The Dian Curtis Regan Interview

Follow-up questions answered here

Welcome to Achuka, Dian; and thanks for being the website's first guest. So that we can get the ambience right, what will you have to sustain you?

  • Tea & scone
  • long drink (beer or mineral) and savoury snack
  • or wine

Thank you, Michael. I'd love a cinnamon raisin scone and sparkling flavored water--tangerine-lime is my favorite.

Books of yours published here (the Ghost Twins series) have some ingredients in common with the UK's (still) immensely popular Enid Blyton. Do you know the Famous Five books, and did you have these or any others in mind when you conceived the series?

First, I didn't conceive the series. Scholastic pitched this idea to me: a boy and girl who are twins (and ghosts), plus their St. Bernard dog. I took it from there and created the Kickingbird Lake Resort and the various plots and characters.

The first book was actually written three times with various stories until we all agreed. One thing that changed was the time of the twins' drowning. I set it back 50 years in the final version. And no, I wasn't aware of any similarities to the Famous Five books.

There are eight Ghost Twins titles in all. Any plans for more?

Going into the project, I wanted it to be a limited series. I honestly didn't want to write *only* Ghost Twins, nor did I want to write a series that saturated the market.

I'm very proud of the eight books, and am off on new projects now. The only thing that would launch more titles would be if the series suddenly became extremely popular and the audience demanded more. I have a very loyal following, who always ask for more titles--but I doubt my books will become the next hot trend. : )

Is the St. Bernard dog, Thatch, modelled on any dog you've owned or known?

I've owned only one dog--a chihuahua, who had *nothing* in common with Thatch. Even though I invented the ghost dog, who, for many readers is the most popular character, I researched the breed and discovered that St. Bernards are very intelligent, protective dogs.

An expert at my local Kickingbird animal clinic warned me that St. Bernards do not live very long. I told him that the one I was asking about was already dead. : ) I'm not sure he understood that my dog was fictional.

The Juniper Daily News front page included in the early Ghost Twins titles, and containing the story of the twins' boating accident, is a brilliantly economical means of explaining the background to the Ghost theme. Did you come up with this idea straight away?

Yes, the newspaper page was my idea. After the first book of a series, an author has to creatively re-introduce characters and situations for readers who do not begin with book one.

I didn't mind doing this, but I hated to begin each book explaining how the twins died. It was too sad. Therefore, I created the Juniper Daily News--not only to let a first reader know how the twins and Thatch became ghosts, but also to tell them that it happened in 1942. Also, it gives them a peek at other things happening in the world at the same time.

I noticed that the UK edition kept the mention of U.S. President Roosevelt, but the Finnish edition changed the news item to one about Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin.

The American editions of this series have pawprints at the head of each chapter, whereas the UK copies are plain. What sort of control do you as author have over matters of typesetting?

I've never been asked for my input on book design or typsetting, however some publishers do ask for input on artwork. Right now, waiting for my opinion, is artwork for the the 4th title in my Monster of the Month Club Quartet. I must say that I *do* like the covers on the UK edition of Ghost Twins.

How does your writing routine vary according to whether you are working on a series title or a one-off?

Writing a series pretty much dominates an author's life. A Ghost Twins title was published every eight weeks, so I really had to work fast to keep up. When I'm under contract for a single title, I still have a tight schedule, but at least I can take a break in between books.

While writing Ghost Twins, I was also rewriting Princess Nevermore, writing Monsters in the Attic, and Home for the Howl-idays. Life was a bit of a blur in '94 and '95 for that reason.

Many of your books exploit the entertainment value of ghosts and related matters, such as Halloween. Have there been any instances when your work has been taken too seriously?

Anyone who writes a Halloween book can almost count on a few school districts banning it. My book, The Thirteen Hours of Halloween (Albert Whitman, 1993, illustrated by Lieve Baeten) is generally recommended in school district reviews around the country, however, a few have added "warnings" that the book contains Halloween icons, such as witches, zombies, werewolves, etc.

Also, my visit to Alabama last year was boycotted by a few teachers who objected to the fact that I'd used "those words" in some of my titles: ghosts, zombie, vampire, etc. They were reacting to the words, not the books.

Your other major series, the Monster Club books, has not been published in the UK yet. If Monsters in the Attic is anything to go by, this is a hilarious, fast-paced series with some extremely entertaining characters. Any ideas why UK publishers haven't snapped it up?

I'd love for them to snap it up. : ) The series, which is published in hardcover by Henry Holt, is just coming out in softcover from Scholastic, so, hopefully, Scholastic UK will pick up the 4-book series.

Sparrow, Rilla Harmony Earth's mother in the Monster books, is a health freak, and Rilla herself puts together a small book about herbal remedies. Is herbal medicine a special interest of yours?

Yes, I guess you could call it a hobby. I enjoy reading about alternative medicine, and, especially, methods of herbal healing that have been around for thousands of years and are just now being rediscovered.

What's the background to the writing of Nevermore? It seems to stand apart from your other titles.

Princess Nevermore began as a picture book over twenty years ago. I feel as though it's a story I've been writing all my life--and I am eager to write the sequel. The story came about because I was *so* influenced (at a young age) by C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia and Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles. I loved the idea of inventing an entire fantasy world, and I loved the idea of bringing a character from that world into ours.

In the Achuka authorfile you say that being 15 was the most memorable time of 'childhood', because it was the time of your first date, and first kiss. Nevermore is very much about the passage from being a girl to being a woman. Can you see yourself writing a non-fantasy YA novel on this theme?

All of my Young Adult novels revolve around this theme. They are now out of print, but (hopefully) still on library shelves: The Initiation, Jilly's Ghost, The Perfect Age, Game of Survival, and I've Got Your Number. A lot of today's YA books are very sophisticated and even graphic, yet I feel that many young readers are late-bloomers (like me) and need stories they can relate to as well.

Princess Quinn, in Princess Nevermore, has to return to Mandria, but she manages to smuggle back some mascara. Would you like to say any more about that?

I always loved that final scene in H.G. Wells's The Time Machine when the character finds flowers in his pocket. It's the "A-ha!" to the reader that yes, this really did happen, and the character has a memento from the other world to prove it.

In Princess Nevermore, the apprentice's magic ring remains in our world, so I wanted a token from this world to end up in Mandria. (You can be sure that those two items will show up in the sequel. : ) )

There has been a spate of letters to The Times in recent weeks concerning a Freudian reading of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe which interprets the wardrobe as a 'womb'. How would you feel if Princess Nevermore was subjected to this kind of analysis?

Authors are at the mercy of the press, and I find it very frustrating when a reviewer writes something about one of my books that is *inaccurate*. I don't think a writer can respond without sounding defensive. All I (or any author) can ask for is an honest evaluation of our books by a critic who has at least paid attention to the story.

Moving on to lighter subject-matter: You have a large collection of stuffed creatures. Tell us about those.

Would that be those 82 walruses in my office? : ) When I was starting out, I wrote stories about a walrus, and friends started sending them to me. Now I'm sure I have the world's largest collection. Also, I've buried a walrus somewhere in every one of my books. They can even be found in my picture books.

You write in your 'office', and confess that this is the untidiest part of your house. When you go into your office, what are you most likely to do to avoid getting down to work?

Three things make me procrastinate:
1. E-mail
2. E-mail
3. E-mail
However, the Internet keeps me connected to the outside world and to many writing colleagues, so I'm not complaining.

You have written a large number of titles in the last two years. What has been the shortest deadline you've had to work to - and did you make it?

The last book Scholastic asked me to write, Fangs-Giving, was due ASAP. I wrote it in 18 days. The last Ghost Twins title, The Mystery of the Haunted Castle, was one of those rare books that almost wrote itself. It contained all the elements I love in a book: a haunted castle, an evil wizard, a cursed forest, and a kind-hearted wise woman (AKA witch). I wrote this one in 15 days.

Do you write straight on to the computer?

I always write directly onto the computer.

What has been your most disheartening moment as an author?

About eight years ago, I'd published several novels, then experienced a dry spell, getting many "near-miss" rejections from publishers. Then, several books sold at the same time, and I've been running to keep up ever since--which makes me feel very fortunate.

What has been your most uplifting moment?

Whenever I receive mail from young readers who take time to write and tell me how much they've enjoyed my stories. They are my audience, so it's nice to know that they have found my books and vice versa.

Dian, thanks for the interview, and thanks again for being the website's first guest. ACHUKA will follow your career with interest, and hope to be able to report new UK publications soon.

Dian Curtis Regan will answer supplemetary questions at the end of the month.
To have your question considered for selection post it to the ACHUKA e-mail address.