Wouldn’t You Like to Know . . . Wendy Delsol
by Stacey Hayman
Wendy Delsol can lay claim to a wonderfully normal, but not quite typical, life. Born in Canada to proper English parents, middle-child Wendy and her two sisters grew up in a suburb of Detroit. Getting a bachelor’s and master’s degree in political science, working as a tour/event coordinator in the travel industry for ten years, and marrying a nice California boy were all choices to make any parent proud. But having lived in Michigan, California, and Iowa, plus spending a year post-college abroad in France, the question becomes: Why Minnesota and Iceland for the Stork Trilogy settings? Answer: Wendy’s always been fascinated with Iceland, and Minnesota made for a good location for a transplanted Icelandic community. Lucky for us, Wendy became a mom and took advantage of her time at home to write a book. She enjoyed the process enough to take a year’s worth of classes through UCLA’s Extension Writers’ Program. Two teen boys, three young adult books, and one adult book later, Wendy can add a 2010 VOYA Perfect Ten and a 2011 Westchester Fiction Award to her growing list of accomplishments! (And I can’t wait to read what comes next!)
SH: When I was a teenager, people would describe me as a: (jock, band geek, popular, goth, other, none?)
WD: Once upon a time, when I was in high school, there were only two species of teen: jocks and burnouts. Of the two, I was a jock, but that’s not to say I was a driven athlete (by any stretch). I was a cheerleader in a time and at a school when it didn’t signify all that much (or require today’s aeronautics). For those who have read Stork, I was very Penny-like. Motivated student. Club joiner. On the quiet side.
SH: The best/worst thing that happened to you in high school was?
WD: My father passed away my junior year of high school. He had been seriously ill since my freshman year and unable to work for most of that time. His death threw us into an emotional and financial tailspin. Without a doubt, it was a difficult period. Nonetheless, I now think much of my drive and work ethic is a product of this adversity.
SH: Favorite childhood book? Favorite food? Favorite band or album? Favorite television show?
WD: The Little House on the Prairie. Lemon bars. Van Morrison’s “Moon Dance.” It’s a tie between Survivor and Downton Abbey (how’s that one for a split personality?)
SH: Is there a story from your childhood that is told most often, either by you or about you?
WD: When I was in second grade and my younger sister in kindergarten, someone in her class at school had shared a show-and-tell story about people who were “isolated” on a desert island. At home, my sister asked, “What does isolated mean, Mommy?”—I interjected, “It means they froze to death, dummy.” (An unabashed know-it-all is never deterred by ignorance.)
SH: Was there any class in high school you regret paying too little, or too much, attention? If you could add one class to high schools across the country, what would be the topic?
WD: I regret giving English and Creative Writing the short shrift in high school and college. My decision to write came later in life. I always had great respect and envy for creative types, but I didn’t have the self-confidence until I was an adult. A class I’d like to add to school curriculum (though unrelated to the above) would be Tolerance. Just this week there were two teen suicides in Iowa, one directly attributed to bullying. Kudos, by the way, to those who started the “It Gets Better” campaign.
SH: If you could be a character from any book, including your own, who would you want to be? Why?
WD: Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. Because of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, of course. But not for too long. Pre-central heating. Rigid patriarchic class system. Long rainy days filled with needlework and gossip. Snore. Still, maybe just a country dance, or two, with the dashing Mr. Darcy. Men wore breeches back then. That alone is worth the trip.
SH: Do you have any favorite family traditions that might need some explanation to outsiders looking in? Do you remember how they started?
WD: My parents were both born and raised in England. To this day, our Christmas celebrations include Christmas crackers. These are not the edible variety. They’re festive paper tubes which pop or “crack” when pulled. Inside the wrapped bundle is a paper hat, joke, and toy. I can’t imagine Christmas dinner without wearing a paper crown.
SH: If you had an important secret or story to share, who would be the first person you’d turn to?
WD: My husband. But I’ll admit to a tendency to internalize things. I share when (and if) I’m ready. That English background of mine comes with its share of British reserve.
SH: Is there a book, besides your own of course, that you think everyone should be reading?
WD: The Hunger Games trilogy. I have recommended it for a few years now. Its crossover appeal is fascinating. My teen sons have enjoyed it, as have many of my adult friends. I also think Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is masterful and inventive.
SH: What’s your biggest pet peeve?
WD: Bad manners (including tardiness and cell-phone etiquette).
SH: Is there one moment in your life you’d love to live again? To either change it or to enjoy?
WD: I’d love another day with my boys when they were four and two. I’d write down every sweet and funny word. I’d savor their hugs and kisses. They’re seventeen and (almost) fifteen now. Not much for talking. And display of affection, forget it. Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s an entirely typical developmental stage. But they were awfully cute back then. Sigh.
SH: What do you think would catch a person’s attention if they walked into your workspace, your kitchen, or your family room?
WD: My cat. Definitely my cat. Because she would demand the attention. Valentine (named ever so appropriately by my then-five-year-old son) is the most affectionate, needy cat ever. And she loves visitors.
SH: When you’re done writing for the day, or taking a little “me” time, do you have a hobby or special treat you indulge in?
WD: I’m a tennis nut. Make that NUT. I didn’t start playing until I was in my thirties but now play on a USTA 3.5 women’s team. I’m not the most skilled player out there, but I love it. I also follow the pro tour with something approaching obsession come the Majors; Wimbledon is my favorite. Go, Federer! And I’ve managed to infect convert my youngest son, who plays varsity tennis as a freshman. Go, Waukee Boys’ Tennis, too!
SH: What three words would you use to describe yourself? What three words do you think other people would use to describe you?
WD: Introspective. Funny. Hard-working.
Calm. Sarcastic. Driven.
SH: You are sitting down to dinner with five people, living or dead, who you find fascinating. Who is at the table and what are you eating?
WD: Jane Austen, Laura Ingalls Wilder, J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, and Gertrude Stein (whose salon in Paris would make the perfect venue). The menu: white soup (for Jane), green tomato pickles with corn dodgers (for Laura), roast groosling (for Suzanne, but I’m passing on this course), cauldron cakes and chocolate frogs (for J.K., I’m passing on the frogs, too) and absinthe (for Gertrude. Or, on second thought, maybe just a nice French Bordeaux. I want to keep my wits about me with this group.)
SH: If you could have any superpower, what would you choose?
WD: The power to know what the next Harry Potter-, Twilight-, or Hunger Games-like blockbuster will be. Or mind control. That would be cool, too.
SH: Do you have a phrase or motto that inspires you?
WD: The poem “If ” by Rudyard Kipling. My favorite section is:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master,
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same
SH: What one thing makes you feel happiest? What makes you sad? What scares you?
WD: Motherhood is the one-word answer to all three. It’s the most fulfilling and vulnerable aspect of my life.
SH: What is one (or more!) of your favorite features about yourself? It can be anything from an impeccable sense of style to your sense of humor to crazy long toes that can pick up a variety of objects.
WD: I like my optimism. As a child, my mother called me happy-go-lucky. I think my brain chemistry skews toward the positive which could, in psycho-babble, simply be a coping mechanism. Nonetheless, it explains my can-do attitude and happily-ever-after-itis.
SH: A series of choices: Introvert or extrovert? Sweet or salty? Rustic camping or five-star hotel? Cats or dogs? Elevator or stairs? Books or movies? Classic, pop, or country music? Hot or cold?
WD: Introvert. Sweet. Five-star (but a nice four will certainly do). Cats. Stairs. Both (sorry). Classic. Hot, definitely hot.
SH: Any advice for teens, something you wish you had known? Or wish you had done? Or wish you had not done? And why. (Or maybe: Best piece of advice you have ever gotten, at any age?
WD: As mentioned above, I think the “It Gets Better” message is wonderful. For those experiencing low self-esteem, bullying, depression, or any other adolescent identity crisis, it’s an important and wise message. It does get better.
SH: Working the story around Norse mythology made this book so unique. How did you find the original inspiration? Which was the hardest element to blend into modern life: the Stork Society, their Raven counterparts, or the Jack Frost legend?
WD: Years ago, there was an episode of the TV show Unsolved Mysteries in which a boy claimed to have a pre-birth memory of choosing his mother. I found it fascinating, and it stuck with me for a long time. Much later, when brainstorming for a fresh paranormal concept, the story came to me. I paired it with the cultural symbol of childbirth, the child-bearing stork, and invented a clan of white or good witches charged with pairing hovering souls with the right mother. The Norse mythology was layered in once I decided to go with a Minnesota setting (a state with many Scandinavian communities). Norse mythology’s realms—one of which is Niflheim, a land of snow and ice—worked perfectly and allowed me to include the Jack Frost legends and, for book two, Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” The hardest to blend were the Ravens. I knew the Snow Queen would be my antagonist in book two, but book one needed its own (and one lower on the food chain) villain.
SH: Kat is one of the funniest characters ever to grace the pages of a book! How did you get that snappy, pop culture-filled patter so right?
WD: First of all, thank you. What a wonderful compliment! Perhaps because I’m a little reserved by nature, I quip vicariously through my alter-ego Katla. I also cite, again, my English family. Say what you will about their cooking and teeth, when it comes to humor, the British Empire still reigns.
SH: Kat’s love of fashion and her ability to create new clothes and looks out of bits and pieces of old clothes feels very inspirational. Is Kat channeling your inner girly-girl? Or is this skill something you wish you had? Have you had much reader feedback about Kat’s stylish fashions?
WD: Believe it or not, I’m not big into clothes. The problem is I’m, well, cheap. And I’m not much of a girly-girl, either. For this aspect of Katla’s personality, particularly her fascination with designer labels, I had to do a lot of online browsing. I had more personal experience with ingenuity and skills with a seam ripper. I sew, or used to, anyway. It was a skill I developed out of financial necessity. I sewed my own prom dress, for instance. Interestingly, Katla’s designer name-dropping touched a nerve with some readers. My intent was to show growth. She is a little snobbish about such things in the beginning of the book, but, by the end, [in Flock] she opts to wear a vintage dress to Homecoming.
SH: Who is the girl on the cover? (And on Flock?)
WD: Character-wise, Brigid (aka the Snow Queen) is on the cover of FROST, and that’s Penny, Katla’s best friend, on the cover of FLOCK. All the covers, I’ve been told, were developed from stock photos. I’ve always wondered if the models have ever stumbled upon their images on the book covers.
SH: Which came first, a coffee addiction or Kat’s vision? How long did it take Starbucks™ to offer you a lifetime supply of grande nonfat caramel macchiatos, or any other caffeinated beverage of choice?
WD: Starbucks™ simply became the symbol of the consumerism Kat left behind in L.A. after moving to Minnesota. Their logo, a split-tailed siren, was one of those happy coincidences; serendipity is a term I’ve often used to describe the way things fell together for this project. And, gosh, no lifetime supply of beverages from Starbucks™. I’m just a plain old drip-of-the-day sort if anyone from Starbucks™ is wondering.
SH: The details about Kat and Afi’s trip to Iceland are amazing. How did you come up with the information (or ideas) for Kat’s extended family, the town’s festival, watching Jinky work, and the everyday routines?
WD: I’ve never been to Iceland. Or an Icelandic festival. At some point as an author you simply have to—or get to, rather—allow the creative process to take over. Jinky was a fun character to write, by the way. She is nothing like me, but I just love her tough-chick façade.
SH: There were so many different threads from the first two books to weave into this book, did you ever feel overwhelmed or was it more of a fun challenge? When it was done, were you surprised at how much great action and drama you were able to include?
WD: Truthfully, I was a little overwhelmed. I didn’t want to let fans of Katla down. And with a goal of putting the books out annually (2010, -11, and -12), it became a bit of an endurance exercise. I’m so pleased you enjoyed the “action.” With weather being such an integral part of STORK and FROST, it’s no surprise that I revisit the theme for the final showdown. It allowed for some great drama and was, I hope, in keeping with Norse lore and its realms and prophecies.
SH: The evil Queens were so important to the momentum of this story, but they didn’t get much time ` front and center. Are you considering giving them a book of their own, to share or individually? (I would read either/or both!)
WD: Such an interesting question. I’m not sure that either would be a likable narrator; they’re, umm, evil, after all. A portion of FROST does travel to Niflheim, the land of frost and snow, but I preferred keeping the bulk of the trilogy on Midgard, or earth as it’s commonly known. Particularly with Queen Safira, Katla’s newest nemesis, I thought it was an interesting device to keep her a shadowy threat. Until the final battle, of course.
SH: Getting to the end of this series, I’m not sure I was ready to say good-bye to all the characters. (Are you positive there won’t be just one more? Please?) What do you think Kat and Jack are up to right now?
WD: Aww. Thanks. I loved my time with the kids in Norse Falls, and it was hard for me to say good-bye to them, too. Nonetheless, I think I left them in a good place. I’m not sure they want me chronicling their every move anymore. For the record, I think Katla will attend university in Minnesota. She and Jack will remain together, of course. And I think, post college, they’ll travel. Now Penny, she’s one who could surprise us all.
SH: How would you describe your writing process? Does the whole story come to you at once? Or do you start with just a few key moments?
WD: I start with a very anemic storyline that usually contains only a beginning, a sketchy middle, and an end. If I outline, it’s quite rough. However, once I write a few chapters and the characters take form, I expand the outline. I have a daily goal of 500 words. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but the slow-by-some-standards pace allows me to plot and replot daily, as well as write a fairly clean first draft.
SH: What are you working on now?
WD: A modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Yes, I’m creating a Mr. Darcy for today’s women. It’s my homage to my favorite novel. Instead of Austen’s class divide, I’m using right-wing religion and liberal politics to separate Elizabeth Bennet (Elyse) and Fitzwilliam Darcy (Will).
SH: Have you hidden friends or family in your stories? Has anyone ever asked to be included?
WD: My characters are all fictional. I don’t know any sharp-tongued, fashion-crazy, soul-delivering Storks in real life. (I kinda wished I did, of course.) Having said that, I think all writers draw on aspects of their friends and family. No one has asked specifically to be in my books. Good thing, I suppose. I subject my characters to some pretty twisted stuff.
SH: Would you want your books to become a movie, a television show, or a graphic novel series? If you were casting the movie or t.v. show, who would you want to for some of your main characters?
WD: Of course. I think every writer would love to see their characters come to life. It’s hard to cast teen characters because there aren’t many young actors who are household names. I’ve heard Elle Fanning suggested for Katla. I like, I like, by the way. If Betty White’s not too busy punking people, she’d make a great Hulda. And how about Justin Bateman for Katla’s dad?
SH: What’s the best, or most surprising, question you have ever been asked?
WD: Here’s a question from the blogger “Bookish in a Box” that was fun: “A person from the future comes to you and offers you a trip to any time and place of your choosing. You’re allowed to bring one thing with you. Where/when do you go and what do you take?” I think I would go to London in September of 1666 (Pudding Lane) on the eve of the great fire—and with a fire extinguisher. Not only would I get to walk the streets of 17th century England, but I’d get to save lives and some architectural gems. Then again, maybe I should go to Ford’s Theatre in 1865 with blanks for John Wilkes Booth’s gun.
Books by Wendy Delsol
Stork. Candlewick, 2010. 368p. $15.99. 978-0-7636-4844-2. VOYA December 2010. 5Q 5P J S
Frost. Candlewick, 2011. 376p. $15.99. 978-0-7636-5386-6. VOYA February 2012. 4Q 3P J S
Flock. Candlewick, 2012. 384p. $16.99. 978-0-7636-6010-9. VOYA June 2012. 5Q 4P J S
Wendy Delsol’s website: http://www.wendydelsol.com/
Writers’ Voices (podcast interview) http://www.writersvoices.com/free-radio-online/fiction-writers/wendy-delsol-stork/
Women’s Fiction Writers: http://womensfictionwriters.wordpress.com/category/wendy-delsol/