Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Interview with P.H.T. Bennet, author of 'Raising Sleepy Stones'

P.H.T. Bennet began exploring his dreams when he was a child and has never bothered to stop. He had the good luck to have two daughters, Juliette and Paola, who not only served as the inspirations for DeeDee and Kiva, the main characters of Raising Sleeping Stones, but also helped him turn their family dreamwork sessions into this book. His lucky streak grew when he married his lovely wife, Mim, who tolerates his turning on a light in the middle of the night to write down ever-crazier dreams and talking about them in the morning as long as he lets her sleep in, first. His favorite dreams involve flying, visiting the dead, and replaying nightmares until they reveal their secrets.

Pratt’s latest projects are editing Book Two of the Orora Crona Chronicles and planning a virtual summer dreaming camp with other dream authors.

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About the Book:

Like every kid in Solasenda, Kiva Stone has been far too busy training for one of the five town guilds to think about something as useless as dreaming. But when she and her sister DeeDee uncover a mysterious plot to get rid of them, their only hope lies with a shadowy group of people who wield
unimaginable powers drawn from their dreams. As the girls escape with them up the Varruvyen river, they start learning secret Dreaming Way techniques that have been forbidden for centuries. But how can they learn enough to stand against the enemies chasing them? The answer lies in the shattered history of Orora Crona, the lost Valley of Dreams, and whoever can piece it together first will rule for centuries to come.

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Thanks for this interview, Pratt.  What was the inspiration behind your middle grade fantasy, Raising Sleepy Stones?

It was more my daughters. When they were about 4 and 7, they both started having recurring nightmares that were making them scared and lose a lot of sleep. I’d been working with and studying dreams for many years, so I taught them how to tame those nightmares and take control. The results were so quick that they begged me to show them what else they could do in their dreams. I taught the how to fly, breathe underwater, become lucid, and a lot of other dream techniques. They got so good at all of these dream skills that they told me I had to teach it to other kids. That’s how the writing began.

I’ve always wanted to write middle grade fantasies.  When did you determine that this was the genre for you?

Again, it was my daughters. We were all reading lots of books together, and, like a lot of other kids, my oldest was obsessed with the world and magic of the Harry Potter books. She’d read them over and over until she could recall every detail. I realized that, though she read them over and over, she never got any better at doing magic ;) So I started wondering if I could write an adventure series that would also immerse kids in an incredibly rich and wondrous world, but would also help them get better at a very specific the of magic: dreaming. Because when you think of the incredible things that we all can do in dreams, it is kind of magical. We can change appearance, shape, location, all with a thought. And we can do things that no one can in the physical world. So that’s how it started: I based the characters of DeeDee and Kiva on my daughters Juliette and Paola, and it grew from stories we made up together to the three books so far in there series. 

How do you get into the mind of a child to create a fun reading experience?  Are you around kids?  Are you a kid at heart?

All of the above. In the early years of this series, I would read new chapters to my daughters in bed. Their reactions showed me immediately if something was funny, or too long, or boring, or exciting. I cut a lot of pages that way. They also became fierce advocates for what their characters should do differently or next. Once I had the core story, I started sharing  early chapters with kids across the country and got fantastic feedback and suggestions from them, most of which made it into the books. I enjoy reading chapters to kids whenever I can and love watching their minds churn as they consider the world the characters live in. Kids ask the smartest questions, so I’m often taking notes about things to build on or make clearer in the next books. 

I also really, really hope that parents read these books with their kids and encourage them to share their dreams. I learned so much about my daughters that way, about what was making them happy, sad, or scared, what they were anxious about or hoped to do. Parents can get a much deeper and more honest window into their child’s heart and mind by just listening to their dreams than by asking how school went. That question is always tough to get a good answer to!

What was your favorite book as a child?

So, so many, but there were a few that most inspired me for this series. Harold and the Purple Crayon because Harold was so good at creating an entirely new world froths imagination. I thought a lot about Where the Wild Things Are because Max is just a kid, full of want and anger, and his dreams allow him a great and safe way to turn those destructive emotions into adventures and excitement. The Chronicles of Narnia was a series that I revisited many, many times throughout my life. I loved that though the kids were sent off on their own- both in wartime England and Narnia -there were so many adult figures who stepped up to guide and help them. And who doesn’t want a father figure like Aslan? And I also have to thank Madeleine L’Engle for A Wrinkle In Time, which blew my young mind and made me feel that kids could do anything if they really tried hard. And has awesome adults around to help. That was something that was so important to me in my series: to provide really solid and reliable adults for the girls. I don’t think it sends young readers a great message when characters have to face mortal danger without any help from adults, so though the girls have to do quite a lot by themselves, my adults are available when the girls need them most.

What kind of advice would you give writers who would like to write middle grade books?

It’s a wonderful time for middle-grade literature. There are so many great authors waking in this genre, now, so I’d say first to read, read, read. The second is to read their stories to or with as many kids as possible to see where it works and where it needs work. Kids are very honest readers and commenters. My toughest and most useful critics are all middle-graders. 

What are your goals for the future?  More books?

Absolutely! I’m currently editing the second book, which will be coming out this winter, and planning the 3rd. it’s very exciting because those are the books where the girls’ dream powers really take off and they can do incredible, unimaginable things with them. 

The second is that I’ve gathered a great team of dream authors and experts to host a free online dream camp this summer. Every day, anyone who signs up will get new tips on how to dream more, remember more, and get more out of your dreams. We will also be giving away free dream books every week and sharing author interviews on dreams. You can learn more about it and sign up for the free program here: http://bit.ly/dreamingchallenge.

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