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BKL: In Rain Reign’s author’s note, you write about how Hurricane Irene in 2011 was one of catalysts for you to write this book and how moved you were by the loss and reunion of people and their pets. That made you think about writing the story of a lost dog. Tell us about some of the other factors that led you to this story.
MARTIN: Around the same time as Irene, a character came to me who was fascinated with homonyms—though she was not necessarily someone on the autism spectrum. That came later. It took a while for the all the ideas to jell.
BKL: So what led you to bring autism into the story?
MARTIN: I began to think about Rose and her finding her dog, then losing the dog, and what might happen if she found the dog and realized she had to give the dog back to its proper owner. When I started to wonder about Rose as someone who is obsessed with following the rules, that’s when autism came into the story.
BKL: You have written about both a character with mental disabilities and dogs before. Did you feel drawn back to those elements? Was there a part of you that was hesitant about going there again?
MARTIN: Actually, the territory I wasn’t sure I wanted to go into again was dogs, just because I had written two previous books about them: A Dog’s Life and Everything for a Dog. Writing about someone with some form of mental disability—I was actually looking forward to that. When I decided Rose was going to be on the spectrum, I knew that was a character I wanted very much to write about.
BKL: In what ways?
MARTIN: Both Rose and Adam, from A Corner of the Universe, appealed to me for the same reasons. Adam was based on my mother’s younger brother. He was born in the 1930s and diagnosed with what was then called childhood schizophrenia. I was nine when I learned about him, and though he was gone by then, I became fascinated with mental illness. As an adult, I studied psychology, and I became interested in autism, because I felt that if my uncle had been born a generation or so later, that would have been his diagnosis. So that’s why I wanted to write about both Adam and Rose.
BKL: You did a good deal of research.
MARTIN: I was able to visit a school for children on the spectrum and see the kids’ interactions. I also worked with children who were autistic in the 1970s.
BKL: How difficult was it to write a character who wasn’t inherently pleasant or likable?
MARTIN: For me, it was not that difficult. I became so caught up in Rose’s obsessions that I felt that I knew her intimately. Her voice emerged near the beginning of the book. I knew that she was annoying, and I was making her annoying on purpose, but that didn’t stop me from liking her.
BKL: Adults are often not very well fleshed out in novels for children. That isn’t true here. Rain’s straightforward character is juxtaposed against a father who is quite nuanced. How was it to write such a complicated character?
MARTIN: I wanted the relationship between Rose and her father to be complicated. I wanted readers to see that he is exactly the wrong parent for Rose and to also understand why he reacts to Rose the way that he does. I will say that most of the revising I had to do after the first draft had to do with the father and how his character and background played into his relationship with his daughter.
BKL: Do you like the editing process?
MARTIN: I do. I know that not everyone does, necessarily, but I like getting comments back from my editor and working on them. This time, it gave me the opportunity to clarify the father and delve more carefully into the inner workings of this family.
BKL: You’ve been at both ends of the children’s literature experience with the success of the Baby-Sitters Club series as well as writing a Newbery Honor Book. Talk about the satisfactions that come with these different kinds of books.
BKL: I get a great deal of pleasure from writing both, but they are different kinds of pleasure. It’s wonderful to write a book like A Corner of the Universe or Rain Reign. But it’s also wonderful to have heard from so many kids at the time, and now as adults, who talk about how the Baby-Sitters Club books turned them into readers. I also still get comments from adults who say they were going through difficult times in their lives, and they turned to series books for comfort and found friends in the characters. It’s especially satisfying when I hear that from people who are now librarians, editors, teachers, and bloggers. There’s nothing more gratifying than turning a child on to the love of reading.
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