Mayra Calvani, welcome to “Out of My Mind…”.
How long have you been writing for children?
I have been writing fiction since I was about twelve, but I only started writing for children about two and a half years ago. It’s a whole new world for me, and also very challenging.
What aspect of writing have you struggled with the most?
Keeping a disciplined schedule has always been a challenge for me. It’s wonderful and an easy to be in love with the idea of writing, but at the end it’s all about commitment and hard work. I also tend to fall in love with my first drafts, so I have to focus and really gear myself towards editing and polishing. To get objective feedback, I try to get critiques from fellow writers. It also helps to put the manuscript away for at least a few weeks before editing.
What has been your greatest writing resource?
The books of creativity guru Julia Cameron completely changed the way I viewed writing and the creative process. A couple of years ago I did one of her workshops and it pretty much changed my life. Her ideas are extraordinary. She also has a book on writing, The Right To Write, which I keep next to my bed at all times. It’s the best book on writing on the market. At least, I haven’t read one that comes close to it, and I’ve read many. I later wrote an article describing Cameron’s ideas. You may read it here: http://mayrassecretbookcase.blogspot.com/2007_04_01_archive.html
Your first picture book The Magic Violin takes place in Belgium. Isn’t that where you live? Are children’s books as popular there as they are in the United States?
Yes, I live in Brussels. Though publishing isn’t as big an industry as it is in the US, and you seldom hear about authors and signings, the importance of books and reading is taught at an early age. People here read a lot, and many don’t even own TVs at home. I know people who are well-off that don’t own TVs. Here it is a choice and a way of life and this is instilled to the children.
Are there differences in popular topics for children’s books there compared to the United States?
Unfortunately, I’m not very familiar with the type of children’s books that are popular here for the simple reason that the books are published in French and Flemish. Most of the times I order from Amazon or from the few English bookstores in town—but again, these books come from the States or England. Now that you asked you sparked my curiosity. I should probably visit my local French library one of these days.
What motivated you to write about the violin? And that hamster?
I started learning to play the violin about four and a half years ago. It opened up a wonderful new dimension in my life. Suddenly I have dozens of stories in my head, all violin-related in one way or another. The violin has an alluring, mysterious quality that totally mesmerizes me. When I listen to violin concertos, I fall into a sort of ‘trance’ and scenes and plot ideas flow through my mind. That aside, the violin is probably the most difficult instrument to master, requiring total discipline, perseverance and commitment. Since my young daughter is studying the violin as well (we actually started at the same time and have the same teacher), I became keenly aware of the struggles that young violin students face every time they must learn a new piece. As with most things in life, not giving up and believing in oneself is the key to success, so this was my inspiration for The Magic Violin. I wanted a story with a message, and I wanted it to be serious yet whimsical and weave elements of fantasy at the same time. Since the protagonist is a normal 8-year old girl, I decided to make her violin teacher a good witch. The Russian hamster, which happens to be a virtuoso violinist and lives under the witch’s big black hat, is part of the fantastic, whimsical element in the story. I just fell in love with the image of a tiny hamster garbed in tails and playing the violin.
Where do your ideas come from?
I wish I knew! Sometimes I think the stories and novels are already ‘there’ in some alternate reality, and my task as writer is to be open enough and receptive enough to tab into it. So instead of having to make something up, I listen carefully and put the words down. Think of it as taking dictation, or as describing the scenes, characters, situations, settings, etc. which you see in your mind. I seem to be particularly receptive to this alternate reality while I drive (while listening to violin music, of course!) and take a shower.
Parents and children will enjoy the theme of believing in oneself. Children who are learning to play a musical instrument will really relate to 8 year old Melina’s struggle. Was learning to play a struggle for you?
It still is! Learning to play the violin at this stage in my life has been an incredible challenge, a test of character. It’s not the same when you’re a child because when you’re young your fingers are supple and can become flexible quickly. But all hard work has it rewards and it’s a great feeling to be able to play a new piece or learn a new technique. Playing the violin has also bonded me with my daughter. We love to play duets, especially during Christmas time.
The Magic Violin has a magical, mystical, old world feel to it. What drew you to that style of writing?
Actually, initially I had set the story in the present. It was my publisher’s idea to change it to the late 1800’s. I had written another violin-related picture book set in Victorian Europe and she thought The Magic Violin would work better in a similar setting. I do love historical picture books. There’s something about Victorian Europe that I find alluring—the fashions, all the lace and bows, the carriages.
What children’s books are your favorites? Which children’s writers do you most admire?
Since my interest in children’s books began recently, I have a HUGE amount of catching-up reading to do. I review every children’s book I can get my hands on. It would help enormously if there was a good English library here in Brussels. There’s only one and it’s only one small room and the titles are very old. So my guess is it’ll be a slow process. This last year I’ve familiarized myself with the work of Kate DiCamillo, Carolyn Keene, Diana Kimpton, Vivian Vande Velde and Erin Hunter. I love the Bunnicula series. I also read a first novel by a new author that really impressed me. The book is titled Beauty Shop for Rent, by Laura Bowers. I like to read everything from picture books to young adult, but I don’t particularly like fantasy (sorry, but I don’t like Harry Potter!) or chick-lit.
I have a tower of books to be read next to my bed, and among those titles are Stephanie Meyer’s young adult novels. I’m really looking forward to those because I love paranormal fiction, especially vampire-related. Another author I have my eye on is Natasha Mostert.
Now that The Magic Violin has been published, what is your next project?
I have another picture book coming up in early spring—CRASH! About a golden retriever puppy who likes to run, slide and crash against furniture. It is a whimsical story for 3-5 year olds. I’m also looking for a publisher for my two other violin-related manuscripts, The Doll Violinist (historical picture book) and The Luthier’s Apprentice (tween mystery/fantasy).
As far as writing goes, I’m currently working on a proposal for Harper Collins for a multicultural tween novel.
(c) 2007 Sharon A. Soffe****Mayra will be giving away a $20 Amazon gift certificate on Christmas Day to one lucky winner. To be eligible leave a comment at the end of this post.****
Mayra’s children’s book website: http://www.mayrassecretbookcase.com/
Violin and Books: http://www.violinandbooks.wordpress.com/
The Fountain Pen Newsletter: http://www.thefountainpennewsletter.blogspot.com/