Michelle Knudsen: Never Without a Book

Posted by: yetheart, January 17, 2019 7:50 pm
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Michelle Knudsen

Michelle Knudsen may be the author of a series about a demon posing as a librarian, but she loves libraries and has since childhood. “I still remember the wonderful rush of possibility I felt whenever we went to the public library and I took in the sight of all those books just waiting to be read,” she says.

“At some point, I discovered a whole shelf of fairy tales and dragon stories, and I worked my way along it week after week. When I was a little older, I became a library monitor in my junior high school library and learned how things operated behind the scenes, which I loved. I went on to work in libraries during college and afterward, and I never lost that feeling of wonder at all those books and other resources freely available to anyone who needs them.” Now, she enjoys visiting school libraries. Knudsen visited South Jamaica and Baisley Park libraries this fall.

In fact, it is because “librarians are the furthest thing from evil” in her mind that she decided a librarian would be a good disguise for a demon in her Evil Librarian series. “Although Mr. Gabriel is truly evil, he actually takes his librarian job very seriously when he’s pretending to be one. I also made sure to put a disclaimer in the acknowledgments of the first book letting librarians know how much I appreciate them!”

Knudsen is a huge reader, who says she is never without a book: “I listen to audiobooks while walking or doing dishes or brushing my teeth at night. I always have a paper book beside my bed, and sometimes another one (especially if the bedside one is a hardcover) that I can slip into my bag and read on the subway. It’s true that sometimes my reading these days is for research or instruction or to read up on a certain genre for my students, but there’s still plenty of just-for-pleasure reading, which I don’t think I could ever live without.”

“I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, and so certainly all of the things I’ve been reading in that genre since childhood have affected my feelings about what makes a good story and what kinds of story elements I want to include. Growing up I often fell in love with the characters I read about, wishing I could be friends with some of them in the real world.” Knudsen hopes that her own work will inspire the same feelings in her readers: “My hope is that readers will love some of my characters in that same way.”

She reflects that she learned about how to be a good friend from reading and now writes about the same subject: “I write a lot about friendship in all of my books—in the picture books, the early readers, and the novels—and I remember learning a lot about what makes a good friend in some of the books I read as a child. I’ve always loved stories in which people band together to help each other and overcome obstacles, and my own books often include those kinds of situations.”

“My favorite author these days is probably Lois McMaster Bujold—she writes wonderful fantasy and science fiction stories with some of my favorite characters and exciting plots and pretty much everything I love in a good story It’s too hard to pick favorite children’s and YA authors...a few names that jump out at me when I glance at my own bookshelves are Kristin Cashore, A. S. King, Bob Shea, Esther Averill, and Peggy Rathmann.” Knudsen favors books that end on a positive note, and loves authors whose work does this: “Overall, my favorite authors write stories that are uplifting and exciting, books that make me feel and think and hope and worry but don’t leave me devastated at the end. I like a good happy ending (or, at the very least, a hopeful one).”

The Evil Librarian series by Michelle KnudsenAlthough she had already published many books, Knudsen earned an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. “I decided to get an MFA for a few reasons. One was so that I would have the credentials to teach writing, but mostly I wanted to push myself to become a stronger writer and to produce more work…I saw a great deal of improvement in my writing, and—when those packet deadlines were getting close—learned that I could write a lot more in a day than I’d ever previously suspected.”

She reflects on the books that came to fruition after beginning as projects in her MFA program: “I started Evil Librarian while a student there as well as my picture book Big Mean Mike, and I have another partial novel from my VCFA days that I plan to come back to soon. I also made some wonderful friends and left with a solid network of connections to other writers.” Now, Knudsen herself is a teacher in an MFA program, where she tries to nurture her students as she was supported during her time in graduate school: “Today I teach Writing for Young People in Lesley University’s low-residency MFA program, and I try to give my students the same sort of mentoring I received during my own MFA experience.”

Knudsen, who writes for a variety of age groups, says, “My writing process does tend to change from book to book. When I’m working on a book in a series, I usually try to outline the whole story before I start to write. For new novels, I sometimes just jump in and start writing, since I need to get to know the characters and the world of the story before I can try to figure out everything that’s going to happen. I keep a novel journal for every draft, where I work out plot problems and think through some of my ideas as I go along. The process is always different for picture books, too. I sometimes start with handwritten notes, or I might work through a story as I try to write it, or I might have the whole thing complete in my head before I write anything down. Every story seems to require a slightly different approach.”

She believes that books can be essential escapes, and encourages everyone to seek out books “about their favorite things, to try lots of different authors and styles and reading levels, and to not give up until they found the kind of books that made them excited to read more. Books have so much to offer all of us—they can entertain, teach, enlighten, comfort, and inspire…I still turn to books when I’m going through tough times as an adult. I think all of us—especially young readers—need that kind of escape sometimes, and the right book can help you forget about your troubles for a while and even help you feel that things will eventually be okay.”

Knudsen is currently working on a new YA fantasy novel, several picture books, and what she hopes will be the first book in an early reader series. The last in the Evil Librarian series comes out this summer.

Her advice to readers? “I’d pass along something that I learned both from books and from my own life experience: that friendship is one of the most important things there is. Life can be hard sometimes, and friends can help you get through the rough patches in all kinds of ways. They’re also nice to have around when things are good, since good times are even better when you have someone to share them with. Don’t take your friends for granted and don’t underestimate the importance of those relationships! I don’t know where I’d be today if it weren’t for the love and support of my friends."

This is just one of the great stories you can read in the January/February 2019 issue of Queens Library Magazine. Other articles you may find interesting: