(Picture of Jo Ann Yhard taken at White Point Beach Resort, Nova Scotia-from her personal collection please do not reproduce without permission)
I’m excited to bring you a little bit about Jo Ann Yhard, author of the Canadian bestseller, The Fossil Hunter of Sydney Mines (ISBN:
9781551097602, Nimbus, 2010) for ages 8 to 12. Yhard grew up in the Martimes on a steady diet of Nancy Drew and cryptoquotes so it’s no surprise her first book is a mystery and has quickly become a home-grown favourite! It was released south of the boarder in October 2010 and is sure to become a favourite there too!
Read up to learn more about the adventure of Atlantic Canada, upcoming projects, the Dead Dad Syndrome and who Bumblebee is! Yhard is an Atlantic writer who is getting much attention on the middle grade reader scene and a great Tweep to follow!
Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed. I unfortunately have not had the opportunity to read The Fossil Hunter but it’s on my radar!
So, I have to ask: how did your laptop come to have a name [bumblebee]? I’ve named cars but never a computer….I think if I had to name mine it would be Tortoise because it’s green and sloooooooow!
JY: Bumblebee is faster than a tortoise, but not as fast as a real bee! I spend a lot of time with Bumblebee, and since I don’t have a pet, Bumblebee is it – sort of an electronic Chia Pet. Why the name Bumblebee? It’s bright yellow and black and my screen saver is a picture of a bee on a thistle that I took while visiting Brier Island, one of my favourite places! Oh, and my mouse is bright yellow and black, too.
What fictional character do you most relate to?
JY: Alice in Wonderland because sometimes I feel too big for places and other times too small. Plus, I have lots of friends who are mad as hatters and know a few people who could give the Queen of Hearts a run for her money! And some days are a never ending tumble down the rabbit hole!
When did you know you were to write for a living?
JY:I always wanted to write. I’d write stories and poetry when I was a teenager. But it’s only within the last eight to ten years or so that I found my way back to it. For a living? Well that would be nice, but not yet.
What is the best part of writing for children? The worst?
JY: The best part of writing for children? Meeting my target audience! Their excitement is infectious and brings me a lot of joy! I’m especially thrilled to hear from reluctant readers who got caught up in the adventure of The Fossil Hunter of Sydney Mines and couldn’t put it down. That’s the dream come true part for me – that my stories make reading fun!
The worst? That I can’t do it full time!
What do you think the single most important skill that a children’s writer should have?
JY: Single most important skill? I supposed the ability to remember the child we used to be, with all those same dreams and insecurities, the sense of wonder and curiosity for everything, and to think of the possibilities ahead, rather than looking backward. You know, to envision being thirteen again with the blank slate of life in front of you, still to be discovered. It’s not easy. I’m working on it.
How has been raised in the Maritimes, a culture ripe in legend and lore, song and poetry, shaped the writer you are today?
JY: I am still exploring how it affects me. I love to promote the Maritimes in my stories and to show kids the treasures right in their own backyard. You don’t need Disneyworld and Marineland for adventure and fun! I have found the Maritime setting anchors my stories, like they are part of this land and have their own roots in it. The ocean and coastline are particularly special to me, being an avid beachcomber. I love including local food, too (blueberry grunt, boiled dinner, dulce, seafood…yum!)
As a fellow Tweep, you may have seen some chats recently about the article The Ol’ Dead Dad Syndrome where writer Lelia Sales calls out middle grade and YA writers for taking the “lazy way” out by killing of a protagonist’s parents rather than dealing with them. In your Canadian Bestseller, The Fossil Hunter of Sydney Mines (ISBN:
9781551097602, Nimbus, 2010) the main character Grace, has lost her father to mysterious circumstances and her mother is so distraught she isn’t much of a parent at all. What do you think of Sales’ point?
JY: I guess to me it’s irrelevant – parents dead/not dead. The story is the story, and if parents are important to it, they can be there in whatever form works for the story. If you need them absent, there are many ways just as easy as dead to explain their non-presence, all tragic in the affect non-presence has (parents who work away from home for extended periods, divorce, prison, shift work, mental illness, two jobs or job plus back to school, indifference, the list is endless!) In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Kids can’t live in caves by themselves, not forever anyway (unless that’s the story!). So, there will always be some type of authority figure to be evaded/avoided if the main character is doing things they shouldn’t be doing, whether it’s a grandparent, aunt, foster parent. Let’s face it – the worse it is for the character, the better for the story. And there are always obstacles to the main character’s goal regardless. So if parents don’t form obstacles because they’re dead, that doesn’t make it easy, just different. You need other obstacles. If it’s not a parent to be avoided, it’s a bully. If it’s not strict parents that keep you in the house during a full moon at midnight when you need to go out, it’s the werewolf scratching at the door.
In The Fossil Hunter of Sydney Mines, the driving force in the story is the main character’s quest to find out what happened to her dad. That is the story. So, obviously he couldn’t be around, and it wasn’t about convenience. However, there was still parental influence. The mom is dealing with grief, sure, but at the same time is struggling to instill discipline and is concerned about Grace, all while working two jobs and dealing with her own sadness. Obstacles to Grace included dealing with curfew, being grounded, mother being clingy - lots of “parental” obstacles.
That’s messy and not perfect. In other words, that’s life!
Any upcoming projects you can talk about?
JY: Lost on Brier Island, a novel for the same age group, but very different from Fossil Hunter – not a mystery, is the next project. Its Maritime setting is also crucial (Bay of Fundy, lots and lots of whales, high tides…and two very live parents (ha ha)! It will be coming out in 2011/2012 with Nimbus Publishing. Then, it’s back to the Fossil Hunter crew. I’m currently writing another mystery story with those characters.
I don’t know about you but I can’t wait to read both, maybe with a steaming lobster in front of me!