Author Interview: Victoria J. Coe
Q. Tell us about your book, specifically the story behind the titles.
A. FENWAY AND HATTIE (Putnam 2016)
A dog named Fenway and a girl named Hattie move from their apartment in the city to a home in the suburbs where everything is different. And while they both face problems, you only get Fenway’s side of the story because the whole book is told from his point of view. So readers have to figure out what’s happening from Hattie’s side of things, which I think/hope makes it super fun to read!
FENWAY AND HATTIE AND THE EVIL BUNNY GANG (Putnam 2017)
In this first sequel, both Fenway and Hattie struggle with friendship triangles. And even worse, a neighbor’s pet bunny – who may or may not be part of the evil gang who destroyed the garden - threatens to come between THEM!
FENWAY AND HATTIE UP TO NEW TRICKS (Putnam 2018)
Hattie’s magician Nana is coming to visit and Hattie wants to learn her own magic tricks to impress her. But when Fenway gets hurt, she starts playing tricks on HIM! Poor Fenway begins to wonder if he can still trust his beloved girl...
FENWAY AND HATTIE IN THE WILD (Putnam 2019)
Fenway and Hattie are excited to go on a group camping trip as part of a back-to-school tradition. But as they meet all the new kids and dogs, they find that some of them are not very nice. And when there’s trouble at their campsite, they realize that surviving the wild might be as tough as wanting to fit in.
Q. What is your inspiration behind the Fenway and Hattie series?
A. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that there are at least two sides to every story. From the time I was in elementary school, I LOVED reading books told from different perspectives or multiple perspectives. It’s so cool to realize our own perspective isn’t the only one out there and there’s no “one way” to make sense of the world.
Having said that, I didn’t think I could write a book like that because it would be too hard. But I decided to pursue the idea of writing from a dog’s POV when our own dog freaked out as we were moving, and I started to wonder what was going through his mind.
Turns out that my fear about its being too hard was very well-founded! But like my main character, I never give up. Happily, two years and four major rewrites later, the manuscript that became Fenway and Hattie finally emerged.
Q. What are some challenges unique to writing animal fiction?
A. How long is this blog?! Really, I usually feel like I’m trying to write with both hands tied behind my back. There are SO many things about humans that animals – even those who live with people – don’t understand or that wouldn’t register with them.
So the challenge is to create scenes that most readers will be able to figure out from clues. It’s kind of “show, don’t tell” to the extreme.
And then, all the usual elements of writing fiction still apply – both the animals and humans need to have problems and story arcs along a relatable theme like love, jealousy, trust, or how to be a good friend, and the story needs to come to a satisfying conclusion. It’s a lot like making a really complicated puzzle!
Q. What makes your books a perfect fit for middle grade classrooms?
A. So many things! I’ve heard over and over that the Fenway and Hattie books strike a good balance. The stories are so fun and funny and lively that they easily engage those on the younger end of the middle-grade range, while the inference aspect and of course the humor make them appeal to older readers, too.
Plus, kids love dogs. And Fenway’s a pretty loveable dog!
Q. What does your daily writing life look like?
A. From the time a story idea sparks to the time it’s completely finished, I never stop thinking about it. I do set daily goals for myself and I also like to mix them up. I find that variety stretches my creativity. So sometimes I’ll go for a certain number of pages each day; other times I’ll set a timer and write for a certain number of minutes.
I also like to bring my laptop on the subway or to places where I know I’ll have to wait like airports. It sure makes the time fly!
Q. What’s the best thing about being a writer?
A. My favorite part of writing is getting to the end. And yes, that’s a serious answer! Getting the whole story out of my head and onto the page is an amazing feeling of accomplishment. Plus, it’s so gratifying to see my characters end up where they need to end up. I’m like a proud mama!
My favorite part of being an author is visiting elementary schools. So much of writing is solitary – even if I’m writing on a crowded airplane. I just love getting out and connecting with readers, listening to them, feeling their energy – it’s always the best day ever. I might get even more out of school visits than the kids do.
Q. Future projects you are working on?
A. I have a couple of projects in the works right now. Too early to know if they will become books someday, but I’m working my tail off to make sure it happens!
Q. What else would you like us to know?
A. Fenway and Hattie was a Global Read Aloud book in 2017, and I’m always excited to hear that teachers are reading it aloud and having lots of great discussions about POV and inference.
Today, Fenway and Hattie is a popular One School, One Book, and a Read To Them “Sweet Spot” selection. You can find out more at ReadToThem.org, and if you do choose my little pup for a community read, please let me know!
Many teachers and librarians have asked me if Fenway and Hattie is coming out in Spanish, and now I can finally say YES! It will be published in paperback by Penguin on 12/31/19 and is available for preorder now. All the info is posted at victoriajcoe.com/news.
Almost everything you could ever want as well as many things you didn’t know you wanted can be found at www.victoriajcoe.com, and on the Fenway and Hattie resource padlet, padlet.com/victoriajcoe/FenwayAndHattieResources. Seriously! There’s 25-part series of writing videos for all ages, book trailers, activities and games including write about, breakout.edu, and buncee, interviews, podcasts, complete school visit info, a “how-to” for adapting #booksinthekitchen for your classroom using flipgrid, and of course, news and book ordering information.
If we’re not already connected, I hope teachers and school librarians will consider staying in touch by signing up for my periodic newsletter where I share news, special offers, secret info, and contests. Last year, two classrooms won the chance to name characters in my new book! Find the sign-up form at: https://bit.ly/2taKLsA
I love hearing from educators, parents, and readers! Aside from my mailing list and victoriajcoe.com, you can find me on twitter or instagram @victoriajcoe, and on my web series with Elly Swartz, #booksinthekitchen at youtube.com/booksinthekitchen. Let me know what you’re up to!
I’m so in awe of all the educators and librarians who nurture and inspire kids every day. You are changing lives and making the world a better place. Thank you for allowing me to be part of the great work you do. You are my heroes!