Guten tag! (“Good day!” in German) It’s Kester again with another interview with another amazing author. A few weeks ago, I finished a book that has a special place in my heart: Be Light Like a Bird by Monika Schröder. I had the great honor of meeting her at the SE-YA Book Festival earlier in March, and I had so much fun talking to her! I am so glad I got to interview her, and I hope you enjoy!
1. How would you describe your book Be Light Like a Bird in your own words?
BE LIGHT LIKE A BIRD is the story of 12-year old Wren who looses her father in a planecrash. It is a story of a girl who learns to trust who she is and, while coping with her grief, also bonds in a new and unexpected way with her mother.
2. How did the story come about?
I often start a book with setting. The ‘seed idea’ for Be Light Like a Bird came to me the first time I saw a landfill. My husband and I had cleaned out the cabin my husband inherited from his father in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I couldn’t believe it when he drove all the stuff to a landfill nearby, a big hole where people bury unwanted items. In Germany we recycle or incinerate most of our garbage, so it left an impression on me when I saw a guy dropping a vacuum cleaner, a book shelf and an entire carpet into the landfill…a cemetery for junk. I learned more about this landfill and read about the people in the community who had fought its expansion. Then I asked myself a “What if…?” question: What if there were a girl who loved birds and whose bird watching was threatened by the expansion of the landfill? Once I had that girl in my mind, I found myself asking more and more about her life. How did she get to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula? And why was birding so important to her? I learned that her father had recently died and that her mother had more or less dragged her up north. She was grieving and lonely and once she arrived in Upper Michigan she came up with a plan to make her mother stay. From there the story of Wren developed.
3. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?
I only became an author when I was already forty years old. As a child I always loved to read, but I didn’t like to write. Then later, I was already a teacher, I took a class for which I had to write a story. That’s when I wrote a story about something that happened to my father when he was a child at the end of World War II in Germany. And the instructor of my class liked my story and encouraged me to continue writing. Out of that grew, over many years, my first book, THE DOG IN THE WOOD.
4. Who are your favorite authors, and which ones have had an impact on you? Who has affected your writing style the most?
I love the work of Avi and I also admire Kate DiCamillo.
5. What are your favorite genres to read and write? What are your favorite books?
I studied history and I read a lot of historical fiction. I love reading and thinking about the way people lived in the past. When I travel I always imagine what it was like in a place in earlier times.
6. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?
Writing is my full-time job. I try to spend about five hours a day at my desk. But I don’t always put words on paper, some days I only change a comma or stare out of the window. My favorite part is revising. I enjoy making a draft better and better through the process of revision. When I am not writing I tend to a big flower garden. I also love to bake and cook.
7. Your main protagonist Wren is a 12-year old girl who is going through a turbulent time in her life. How did you start writing from a child’s first-person perspective? What were some of the challenges writing with a child’s voice?
I have written three previous books for children so it was not new to me to write in a child’s voice. But what became BE LIGHT LIKE A BIRD was a very different story for a long time. It started as a school story and over many revisions I deepened Wren’s character and it became more about her grappling with her loss and her mother’s strange behaviour.
8. Wren and Theo foster a love of birds in your story. Do you like birds or bird-watching? Do you have a favorite bird?
I love birds but I am not a bird watcher like Wren and don’t use a journal or a list. We have a lot of Cardinals in Western North Carolina and I like their red color. The Cardinal is also the North Carolina state bird.
9. You adopted an Indian street dog named Frank. What is he like? How did you find him?
My husband and I worked at the American Embassy School in New Delhi, India from 2003 to 2011. We lived on the school’s compound. In January 2010 a honey-colored dogbegan to follow me on my morning walks. During the day he stayed close to the school gate and we frequently saw him being fed by children and adults who entered or left the school. At night he curled up and slept in a flowerbed outside the compound wall. We decided to take him in and, just as described in the story, our first weeks together were rough. We think he was about two years old by the time we adopted him. Frank was not used to living inside and at the beginning he chewed up many shoes, pillows, and furniture legs. But he soon adjusted to a pet’s life.
Frank is independent and smart. He rarely barks, has no body odor and we never have to give him a bath. Every morning and evening he licks himself clean like a cat. He sheds only in the summer months. Then he looses all his undercoat, leaving tufts of his hair in the comb when brushed. We tried to teach him a few tricks, but he gets bored easily and is not interested in repetetive games such as ‘fetch a ball.’ He still prefers to be outside during the day. Only when it rains or snows does he stay inside the house.
On all other days he sits on the porch, lounges on his pillow or patrols the garden, looking for pesky cats, or squirrels that might enter his territory.
10. How have your experiences living in various countries impacted you when writing your books? For example, how has living in India helped you write Saraswati’s Way or living in Germany helped you write The Dog in the Wood and My Brother’s Shadow?
I lived and worked in India for eight years and learned about street children who live in the New Delhi trainststation. It made me sad to see these kids and I researched more about them, went to the station to talk to them, and the result was my book, SARASWATI’S WAY, a story about an Indian street child. THE DOG IN THE WOOD, my first book, is based on my father’s experience in east Germany at the end of WWII. After I wrote that book I became very interested in the causes of WWII and that led me to the end of WWI. From that I wrote MY BROTHER’S SHADOW, a story set in Berlin 1918 at the end of WWI.
11. Why did you choose Be Light Like a Bird as the title for your book?
The title comes from the quote Wren’s father has written into her birding journal. It comes from the Franch poet Paul Valery. I thought it would be fitting to Wren’s journey.
12. I am so glad I got to meet you at the SE-YA Book Festival in Murfreesboro, TN, a couple of weeks ago! How was it like being an author at SE-YA? Did you like it?
I very much enjoyed participating at the SE-YA Festival. I have visited several book festivals and this one was very well organized. The librarians and teachers who made the festival happen put a lot of effort and love into it and it showed. I enjoyed meeting many enthusiastic readers during the panels and school visists. And, of course, I also loved meeting you at the signing.
13. Whenever you experience writer’s block, what do you do to cure it?
I usually go for a walk or I eat potato chips. It is also helpful to work in the garden. Anything that takes the mind off the problem, so that the unconscious can find its way to a solution.
14. Have you written any other works? What are your current plans with your writing career?
I am working on two projects, a middle-grade mystery novel set in Calcutta, India in 1832, and a picture book about my dog, Frank. In it Frank exchanges a series of letters with a dog-friend back in Delhi, describing his new, spoiled life in the US.
15. Do you have any tips to any aspiring authors or writers?
Read, read, read! Everything I know about writing I learned from reading! And don’t giveup if you experience rejection. Get better and you will get lucky!
Thanks so much, Monika, for coming onto our blog! I loved your answers, and it was great meeting you at SE-YA!
I grew up in Germany and have worked as an elementary school teacher and librarian in American international schools in Egypt, Chile, Oman and India. After living in India for eight years my husband and I returned to the US in the summer of 2011. We now live in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
I like to travel to new places and to learn about different cultures. Of course, I read a lot of children’s books, but I also make time for adult literature, mostly historical fiction. If I’m not reading or writing, I love to bake, hike or watch movies. Since we moved to North Carolina, I also have become interested in gardening.
When we lived in India, my husband and I adopted an Indian street dog. We called him Frank and you can read more about him here.
About Be Light Like a Bird
After the death of her father, twelve-year-old Wren finds her life thrown into upheaval. And when her mother decides to pack up the car and forces Wren to leave the only home she’s ever known, the family grows even more fractured. As she and her mother struggle to build a new life, Wren must confront issues with the environment, peer pressure, bullying, and most of all, the difficulty of forgiving those who don’t deserve it. A quirky, emotional middle grade novel set in Michigans Upper Peninsula, Be Light Like a Bird features well-drawn, unconventional characters and explores what it means to be a family and the secrets and lies that can tear one apart.
Hope you enjoyed this interview! Go and check out Monika’s books and social media accounts at the links above! See you soon!