I'm so excited to have The Toymaker's Apprentice Blog Tour stopping by today with a wonderful guest post by Sherri L. Smith and a giveaway...
The Toymaker's Apprentice
by Sherri L. Smith
Oct. 13, 2015
Stefan Drosselmeyer is a reluctant apprentice to his toymaker father until the day his world is turned upside down. His father is kidnapped and Stefan is enlisted by his mysterious cousin, Christian Drosselmeyer, to find a mythical nut to save a princess who has been turned into a wooden doll. Embarking on a wild adventure through Germany, Stefan must save Boldavia’s princess and his own father from the fanatical Mouse Queen and her seven-headed Mouse Prince, both of whom have sworn to destroy the Drosselmeyer family.
Based on the original inspiration for the Nutcracker ballet, Sherri L. Smith brings the Nutcracker Prince to life in this fascinating journey into a world of toymaking, magical curses, clockmaking guilds, talking mice and erudite squirrels.
“An absorbing tale of adventure, invention, family loyalty, and sly humor. . . . Bursting with unforgettable characters.” - School Library Journal, starred review
“Men and mice engage in mortal conflict in this multilayered retelling . . . . A fast-paced adventure.” - Kirkus Reviews
“An inventive fantasy.” – Booklist
What was the journey to publication like for you and your book?
When I was around the age of 9, my mother signed my brother and I up for piano lessons. I loved music, I loved to sing, so it made sense. But I could not stand piano. Maybe it was being forced to sit still on that little bench for the half-hour lessons. Or my 15 whole minutes of daily practice—each second felt like torture! Maybe it was the notes, which looked suspiciously like a strange math problem. Or maybe it was my teacher. I don’t remember the poor lady’s name, but I recall she had a personality that was more forté than pianissimo.
My brother and I shared an hour at the piano teacher’s house. As the oldest, he would go first while I sat behind him on the sofa, watching her point and correct and explain. She had a house full of insane cats who would race around the tops of the bookcases while we played. And she had a stack of books and magazines wedged between the sofa and the wall. I used to stick my hand into that little library and see what I could find. One day, it was The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffman. (I could be wrong, but I think it was the Maurice Sendak version.)
I loved it.
I looked forward to lessons so I could read for half an hour while my poor brother ran interference with the teacher. Then I’d sit at the keyboard playing “Leaping Leprechauns” (which had a different name, but was so christened for my St. Pat’s Day birthday), and I would day dream about magician-like godfathers, creepy wooden princesses, creepier mice and a wonderful girl and her nutcracker. It was then that the spark for The Toymaker’s Apprentice was born.
The road to publication for The Toymaker’s Apprentice was a long one in more ways than one. The idea for the actual book came as to me as an image—an island kingdom with caves carved out of it to make a giant advent calendar. That was over ten years ago, and I thought it the book would be my second novel. But I was new to the book world and still getting my novel-writing legs under me. Over the years, the story evolved. The main character changed from the older Christian Drosselmeyer to his younger cousin, Stefan. The tone changed from whimsical and very Baron Von Munchausen-like, to super serious, to silly, and back again until it settled somewhere on the border of serious whimsy. Even the title changed. Originally, I wanted to call it Drosselmeyer—I still love saying that name! Not every middle grader in the world would agree, though.
As a new writer, I was also trying to learn the best ways to gather my story. A writing friend suggested I organize my thoughts in a binder. She helped me create one with tabs for timelines, real historical incidents of the period, costumes, maps, characters, places and more. It’s huge and full to the brim with scribbled notes and Xeroxes. It was a great exercise but, as I learned, not at all the way I like to write. I prefer an outline over a manual, and when it comes to research, I absorb it and let simmer in the imagination for a while. It comes out onto the page when and where it belongs.
I usually write for older teens so vocabulary was something I had to pay special attention to, and finding the right voice for my main character, Stefan. While I’ve written from the male point of view before, I found it challenging to write a younger boy character. In early drafts he felt way too young, or not very smart for his age. It was the brilliant Lisa Yee who pointed out my problem—too much talking, not enough doing. I went home, cut Stefan’s dialogue (and inner monologue) by a third, and everywhere I could have him act instead of speak, I did it. Suddenly I had a real boy on my hands, one on the cusp of adulthood, but not quite yet ready to make the leap. And that’s where the story happens. On the horizon of growing up, in the borderlands of Serious and Whimsy. What a wonderful place to start.
Sherri L. Smith was born in Chicago, Illinois and spent most of her childhood reading books. She currently lives in Los Angeles, where she has worked in movies, animation, comic books and construction. Sherri’s first book, Lucy the Giant, was an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults in 2003. Sherri’s novel, Sparrow, was chosen as a National Council for the Social Studies/Children’s Book Council Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People. Upon the release of Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet in February 2008, Sherri was featured as a spotlight author for The Brown Bookshelf’s Black History Month celebration, 28 Days Later. Flygirl, an historical YA novel set during World War II, is her fourth novel. It won the California Book Award Gold Medal, was a YALSA Best Book for Young Adults, and has received fourteen State Award nominations. Her latest novel,Orleans, is a cli-fi futuristic novel that garnered several starred reviews and was a 2014 CBC Best Book of the Year.
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