Interview: Ally Malinenko, Author of Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb

Everyone, please welcome Ally Malinenko, entertainer of children, and writer of poetry. She’s stopped in today to let me peak into her life. I expect you’ll find it as entertaining as I did. Enjoy!

MalinenkoAllyAuthorHi. I’m Ally.

I live in Brooklyn which is good except when it’s not which is horrid. I’ve been writing for awhile, and have some stuff published and some stuff not.

I don’t like when people refer to pets as their children and I can’t resist a handful of cheez-its when offered.

I have a burning desire to go to Antarctica, specifically to the South Pole so I can see where Robert Falcon Scott died.

I like to read books. I like to write stories and poems. I even wrote a novel. Rumor has it, it got published. But I don’t believe rumors. And you shouldn’t either.

MalinenkoLizzySpeareCursedTombLizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb is available here from Antenna Books (Grades 4 and up)

MEET LIZZY SPEARE…

…a normal twelve year old girl with a talent for writing, who has a very not normal family secret. And when Lizzy’s father vanishes, that secret will change her life in ways unimagined. (Spoiler Alert!  It turns out that Lizzy, or Elizabeth S. Speare, is the last living descendant of William Shakespeare.  Shhh!  Don’t tell anybody!)

Then Lizzy and her best friend Sammy are kidnapped, awakening in the faraway land of Manhattan. Their host is Jonathan Muse, whose job is to protect Lizzy from becoming the latest victim in a family feud going back nearly five hundred years.  Is that why the mysterious, eye patch-wearing Dmitri Marlowe is after her? (Spoiler Alert 2—he’s the last living descendant of Christopher Marlowe, a friend and rival of Shakespeare’s.  But keep it to yourself!) Is Marlowe after Lizzy’s family fortune rumored to be kept in the tomb of that bald guy with the goatee? Does he seek artistic immortality? Or Revenge (with a capital R) for a death long, long ago?

In a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse, Lizzy and Sammy are thrust into the realm of the mythical and fantastic—from satyrs and Cyclopses to Middle Eastern cab drivers and Brooklyn hipsters in what is truly “an improbable fiction” as the Bard himself once wrote.

1) A poetry book and a children’s book – two very different books. How did you end up having these two be your first two published? 

When I first started writing I focused almost exclusively on poetry. That was all I wrote. I had no interest in writing a novel. Even the short stories that I wrote were few and far between. I got my first book of poems, The Wanting Bone published by a small press in Pittsburgh called Six Gallery. It was a really amazing experience and taught me a lot about publication. After that, I sat down one night to write, only instead of writing poems, I started a story about a girl who was the last living descendant of Shakespeare. And her featherless parrot. That eventually morphed into Lizzy Speare.

2) Let’s chat about your fascination with Robert Falcon Scott, who led an expedition to the South Pole in 1912. Why the fascination with him specifically and not another member of his team or someone from the Norwegian team?

Well in full disclosure I’m probably nearly as obsessed with Lawrence “Titus” Oates who, knowing he was going to die, got up and walked off into the storm – his final words being “I’m just going outside and may be some time.” It was a brave final moment in which he hoped that by sacrificing himself, he could save his friends (sadly he didn’t). I can’t get too obsessed with the Norwegian team for a number of reasons – 1. They went to Antarctica to be the first people to reach the South Pole while Scott’s team were there as scientists. 2. Admunsen, the Norwegian team leader, killed and ate his own dogs as he headed south. That just bothers me.

Plus Scott and his team did it on foot nearly the whole way. They had no dogs. In the beginning they had ponies but they proved to not handle the terrain as well as Scott had hoped. That means that he man-hauled, pulling a 100 lb sledge of supplies through the most hostile territory known to man. THAT deserves respect.

3) In Lizzy Speare and the Cursed Tomb, we have Lizzy, who’s life gets turned upside when she finds out that she’s the last descendant of Shakespeare. What drew you particularly to Shakespeare as the historical figure for your children’s novel? 

I’m a Bardolator which is what they call people like me who are obsessed with Shakespeare. I’ve always been a fan. Truthfully I have trouble understanding people who aren’t. Come on, no Shakespeare = No Three’s Company. The man invented the misunderstood love triangle.

I knew I wanted to write Middle Grade because those were the books that meant the most to me growing up. Those were the ones that made my brain explode. So then I figured I would combine my favorite things: mythology, magic and Shakespeare. It made sense in my head, I swear.

4) Children are not pets and pets are not children; do you have either? Would you ever name a pet after a relative? How about a kid after a beloved pet? (I can hear you snickering! And yes, my granma’s poodle, who I am named after, was very nice….to my granma).

I have a cat named June. She’s a tabby and I’m pretty much convinced that if people were to spend any time with her they would open their minds to the notion of reincarnation – because if this cat wasn’t once a really bad person paying for their crimes as my cat then I don’t know what she is. That said – that comment I made about children not being pets is because it drives me crazy when people refer to their pets as children only because they clearly have never had either. June isn’t my child. She’s a roommate who doesn’t clean up after herself and never chips in for pizza.

I’ve never named a pet after a relative, though June was named by my husband who had a babysitter with that name. He claims it’s utterly un-related.

MalinenkoWantingBone5) What are the major themes of your poetry book, The Wanting Bone? Amazon.com says you are a unique and subversive poet….and the snark in me wants to say all poetry could be considered subversive. Comment?

Actually a lot of the themes that are present in The Wanting Bone are also the same themes in Lizzy Speare – mainly family and what it means to be family – how these things are determined and a lot about trust. Also there is a large portion of The Wanting Bone that deals with my mother’s cancer treatment.

As for Amazon’s description – I have no idea where that came from. Honest.

6) You have written a variety of short stories that are available to read through the links on your site. If you had to pick just 2 or 3 to briefly discuss, which of those pushed you as a writer to go beyond your normal comfort zone?

Paper Heart, which was published by Jersey Devil Press, was a story I was very proud of mainly because I had adopted a completely different writing style for that one and that was no easy feat. It was rejected numerous times before it found a home – most people were hung up on the notion that a person would be born with Ectopia cordis (a heart on the outside of the body) and that it would be made of paper. Also, the boy with no tear ducts seemed to baffle people. That’s why I’m thankful for places like Jersey Devil Press. They let me send them all my really weird stuff. And they were kind enough to nominate me for a Pushcart – which while I realize TONS of people get nominated for and it doesn’t really mean anything – but it meant something to me that the editors at Jersey Devil picked my story out of all the other fantastic stories they had published.

Tentacles published by Slush Pile was also a tough story for me. It has no real supernatural element which is rare in my stories and it’s very much about a dying old man and his marriage. I don’t usually write stuff that straight forward. I’m more of a banshee/desert train/circus freak show sort of writer so this was a leap for me.

7) You also contribute to the magazine Down in the Dirt. I can’t help but notice that the February 2013 issue has a goat on it’s cover. Would you like to tell my readers a bit about Down in the Dirt? Or you are welcome to go on about the goat…..

I myself would like to know more about this goat. Who is the goat? Where is he from? Has he traveled far? Do his little goat hooves hurt? Will his horns grow any longer? If they do, what does that mean? Is he a billy? Is he a gruff? What other questions are there?

8) In giving advice to other aspiring writers, what are a few non-writing activities you would recommend to increase a writer’s skill?

Reading. And I can’t stress that enough. You only learn how to write by reading. Reading is key. Read, read, read. Then when you’re done, go read some more.

Also – walking. I go on long walks – they are great for working out plot issues.

9) Finally, if you would like to share about ongoing or upcoming projects or events, please do!

Sure why not? I’ve got your attention right? After all those goat questions, I should.

I’m currently working on the second Lizzy Speare book called Lizzy Speare and the Hall of Hecate.

And I’m also drowning in a hot mess which is a YA book about chess, street kids, dopplegangers, parallel worlds and time travel. Think The Outsiders meets Fringe. But mostly think “hot mess” cause right now that’s all it is.

Places to stalk Ally Malinenko:

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