Publishers' Preview: Middle-Grade Fiction: Five Questions for J. A. White

This interview originally appeared in the May/June 2022 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Middle-Grade Fiction, an 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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In Nightbooks, Alex and Yasmin had to outwit a witch; in the sequel, Gravebooks, they discover that their mission is not yet complete.

1. What’s the most recent burial in your own story cemetery?

My story cemetery is overflowing with ideas. One I’ve recently buried is about a school combination lock that grants wishes. You set the combination to what you want (with letters, like C-A-K-E), hang it on your locker — and when you open the door the next day, your wish has been granted! I couldn’t get the plot to behave but hope to dig it up again one day.

2. Yasmin needs three objects that symbolize her “deepest, darkest fears.” I’ll settle for one of yours.

A blank notebook. That symbolizes two of my deepest fears: running out of writing ideas and/or losing the ability to string sentences together into a story, and, more ominously, losing the ability to read.

3. Do your dreams find their way into your stories?

I don’t remember my dreams. I do fall asleep while thinking about whatever story problem I’m trying to solve, and sometimes I wake up with the solution. I believe there’s a significant amount of creative activity going on while I toss and turn.

4. Have you ever had to stop reading (or writing!) a story that got too scary for you?

Not recently. But when I was little, it happened all the time. I was particularly frightened by books of urban legends. Sometimes I would have to stop reading a story before I reached the end; I knew something terrible was going to happen, and I didn’t want to be there when it did.

5. What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve gotten and given?

In fourth grade, I wrote to Stephen King, and he replied on a little postcard. (I choose to believe it was really him and not his assistant — no one can convince me otherwise.) I told Mr. King I wanted to be a writer when I grew up and asked for tips. He said to write every day, even just for a few minutes. Great advice! And it’s advice I regularly give young writers.

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Photo: Yeeshing White.

Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton

Editor Emeritus Roger Sutton was editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc., from 1996-2021. 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 MA in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a BA from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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