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.)

Enjoy, everyone!


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 πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚  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 πŸ˜

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!

Comments

  1. Thanks for the insightful interview full of interesting questions and answers from Heather. I probably wouldn't pick up this book for myself, but I have two ballerina loving nieces who can't get enough of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies.

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    1. Ah, they'd love it. :) Thanks for stopping by, Greg.

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  2. I love reading retellings! I play the flute in a local concert band, so music is an integral part of my life. We've performed The Nutcracker Suite (highlights only as it's extensive) and my favorite piece because it features flutes in parts is Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. I follow both of you on Instagram as @dhammelef. Thanks for the interview!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Danielle! If you love fairy tale retellings, definitely check out all of Heather's books!

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  3. What a delightful interview. I love that Heather is doing a retelling of The Nutcracker Suite and how much music has guided her work. The Enchanted Sonata is such a lyrical title. Her book sounds unique and inspiring! And, I am a huge fan of Russian history and the Romanoff family.

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    1. Thanks, Patricia! I think Heather has tremendous skill with retellings; I think you'll really enjoy this!

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  4. Wonderful interview. Thanks for much for that. I will step aside for the giveaway. I am buried in books right now.

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    1. I can imagine, Rosi! You're always so good at keeping up on the newest books.

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  5. I am so happy to see Heather interviewed here! Confession: I absolutely love her comic stories on her blog - I found in their humor and wisdom the inspiration I needed as an aunt, a daughter, and a God-fearing woman trying to use her talents and writing skills for the greater good!

    Thanks for the inspiration , Heather! And thanks for interview, Faith!

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    1. I know, right? Her blog is such a panacea for so many ailments. :) Thanks for stopping by, Rose.

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  6. This was such a fun interview- I want to read this so badly! I loved Entwined and Heather's comics never fail to make me laugh. As for my favorite Nutcracker retelling...well, I'm not going to lie. I was obsessed with Barbie & the Nutcracker as a kid :D (oh, and I follow Heather on instagram, too)

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    1. No shame there. :) Thanks for entering, Hayden!

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  7. I've read Enchanted Sonata already, and I loved it! (I'm really picky about what I say I love, book-wise. There are lots of books I like, but don't *love*) The music puns were phenomenal, characterarcs were well done, world building was fun, and it was a good balance of easy-to-read and vocabulary-building. 5 starts.

    (I follow both of y'all on Instagram as febbieg)

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    1. I know what you mean, Debra! Thanks for stopping by!

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  8. I love this interview! I am a huge Heather Dixon fan. (Her art, her books, her blog.) She is totally an inspiration to me. It was fun to get to know her a little better through this interview! I have read her other 2 books, but I haven’t had a chance to read this one. (I think I need to learn to knit so I can fully appreciate her other one.) Thanks for posting this!
    My absolute favorite fairytale retelling is Ella Enchanted, but Entwined is second for sure! I just read Wildeood Dancing by Juliet Marilliar and was pretty underwhelmed because Heather’s book is just so much better. (Sorry Juliet). I was in the Nutcracker ballet every year from the time I was 3 until I was about 11. I have never read a retelling! I am way excited to read it.

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    1. Ooh, Ella Enchanted is wonderful, too. Thanks for reminding me... I see a read aloud in the near future. :)

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  9. I love learning how deeply authors are to the material they write! Heather's books have been a favorite of mine for years now. I love the Waltz of the Flowers from the Nutcracker. And for fairytale retellings, hmmm. There's so many good ones! Jessica Day George has done a great job with the Princess of the Midnight Ball and the sequels. Ella Enchanted, the Once Upon a Time series, Shannon Hale's Goose Girl, Peter and the Starcatchers, and anything by Melanie Dickerson are also great. I'm feeling a serious need to do some rereading now! (following you both on Instagram)

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    1. I've been meaning to read some Melanie Dickerson! Which is your favorite?

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    2. Probably the Healer's Apprentice but that may be because its the first book in her first series and I've read it so many times! If you like christian fiction, I'd also recommend Lisa Bergren's River of time series. There's some pretty awesome, strong female characters who travel through time to medieval Italy. Plenty of action and adventure!

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  10. This was such a wonderful interview! I'm looking forward to reading the book now. Gorgeous illos!!!

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