Today is Launch Day for The Real Boy (Walden Pond Press/HarperCollings; illustrated by Erin McGuire) and whaddayaknow—author Anne Ursu is our Inkpot Interview. 


Please describe the book
in under 50 words.

The Real Boy
about Oscar, who works in the basement of a magician’s shop preparing herbs for
the customers. But magic is fading, something is lurking in the village, and
Oscar will be forced out of his basement and into the world.
As the story progressed from inception to copy-edited version, what
were the major changes? How did those changes come about? When did you first
begin work on it? When did you finish?

This book was a series of
revelations—I’d be going to sleep at night and suddenly figure out how the main
plot threads came together. I’ve never written something with as complicated a
plot before. So most of the changes that were not middle-of-the-night revelations
came about because I lay face down on top of my bed and agonized for hours. I
think most of the changes involved clarifying and fleshing out. First drafts
for me are the process of telling yourself the story—after that it’s the
process of turning that story into a working book.

What research was
involved, and how did it affect the story’s development?

I’ve never written a high fantasy before—that is, a
fantasy set completely in another world. I wanted this to be a vaguely
pre-modern island, and I picked the year 1675 to give me a guideline in terms
of technology. But I’d start writing and get absolutely frozen—Oscar would be
using a lantern and I didn’t know if he would be lighting it or turning it on
and I’d have to go scurrying to the internet. I also wanted to make sure any
resource used on the island was available on the island, and that helped me
flesh out the geography of the world a little more.  But I’m not a detail person and so I had to
work very hard.


Without naming names, tell us who your first readers are
(e.g., live-action writing group; online writing group; editor; agent). When do
you share a piece of writing?

My friend (and fellow MFAC faculty) Laura Ruby reads everything,
chapter by chapter. At first she’s a support system—I feel like I’ve
accomplished something, and she says nice things. Then when I finish a draft
she tells me what she really thinks. I try to fix everything that I know needs
fixing before anyone else sees it, and then I give it to my agent and editor.

What books do you love to teach or recommend to students?

I teach When You Reach Me for basically everything—theme,
subplots, structure, scenes. Same with Speak. I’ve just started handing Eleanor
& Park
to people for character and voice. And I adore Patrice Kindl’s Owl
in Love
for point of view, as well as anything Linda Urban writes.
What widely-loved or acclaimed book is one that didn’t work
for you?

Jellicoe Road. I
love Melina Marchetta’s other books, and I was so excited when she won the
Printz. But I just did not get this book at all. I found it so muddy and
convoluted I got angry.
During the January 2013 residency Emily Jenkins lectured on
“How to Be Funny,” and one of her suggestions was to “use jolly words.” A good
idea even if one isn’t trying to be funny. Do you have a favorite jolly word?

All that I can come up with is lugubrious. I love that
word, but it’s not exactly jolly. I’m moving though—I think all my jolly words
are in boxes.