Are you an avid reader? Then you have probably been shaped into that by some wonderful children’s books that you received during your very early years, maybe even before you were able to read yourself. One author of some wonderfully captivating and unusual children’s books will be present at the 6th Annual Lakewood Film, Arts, and Book Festival – and if you know any child you want to gift with stories that are unforgettable, have Dia Calhoun sign her books for you.
If you read up on Dia Calhoun, you will be stunned by the recognition her children’s books have been receiving so far: The author, essayist, and poet won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature for her novel “Aria of the Sea”. Three of her eight novels are American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults. Calhoun’s contemporary novel “Eva of the Farm” was a Hornbook Magazine Best Verse Novel. And her most recent book, “After the River the Sun” is definitely one that will stay on one’s mind forever.
Susanne Bacon: Dia, you are a children’s book author par excellence. What made you choose this target group?
Dia Calhoun: Thank you for your kind words. Well, the better question might be—did I choose children’s books or did they choose me? When I was a child, books were almost like magical friends. I was lucky enough to attend the same elementary school for grades one through six. When I walked through the school library, I had a visceral sense of the presence of my favorite books emanating from the shelves. There was my old friend “The Little Princess”. And over there, “Bambi” and “The Black Stallion”. Turn the corner, and there were all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. They were part of me. As an adult, I still want to make that magic. One of the highest honors of my life was winning the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature for my fantasy novel “Aria of the Sea”. That award is given to one children’s book a year (and one adult book), for a book written in the manner of Tolkien or C.S. Lewis. So, I think the answer to your question is that children’s books cast a magical spell on me—they chose me.
Susanne Bacon: Your two latest children’s books, “Eva of the Farm” and “After the River the Sun” are written in a very unconventional way. They tell the story of two contemporary children, yet you narrate them in the shape of a poem. Why did you choose that “mold” for your story? What do you hope to achieve with your readers?
Dia Calhoun: Before writing those two books, I had always written poetry, but not seriously. During the years while I was writing my fantasy novels, I also wrote poems about my husband’s family orchard, called the Farm. One day a writer friend of mine, Lorie Ann Grover, an amazing verse novelist herself, read those poems. She said to me, “Dia, you are a poet.” She suggested I write a verse novel.
“Eva of the Farm” is about a girl who is a poet. She even sells her poems at the local Farmer’s Market—“A Dollar a Poem—Support Your Local Poet!” to try to raise money to save her family’s farm, which is in foreclosure. Since Eva is a poet, it seemed a natural step to write the story as a verse (not rhyming verse) novel. Later, “After the River the Sun” being a companion novel, it made sense to continue the form. The verse form allows for a tightness of action that I find very effective for conveying drama.
I am now writing poetry seriously for adults. In August I attended my first open mike poetry reading at the Olympia Poetry Network. Very exciting! I’ve had a lot of experience with public speaking and reading my fiction aloud to audiences at book stores, school visits, libraries, and conferences—but poetry is a different matter! It is much more soul-baring.
Susanne Bacon: You have chosen a very unique gift for your protagonist Eva. You rarely read about kids with a passion for writing. What is your message?
Dia Calhoun: I simply wanted to write a story about a girl who had a tremendous imagination. Imagination, as I call it in the book, is one of the “Greater Powers,” with love and hope. Imagination takes you to wonderful and terrible places. If you have been born with the gift of a tremendous imagination, you have to learn to manage all that it brings.
Susanne Bacon: Nature plays a very important role, especially in “After the River the Sun”, the story of a video game addicted city boy being changed by Nature. You target children with it, but isn’t this rather a book that parents should read?
Dia Calhoun: Any well-written children’s book will speak to both adults and children. Somewhere along the historical literary road, we divided children’s books from adult books. Fairy tales and legends were originally more grim than Grimm, you might say, and they were for everyone. The Arthurian Legend plays a large role in “After the River the Sun”, mixing in with Eckhart’s love of video games.
I hope that people of all ages – children, teens, adults – will love my novels and have their own imaginations ignited. And maybe someday, a child will walk past one of my books on the library shelves and think, “There is Eva of the Farm” … that, too me, would be the ultimate success.
You may have even further and totally different questions for Dia Calhoun. The 6th Annual Lakewood Film, Arts, & Book (FAB) Festival takes place on September 28, 29, and 30, 2018 from noon to 9 pm at the Shirley McGavick Conference Center at Clover Park Technical College. The book/author section is open from noon to 6 pm. Dia Calhoun will be signing her books on Saturday. Please find further information at www.facebook.com/lakewoodfilmartsbooks/.