an honor to be a part of your blog ^_^
Heather has generously offered to send a copy of The Enchanted Sonata to one lucky U.S. blog reader! To enter, just leave a comment below and tell us your favorite Nutcracker piece or fairy tale retelling. Bonus points for following Heather (@story_monster) and me (@faithhough42) on Instagram--just let me know in your comment. I'll pick a winner next Monday (March 25). Good luck, and happy reading!