On October 24 and 25, 2006, award-winning author Cornelia Funke participated in two chats with Scholastic students and teachers. Funke is the author of The Thief Lord, Dragon Rider, Inkheart, and the Wild Chicks series.
Transcript from 10/24/06:
How does writing make you feel? If you're upset, does it make you happy?
It always makes me feel really happy and even slightly drunk! Drunk with words, of course.
When you started writing, did you think that your books would become so popular with so many people?
No, I didn't. I always hoped they would be, but you don't really expect it.
Were you inspired by any other authors?
I was inspired by every book I read - the bad ones and the good ones!
When do you usually write?
I usually write in the mornings, from about 10:00 a.m. onwards to about 3:30 p.m. when my children come back from school.
When did you write your first book?
When I was 20. I wrote my first book because I was an illustrator, but I was awfully bored with the books I had to illustrate - so I decided to write my own story!
What was the first piece of writing that you got published?
That would be the first book I wrote, but it's not published in America - some of the themes appear again in Dragon Rider. I was lucky and had three publishers who were interested, so that was an easy start.
Do you share everything that you're writing with your children?
Yes, I absolutely do. They have great advice. Anna is almost 17, and Ben is almost 12.
Did you always want to be an author?
No, not an all - I wanted to be an astronaut first! And then a pilot, and then a thousand other professions, until I understood I was a writer.
When is the movie for Inkheart due out in theaters? How involved were you in the movie process?
I am a producer on the project and was involved in the casting. I did notes on the script, and I get to fly to Italy in November. The movie will be released in spring 2008.
Is there anything that was taken out of the Inkheart movie that you wanted to see in it?
So far, I'm very happy with the script. I'm pleased with the adaptation, but the story will be different, because you have to tell the story in just two hours.
In Inkheart, how did Capricorn and all his men plus the Shadow die and not Basta or Capricorn's mother? Also, why did some of the other men not die?
All the others died, so it's just Basta and Morta left. I think the stories still needed them, so I wrote them to come back.
Where did you get the idea for Inkheart?
I always thought I would love to do a story with characters that come alive from the book. All passionate readers know that characters in a book are more real than real people, and I wanted to write about that.
Who is Meggie, from Inkheart, modeled after? Your daughter?
The funny thing is, when I first wrote about Meggie, she was not like my daughter. But then my daughter changed as she grew up, and now she's more like the character. But I would have to say Brianna is more like my daughter than Meggie is.
Where do you get the names of your characters?
I have name dictionaries, and I scan through it until I find a good name that fits the character. I sometimes also get the names from plant dictionaries and animal dictionaries.
Is there anything in your books that is true?
Sometimes there are tiny bits, like small notes and episodes that I've stolen from real life, but most of it is fiction.
Why is Inkheart set along the Italian coast if you live in Germany?
I lived for three months with my husband and daughter in a little village in Italy. I always thought it would be a wonderful setting for a book, so I wrote about it.
How hard was it to follow up Inkheart with Inkspell? Was there a lot of pressure to make Inkspell better than Inkheart?
I first didn't want to do a follow-up. Inkheart was supposed to be just one book. But I wanted to follow these characters even further, so I told myself, "Cornelia. If you come up with a plot in two weeks, you can write a second book." And that's what I did!
How long does it take you to write a book?
A big book like Inkheart, between one to three years.
Can you tell us anything about Inkdawn?
It will mostly be set in Inkworld again. Most of the known characters will be back - there won't be many new characters. There will be a lot about the Bluejay.
What did you think of the Thief Lord movie? Do you think it was good to the book?
No, I have to admit I don't - but I liked the cast very much. I thought the grown-up characters were much better in the book. There were a lot of things different than I had imagined, but that can happen when a book is adapted into a movie.
How much planning is involved with writing a book?
For me, there's about a half a year of planning - researching, taking notes about the characters, plotting out the first 20 chapters. From an idea to finishing the book, it varies - the preparation time takes half a year if I have nothing else on my calendar.
Do you enjoy doing book signings with fans?
I absolutely do, yes!
What do you think is the hardest part of your job?
The business stuff, like contracts and negotiations - luckily I have agents for that. There are other projects that pop up, such as looking at scripts for plays, choosing readers for audiobooks, and more. There always lots of things to do, and not enough time to do them!
Do you ever get "writer's block," and if so, what advice can you give to those who do experience it?
I've never had it actually, so I can't really give any advice on that.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
To read, read, read! And always have a notebook with you, to write down the ideas that pop up in your head. Or else they'll disappear!
Do you have favorite authors?
At the moment, one of my favorite authors is Philip Pullman. But that's just one out of many different authors.
When you were a child, did you write at all?
No, I didn't - I mostly told stories to my brothers, but I never wrote them down.
When did you get interested in writing?
When I was illustrating many bad stories. I thought, maybe I can do that better...
What do you like better: art or writing?
Writing. I still do draw for my own books though.
What type of book is your favorite to write? A large book like Inkheart or a picture book like Pirate Girl?
Luckily, I can write anywhere - airports, waiting for a train, even walking my dog. I always have something to write down. Sometimes the best ideas come in the most unusual places. I love writing the big books, but when I have a good idea for a picture books, that's quite a treat also.
How do you gain the patience to write such long books?
Actually, when I read, I always like the books that go on and on. So that's how writing is for me also - I just never want it to end, I could write for years. I think the longer I work on a book, the more interesting it is.
Did you ever write a personal narrative in school?
As far as I remember, in German school I never had to do that. I liked writing essays where we would interpret a painting or a book.
What's your favorite topic to write about?
I don't really have a favorite topic. I like my books to be different from one another.
After Inkdawn, will you be starting another series?
I don't think so... I have a project at the moment, but it may just be one book. But you never know! The project I'm working is a ghost story, and it will be set in England.
If you could read yourself into one book what book would it be and why?
Hm... that's a tough one. I think I would like to be in The Once and Future King, by T. H. White, since it's my favorite book.
How many books have you written?
My son always counts them - I think it's more than 40! I don't have the exact number, but you can probably find it on a Web site. All the books I've written, they've been published. Many of them in German, but my American publisher is translating a lot of them into English.
I have good ideas for writing, but I can't make myself sit down and write them. Any advice?
I think you have to have patience and collect ideas about something you're really passionate about. Characters you want to talk about and that readers would want to read about. Then collect ideas for places in the book - look at photos and books about different places for inspiration. Then start collecting little things about the story and background... until you have a chest full of ideas. Then you can start writing the plot of the story, based on your ideas. When I write, I don't want to know the ending when I start - but you may find that as you write it, soon you'll have 20-30 pages! And the story sometimes tells itself after that.
How did you come up with the idea for Dragon Rider?
The idea was in my very first book already, and I developed it more and more, until it was a totally different version. My editor always said that the dragon looked like my dog. I would write about fantastic creatures, and then the people in the book.
Why did you choose rats as map makers for the dragon?
I thought it was very credible that they could hide away in the human city. I thought it was a funny idea, since they are EVERYWHERE!
Do you have any pets?
I have one dog, a biting water turtle, and two horses.
How many languages do you know?
I only know three - I can speak Italian, English, and German. My Italian is not as good as it was before. I learned English in school in Germany - every child has to learn it there.
What is your favorite color?
My favorite color is red.
You're such a great writer, how old are you?
If you could live in any time in history, which would it be?
Hm... I think I would choose the Middle Ages, but it would also be a stupid idea. I've done a lot of research on the Middle Ages, and it wasn't such a great place/time for women! But I might still visit, if I could. I actually really like OUR time, I think.
What kind of creature is the Golden One in Dragon Rider?
The Golden One is a dragon that was built by an alchemist.
How long do you think Inkdawn will be?
Oh, my publishers are worrying about that already too! It won't be much longer than Inkspell, but a little longer.
Are Meggie and Farid going to still be together at the end of Inkdawn? I loved them together so much in Inkspell.
If I give this away, I'll tell too much! But I'll say this: there will be another boy...
What is your favorite place to go in the world?
I think at the moment, my favorite place in the world is Los Angeles. I've been in LA for about two years. I love the weather, that the mountains and the sea come together here, and the people. I discover new things every day that I love, so it's very exciting for me.
When you submit novels to your editor, do they come back far more mangled than you expected? I know that publishing can be a tough business, but is the original story roughly the same, or has it changed in the editing process?
Over the years, I've more and more understood that sometimes you don't always have to listen to what your editor wants. For instance, I did my own editing for The Thief Lord. It can be really tough. Most of the time, though, it's a great collaboration.