Marsha Skrypuch Answers the HN Questionnaire

Marsha Skrypuch is the award-winning author of 13 books of historical fiction (and 1 book of non-fiction) for kids and teens. She lives in Brantford, Ontario.


On Twitter: Follow Marsha at @marshaskrypuch

What’s going on in your writing life right now?

My 14th book, which happens to be my first non-fiction, just came out. The book is called Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War. I am in the midst of promoting the book. Tuyet, the woman whose childhood rescue is examined in Last Airlift, is helping me with the promotion.

I also just finished the final edit for my Feb 1, 2012 Scholastic historical, called Making Bombs For Hitler.

Because the past year was spent doing the intensive writing of these two books, followed by leapfrog edits of the two, most of my non-promo time is now spent doing mundane things like cleaning out drawers and getting caught up on accounting, pleasure reading and long bike rides.

What’s your writing routine?

When I am in the midst of a manuscript, I write for about three hours most mornings. As soon as I’ve had breakfast, I go downstairs and get on my tread desk, which is a treadmill equipped with a desk top big enough to hold my laptop, all sorts of errant notes and reference books, a glass of water and a phone. I walk at a very slow speed — 1.5 miles per hour — and write. I find that I can write more efficiently when I’m slowly walking than I can while sitting.

What do you usually eat for breakfast?

50gms of fruit and nut muesli (yes, I weigh it) with milk, a banana, and a giant mug of strong black coffee.

What good books have you read recently?

Because I’m in writing vacation mode, I am reading for pleasure. I just finished Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden. I think she’s channeling a Bronte sister. I’m on a kick of Scandinavian crime thrillers, so have read books by Jo Nesbo, Camilla Lackberg, Lars Keplar, Karin Fossum, and Karin Alvetegan. I like to alternate adult and YA, so I’ve also recently enjoyed Libba Bray’s Going Bovine, Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy, Stitches by David Small and The Quilt by Gary Paulsen.

When I am actively writing, I don’t read fiction because I am afraid of unconsciously being influenced by voice. I immerse myself in non-fiction, mostly books I need to read for better understanding of the era I’m writing about, and while it is enjoyable, it’s not what you’d call pleasure reading. I tend to use the library for pleasure reading, but I buy my research books. I have a vast collection on World War II, the Armenian genocide, World War I, anything to do with Ukrainians, folk tales, myths, symbols, plus other topics that I hope to write about one day.

What did you eat for dinner last night?

Lazanky z kapustooyoo — a Ukkie comfort food. Shredded cabbage and onion slowly baked golden, then seasoned with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, and mixed with small square egg pasta. Drizzled with a bit of butter, it’s heavenly. [It does sound heavenly. I want to eat this! – Ed.]

Writing rules you live by:

Plunge forward: Get the entire first draft down before you start fussing over the first page.

Foodstuffs you’re fiending these days:
Honey crisp apples.

Describe a scene or piece you’ve written that features food:

In my 2010 novel Stolen Child, about a girl brainwashed by the Nazis into thinking she is German, I use cues from the character’s everyday life to pivot into her repressed past. As an example, when Nadia places a spoonful of Campbell’s Tomato Soup on her tongue in 1950, she has a flash of clinging to flatcar in the black of night as it speeds out of the war zone. When she finally eats, it’s a soup of muddy water and rotten potatoes, passed among the escapees with the reverence of a sacrament.

Favorite restaurants:

In Brantford, Ontario, Quan 99 on King George Road. The freshest and most delectable Vietnamese and Thai food imaginable.

In Creemore, Ontario, Chez Michel, a tiny French bistro where everything is divine.

Three formative books from your youth:

I didn’t learn to read until I was 9. The book that I taught myself to read with was Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. I suppose you can say that the Dick and Jane readers inoculated me against reading. And so did The Cat in the Hat, which gave me nightmares. Once I did start reading, other books I enjoyed were Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and all of the Freddy the Pig books, which were written by Walter R. Brooks.

Three formative books from your adulthood:

The Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch. I avoided picture books until I was doing my master’s degree in library science. This one made me realize that children’s writers were no longer talking down to children. The other book that made me want to write children’s literature was Tim Wynne-Jones’ Zoom At Sea — again a book that respects the intelligence of children.

As to adult fiction, John Fowles’ The Magus.

Dishes/recipes in regular rotation in your cooking repertoire:

Standard dessert, in rotation with honey crisp apples, is berries on plain Greek yoghurt, drizzled with maple syrup. Standard salad is spinach with homemade mustard and onion vinaigrette, rotated with shredded jicama and cabbage mixed with vinegar and salt.

I make a huge vat of pasta sauce from scratch every few weeks and with this as a base, rotate through spaghetti, chili, lasagna etc. I also make flour tortillas from scratch and stuff them with a bit of the sauce, Greek yoghurt, and sharp unpasteurized Jensen’s 5 year old cheddar cheese. Yum!

We eat a lot of fish. Whatever is fresh, preferably Canadian and preferably wild. Depending on what it is, I’ll broil it or lightly saute in olive oil. Served with salad and rice.

I visit the local farmers’ market every week to stock up on cheese, vegetables, honey crisp apples. The Brantford market is only open two days a week and the variety isn’t huge so I drive to the St. Lawrence Market every few months to stock up on meat for the freezer. We like ostrich and emu, and also vension, kangaraoo, buffalo — lean and flavourful meats.

Random bits of writing advice:

Write for ten minutes every day. Write about the things that fascinate you instead of things that you know. Do a back-up! Read what you’ve written out loud as part of the revision process.

What do you do when not writing, eating or reading?

In good weather, I go on long bike rides. I swim and walk. My husband flies a small airplane and we take short jaunts on weekends which is fun and relaxing, although it does involve eating and reading and sometimes writing.

Airplane cookies Marsha made for the launch of The Last Airlift

What’s your idea of comfort food and comfort reading?

Peanut butter and banana on toasted rye bread. Mmmm.

Comfort reading? A novel written by a friend.

Travel Eating: England and Israel

The food: road food abroad

Fish & chips in London that did NOT hit the spot.

Excellent fries in Tel Aviv that did.

The story:

I recently returned from a trip to Israel via England. My husband E and I went overseas to visit our son Simon Farine, who’s in his first season playing pro basketball for the Maccabi Bazan Haifa team (go Haifa!). The trip included sightseeing, family bonding, no writing of any kind, and, of course, eating.

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