Before we begin the interview, here are a few things about Ms. Brehl:
"Sandy Brehl is a retired educator and active member of SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators). When she's not reading and writing, she enjoys gardening. She lives in the Milwaukee area and invites you to visit her website (www.SandyBrehl.com) to learn more about ODIN'S PROMISE and BJORN'S GIFT. "
(NOTE: KBR=Kid Book Reviewers, SB=Sandy Brehl)
SB: When I was your age, eons ago, schools didn’t encourage creative writing. We had lessons in grammar, proper English usage, and special forms like business-letter writing, poetry, and reports. I devoured books, but never considered writing them. I did enjoy researching and writing research papers on a variety of topics assigned by teachers. Pretty nerdy, right?
However, I grew up in a family of storytellers and I babysat a lot, so I made up stories for the kids to keep them entertained. On the rare occasions when we were asked to write stories in school, I loved it. One that I wrote in multiple installments was about an adventurous creature called Petey, the Pea-os-keet-o-rhea. He was a crossbred bird with parts from many different varieties of birds. The specialized parts each helped him in different ways so he almost had super powers to solve problems and escape from danger. The kids I babysat for loved Petey!
KBR: What was your favorite activity to do as a child? Did you have a favorite book?
SB: Hmmm, I honestly loved to read, and to learn, and spent many hours, day and night, reading. But I also liked doing things with my friends (biking, playing pick-up games in the yard, picking cherries from trees in our yard, summer swimming, etc.) My favorite book was usually the one I was reading at the time, and ones that “stayed with me” were different at different ages, then faded away. Remember, I was a kid EONS ago when most of the books now considered “classics” and favorites hadn’t even been written yet.
I loved (and reread many times) Robert McCloskey’s HOMER PRICE. If you haven’t read it, you should. The donut machine going wild will remind you of the I LOVE LUCY clip in which the candy factory conveyor belt goes too fast.
KBR: What’s your favorite part about writing?
SB: My favorite thing about writing is that I focus on the exact moment I am in, even when that is in my imagination. That’s also true when I’m reading. Otherwise, my mind juggles about twenty different things at once- to-do lists, worries, wonderings, my sore toe… I don’t focus very well. But when I’m reading or writing, everything else drops away.
What’s an average day for you when you write?
During all the years I was teaching, I only wrote in the very early morning:
• Wake up SUPER early, work out (often reading at the same time), write, do school work, clean up, spend the day at school, come home, do more school work, collapse!
• I always wrote with and for my students- nearly every day- in school. During the summer I could dig into writing much more, including research.
After I retired a few years ago my days vary, but often look like this:
Wake up (not as early), work out (still reading), read the paper, check on email, write blog posts or other business, run errands. Write/revise/critique through the afternoon. Take a break to fix/eat dinner and relax. Return to writing later in the evening and at night, depending on what my current projects require. Read at bedtime.
In between all that are things like gardening, travel, shoveling snow, cutting grass, etc.
KBR: Are there any obstacles you overcame as a writer, and if so, how did you overcome them?
SB: The biggest obstacle while I was teaching was not having enough time to write, but I made the most of what I had. The other obstacle was not finding strong writing partners, ones who would be honest and tell me what was (or wasn’t) working in my writing and who were also serious about learning and growing as writers. When I joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) that problem was solved. You must be 18 to join, but there are youth-writing programs in many communities that can help young writers find strong critique groups.
KBR: Have you ever been to Norway? If not, how did you conceive the setting for the Odin’s Promise trilogy?
SB: I’m not Norwegian, but I traveled to western Norway twice with a dear friend who was going to visit her many aunts, uncles and cousins in Ytre Arna. Many of her relatives had been young adults during the German occupation years and they told stories of hardship, humor, and resistance. Even though most of the actual scenes are from my imagination, they were created within my memories of that wonderful little village filled with caring and clever people. It’s been gratifying to hear from others who’ve been to Ytre Arna that they could picture themselves back there while reading these books.
KBR: The Odin’s Promise trilogy is, in short, about how a young girl deals with the Nazi occupation in Norway. How did you begin to formulate this idea? What was your inspiration for this trilogy?
SB: I returned from that trip with one very specific story in mind. So I researched and wrote and rewrote, then filed it away and took it out to start again, over and over for many years, until finally I stumbled across research that included journal entries written by young people living through the occupation. That’s when Mari took over all my earlier work and made it her own.
I never intended to write a sequel, let alone a trilogy, but readers insisted that Mari had more stories to tell and that they HAD to know what happens to her and her family. Within months of the release of Odin’s Promise I was researching and interviewing to begin writing those stories. The details of that period in Norway’s history and Mari’s development were so complex that I needed to write it as a trilogy instead of a single sequel.
KBR: If you could enter any of the scenes in Odin’s Promise or Bjorn’s Gift, which would it be, and why?
SB: That’s an interesting way to think about it. When I write I honestly feel as if I’m already fully immersed in each and every scene and moment, so I’ve “been there” for all of them. I’d be curious to know what readers think, though.
KBR: If you could go back in time and give yourself advice before beginning the Odin’s Promise trilogy, what would it be?
SB: 1) You can do it, so don’t give up. 2) Try harder to find good writing partners sooner. 3) Tell someone to invent the Internet sooner- it really helps research!
KBR: Can you give us a hint about your next book?
SB: The third book in the trilogy, Mari’s Hope, will release in less than year, so you won’t have long to wait. In it, the war ends (surprise!) and Hitler doesn’t win the war (surprise again!). The conclusion of the war plays out differently in Norway than it does in the rest of Europe. Several characters who barely entered the stage in Bjorn’s Gift will play more important roles in the final book. And it doesn’t all happen in Ytre Arna. You only asked for one hint and look how much I gave away!
KBR: Your books are extremely moving and well-written. [SB: Thank you so much… tusen takk] What is one question you would write yourself, and could you please answer it?
SB: What worries you about this book as it leaves your hands and goes out into the world? Everything! Will readers still care about Mari as she moves on through her life? Will they still care about what is happening in Norway at that time? Will they want to follow Mari on through the next book? I consider readers my partners in creating my books. If they are taking my words on the pages and rebuilding the world I imagined in their own heads, then the connection was a success.