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Today's Chat with Sarah features Alex Hiam author of Silent Lee and the Adventure of the Side Door Key.
To view the official review, click here.
To view the book on Amazon (it's free with Kindle Unlimited), click here.
1. What do you do when you aren't writing?
I like to read aloud to my kids. I renovate old houses, which is a nice balance to writing because it is so much more physical. And I draw and sometimes do illustrations.
2. What book most influenced you as an author?
At a young age I found a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories and devoured them. They were so imaginative and brought another time and place to life. And they had lots of adventure. I guess the book gave me an early insight into where writing can take you.
3. Did you always want to write?
Yes, although I confess no one thought I would when I was young because I was dyslexic, but I’ve always had stories running through my mind.
4. Let's talk about your book Silent Lee and the Adventure of the Side Door Key. Why do you target young adult readers?
I have taught creative writing to middle and high school kids and I have kids myself, so I see firsthand how wonderful the connection to these books can be. Also, I simply like coming-of-age stories and think they are a really fundamental and exciting genre. Some of my favorite authors work in this genre.
5. How long did it take you to write Silent Lee?
Surprisingly, the first draft flew out of me and into a pocket notebook in just a few days! I’d been exploring the old neighborhood in Boston where I used to visit my great grandmother and as I walked the characters and plot just popped into my head.
6. The characters aren't of the standard caucasian variety. Why was it important to include diversity?
Even if my own kids weren’t biracial, I’d have diverse characters in my stories because kids deserve to see themselves reflected in what they read and there is still a strange lack of diversity in young adult, teen and tween fiction. If you look at the popular books, rarely is a lead character anything other than white. LGBTQ, people with disabilities, or recent immigrants are not allowed to step forward into main roles either. It’s a shall we say old fashioned genre in that way and there has been strangely little progress.
7. There's a modern world and a magical world. Was it difficult keeping them apart? How did you come up with the magic?
At first I was concerned it might be hard to keep it clear for readers which world Silent was in when, but that turns out to be fairly easy because they’re so different even though they occupy the same geographic space—Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. As for the rules and language and methods of doing magic, that’s something I took considerable time to develop and I leaned on not only my imagination but also my vague recollection of Latin and my dictionaries. And I’d studied shamanism and sorcery as an anthropology student in college. One of my mother’s ancestors was hanged as a witch in Salem so that has always leaned me toward witchcraft, maybe to get even? But I don’t see magic through the consorting-with-the-Devil lense that religious persecutors used.
8. I know there's at least one more story in the Silent Lee series. How many are you planning in total?
The Oxford Adventure sequel was so much fun to write that I expect to do several more at least. I’m taking a break to fix up an old inn in Vermont and we’re moving there next week, so give me a few more months to wrap up my carpentry and painting and set up a studio there. Then, I’ll begin banging out books three and four!
I like to end on some fun questions.
9. What's the closest thing to real magic?
Lots of things! Intuition can be quite magical but you have to open yourself to it. Creative acts can also tap into a little bit of the world’s magic. And if you draw tarot cards with open focus and suspend your bias against “real” magic, you definitely receive insights into what is and will be. I also feel that the idea of connections with animals or forests and the like is real and that’s why it is integral to the beliefs of many traditional indigenous peoples around the world. And let’s not forget the magic of storytelling! Words can be very, very powerful.
10. Other than yours, what's your favorite magical world?
Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci heptology for sure! I love the idea of a castle where a nine-lived enchanter is in charge of controlling magic in England—as well as the idea of parallel worlds that can sometimes intrude onto ours.
11. Are you a messy person or a neat freak?
A messy neat freak. I have a core creative space I keep clean and ready for work with everything neatly in place there, but surrounding it are shelves and shelves of strange books and lots of art stuffed here and there, so it’s sort of like working in the eye of a creative storm.
12. What weird combination do you enjoy?
Combining unlikely characters! People who you wouldn’t think would become collaborators or friends. Maybe this reflects my somewhat improbable families—not only are my wife and I of different races but as a child, I was adopted out of an orphanage in Chicago to be raised in an old Boston family that I think never really understood what made me tick. My mother kept hoping I’d get over writing and pursue a respectable career like her father did as a banker!