Mary Casanova: Three Questions

bk_GraceA year of school vis­its has just con­clud­ed, but I can’t unpack quite yet. I’ll soon head out on a book tour to sup­port the release of my lat­est titles. The ques­tions I get when I meet read­ers depend on the book — whether it’s a new release I’m pro­mot­ing or an old­er book a class has read and discussed.

Because I will be on tour sup­port­ing the release of my Grace books for Amer­i­can Girl, I can safe­ly pre­dict the three most com­mon­ly asked questions:

How did you get start­ed writ­ing for Amer­i­can Girl?
I’d nev­er planned on writ­ing for Amer­i­can Girl. They first approached me years ago via a phone call. They were look­ing for some­one to write a book for a series called “Girls of Many Lands” and need­ed some­one to write a sto­ry set in the l700s in France. (I’d writ­ten a grit­ty nov­el set in 1500s Provence called Curse of a Win­ter Moon.) I wrote Cecile: Gates of Gold, fol­lowed by eight more books and four “Girl of the Year” char­ac­ters: Jess, Chris­sa, McKen­na and now Grace.

Does Amer­i­can Girl tell you what to write?
I’ve nev­er been inter­est­ed in writ­ing from some­one else’s out­line. As the author, I want to dis­cov­er a sto­ry! But the ini­tial con­cepts come from with­in Amer­i­can Girl. When that phone call comes, I’m giv­en a few, small bits of infor­ma­tion for my writ­ing jour­ney. For exam­ple, for Grace’s three books, they might include: a girl who loves bak­ing / a trip to Paris / a return home with the desire to start a French bak­ing business.

Paris photo
Research des­ti­na­tion

That’s it. From there, I start find­ing ways to make the devel­op­ing sto­ry my own. Research is my first step. In this case, I went to Paris for a week with my adult daugh­ter, Kate, and we made it our work to explore Paris by bike, sam­ple its deli­cious pas­tries and treats, and take a bak­ing class at the home of a French chef. While there, I imag­ined expe­ri­enc­ing Paris through the eyes of a 9 year old girl whose aunt is hav­ing a baby, whose uncle owns a patis­serie, who comes across a stray dog at the Lux­em­bourg Garden.

Which comes first, the sto­ry or the doll?
The sto­ry comes first. As I research and write, my char­ac­ter begins to live and breathe. Her sto­ry — her fam­i­ly, her dreams, her strug­gles — become mine. I must live and breathe this char­ac­ter. I must care deeply about her if I hope read­ers to care.

I don’t choose the doll’s hair or eye or skin col­or. Though I have input on her name, I don’t have the final say. That’s fine with me. I’m most con­cerned with who she is on the inside and how she nav­i­gates in the world.

As my character’s sto­ries devel­op, I rec­og­nize that prod­ucts will be cre­at­ed hand-in-hand with the sto­ry. When I wrote the black and white stray dog into Grace, the first book, I knew prod­uct devel­op­ment would have fun turn­ing it into a small plush toy dog. When, on the oth­er hand, prod­uct devel­op­ment asked if I might weave a charm bracelet into the sto­ry, I found their request easy. Grace’s mom gives her a charm bracelet eon their plane flight to Paris, and Grace fills the bracelet up while she vis­its the Eif­fel Tow­er, and receives good­bye gifts, etc. If the request is one that feel nat­ur­al to the sto­ry, I’m hap­py to work it into the books. But as an author the sto­ry always comes first.



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7 years ago

We recent­ly met you at AG Place DC. You were so sweet. My daugh­ter is dyslex­ic and was not in any­way inter­est­ed in read­ing. Until Grace came out! Your writ­ing is remark­able and I enjoyed read­ing it with her! Thank you so much!