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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Interview and Giveaway: Annemarie O'Brien {Lara's Gift}

I'm so excited to have Annemarie O'Brien here today to talk about her debut middle-grade novel, Lara's Gift. And you have the chance to win a copy of your own! Be sure to check out my review of this lovely novel as well...

Lara's Gift
by Annemarie O'Brien
August 6, 2013
Random House Books

Young Lara is being groomed in the family tradition to take over as Count Voronstov's next kennel steward, breeding borzoi dogs worthy of the Tsar. But then Lara's baby brother is born and she finds herself supplanted as her father decides to make her brother the next kennel steward. Going against her father's wishes and becoming increasingly sure of her special gift of understanding these incredible dogs, Lara risks everything when she reveals the truth about her visions. Now she must save Zar, her favorite borzoi and the one she raised from birth, from a hungry pack of wolves. Only then can she find her own, extraordinary destiny. . . .


What three words best describe Lara's Gift?
Magical. Lyrical. Empowering.
Can you give us your best one sentence pitch to convince readers (especially reluctant readers) to give Lara's Gift a try?
Let me borrow a quote from Kathi Appelt: “A Gift to anyone who loves adventure, a good story, and, above all, a beloved dog.”
Grab a copy of Lara's Gift and answer the following: 
Favorite chapter?
This is tough. Either Chapter Twelve: The Hunt or Chapter Fourteen: The Dance.
Favorite page? 
Page 168, the last page.
Favorite character? 
Zar is my favorite character.
Flip to a random page and give us a 1-2 sentence teaser: 
Papa let go of my hand and as he hurried off, he turned to me, and almost as an afterthought, he added, “If the pups come tonight, you know where to find me.”A big smile came to my face. “Not if, Tyatya, when.”
What inspired Lara's Gift? And what do you hope readers will walk away with from this story? 
In 1989, while I was working and living in Russia, I was gifted a borzoi puppy. Many doors opened up for me because of Dasha, and with each new door came a flood of questions. It’s the questions I couldn’t answer that consumed me. It didn’t take long before the ‘what ifs’ took over and fueled my imagination and led to Lara and Zar’s character, story, and struggle. Lara’s Gift is really more than a dog story set in the Russian Imperial era. It’s a story about following your heart and trusting your gifts. So I hope readers walk away from reading about Lara and Zar with a newfound inspiration to follow their own hearts and to pursue their passions despite any obstacles that might stand in their way. I have always tried to live my life this way and when I succeed at it, I’ve always found that it leads to happiness and a sense of fulfillment.
When writing Lara's Gift did you have to do any special research about 1914 Russia and/or dog raising?
I did extensive research on the history, social, economic, and political structure of Russia in 1914. You’ll find a lengthy list of sources in the bibliography. I also spent a good ten years of my career living and working all over the former Soviet Union. I studied the language, delved into the music, and read all of the great Russian writers from that period. As for dog raising, I’ve always been a huge dog lover and have had borzoi since 1989. I currently have two borzoi. Zola and Zar who inspired the fictional characters in Lara’s Gift, as well as a silken windhound named Zeus.
As a dog owner, how important was it to you to develop a special relationship between your character Lara and her dog? And just what makes this relationship so special? 
As I developed the relationship between Lara and Zar, I dug deeply into the twelve-year-old me that loved my dog and tried to leverage the emotion I felt. The relationship between Lara and Zar is special because there is nobody more important to each of them than each other.
If you could “borrow” a character from any book/movie/tv show to write about it, who would you choose and what would you do with them? 
What a great question! I’d “borrow” Argos from Homer’s Odyssey and put him with a fourteen-year-old girl in contemporary Stinson Beach, California. 
What's been the best or most rewarding aspect of being an author? The hardest? 
The most rewarding aspect of being an author is the opportunity I’ve gotten to work with my editor, Erin Clarke of Knopf. The hardest aspect is knowing I can’t be a full-time author. 
Fill in the blanks: 
I'm really awesome at___
sticking to my goals and following my heart.
I'm really embarrassed to admit___ 
that I ate 14 steaks in one sitting!
The last great book I read was___ 
The Color of My Words by Lynn Joseph.
If you were to bake a cupcake inspired by Lara's Gift what would it look and taste like, and what would you call it? 
Wow, another great question! A cupcake inspired by Lara’s Gift would be pure white like Zar’s coat. The white chocolate cake and frosting would be topped with coconut flakes! And I’d call my cupcake ‘Snegurochka. It means Snow Princess in Russian and is also the title of a beloved Russian fairy tale.
Annemarie O'Brien
Annemarie O’Brien has an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She teaches creative writing courses at UC Berkeley Extension, Stanford Continuing Studies, Pixar, and DreamWorks, as well as edits children’s books for Room to Read which advocates literacy in developing countries. Lara’s Gift is her debut middle grade novel inspired from a former life when she lived and worked in the former Soviet Union during the Gorbachev era and was gifted Dasha, her first borzoi puppy.

Win a finished copy of Lara's Gift!
Thanks to Random House I have one finished copy of Lara's Gift to give away.
-will end 7/16
-must be 13+, one main entry per person
-winner will be emailed and must claim prize within 48 hours
-Word Spelunking is not responsible for lost, stolen, or damaged prizes in the mail
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Unknown said...

Lara's Gift sounds like a great book to read, I would like to thank Annemarie for sharing her love of animals and writing this book about the borzoi dog breed and protecting her dog Zar from the wolves, I would love to read this

Holly Letson said...

Love the cover. Please tell me the dog doesn't die.