Interview: Gail Carson Levine

There's something so magical about Gail Carson Levine's stories. Her first, Ella Enchanted, reimagined Cinderella; in it, Ella is cursed to be obedient--an absolutely genius touch. That book won a Newbery Honor Book in 1998, and eventually became a movie starring Anne Hathaway.

You could call Gail Carson Levine the queen of fairy and princess stories. Later works include Fairest, a beautiful twist on Snow White, as well as several works in the Disney Fairies series. 

But she often ventures beyond the world of fairies and princesses. Her seventeen books for children (see her full list at LibraryThing) include the historical Dave at Night, set in an orphanage for Jewish boys in Harlem. The Wish is a contemporary story about popularity in the eighth grade. She's  written a picture book, Betsy Who Cried Wolf. And then there's one of my favorite writing guides: Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly.

She's prolific, too. Last week, her third novel from the Disney Fairies series came out. It's called Fairies and the Quest for Never Land, and was illustrated by David Christiana. And this fall, Betsy Red Hoodie will be published by HarperCollins.

Gail is one of the rare writers who can do it all, which is why we're especially lucky she'll be keynote speaker at the conference. In an interview on, she gave some great advice to aspiring writers: 

Save everything you write.

I think kids abandon stories all the time. They start stories and get frustrated or get a different, better idea. I think that it is more worthwhile to stick with a story and revise it and try to finish it than abandon ship. Revisions, for any writer, are the name of the game.

I want to write a book. In fact, that's kind of getting high on my list of things I want to do-- I want to write a writing book for kids.

I asked Gail a few questions to further whet our appetite for her keynote:

It took you nine years to get published and you faced rejection along the way. I read that you sometimes share a bit of your worst rejection letter with kids you visit. Could you share a bit with us?

Paraphrasing, the letter said that the manuscripts I’d submitted to this editor – all picture books at that point – lacked strong plots, developed characters, emotional resonance, and that a child wouldn’t be engaged enough to sit through a reading! Those are the highlights. The editor misspelled the title of my submission in the final paragraph.

It hurt, but now the letter is one of my most prized possessions.

What are some of the best writing lessons you’ve learned over the years?

When something is wrong I can’t paper over it. I have to fix, even if that means rewriting 300 pages. That every book is a new problem. I learn as I go along, but the mastery I thought I’d gained on the last book may do me no good at all on the next one.

Do you have a favorite character you’ve created? How did you create him or her?

Solly in Dave at Night, who is based on my friend Nedda, who’s since died. I wanted a salt-of-the-earth character, a mensch, and she provided the model.

Your stories have a timeless quality to them—even when you’re writing in a contemporary setting. How do you achieve that? Are there pitfalls to avoid?

Alas, there are telephone conversations in The Wish that probably wouldn’t happen in that way today. In general I stick to standard English and hope my word choices will take a while to get dated.

You have so much good advice on your blog. Does it help you to write it? Or are you just an insanely generous soul?

Depending on the question I’m answering, writing the blog can be very helpful. I also like reading the comments, and some of the questions have been great, and I’ve heard from people outside the states, which is fun. And I like to write about writing. And my publisher wanted me to do some social networking. And I’m insanely generous.

You’ve written one book with great advice in it for writers. Are you planning to turn your blog into another?

Yes. There will be a Writing Magic 2 based on the blog, and who knows, maybe there will be a 3.

For more from Gail Carson Levine, stop by her outstanding writing blog. Here are a couple of entries I particularly enjoyed:

Everything mattering

Getting funny

Dialogue and plot

You can also read another interview with Gail on the HarperCollins site.

Register here for the summer conference in Los Angeles.