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Spring 2015 Publishers’ Preview: Five Questions for Henry Turner

Publishers' Previews

This interview originally appeared in the March/April 2015 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Spring 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.

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Henry Turner’s first novel, Ask the Dark, is a gritty story about personal and family survival.

turner_henry_higherres1. Would you say Ask the Dark is more autobiographical or observational?

HT: Both. I grew up in a neighborhood much like the one described in the story, where kids who couldn’t fit in committed plenty of pranks — some of them pretty serious. There are real-life antecedents behind the hierarchy of neighborhood kids, the curfews, and the dynamic between parents and other grown-ups and the kids — but the story itself was imagined as a way to shine a light on Billy’s character.

2. What has your work in film taught you about writing a novel?

HT: Film taught me to always cut for story — to eliminate the extraneous. But the real trick is making everything express character — even the scenery shots and cutaways. Hitchcock was a master of that.

turner_askthedark3. I think a lot of middle-school boys will enjoy the book, but I worry that their teachers and librarians will look askance at the salty language. What would you say to the gatekeepers?

HT: It was purely a question of authenticity. With Billy, the language is indelibly in his character. By using those words, he tells us something about how life has treated him—without them, we lose too much of his personality.

4. What kind of books did you like when you were Billy’s age?

HT: When I was fourteen or fifteen I was reading a lot of Raymond Chandler. The Long Goodbye was my favorite book — I still have the copy in which I wrote that it was the greatest book ever written. I read Huckleberry Finn in one sitting that year. I remember the sun going down and I kept reading. I did the same with The Catcher in the Rye.

5. Do you think Billy and his family will be all right?

HT: Yes, I think Billy’s family will be fine. They are hardworking and fundamentally honest, and now that a solid chance has come, they will run with it. Billy, his dad, and Leezie — they are good souls. My only worry is Bad-Ass. I doubt Leezie will stay with him long if he doesn’t clean up his act.

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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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