Inspired by a Hans Christian Andersen story, Nightingale’s Nest is a powerful novel about friendship and family that calls to mind Bridge to Terabithia. It’s about a boy with the weight of the world on his shoulders and a girl with the gift of healing in her voice. Nikki Loftin is one of our favorite local authors & we’re thrilled to welcome her here this Saturday, February 22 to celebrate the release of another wonderful new book for readers ages 7-12. We asked her a few questions about the book in advance of her visit.
TEEN PRESS CORPS: What inspired you the most about Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Nightingale?” Was there something about that story that stuck with you and made you want to expand on it?
NIKKI LOFTIN: I come from a long line of musicians. By the time I was four, I was taking voice and violin lessons from my grandfather, a lifelong professional musician and conductor – and singing solos in his church! My parents called me their little bird, since I sang constantly around the house. So I think that’s why a fairy tale about a song that had the power to chase death away from an Emperor’s bedside intrigued me. What would that music sound like?
As a writer, I loved the idea that the nightingale in Andersen’s story would come back voluntarily to the Emperor’s bedside – this man who had caged her – in his hour of need. I am drawn again and again to the theme of redemption in my writing.
TPC: Since this is your second book expanding upon a fairy tale, what was your favorite tale growing up and why?
NL: My favorite fairy tale was Hansel and Gretel, hands down! That’s probably why my first book (The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy) is a re-telling of that one. I mean, a house made entirely of candy? What child wouldn’t be mesmerized by that sort of tale? I dreamed of having a candy house of my own, witch or no witch. The Nightingale was my second favorite, followed by Snow White and Rose Red. Maybe I should think about retelling that one next!
TPC: Although they are both based on classic tales, your novels feel very different in tone. How was writing Nightingale’s Nest different than writing The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy?
NL: Nightingale’s Nest was the most effortless writing experience I have had – and possibly the most painful. The story felt like it was being told to me at times, and my job was to get it down before I forgot what came next. The characters seemed so real to me – Little John and Gayle – that I found myself emotionally involved in their lives… um, their fictional lives. I have to keep reminding myself they’re not real. I wept my way through the writing process at times, and I still worry over them.
The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy was more fun to write, but I got off track a lot and had to go back and fix things! (For example, at one point the playground sand was made of ground-up unicorn bones. Unicorns! I knew better even then. The real ingredient is far more gruesome.)
TPC: Are you working on any future projects or taking a well-deserved break?
NL: A break from writing? No way! I am never happier than when I’m drafting a new story, and I have one in the works. It’s still super secret – I find when I talk about my works in progress too much, it takes away some of the energy to write them. I’m also finishing up editorial revisions on my next novel, Wish Girl, due out in early 2015. I’m so excited about this one! It’s lighter in tone than Nightingale’s Nest, with more pronounced magical realism, and I think my readers will like it a lot. I hope so!
TPC: Have you ever considered writing YA or do you feel an affinity for middle grade fiction? Do you prefer to read one or the other?
NL: I have tried to write YA, and I have one fairy tale retelling in the works (a super gory one! And when I say gory, you know it’s bad.), but I’m more drawn to writing middle grade right now. I love to read both – if I’m invested in the characters and the writing is strong, I’ll read anything! (I do prefer fantasy to contemporary, generally. Magic is so much fun.)
TPC: Can you offer any advice to young readers and writers?
NL: For young readers, don’t let anyone tell you books are supposed to be good for you. They’re supposed to be like long, amazing emotional roller coasters made out of words! If you’re not loving the book you’re reading? Stop reading, and find one you do love! (I’m thinking of having t-shirts made: Books Are Not Broccoli.) I want kids to love reading as much as I do! For writers: Read. Read everything you can get your hands on, and write, starting with short fiction and/or poetry. Writing short fiction can help you build up amazing skills for tackling longer stories… plus there are all sorts of cool contests with prize money for short fiction by young people!
TPC: We like to ask authors what books they would recommend to our customers. Is there anything you have read and loved lately?
NL: I fell head over heels in love with Natalie Lloyd’s A Snicker of Magic. I cried happy tears more than once while I read it, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s got magic and feelings and friendship and family… it’s one of my favorite books! I also love Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy (fantasy), Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s One For the Murphy’s (contemporary), and Rebecca Behrens’ When Audrey Met Alice (historical). For YA, don’t miss Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown – one of my favorite “vampire books” ever.
Thanks so much for giving me the chance to share!
Join us this Saturday, February 22 at 3pm for a fabulous party with Nikki Loftin to celebrate Nightingale’s Nest!