By Libby Stille, Associate Publicist
Rebecca Caprara’s debut middle-grade novel, The Magic of Melwick Orchard, centers on 12-year-old Isa, whose family fractures after her little sister Junie is diagnosed with cancer. Her mother falls into a depression, and her father works more and more to combat the mounting medical bills. When Isa finds a magical tree in a mysterious orchard, she wonders if the tree might help her bring her family back together again.
Today on the blog, Rebecca discusses architecture, her writing process, and what she’d plant if she had a magical tree.
Q&A with Rebecca Caprara
The Magic of Melwick Orchard centers on the relationship between two sisters. What was your childhood like?
I didn’t grow up with sisters, but my brother and I had a wonderful childhood together. Like Junie and Isa, we spent hours exploring outside, climbing trees, inventing games, looking for magic. The town where I went to school had more apple trees than people, so I grew up surrounded by orchards.
Who inspired the relationship between Junie and Isa?
When I wrote the very first chapter of the book, I was three months pregnant with my oldest daughter. I didn’t know I was having a girl at the time, but I knew I wanted to write a book about sisters. During the course of writing and revising, I had a second daughter. While the story isn’t about my children, watching the bond my girls share definitely impacts my writing.
The original title of the book was Chance Seedling. What is a chance seedling?
Chance seedling is a botanical term used to describe a new variety of plant that develops entirely on its own, by chance. In the book, Ms. Perdilla describes it as a blend of science and serendipity. Many of the most popular apple varieties originated as chance seedlings, such as the Granny Smith. I find the whole concept fascinating, and it seemed like a perfect starting point to explore the line between science and magic in the book.
I will be speaking about this topic with author Erin Cashman on September 12 at The Silver Unicorn Bookstore in Acton, MA. Come join us if you’re in the area! Click here for more information.
Describe your writing process.
My process has evolved quite a bit over the years. When my children were younger, I would mostly write during their naptimes, and I would brainstorm plot points during my commute to work. It was challenging, but I found a way to make it work in spite of constant interruptions and sleep-deprivation (you can read a more detailed account on Popsugar here).
I typically sketch out conceptual story ideas by hand in my notebook, and then begin drafting on my computer. Writers are often categorized as either plotters or pantsters (a plotter methodically plans and outlines before they begin to write; whereas a pantster writes by the seat of their pants, figuring things out as they go). I am definitely a hybrid between the two, although lately I’ve been outlining a bit more, which helps me draft more efficiently. However, I find that if I know too much about where a story is heading, I get bored. So I like to explore a little as I write, to keep the momentum going.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I always say that my most prized possessions are my library card and my passport—with those two things I can go anywhere. As you can probably guess, reading and traveling are some of my favorite activities. My husband and I have traveled to over fifty countries, and our kiddos are budding globetrotters as well, so it’s become a family affair.
Before you wrote children’s books, you practiced architecture. How does designing a building compare with designing a story?
There are a lot of similarities I think. Basic principles of structure, tension, rhythm, etc. are important when creating both buildings and books, although the medium is obviously very different. Architecture school teaches you to push creative boundaries, to think critically, to be open to constructive criticism. All these things inform the way I write.
I recently developed a presentation about the connections between design and writing for the upcoming NCTE convention this November, along with 3 other designers-turned-authors. Our workshop is called Story Architects: Using Design Thinking to Inspire Creative Writing & Build Empathy. It should be a fun and informative session—anyone attending NCTE is welcome to join us!
What inspired Junie’s love of words? What are some of the words she uses?
I’ve always loved words and wordplay. My mother is a poet and my grandmother was a Scrabble master of the highest rank, so I think it’s in my blood. When I travel, I like to collect words in different languages and jot them in my notebook. Junie’s unique creations came very naturally as her character and voice developed. For more about this process, check out my guest post on Unleashing Readers here.
If you had a magic tree, what would you plant?
I love to ask young readers this question. The most popular answer I hear is money, followed by potato chips.
My answer changes from day to day. Right now, I’m in Italy with my family and currently obsessed with gelato. It would be fun to plant a scoop of gelato and then invite the whole villaggio over for an ice cream party!
Learn more about The Magic of Melwick Orchard
“Readers will fall in love with strong-willed, spunky Isa in this magical story about hope, resilience, and what it means to be family.”—Abby Cooper, author of Bubbles and Sticks and Stones
“Caprara beautifully captures the unbreakable bond between sisters when life throws a curveball. A tender and imaginative debut.”—Jenn Bishop, author of 14 Hollow Road and The Distance to Home
“Warmhearted and compelling.”—Kirkus Reviews