Today we welcome debut middle-grade author Ali Standish to The Winged Pen. Ali is the author of THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE, which released on January 24th!
Thank you so much, and thanks for having me!
Congrats on your debut middle-grade novel, THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE. It has been described as a beautifully written mystery about loss and grief. Tell us about your inspiration for the book.
I was inspired to write the book by a hodgepodge of things (I think this is the case for most books!). I was just leaving a teaching job I loved in Washington, D.C., where I worked with some incredible students. Some of them had been through some really tough stuff, and I remember thinking, “where are all the middle grade books that deal with these things?”
At the same time, I was ruminating about the nature of lying and storytelling, and the gray area that exists between them. I started thinking about a character who told stories that were dishonest on the surface and yet somehow true in a deeper sense. And then I paired her with a character who lied by omission, and bang! There were Coralee and Ethan.
Ah, lying and storytelling. That’s such an important concept to explore, because I’m sure most kids get mixed up in situations like this. Truth is important. Stories are too, as is forgiveness. THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE would make a great classroom read.
Your main characters, Ethan and Coralee, are of different races. Do you think this is important to the story?
Modeling an interracial friendship is definitely an important aspect of the story to me. I don’t think we see enough of these relationships in children’s literature, and that’s a shame. But it’s also important to note that Coralee was a black character since the moment I dreamed her up (before I had even thought of Ethan). I didn’t write her as black to make a point or to fulfill a quota. I think the reason I thought of her that way had more to do with the essence of her spirit. To elaborate a bit: We know that, because of societal and institutional factors, it is generally harder to be a black child in the U.S. than a white one. But when you look, for instance, at statistics on black women in education, you see that despite these hurtles, they are now the most educated group in the US. Struggle may be part of the black experience, but so is the overcoming of it. So going back and rereading the book now, I think I was trying to write Coralee so that her character would reflect some of the struggles many black children in the U.S. face, but also the joy and humor and triumph and bravery that make up part of their experience, too.
I LOVE Coralee. She’s smart, forthright, and energetic. What do you hope young readers take away from your story?
Hope. Understanding that the world takes things away from us, but it also brings us second chances and new friends.
What is your work/writing schedule?
It changes depending on where I am in the process and how much else I have going on! Right now, I’ve been doing about 4,000 words a day, in two blocks of time—first thing in the morning and then in the late afternoon. But that’s because I’ve set aside a few weeks to do nothing but write. Sometimes I’ll go weeks without writing a word, but during those stretches I’m always working away on my plot in my head.
4000 words a day! Wow, you’ve just raised the bar for me! Do you have any *strange* writing habits?
Possibly the fact that I don’t have a habit at all? I will write in bed, in a coffee shop, on a plane, with music, without music, in the morning, at night. I’m all over the map!
Which writers inspire you? Is there a recently published book you’d heartily recommend?
Growing up, my inspirations were Sharon Creech, Katherine Paterson, Jerry Spinelli and, of course, J.K. Rowling. They still are! Going back and reading childhood classics like The Secret Garden and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I am kind of in awe at how writers like Burnett and Lewis were able to create such an abundance of magic in so few words. As for recently published books? Lauren Wolk’s Wolf Hollow, which was just named as a Newbery Honor book, is probably the best middle grade book I have read since I was a middle grader. And Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give is worth every ounce of the hype it’s gotten.
We share similar taste in books. Wolf Hollow definitely deserved the Newbery Honor. I can’t wait to get my hands on Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give. It comes out very soon, folks! February 28th!!!
What can you tell us about what you’re working on now?
More middle grade! Another novel set in the deep south, this one with a magical twist
Sounds perfect, Ali! I can’t wait to read it. Now buckle up for the LIGHTNING ROUND!🌩
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
Time travel. (Yes! Take me with you!)
Wooden pencil or mechanical?
Yuck! Pen, please. Better yet, keyboard.
Coffee or tea?
Tea until I die. Or have to get a root canal. (A girl after my heart!)❤️
Sweet or salty?
Salty. When I was living in the UK, my pet peeve was all the sweet popcorn flavors they kept coming up with. What’s wrong with plain butter?!🍿
Dog, cat, or other?
Dog, of course.
Plotter or pantser?
Pantser. Wait, can I change my answer??? This is why I am a plotter. 🙂
Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there?
Remember that writing takes practice. It’s something that you get better at over time. You can have the best idea in the world, but you’ve got to put in your practice hours before you will have the skill to write it. Rejection does not mean you failed. It means you need more practice. (That also means reading, particularly in the genre you write!)
I hear you! And it’s so true. There are no shortcuts to becoming a great rider. Thank you for stopping by Ali!
Find THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE at your local Indie or find it online.
Ali Standish grew up in North Carolina and spent several years as an educator. She has a MFA in children’s writing from Hollis University and a MPhil in children’s literature from the University of Cambridge. She lives with her Finnish husband and rescue dog. THE ETHAN I WAS BEFORE is her debut novel. Visit her at www.alistandish.com , on Twitter, or on Facebook.
MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a chocolate biscotti baker, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT will be published in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME releasing August 2017. Connect with her on Twitter.