Danielle Harlow was born a nerd in Dayton, Ohio. She will die a nerd and believes in advancing the cause of nerdiness in all its forms. She believes that whether you dig on History, Science and Music (like she does) or Math (ugh!) or Movies, or Computer Programing, you shouldn’t be afraid to be enthusiastic about the things you love, even if they are outside the mainstream.
She recently earned the ultimate in nerd street cred when she appeared as contestant on Jeopardy! (airs in June 2011). She attended Ohio University in Athens, Ohio where she earned a B.A. in Anthropolgy and also attended the University of Wales, Swansea. A few years after graduation, she moved to New York City where she worked as a personal assistant and office manager for an architectural firm. Now that she has left New York, she thinks about it often: the majestic and inexplicable weeping willow trees that grow in the Lower East Side, where she lived for two glorious and infernally hot months in the summer of 2010 and the restuarants in Wiliamsburg, Brooklyn where she and her husband almost attained “regulars” status.
She lives now in Oxford, Ohio with her husband Miles and two cats, Velcro and Wriothesley. Velcro is a super-chill fluffy, black cat and Wriothesley is a rambunctious Maine Coon mix, who started out as a South Bronx street kitten. (His name is pronounced: “Rithzly” but we call him Rizzle.) Danielle is never afraid to be enthusiatic about her cats!
Tippy, from the Beginning
When I was growing up, I was a narrow but very devoted reader. I knew what I liked and I basically just read the same titles over and over. I probably memorized C.S. Lewis’s The Horse and his Boy at some point in my reading career. I was obsessive over all the Chronicles of Narnia novels, but I also read (and reread) the Wrinkle in Time series, the Anne of Green Gables series, Phillip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart series, the Lord of the Rings series and who as a kid didn’t read the wonderful, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler? I also loved Ivanhoe, anything to do with Robin Hood or the Middle Ages, and importantly for the books I would later write, the proto-Science Fiction of Jules Verne.
When I was very little, my dad took me to the Dayton Museum of Natural History, where I saw my first Egyptian mummy, my first planetarium show and my first giant fiberglass Pleisosuar replica (I desperately wanted to ride it). I think it made a deep impression on me because in school, I used to read ahead in our science text books! (Kids used to call me out on it and at the time, I was embarrassed. But I shouldn’t have been. When did passion and enthusiasm for something just a little bit outside the ordinary become so outré among people of my generation? It makes me sad for all of us. Thanks a lot, Kurt Cobain.)
When I got older and imagined myself as a writer (I rarely imagined myself as anything else), I never thought I would write Middle Grade fiction. I thought I would write very serious and literary Great American Novels, because that was the only kind of stuff the muses would give me. I always wanted to write a Children’s series and finally, while on vacation with my family in 2007, the idea for Marzipan Matrix finally came to me.
We were touring the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California and learning all about kooky Sarah Winchester who built a house like a maze to outwit the vengeful spirits she believed were haunting her. What struck me most, in a house with stairs that lead nowhere and rooms with unrepaired damaged from the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, was the most mundane little detail: the Winchester Estates were almost completely self-sufficient. From there I conceived of the Claremore Estates, a self-sufficient property with fabulous landscaping that people liked to visit. Mrs. Claremore, the kooky old lady at the center of it all came next, and then Tippy’s parents, and then Tippy herself. But they needed a conflict… and then, probably because we were in California, the spiritual homeland of the shopping mall, I began to imagine a girl who had grown up with a pastoral life, suddenly enclosed by the gawdiest monument to American consumerism: the Shopping Mall. Don’t get me wrong, nerd or not, as a child of the Midwestern suburbs, I practically lived in shopping malls and I didn’t even have one built around my house. The idea just grew and grew from there. It was like my mind was a cupboard full of spices and I just grabbed seasonings and dumped them into a pot: I got to incorporate my love of history, adventure, science, my knowledge of archeology, and the many years I spent *ahem* investigating American shopping malls.
I believe that Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction is finally coming into its own. Instant ‘classics’ like the Harry Potter series, the His Dark Materials Trilogy, the Hunger Games Trilogy and the Mysterious Benedict Society Books prove that the writing for kids is a good as ever, and now that it has its own genre, to define it and incubate it, I believe we are going to see a lot more fantastic stories emerging in the next decade.