saraharonson (saraharonson) wrote in thru_the_booth,

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Pay the toll for JILL SANTOPOLO!

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing author and editor, Jill Santopolo.


Hi Jill!  Congratulations on the publication of Alec Flint, Super Sleuth: The Nina, the Pinta, and the Vanishing Treasure!  

(It's already at my local bookstore, face forward!)  I really enjoyed reading it.  The story is funny and the plot really moves.  Elliot (my son) adds:  I really liked Alec.  He was a regular kid, but a little bit different.  I liked that about him.  And I liked that you incorporated history.  (Elliot is a history fanatic!)

I also thought that you were able to make Alec's sleuthing not just exciting, but believable!


So tell me: What was your process from idea to publication?  Any bumps along the way?

Well, when I first wrote Alec's story, I was thinking about the Cam Jansen books.  And those books are pretty short.  So when I sent off the first version of Alec to my agent, it was about 25 manuscript pages.  After she read it, she wrote back something to the effect of, "Great idea!  Great characters!  Now you have to write the other 75 pages."  So I did, because she was right, and I was giving the story short shrift, trying to squeeze it into 25 pages.  After I'd added the 75 pages, and revised them a bit, sent them out.  I was really lucky because my editor at Scholastic read the submission and loved Alec as much as my agent and I did.  I actually read the e-mail saying we had an offer while I was in an internet cafe in Rome, which was pretty exciting.  After the deal was set, I did a round of revisions for Scholastic, and then Alec was ready to be illustrated and turned into a book.  The whole process was actually pretty smooth and bump-free, minus that beginning part where I had to add 75 pages.


What is it about mystery and sleuthing that appeals to you as a writer? 

As a kid, I devoured mysteries.  I read Nate the Great, The
Boxcar Children, The Bobbsey Twins, Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys...  I don't think I could've articulated then what exactly appealed to me about the genre, but looking back, I think it was the puzzle aspect of the book.  I loved putting together the clues as the fictional detectives did, and trying to figure out the mystery before it was revealed in the story.  I think that same puzzle aspect is what appeals to me as a writer--I love figuring out how to craft the mystery, deciding which clues go where, how much information is too much or too little, when to use red herrings...  Writing a mystery is just as much an exercise in puzzle solving as reading one is.


You will be graduating from Vermont College of Fine Arts very soon.  Congratulations!  What has that process been like for you?  Did you work on Alec Flint with an advisor?  If not, how did you juggle the work load?

The process has been amazing--and very time consuming.  In these past two years I've been juggling a full-time job, writing Alec Flint books, and doing the creative and critical work needed for the MFA.  Luckily, I got to write the second book in the Alec Flint series as part of my work for Vermont College, because otherwise, I'm not sure what I would've done.  As to how I juggled the work load...well, let's just say that sleeping often took a back seat.  It's amazing how much a continuous infusion of chocolate can keep a person awake.


And speaking of workload, how do you balance the responsibility of being an editor with the creative process of being a writer?

I made myself a rule when I started writing that home time was writing time, and office time was editing time.  I've pretty much stuck to that, though a lot of times it means working pretty late in the office to make sure that all my editing work is done before I head home to write.  Separating the two based on location seems to work well for me, though.


What has surprised you most about being a writer?  About Alec's story?  Without giving away any spoilers, did you know how the ending would work out when you started?  What about Columbus made you decide to base your first mystery around him?

I think what's surprised me most about being a writer is how much my stories and my characters lurk in my brain.  I've often been out shopping or in a meeting or walking around the city, when a solution to a writing problem I'd been having pops into my head.  These characters are always with me, even when I'm not consciously thinking about them, which I didn't expect to happen.

As far as Alec goes, I did know how the story was going to end when I started.  I think it's very difficult to write a mystery without knowing the end--the clues you sprinkle throughout have to lead to something, and if you don't know what that something is, the clue sprinkling won't work very well.  I've been doing some school visits recently, which I absolutely adore, and give the kids a "Before Writing A Mystery" checklist.  Three of the items on that check list are knowing who your villain is, knowing what he did, and knowing why he did it.  I knew all of that before I started writing this story--even the 25-page version of it.

And where Christopher Columbus is concerned--I've always been interested in his story because he's such a controversial figure.  Plus, his name was following me everywhere.  When I wrote the first draft of The Nina, The Pinta and the Vanishing Treasure, I lived on Columbus Ave.  And the subway stop I got off at to go to work was Columbus Circle.  Then I went to DC and there was a Columbus fountain.  I figured if this guy was following me around so persistently, I really needed to write about him.


Do you have a sequel planned?  If not, what's next for you?

There is a sequel planned!  It's coming out in the summer of 2009 and is called The Ransom Note Blues: An Alec Flint Mystery.  In the book--which I just handed in to my editor, so I'm hoping it's finished!--something has gone missing from Alec and Gina's town, but no one knows what it is.  So it's up to the two super sleuths-in-training to figure out what the missing something is and who stole it.


This week, I've been talking about advice.  Giving it.  Getting it.  And what to do with it.

So I have to ask, what was the best advice you have received?  How did it change your process?

The best advice I ever received  about the whole process of having a book published came from my boss at HarperCollins, Laura Geringer.  When I told her that an agent was interested in my writing, she smiled and said that when I got home, I should celebrate.   And when I said, "Well, there's nothing to celebrate yet.  She hasn't even sent the manuscript out!"  Laura said, "Just having an agent interested in your work is worth celebrating.  You can celebrate again when she sends it out.  And again when someone buys your book.  And again when your final manuscript is accepted for publication.  And again when the book is out in stores.  Every step in the process is a huge accomplishment."  And I've followed her advice to the letter and celebrated every step of the way, which has made the entire experience tons of fun and made me so appreciative of each pre-publication event. 


(I think celebrating each stage of the process is one of the most important things we can do!  In my first interview for the booth, Cyn Leitich Smith said the same thing. Thanks for reminding me!)





Oh!  That reminds me! Scholastic is running an online Alec Flint contest.  They're going to give away a free, autographed copy of The Nina, The Pinta and The Vanishing Treasure to the first three people who e-mail me ( their mailing address, tell me they saw me on Through the Tollbooth, and translate the following message in Alec's code.  GSV KOVZHFIV DZH NRMV, HZIZS! GSZMP BLF! (It's my response to your coded message above, Sarah.)  (And here's a hint: The key to the code is on my website:


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