Following is another interview I did for the Elanora and the Salt Marsh Mystery book tour. This interview was with Hooked from Page One.
The First Page: The first page is perhaps one of the most important pages in the whole book. It’s what draws the reader into the story. Why did you choose to begin your book this way?
Kathleen Jae: When I think back, this is the very first thing I typed. I mean, it took a little while to work out the animal names that critters in Elanora’s world would use and to make it rhyme, but I always knew I wanted the verse to be the first words readers would see. These are the beasts of Elanora’s world, the enemies that she and her family had to contend with.
The other bit of information I wanted to convey right away is that Elanora is a curious youngster. Her questions might vex others, but it was her way of making sense of everything in her environment.
TFP: In the course of writing your book, how many times would you say that first page changed and for what reasons?
KJ: The book went through five complete drafts, and along the way I added a subplot and additional characters here and there. But the only thing I changed on the first page is when Elanora pokes her sister’s back while counting her stripes. I tried to describe the animals in the book and would sometimes give them names that were similar to what humans have given them, but because I didn’t want them calling each other these human-made names, I realized I would have to describe them better. Middle-grade readers are quite clever, and I knew they would be able to imagine Elanora’s world.
TFP: Was there ever a time after the book was published that you wished you had changed something on the first page?
KJ: No, after I added the information about the stripes, I thought the first page would work much better.
TFP: What advice can you give to aspiring authors to stress how important the first page is?
KJ: Elanora and the Salt Marsh Mystery is my first novel and since then I’ve written another one that is a different genre. I have started research for the sequel to Elanora, and because so much happens at the end of this book, the first page of the next book has to be pretty much perfect. I always knew how the first book would begin, but this time not so much.
The first page of a novel is extremely important. Elanora’s world is a treacherous one, so I chose to create a verse to reflect that, and I thought it important enough to be the first words of the book. Two other things I thought important for the reader to know right away is she has stripes on her back, which is a characteristic of chipmunks, and she is extremely curious. So right away, a reader suspects Elanora is a chipmunk, is very curious, and must always be alert for enemies in the air and on the ground.
I also believe that two people given the same material will write a different first page. The words I think should be included on the first page are personal to me. Another writer will wonder how I ever came up with a rubbish first page and create a completely different one. I am sure a more experienced writer would be able to eloquently explain the mechanics of how to write a fabulous first page. But in the end the words that appear on the first page of your book should make the reader want to turn to the second page.
This is the end of the interview for Hooked From Page One. I’ve added one more question, a question that I have been asked a few times.
I read you are creating a study guide for Elanora and the Salt Marsh Mystery. Why would you do that?
KJ: People have been commenting that there is a lot to unpack in the book. And although I knew I had intentionally included situations that dealt with bullying and the loss of ecosystems, I realized as I started creating the first word search puzzles, crosswords and lessons that the story also has opportunities to teach using science, math and social studies. The guide will be primarily for fourth and fifth graders.
Thank you Hooked From Page One.
And thank you so much for reading and warm wishes!
Elanora and the Salt Marsh Mystery is available from a number of online retailers!