Tuesday, April 24, 2012

APOCALYPSE NOW: An Interview with Sarvenaz Tash, author of THE MAPMAKER AND THE GHOST

Happy book birthday to my good pal Sarvenaz Tash  whose Middle Grade adventure, THE MAPMAKER AND THE GHOST, arrives in bookstores today!

From Sarvenaz's website: "Goldenrod Moram loves nothing better than a good quest. Intrepid, curious, and full of a well-honed sense of adventure, she decides to start her own exploring team fashioned after her idols, the explorers Lewis and Clark, and to map the forest right behind her home. This task is complicated, however, by a series of unique events—a chance encounter with a mysterious old lady has her searching for a legendary blue rose. Another encounter lands her in the middle of a ragtag gang of brilliant troublemakers. And when she stumbles upon none other than the ghost of Meriwether Lewis himself, Goldenrod knows this will be anything but an ordinary summer...or an ordinary quest."

I adored this book and jumped at the chance to interview Sarv. On to the questions!

Goldenrod Moram is a fantastic protagonist with a one-of-a-kind name. How'd you come up with it? Do Goldenrod and a young Sarvenaz have any traits in common?

Her name came to me in a dream (I know, how very Stephenie Meyer of me!). I vividly saw this girl named Goldenrod Moram and when I woke up I wondered what kind of a girl would have that name. It immediately sounded like a fairy tale name to me, and I thought it’d be interesting if it were instead the name of a real, adventurous girl who was annoyed by this fact.

I am named after a tree and Goldenrod is named after a flower. She has a brother who's named after a tree and I have a sister who's named after the flower. But, the funny thing is, I didn't put those connections together until well after I had written those characters and was on the third or fourth draft. Other than that, we don’t have too much in common. Goldenrod is a lot braver and spunkier than I am.

Were you interested in Lewis and Clark when you were a kid? What drew you to mapmaking as a topic?

You know, I actually have no sense of direction at all. I will be going in the wrong direction about 95% of the time and will have to turn around. I think maps are beautiful but I never got much practical use out of them when I was a kid.

The mapmaking was one of those rare inspirational things that just hit me out of nowhere. When I was working on Goldenrod's character, I knew she needed a hobby and mapmaking just came to me. It's especially weird that it happened that way because her hobby ended up informing so much of the story.

How much research did you do on the Corps of Discovery Expedition / Lewis and Clark? Did you research before starting the book, or did you perform "fill in the blank" research during the writing process?

I definitely didn't do research before I started writing the book because Lewis & Clark were nowhere to be found in the early drafts of the story (and there was no ghost either!) Slowly, as it began to dawn on me how important Goldenrod's mapmaking was going to be, that's when putting Lewis & Clark in there seemed like a natural progression. By then I had the basic skeleton of the story, so it was a lot of  "fill in the blank" researching. What I loved about it was that sometimes I would get stuck plot-wise, and then go find out some fascinating true fact about the expedition that would put me back on track. It was a surprising and very fun way to write.

Goldenrod's relationship with her younger brother Birch is realistic, humorous, and poignant. Did you draw on your own relationship with your younger sister for it, or make it up entirely?

I definitely drew from my own relationship with my younger sister. We're very close and we spent a lot of time playing together when we were kids. In fact, she's the first name you'll see on my dedication page (the second is my cousin who lived with us when we were young and was our other playmate). I was very inspired by the memories I had of the three of us had going on our made-up adventures in our backyard. Only Goldenrod and Birch get to have a real adventure.

The Gross-Out Gang is an excellent, diverse, three-dimensional group of kids. Did you chart out their personality traits before writing, or get to know them as the story progressed?

I did chart out their personalities before writing. They came to me on the same day that Goldenrod Moram's name did. So, originally, that's all I knew about the story: an adventurous girl named Goldenrod and a group of nefarious kids that she somehow comes across. As you might be able to tell, I had a lot of fun coming up with their nicknames and quirks (possibly too much fun). I actually had to cut one out because there were just too many to keep track of – and it rather broke my heart, to tell you the truth. His name was Thistle Ears and he had really long ear hair.

Several characters are not who they seem to be at first (which reminded me a bit of The Westing Game). Did you outline these reveals in advance, or surprise yourself while writing?

I think I'll die happy now for having a book I wrote be compared to the brilliance that is The Westing Game. So thank you for that!

This book went through a crazy amount of drafts. 28 by my last count. Some of those drafts involved minor changes and some huge, sweeping ones (like adding in a ghost that popped up in the title). I think most of the twists and turns and reveals came through those drafts. Except for one major one that I knew from the get-go…of course, I can't tell you which one it is without spoiling the book. I’ll just say it's probably the biggest twist.

You've mentioned your respect for JK Rowling on your blog. Who, if any, other authors influenced you, and/or inspired you to write a Middle Grade adventure story?

Definitely Roald Dahl. I was obsessed with his books as a kid, and I think his dark, twisty humor is in some ways all over this book. You mentioned Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game, and that book along with E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler definitely influenced the adventure/mystery side of the story.

Beverly Cleary and Ann M. Martin were also big influences on me, simply because (along with Roald Dahl) they wrote middle grade books that made me a reader for life. For that reason alone, I will always love middle grade.

Are you doing anything special to celebrate your book's release?

There will be a book release party on Saturday, April 28 at BookCourt in Brooklyn, NY. If you're in the neighborhood, do consider dropping by! There will be a very short reading, a Q&A session, a signing session and – most importantly – cupcakes.

Since we're the Lucky 13s, we have to ask: Do you have any good luck charms or believe in any superstitions?

I’ve had a stuffed Abu (from Aladdin) since I was young and it's been with me at every dorm and apartment I've ever been at. I've been known to still hug him when I'm having a particularly rough day. Don't judge!

Huge congratulations on your debut novel, Sarvenaz, and thanks for stopping by!

Sarvenaz Tash was born in Tehran, Iran and grew up on Long Island, NY. She received her BFA in Film and Television from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. This means she got to spend most of college running around and making movies (it was a lot of fun). She has dabbled in all sorts of writing including screenwriting, copywriting, and professional tweeting. Sarvenaz currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. The Mapmaker and the Ghost is her debut novel.

You can purchase THE MAPMAKER AND THE GHOST here:
Books of Wonder (signed copy)


  1. This is definitely going on my TBR list. Sarvenaz sounds like the kind of auhtor it would be fun to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea with... Fun interview!

    1. Thanks, Lindsey! I'm having a cup of coffee right now as a matter of fact. ;-)

  2. I found out about this book because Ms. Tash did an interview with Graig (an amazing baseball artist that was working on a commission for me). I enjoy reading YA books and finding ones that my daughter might enjoy and I can't wait for us both to read this one!

  3. I can't wait to get a copy of this book. Looks really interesting!

    Happy Book Day!

  4. Thanks for the interview! I'm really anxious to read this book. It sounds utterly refreshing.

  5. I cannot get my hands on this book fast enough! I'm very intrigued by the comparison to The Westing Game!

  6. I loved learning about the background behind this book and so look forward to reading it! Best of luck, Sarvenaz. May you sell a gazillion books. :)

    1. Thank you, Liz!! From your mouth to the book-gods' ears. :-)

  7. My pre-ordered copy arrived today and I can't wait to dig in! Great interview!

  8. I can't wait to hang out with the Gross-Out Gang.

  9. This book sounds great, except for the loss of Thistle Ears : (

    Another great interview, thanks!

  10. great interview! i love reading about the process it takes to come up with a story and this one sounds really good! can't wait to read more about goldenrod! and i definitely still have an elephant that goes everywhere with me and is always good at making me feel better : )

  11. Thanks for the interview. Goldenrod is a great name!

  12. We have a student in our program named Honey. I generally refer to her as Ms. , so I'm not calling her "Honey."
    Great interview. Enjoying the book and look forward to more!

  13. I really enjoyed the Mapmaker and the Ghost; it was refreshing to read a book for younger readers that actually felt like it was *for* them (as opposed to the current trend of "young adult" books that are actually for adults).

  14. I'm right there with you when it comes to having no sense of direction! Even if I have a map, I can't figure out how to read it :P Fun interview :]