Rachel Hartman’s debut YA novel, Seraphina, is a richly imagined fantasy, set in a world where dragons can take human form. A New York Times bestseller that has won accolades from such masters of the fantasy genre as Tamora Pierce, Naomi Novik and Christopher Paolini, Seraphina won the 2013 William C. Morris Award, given every year by the American Library Association to an outstanding debut novel for teens. We asked Hartman a few questions about her wonderful book and its well-deserved honor.
What was the first thing that went through your head when you found out you had won the Morris Award?
The Morris Committee called me a day in advance to let me know I had won. My first thought was that I hadn’t heard them correctly. My second thought (which I actually uttered out loud, making everyone laugh) was, “Oh, good, now I won’t be up all night worrying whether I won!” Of course, then it turned out I couldn’t sleep because I was excited.
Who was the one person you couldn’t wait to tell about your award?
My editor. We worked so long and hard on this book, he deserved to know. He has a new baby, though, and so it took him a long time to see the email. I emailed my agent too, and told him to poke my editor with a stick and make him read his email. My agent, who is a bit more action-oriented and logical than I am, just called him on the phone.
Do you have a favorite past Morris winner?
Elizabeth Bunce and Blythe Woolston have both kind of taken me under their (virtual) wings online, which I’ve really appreciated. They’re super nice, and I hope we can all hang out someday!
What’s the best part of writing books for a younger audience?
How keenly I’m reminded of what it was like to fall in love with books at that age. It’s a wonderful age, where everything feels possible and a book can still change your life. That was the time of life when I read with the most wholehearted abandon, and so that’s the age I prefer to write for.
What kind of reaction have you gotten from your readers about this book?
I’ve gotten appreciation (and criticism!) from all kinds of unanticipated angles. Readers really give you a new view of your own book. My favourite reactions, though, are when the book strikes readers deeply, when they have that hair-raising, slightly spooky feeling that I have reached into their hearts and minds, somehow, and have written this book just for them. I love it when a book affects me that way, and the realization that my book can do that for others is really moving.
Had you read or listened to past Morris acceptance speeches? Were you excited (or worried!) about your own speech?
I read all of them, yes, trying to figure out what angle to take, and I was very nervous indeed. I wrote a speech, but it felt very wooden to me, so when I got up to the podium I just spoke, some of it planned, much of it impromptu.
What’s next for you?
I’m hard at work on the sequel to Seraphina. It’s a beast of a book, and has been very challenging to write. But then, I wouldn’t have it any other way.