Suzanne Cordatos grew up in northeast Ohio with three siblings, including her twin sister who also writes books for children. She has a degree in English Literature and a master’s degree in International Studies from universities in Ohio, but most of her adult life has been spent in Connecticut, where she currently lives, on a pond with her husband and two daughters. She is am a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and she works with international students at Sacred Heart University.
Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome, Suzanne. Your book, The Lost Crown of Apollo“, was inspired by a trip to barren “mini Pompeii” island of Delos. What was the most memorable thing about this trip and did you use it in the middle-grade novel?
Suzanne Cordatos: The seed for this novel was planted one memorable day when I arrived on Delos by boat – just like two thousand years ago it is still the only way to get there. The tourist boat was departing which meant my family and I could roam the island virtually by ourselves. It was very easy to imagine the place as it used to be in its heyday when statues still had their heads and the famous lions kept watch over the Sacred Lake. I remember being startled when I saw another person wandering among the ruined columns and temples, because I had not noticed any other boats. That feeling of being watched worked its way into the book when my characters encounter an old archaeologist who seems to be watching every move they make.
Ferrante: How much time did you spend researching the myth of Apollo and Greece? How do you organize your research?
Cordatos: When I started out, the story was based on the actions of the brother and sister characters. Enriching the story to novel length did take a lot of research. I visited the island settings twice over a two year period and organized a binder of information, photos, notes from the visits as well as Internet research on topics like Apollo, his twin Artemis and symbolism of the pelican, for example, which I stumbled upon. The small museum of Delos and its staff was helpful answering questions, and I depended heavily on a brochure and book from the island with artistic renderings of what the city may have looked like and identifying the clusters of ruins that you can see today.
Ferrante: Why are there backwards letters on the cover?
Cordatos: The publisher decided to use a mirror image of “The Lost” to give a fun hint to kids. The story involves “reflection” or “a look back” multiple levels. Main character Elias Tantalos has moments of flashback to his horrible year in 5th grade, and he explores Delos which is in a way stuck in the past two thousand years ago. On the first page, his teacher asks them to write an essay for their self-reflection, and in a sense the entire book is about Elias taking a harder look at himself to gain self-confidence.
Ferrante: Do you like to travel? Has it given you any other writing ideas?
Cordatos: Yes! For my work I recruit international students for a university, so I have visited almost twenty countries. Everywhere I go, I like meeting people, trying local food, learning a little of the language. I definitely have a few ideas for a novel set in Tokyo, Japan.
Ferrante: Your second book, Willard the Dragon: Sneeze-Fire, is a picture book. Why did you switch from novel writing to creating a picture book?
Cordatos: It actually happened the other way around. Sneeze-Fire was written and sold to a publisher a few years before the novel. You may be surprised to learn that The Lost Crown of Apollo began as a picture book story, but an editor asked if I would consider re-writing the story as a novel. She liked the setting and characters and said she could imagine a mystery happening there. I liked the idea and plunged in!
Ferrante: You have a sequel in the works, Camp Dragon-fire. Do you intend to continue this series? What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a character in more than one book?
Cordatos: Camp Dragon-Fire is a chance to play more in this fantasy world with this funny, sweet group of dragon friends. It would be difficult to do a picture book series unless the first book hints that there is more to the story. Sneeze-Fire gives Willard unique friends in a setting that mentions a field, woods, hill, river and lake, where many more events can take place. A few additional Willard stories have been sketched out, so be on the lookout for more dragon fun.
Camp Dragon-Fire is dear to my heart because I used to be a camp counselor at Camp Mission Meadows in western NY state. The dragon friends get to do many things I loved about camp: games, archery, arts and crafts, meeting around a flagpole and campfire, and eating in the dining hall. Something and exciting always happens at camp!
Ferrante: Suppose for a moment that you are truly colorblind: all you can see his black and white. Then one day you wake up to find can now see one color which color would you want to be?
Cordatos: Definitely blue. I have never been more mesmerized with a color than swimming in the blue Aegean Sea of Greece. It is truly like swimming in a vat of Windex, which my characters in The Lost Crown of Apollo like, too.
Ferrante: If you could have any book instantly memorized cover to cover, which book would you choose?
Cordatos: There are many children’s books that I love, but I would say The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien. There’s charm, action, adventure, sense of history and language, sweeping setting, elves and a very cool dragon!
Ferrante: What is the most exciting event you have ever witnessed?
Cordatos: One of the coolest events I have participated in was the midnight release of the last Harry Potter book in Hudson, Ohio. Hosted by a wonderful independent bookstore, The Learned Owl, 15,000 people descended on the charming town dressed as Hagrids, Harrys, Hermiones (and Muggles in T-shirts that read “Weasley is Our King”). My ginger-haired daughter dressed up as Ginny Weasley, my blondie dressed up as a Beauxbaton and I went for the look of writer, Rita Skeeter. Hudson, Ohio, did a great job standing in for Hogsmeade, and my daughters and I spent the rest of the night curled up together reading the book. The Learned Owl hosted a book launch party last summer for me with The Lost Crown of Apollo, too!
Ferrante: Thank you, Suzanne, for participating in this interview. We will watch for the release of Camp Dragon-Fire.
The Lost Crown of Apollo will be reviewed on this blog on October 17, 2016.
Note: the three random questions are from “Chat Pack – Fun Questions to Spark Conversations”.