Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Interview with Val Muller, author of The Man with the Crystal Ankh and The Girl Who Flew Away

Today, Val Muller, the author of the young adult novels The Man with the Crystal Ankh and The Girl Who Flew Away, has taken a few minutes out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his writings.

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When did you become interested in storytelling?

When I was very young, my dad read “The Night Before Christmas” to me several times each night. As the days and weeks went on, he left out one word here, then two words, then a phrase, until I had basically memorized the whole poem (with a little prompting). They were “big words,” and I wasn’t sure what all of them meant, but one day the meaning became crystal clear.

We were up in Connecticut, where I grew up, and it had snowed that day. It was evening, and I was in my pajamas. My dad called me to the dining room window and told me to look into the back yard. There, the pristine snow was sparkling as it reflected the full moon. He recited the line to me: “moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow gave the luster of midday to objects below.” We talked about what that meant, and it was at that moment that I realized how powerful words were. I realized I could be on the beach in the heat of summer, and that line would evoke this particular image in my head, one of a nighttime snowfall. It was then that I knew—subconsciously, at least—that I wanted to be a writer.

What was your first book/story published?

I always jokingly say that my first “book” was written in third grade. It was made of several pieces of notebook paper cut down into quarters and stapled together. I wrote an illustrated a mystery tale in which the neighbors engage in vigilante justice after their friend’s murder.

2008 is when I started taking my writing seriously. Although I always wanted to be a writer, it was something I assumed just “happened.” After college, I realized I had to make it happen. My first published story was written for kids and was published by New Moon Girls magazine. It was a spooky tale about camping inspired by my experiences in Girl Scouts.

What inspired you to write The Man with the Crystal Ankh?

I have played the violin since third grade, and I was always fascinated with the power of composers (like writers and artists) to reach beyond their lifetimes and inspire those who were born after their deaths. In Crystal Ankh, one of the characters takes that literally and prolongs his life using supernatural methods.

What character in The Man with the Crystal Ankh is the most/least like you, and in what ways?

I see parts of myself in the protagonist, Sarah Durante. In some ways, she’s like me: a little bit of a misfit, a little dorky, and loves the violin. But because of the nature of the tale, she gets into spooky situations that terrify me even thinking about them. So in that sense, I’m glad she’s not me.

I have had several spooky dreams and premonitions, and those was scary enough for me.

What is your favorite part in The Man with the Crystal Ankh?

I really enjoy the musical scenes. During these scenes, Sarah enters a trance-like state and is able to physically leave her body, wandering close by. In these scenes, she’s able to sneak upstairs or down into the basement to discover various pieces of the puzzle. There’s something chilling about leaving the body.

What was the hardest part to write?

In one scene, the antagonist possesses his dog so that he attacks the protagonists. The would-be kind canine thus becomes the enemy. My characters are literally up a tree and have to decide what to do. Their only option is to attack the dogs. With two corgis of my own and always having loved dogs, this scene was difficult for me to write because it contradicts the way I feel about dogs—both how they act and how people should treat them.

What would your ideal career be, if you couldn't be an author?

Well, I’m a high school English teacher, and I love being able to talk about writing and literature all day. But if I could choose from absolutely anything, I would choose to be a photographer specializing in outdoor shots. I love being outdoors, and finding unique angles with a camera invigorates me.

Do you read reviews of your books? If so, do you pay any attention to them, or let them influence your writing?

I know some authors who take everything to heart, and they let a bad review ruin their day. As a teacher, I have developed a thick skin. I do tend to read reviews, and of course I appreciate positive ones. But I learn from negative ones as well: I always consider criticism. After all, I’m writing with the hopes that my readers will enjoy my work. Much of the criticism I have received is stylistic, meaning it was specific choices I made that readers disagreed with. In each case, I mentally checked myself to make sure each choice was intentional (it was). And that’s what I tell my students: it’s okay if a stylistic choice is criticized, but if plot or character is lacking, then that’s a problem.

What well-known writers do you admire most?

One of my favorite authors is Ray Bradbury. I’ve always been inspired by his “live forever” story, about a man he met who told him he would live forever. I always hoped to meet Bradbury, but he died before that happened. Still, Bradbury will live forever, as his stories are known around the globe. What I like about his works is they’re speculative (light sci-fi, horror, etc.) but are all about humans first and foremost, examining what makes us human.

It might seem like a cliché now with the popularity of the TV series (which I have not seen yet), but I did enjoy The Handmaiden’s Tale (before it was popular—ha!), and I admire Atwood’s spirit and writing style.

My absolute favorite book is 1984. I love the paranoid way the tale is told, with the reader never knowing 100% of the truth, even at the end. I admire Orwell’s genius.

Do you have any other books/stories in the works?

My current project is the fourth installment of my kidlit mystery series Corgi Capers ( Funny story: on the day the third book was published, a small fire broke out at my school where I teach. The book is about volunteering at a fire company, and it seemed quite a coincidence. I went ahead and outlined the fourth book, which takes place during a snowstorm. During the storm, the protagonist’s aunt goes into labor, leaving the kids stranded alone in a house surrounded by feet of snow. When I found out I was pregnant, I was hesitant to write the novel, thinking I might “jinx” things and follow in the footsteps of my characters the same way Book 3 seemed to coincide with my life. I might as well have written it: I ended up going into labor at the tail end of a historic blizzard. It made for a unique experience, though, and I have lots of details to include in the novel about how one is transported to a hospital when there are about four feet of snow on the ground.


Val Muller will be awarding a $10 Amazon/BN GC and a download code for The Girl Who Flew Away, a download code for The Scarred Letter, a print copy (US only) of The Man with the Crystal Ankh, and an ebook of Corgi Capers: Deceit on Dorset Drive, to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

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About the Author

Teacher, writer, and editor, Val Muller grew up in haunted New England but now lives in the warmer climes of Virginia, where she lives with her husband. She is owned by two rambunctious corgis and a toddler. The corgis have their own page and book series at

Val’s young adult works include The Scarred Letter, The Man with the Crystal Ankh, and The Girl Who Flew Away and feature her observations as a high school teacher as well as her own haunted New England past. She blogs weekly at

Follow Val on Facebook and Twitter.


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