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Fall 2014 Publishers’ Preview: Five Questions for George Hagen

Publishers' Previews

This interview originally appeared in the September/October 2014 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Fall Publishers’ Preview, a semiannual advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

Sponsored byRandom House

Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle, adult novelist George Hagen’s first book for young people, was published in August by Schwartz & Wade Books.

hagen_george_highres1. Ravens are intimidating creatures, both in the natural world and in our cultural history (first animal off the ark!). Was it intimidating to write about such a totemic figure?

GH: Yes, I was quite intimidated — Shakespeare used them as heralds of evil and destruction in Macbeth and Othello, and the Irish expression “raven’s knowledge” essentially means to know everything. That’s exactly why they make such rich characters for a story, so I put my doubts aside and read several books by Bernd Heinrich about raven behavior in order to get a grip on my subject. Last week, five ravens gathered in a tree outside my house and croaked for hours; I felt rather humbled (not to mention worried!).

2. Your plot is helped along by a dancing desk. Tell me about that desk.

GH: The Mad Hatter’s riddle in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is the most perplexing riddle about ravens: why is a raven like a writing desk? How could I not include a writing desk in a book about ravens and riddles? Without revealing too much, I will say that this desk contains such dark secrets that it becomes a master of concealment.

Gabriel Finley3. Gabriel Finley is your first novel for children after publishing two novels for adults. How was the experience of writing this book different?

GH: When I told my daughter (she was ten at the time) that I was writing a book for her, she gave me very strict advice: get to the point quickly and stop describing things! My adult novels included a lot of young characters, so I didn’t find the transition that difficult. In Gabriel Finley, I made the young characters more mature, and the adult characters more childish because most children I know complain that adults are generally odd and contradictory creatures.

4. A sequel seems promised by the conclusion. With a villainous robin?

GH: I have a sequel in mind that follows almost directly from the last words in Gabriel Finley. Nothing is more dangerous than power (especially magical power) in the grip of a very simple, small-minded bird. Yes, the story will continue with bizarre and astounding things that start happening in the Finleys’ backyard — all because of a wishful robin.

5. What is the best riddle you know?

GH: It is the only thing I fear: smaller than a spider, hidden in an itch, concealed in a rabbit’s foot, soaking in a witch’s brew or in bitter thoughts. What do I fear?

Sponsored byRandom House

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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