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Today we’re chatting with Meera Trehan, the author of
THE VERY BEST HOUSE IN TOWN
This inventive debut combines the pleasures of a thriller, a school story, and a real estate listing in its witty and insightful exploration of what it means to be—and lose—a friend.
Sam and Asha. Asha and Sam. A perfect pair of friends whose differences complement well, and whose main similarity, autism, means they understand each other. They are a fixture, an established thing, just as Donnybrooke, the mansion that sits on the highest hill in Coreville, is the acknowledged best house in town—and Asha’s dream home. But when Sam is accepted into elite Castleton Academy, leaving Asha to navigate public middle school alone, she begins to wonder if the things she is certain about are so fixed after all. Because soon Sam is spending time with Prestyn, Asha’s tormentor whose family also happens to own Donnybrooke, and who have forbidden Asha from setting foot inside.
Told from the points of view of Asha, Sam, and Donnybrooke itself, this remarkable debut explores themes of prejudice and classism as it delves into the mysteries of what makes a person a friend and a house a home.
Let’s talk to this incredible author about her excellent book!
This is Meera. Everyone say, “Hi, Meera!”
Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Meera! Tell us about yourself!
I’m Meera Trehan, and my debut middle grade is THE VIEW FROM THE VERY BEST HOUSE IN TOWN. I’m represented by Molly Ker Hawn at The Bent Agency which, as you know, makes me Very Lucky.
Very Lucky Indeed! (*Note: I [Casey Lyall, Kick-butt Kidlit Interviewer] am also represented by Molly Ker Hawn and can verify the above statement as true facts.)
What was the inspiration behind THE VIEW FROM THE VERY BEST HOUSE IN TOWN?
I was inspired to find answers to my own questions as a parent: What do we tell kids we value—kindness, caring—and what do we show them we value—social status, conventional achievement? How does the near universal desire to make our kids happy sometimes lead to so much unhappiness? Also, I was thinking about subtle and not-so subtle form of ableism. I was also thinking about how the forces that can makes friendships fray as kids get older, and all the emotions and questions I’ve had when some of my own friendships have faded.
Eventually, characters and something of a plot came in, and after multiple drafts that coalesced into this book. My publisher has described it as part thriller, part friendship story and part real estate listing, and while I absolutely love that description, I didn’t know that is what the book would become when I first sat down to write.
How did you tackle writing from multiple points of view in this book – especially when one was from the house itself!
This was my first time writing from multiple views—I tried to trust my instincts and remind myself I could always fix things later. The voices of the character of Asha and the over-the-top house, Donnybrooke, came to me early in the process. Writing Donnybrooke was a ton of fun—it was making me laugh, so I just went with it, knowing I could always revise. (And I did. A lot.). Writing from a non-human point of view was actually very liberating—it allowed me to say things and explore themes that just wouldn’t have worked if Donnybrooke had been a person. I did a couple drafts with just Asha and Donnybrooke, but the story felt thin. So then I started writing things from Sam’s point of view to understand the story better, and it became clear that he was such an integral part of it that we needed his voice too.
After I had a solid draft with all three POVs, I made a careful chapter by chapter outline, detailing who would be narrating which events. (There had been a fair amount of overlap as I just tried to pin down each voice). I then did another draft where I wrote one POV at a time to make sure each had its own distinctive voice and arc. And then I revised the story as a whole some more! I suppose it was a lot of work, but I think novels always are—it’s just a question of what kind of work. And this was work that let me tell the story I wanted to tell.
Love behind the scenes tidbits like this! What a smart way to work through the process!
What were three interesting things you discovered while working on THE VIEW FROM THE VERY BEST HOUSE IN TOWN?
Here are three that you can find in my book:
In a medieval European castle, you wanted to have your well inside the castle walls so that your enemies couldn’t poison your drinking supply. I learned this (and many other facts) from David Macauley’s classic book, CASTLE.
I discovered that one version of the Castleton coat-of-arms has three twisted snakes on it. Castleton Academy is the name of the snobbish private school Sam attends, and when I saw that snake coat-of-arms, I had to work it in the story.
And finally, I discovered more types of weathervanes than I’d ever imagined, though I knew as soon as I saw it that the eagle-and-fish weathervane would be the one on top of Donnybrooke.
If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?
I would transport Asha to GREENGLASS HOUSE by Kate Milford. I think she would love the smuggler’s inn and also Milo and Meddy. I would transport Sam into COSMOS by Carl Sagan; Sam would have a blast not just being immersed in space, but also updating the book with the knowledge we’ve learned since it’s been published. I’m sure Donnybrooke would love to be transported into the pages of Architectural Digest magazine, but that might be too much for its ego.
Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?
The simple answer is that those are the stories I think of. But I think the reasons for that are those middle grade years are a time where there’s so much change, where everything that once seemed settled is now in flux, where there’s intense questioning—and that gives me a lot to write about. I particularly like to explore how friendships and family shape people, and middle grade feels like it’s made for that. And for me, the key elements of a story are honesty and hope, and I think describes middle grade at its best.
I also like that middle grade is such a broad category in terms of tone, length, and genre. As an author, I feel like there’s space for me to experiment in middle grade craft-wise, and I love to see how other authors chose to tell their stories. Finally, I remember so clearly what it was like to be a kid, and I really like kids, so to be able to write for them is wonderful. You have to have a good story that will keep the pages turning, and that is something I appreciate.
Yes! Love that there’s so much room to explore in middle grade.
Any hints about your next book project?
It’s a middle grade fantasy with a lot of snow. When I started drafting, I was in serious denial that I was writing a fantasy—my logic was that since I didn’t know how to write a fantasy, this book I’m writing couldn’t possibly be a fantasy. It just happened to have a little magic in it. Eventually, I realized that maybe I should re-examine my initial premise, lol.
What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?
When I started I wasn’t really thinking about the writing community, and how important the writer friends I made would be to my journey. This is an incredible community—generous, supportive, and kind—and I’ve made some very close friends who have cheered me on through all of the ups and downs.
I’ve also really lucked out working with Walker/Candlewick. My cover and book design are amazing (thank you Nicole Miles and Maya Tatsukawa!); my editor, Susan Van Metre is so thoughtful and precise; my publicist Karen Walsh is so helpful and responsive. Really everyone I’ve worked with has just been great. When I was writing I was so focused on my words, and not the team that would turn the story into a beautiful book. Seeing what it has become has been the best kind of surprise.
What are you reading right now?
I just finished ELATSOE by Darcie Little Badger. Highly recommend! It’s a real page-turner, deliciously creepy, satisfying, and ultimately thought-provoking. It is filled with a larger symbolism that only adds to the terrific story. Also, ghost dog!
What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?
Really, I have two pieces: My first is my meta-advice on advice, which is not all advice applies to everyone. There are so many ways to write a book, and so many paths to get there. If you very my advice stressful or invalidating, please feel free to ignore it! I say this because so many times when I was starting out, I would get very stressed by advice, particularly from agents or editors, that I had to do things in a certain way that I knew wouldn’t work for me. It took me some time to trust in my own process.
All that said, my biggest piece of advice is to give yourself time. There are many things that really help my writing process: reading widely inside the age categories and genres I write in, reading widely outside of them, working on craft at the line level, building a writing community and finding critique partners, doing side writing and other exercises to get to know my characters and story, using visuals like maps to understand my setting, doing research to get the details right, taking long breaks between drafts so that I can better approach my work as a reader . . . the list goes on and on.
But here’s the thing: I didn’t do all these things in weeks or even months. It took years and years, and even though I didn’t want it to take that long to be published, my writing is much better for having that time. It takes most writers a long time, and it is completely okay if it is taking you a long time too. Just try to have fun with the process, and don’t be hard on yourself if some days are not good or you need a break. There are so many ways to build your craft!
Thank you so much for joining us, Meera!
Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out
THE VIEW FROM THE VERY BEST HOUSE IN TOWN!
It’s on shelves now!
Click here to enter to win a copy of THE VIEW FROM THE VERY BEST HOUSE IN TOWN!
Contest closes Friday, May 13th at 11:59 pm EST
Thanks for reading!