Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of your middle grade graphic novel, The Okay Witch, through Aladdin / Simon & Schuster! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Emma Steinkellner: Thank you, I’m really excited about it! The Okay Witch is the story of Moth Hush, a 13-year-old girl who discovers she’s a witch. Moth, who is a big geek for witch movies and TV and comics, thinks this will make my life so much better. But it only makes Moth’s life much, much bigger as she unravels the complicated, centuries-old history of her magical family and her hometown of Founder’s Bluff and grapples with her own place in it.
I was mainly inspired by the big back-catalog of teen witch stories there seems to be in our pop culture, without them ever really being codified as their own genre. The Okay Witch nods at the legacy of teen witch fiction that has come before it. And my real goal was to reexamine how these tropes would really personally affect a kid.
BD: Following your illustrative work on the Eisner-nominated comic book series, Quince, what can you share with us about balancing both the writing and illustrative duties of The Okay Witch, and what have been some of your creative influences?
ES: Quince was pretty much a dream to illustrate. It was so creatively fulfilling to illustrate Kit [Steinkellner]’s script and execute Sebastian [Kadlecik]’s vision. Not to mention how supportive the team at Fanbase was. So, in a lot of ways, I felt like a wet, blinking baby bird leaving a very comfortable nest as I began the enterprise of writing and illustrating The Okay Witch on my own. So, obviously, I took a lot of object lessons from my sister Kit, who is a genius at writing compassionate, funny, character-driven stories. Gail Carson Levine and Aimee Bender also both inspire me a lot in how they write both young and adult characters who fumble with strange fairy tale-style magic in complicated social settings.
BD: What did you find to be most rewarding about creating the world of The Okay Witch and bringing half-witch Moth to life?
ES: There’s something really timeless about the archetype of the teen/young witch – the extra-powerful girl caught in a particularly tricky moment of development – that we, as a culture, as a pop culture, keep on coming back to. Moth has to recognize a lot more power in herself than she ever knew she had. And that is cool, but also very hard and exhausting. She’s discovering this whole, enormous history of magic just as she’s discovering herself, and she may not really feel ready for either. I tried to make a story I would have really needed when I was a kid. Frankly, I still need to learn the lessons Moth’s trying to learn. But I hope it’s the kind of story kids will take to heart. Talking cat jokes are very fun to write, also.
BD: What do you hope that readers will take away from your work?
ES: Some of the main themes of this book kick in as Moth learns that the true, magical history of her family and town is very different from the town history everyone thinks they know. And she struggles about what to do now that she knows the truth. Even though this book engages in fictional history (places that don’t exist and events that didn’t happen), I would absolutely hope that a reader’s takeaway from the book is how they can reexamine their own relationship with history, find comfort with questioning dominant views of history, and have curiosity about how stories are delivered to us.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
ES: I’m working on something super fun. Without giving too much away, you can expect more middle grade graphic novels from me in the future.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about The Okay Witch and your other work?
ES: You can find me on Twitter and Instagram at @emsteinkellner and on my website at www.emmasteinkellner.com. You can also find more about The Okay Witch (and other fantastic books) on Simon & Schuster Kids’ social media.
*If you are in the Los Angeles area, be sure to stop by Skylight Books on Thursday, September 5, at 7:30 p.m. when Emma Steinkellner will be reading excerpts from The Okay Witch, along with a Q&A led by Fanbase Press' Barbra Dillon.