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Q & A with author Victoria Griffith

Let’s start with your writing background- when did you discover that you were passionate about writing?

It’s an especially pertinent question, because AMAZON BURNING is about a young woman who dreams of becoming a writer – in her case a news reporter. Writers like to write about writers, I suppose. 

Becoming an author was a childhood dream. When I was eight, I announced that I would become an author. I submitted a couple of stories to kids’ magazines, got published, and promptly lost interest. Many years later, after some disastrous stints in professions like waitressing and banking, I decided to pick up the proverbial pen once more and went into journalism. 

I was in heaven! For many years, I wrote for major international papers like The Financial Times. While I was Brazil correspondent, I got to spend time with the Amazon Yanomami tribe, featured in AMAZON BURNING. After I moved to Boston, I interviewed amazing people like filmmaker Ken Burns (The Roosevelts)  and architect Frank Gehry. I even got to make lunch for culinary diva Julia Child, who loved my Brazilian fish stew but hated the blackberry dessert. 

After I had children myself, writing for a daily newspaper with all its tight deadlines became unfeasible. I needed flexibility, so I decided to become a full-time author, fulfilling my childhood dream.
Were there any authors or individuals who inspired you when you were just getting started with writing? 

While I was working for newspapers, I took heart from the path of other journalists who eventually became novelists, like Ernest Hemingway. And every aspiring novelist loves stories about famous authors who were rejected many times – like Stephen King, who pasted his many rejection letters on the walls of his office and studied the comments for ways to improve his craft.

How did you decide to write a YA genre novel after having success in other genres as well, was this something you always had in mind? 

I love telling stories – all kinds of stories. The picture book and YA/New Adult genres are not as different as they might seem. (I think AMAZON BURNING is actually more new adult than young adult.) For picture books, an author is targeting two audiences: the children, and the grown-ups who buy and read books to them. So in a way, I’ve always written for a more mature audience.

One thing all my books have in common is that they are rooted in real events. THE FABULOUS FLYING MACHINES OF ALBERTO SANTOS-DUMONT is about the man most Brazilians still regard as the inventor of the airplane. AMAZON BURNING is based on the murder of high profile environmentalist Chico Mendes. I continue to be inspired by all things Brazilian. My husband is from the megalopolis of Sao Paulo, and we speak Portuguese in our home in Boston. 

What inspired you to tell the particular story of Amazon Burning?  

For most people, concerns like global warming are real but still a little too abstract. I wanted to tell the story of a real-life environmental martyr, who gave his life to try to protect the forest he grew up in. By presenting it in the format of a dramatic thriller, I hope to provoke a visceral reaction to what’s happening in the world’s rain forests.
How did your own international experiences, as a correspondent in Brazil, affect the way the story is told?

The characters and events in the book are based on actual people and experiences I had while I was in the Amazon – probably to a degree that would surprise most readers. I actually flew in a cargo plane with a shifty pilot called Amoeba. I was threatened in an outdoor café by a spindly rifle-toting Brazilian cowboy. The airplanes I rode in kept breaking down. People kept trying to listen into our conversations. I witnessed the real-life suffering of the Yanomami at the hands of the goldminers.

Emma’s experience as an aspiring journalist also reflects real things that happen in the profession – the need to score the front page, to find the perfect hook for a story, and get an inside scoop.

What are your favorite books today?

For YA, I like everything from big successes like DIVERGENT and THE HUNGER GAMES to less popular but wonderful novels by writers like Zoe Marriott, who pens sophisticated fantasies. I can be quirky in my taste. A recent favorite was MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND, by Helen Simonsen. It’s a simple romance that’s made profound by her observations on race and class in English society. 

What is your advice to young writers? Any tips you'd like to share to help young people become better writers?

Read. It’s the only thing all successful writers have in common. Unfortunately, we’ve become a nation of writers, not readers, which makes for too many under-appreciated, under-read books. 

In 2003, there were just 300,000 titles published in the US. Ten years later, there are more than a million. This would be something to celebrate, except that each year the average American reads fewer and fewer books. So this amounts to a frustrating experience for many aspiring writers. The only remedy for authors is to get pleasure out of their craft. Seek the thrill of writing the perfect sentence and creating a compelling character! And let’s celebrate books and the people who read them   

About the Author

Victoria Griffith is the author of the award winning non-fiction picture book The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont (Abrams, 2011), which won numerous awards, including the prestigious Parents’ Choice. The book was recently translated into Portuguese for the Brazilian market and was also released in audio book version.

Before becoming a full-time author, Victoria spent twenty years as an international journalist, fifteen of those years as foreign correspondent for the UK’s Financial Times. During that time, she had fun writing on a wide range of topics, including Brazil’s Yanomami Indians, architecture, space exploration, the human genome, and the growth of the Internet. She even managed to fit in some children’s book reviews. Her most terrifying assignment was preparing lunch for Julia Child, who praised the Brazilian fish stew but refused to touch the blackberry dessert. Victoria lives in Boston with her husband and three daughters. 
Connect with Victoria on Twitter and Goodreads.

About her Book

When 22-year-old aspiring journalist, Emma Cohen, is forced to flee the comforts of her NYU student life, she maneuvers an internship from her father at his newspaper in Rio de Janeiro. There, Emma is immediately swept into a major news story--and a life-threatening situation--when a famous jungle environmentalist, Milton Silva, is mysteriously murdered. Emma must now enter the Amazon rainforest with her father to investigate; both awed by the enormity and beauty of the Amazon, and appalled by its reckless destruction. Not only will Emma have to brave the primal world of the Amazon, she must fight to survive the kidnappers, villains, corrupt activists, and indigenous tribes that lay in wait along the ever-twisting trail of the murder case. Stretched to the brink, it’s up to Emma, her father and the dreamy news photographer, Jimmy, to unravel the mystery and live to tell the tale.

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