chatting with candice ransom about iva honeysuckle discovers the world (and a giveaway)!

Cornelius and I are thrilled to welcome award-winning children’s author Candice Ransom to the Alphabet Soup kitchen today.

As you may know, we’re in love with her latest book, Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World (Disney Hyperion, 2012), which was just named to the Summer 2012 Kids’ Indie Next List, and which Kirkus describes as, “A breezy, wide-open window into the turbulent heart of a dramatic third-grade adventurer and her small-town Virginia community.”

I was instantly captivated by spunky and supremely self-assured Iva Honeycutt and her quest to become a world famous discoverer. With great-grandfather Ludwell’s treasure map in hand and her not-so-trusty canine companion Sweetlips by her side, she paces and dowses her way around her hometown of Uncertain, Virginia, searching for General Braddock’s war chest. But as all great explorers eventually learn, sometimes you end up finding something entirely different, and by golly, it’s even better!

Young readers will unearth many treasures while tracking Iva’s misadventures, the best of which are the cast of comical, “interesting-different” characters with crazyball names like Swannanoah Priddy and Euple Free, and Iva’s ongoing squabbles with her mouth-breathing, friend-stealing, lying tattletale double first cousin Heaven, who’s good for a steady dose of annoyance and aggravation.

And there are Preacher Cookies! And corncakes! And a cake decorator! Best part for me? Candice’s irrepressible spirit shines through on every page; it’s obvious she loves the characters, the places, the entire world of this story where exciting possibilities wait around every corner, life is wonderfully expansive, and an 8-year-old can grab it by the horns. I was also reminded how intensely children live in the moment, and for me, Iva comes closest to the Candice I know more than any of her other characters. As you will see, she’s quite the intrepid discoverer herself, and we thank her so much for visiting. ☺


Is it my imagination, or is Iva Honeycutt more “you” than any of your other characters? How are the two of you most alike; how are you different?

Yes, I’m afraid Iva is more me than any other character since Kobie Roberts, the star of a sort-of series published in the 80s.  Iva came with an agenda and apparently I had one, too.  I’ve met former elementary school classmates and they confirm I had little time for normal kid things.  Iva and I both have this fascination with digging up treasure or old bones.  I don’t know where it comes from!

Iva is much more organized than I was.  And she is more deeply connected to her family, particularly her great-grandfather Ludwell.  Iva is in the middle of that gaggle of double-first cousins, just as I was in the middle of all my cousins.  But Iva stands out.  I stayed in the background.

Iva finds a letter addressed to great-grandfather Ludwell and another special something in an old issue of National Geographic Magazine that spark her first discovery.

In a post at the Children’s Literature Network, you mention that your agent Tracey Adams suggested that you write “Southern” back in 2005. Though you’ve already published many books set in your native Virginia, you’ve only recently begun calling yourself a “Southern Writer.” Aside from flavoring up a story with quirky place names and characters, and possibly tossing in a few grits and possums, what does it mean to be a Southern Writer? How has Iva changed your life and your writing?

I’ve spent the last several years figuring out what it means to be a Southern writer.  As trite as it sounds Southern writing leans heavily on place, attitude, and language (I boil Southern writing down to three F’s:  food, family, funerals).  I’ve always been a Southern writer.  Every single one of my books that isn’t obviously set somewhere else is a Southern book.  Language, customs, and place lent authority to my historical fiction.  But those elements, particularly language, were edited out of my contemporary fiction.  After a while I viewed “writing Southern” as a lens I had to darken.

When I wrote Iva, nobody cared what I was doing.  Nobody was expecting the book.  It was natural that my characters spoke the language I grew up hearing—the flat careless speech of central Virginia, fresh with idioms and questionable syntax.  We still speak this way.  While writing Iva, I looked at the world around me in all its particularness and peculiarness.  And for the first time in years, I was comfortable because I was home.

Model for Walser Compton’s house (Miz Compton is Iva’s best friend who always serves Preacher Cookies and cherry Kool-Aid).

Is there a real Uncertain, Virginia? Did you conduct any interesting field research to help you create an authentic sense of place for this book? Please share an adventure or two.

There is no community in Virginia called Uncertain, at least to my knowledge.  The name came to me when I was flying over Texas on my way to a reading council conference.  I think there might be an Uncertain, Texas, but I don’t know how I knew it 35,000 feet in the air!  I put fictional Uncertain, Virginia, in real Louisa County, just outside Mineral, now famous for being the epicenter of the 2011 earthquake.  The “indefinite boundary” exists between Louisa and Goochland counties but I changed the county names.  Dinwiddie is a real county in Virginia but it doesn’t border Louisa.  This drove the copyeditor a little crazy.

Parts of Uncertain are borrowed from Manassas, the town I knew best growing up.  Quiet Hours Avenue is really Quarry Road.  The best adventures I had were patching this place together, bits and pieces of other places, until I had created a whole new place that is now as real to me as my own back yard.

The central conflict between Iva and her double first cousin Heaven fuels the plot. Did you ever go head-to-head with any of your cousins/relatives when you were growing up?

I grew up with fifteen cousins on my mother’s side.  Seven of us were about the same age, so naturally we played and fought and argued and teased each other.  I was forever falling out with three of those cousins.  We were friends, but in the course of a day, we’d become dire enemies and then best friends again.  Loyalties shifted constantly and sometimes it was a challenge to figure out whose side to be on.

Candice’s Vacation Bible School picture (ca. 1959). She and Iva both hated VBS.

I really like the eccentric cast of characters in the story. Are any based on real people, and who’s your favorite? How did you go about choosing their names (especially Swannanoah)?

I swiped a lot of names from my summers as a student at Hollins University.  One of my classmates, Danyel Brugh, had two little girls and was expecting another when we met.  I loved the names of her daughters and put them in the book:  Iva, Lily Pearl.  (Lacey Jane is in Rebel McKenzie.)  Swannanoah Priddy I plucked straight from the English department building.  Swannanoa Hall was named after alum Swannanoa Horne Priddy (’11).  I added the “h.”  Heaven’s cat, Yard Sale, was pinched from children’s literature program director Amanda Cockrell’s cat.  Arden was another classmate of mine.  Be warned; names are not safe with me!

Why did you choose preacher cookies and unsweetened Kool-Aid as stand-out foods?

I lived on preacher cookies when I was a student at Hollins.  We could walk to Wildflour restaurant (now renamed Hollywood’s), which specialized in goodies like preacher cookies (where I got the story) and Hello Dolly brownies.  As a kid I drank my Kool-Aid unsweetened. Considering I mainlined sugar in all forms, it’s strange I didn’t like sugar in my ice tea or Kool-Aid.  I drank a pitcher of it after the Iva launch and found it went well with sweets (didn’t compete), but wasn’t very good on its own!

Iva had her eye on this pup tent.

You’ve also said that Iva is the first character who insisted that you buy her presents. What did you give her and how did she react?

Since Iva and I spent so much time together, she became pretty demanding after a while.  First she wanted more old National Geographic magazines for her collection.  Since those were educational for both of us, I said fine.  In a bookstore, Iva saw an interactive book on exploring and pitched a fit until I bought it for her.  I dug in my heels on the pup tent, however.  I wasn’t about to spend $10 for a moldy old tent that didn’t even have its support sticks.  She’s still sulking.

One of Iva’s presents!

I love your sense of humor, which is evident in real life and played out to perfection in your stories. Humor can be tricky to write, especially for children, yet it seems to flow naturally from your pen. Is it as easy for you as it seems? What makes you laugh?

Everyone in my family has the same sense of humor and when we’re all together, you don’t want to be around.  Our humor is automatic, very dry, often cutting, and usually directed at ourselves (or our sisters).  I find humor works best when it’s exaggerated and unexpected, like Heaven praying all over the place and Iva’s name-tree.  Humor comes to me fairly easy because I don’t take anything seriously, except my work.  What makes me laugh?  Animals.  They are naturally funny.

Anything else especially noteworthy about the process of planning, writing, and/or revising this book that you’d like to discuss?

I would love to say this book wrote itself since the idea and the town and characters fell into my lap.  But it didn’t.  It was fun to write, but not easy.  I’m about to revise the sequel and know I have a lot of work in front of me.

Hand-decorated notebook containing background notes, character sketches, etc., for Iva Honeysuckle. Candice makes a special notebook for every novel she writes!

When you first started writing this book, were you thinking in terms of a stand alone novel or a series? What is the next Iva book about?

It was all I could do to get to the end of the first book.  But I loved the characters so much I couldn’t bear to let them go.  The instant I finished Iva Honeysuckle, I started a sequel, literally the very next day.  I wrote three chapters and by then it was December.  I stopped writing the sequel and began a Christmas story, something I could actually finish in a few weeks.

The sequel, Iva Honeysuckle Discovers Her Match, will be out summer 2013.  Iva finally gets out of Uncertain to a funky little beach town on the Chesapeake Bay.  She is all set to explore, like her hero Captain John Smith, when she meets a girl who is a better discoverer than she is.  Of course Heaven becomes instant best friends with the new girl, just to rankle Iva.


Because it just wouldn’t be right to tempt you with Preacher Cookies and not provide the recipe, Cornelius has agreed to share it with you here. But you must promise to swig a pitcher or two of unsweetened cherry Kool-Aid when you eat the cookies. After you’ve done that and read the book a few times, don’t be surprised if your eyes turn “shifty gray, like oysters in a mason jar,” if you go “crazier than a white horse in the moonlight,” or even have a sudden urge to dig for gold!



1/2 cup butter or margarine
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 cups quick cooking oats
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix butter, cocoa, sugar, milk and salt in a saucepan. Boil for one minute.

Stir in oatmeal, peanut butter and vanilla. Drop by tablespoonfuls on waxed paper. Cool and allow to harden.



by Candice Ransom
published by Disney/Hyperion, April 2012
Fiction for ages 7-10, 160 pp.
Cool themes: Families, friendship, explorers, cousins, Virginia, humor, adventure
*Available in hardcover and electronic formats

For a chance to win a brand new copy of Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World (signed by Candice, hugged by Cornelius), simply leave a comment at this post telling us what you’d most like to “discover” no later than midnight (EDT) Tuesday, May 22, 2012. Extra entries for blogging, FBing, tweeting, etc.(mention in your comment).

You may also enter by sending an email to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com with “Honeysuckle” in the subject line. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Good luck!



♥ Visit Candice Ransom’s official website and wonderful blog, Under the Honeysuckle Vine, where she explores and discovers interesting people, places and things in Virginia and the world of her writing.

♥ Candice’s Iva post at The Children’s Literature Network.

♥ Reviews: Kirkus, Secrets & Sharing Soda, Through the Looking Glass

Iva Honeysuckle illustration by Heather Ross


Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.


30 thoughts on “chatting with candice ransom about iva honeysuckle discovers the world (and a giveaway)!

  1. Priceless photo pf Cornelius reading this lovely book. You had me at “irrepressible spirit” and intrepid explorer – sounds exactly like my kind of girl! The interview was equally awesome. It’s always great to hear about the inspirations of authors and learn how rich their background is. My daughter (who’s in 4th grade) has just recently completed a group presentation with her classmates about the “South” [note: she goes to an international school here in Singapore, an American one at that], and I was at my wits’ end looking for nice books that we can read together so she’d have a much more nuanced perception of the history, the distinctiveness of the location and its people and so forth. How I wish that I had known about this book earlier – I’m sure there are many things that we would both “discover” about Virginia and the South (does that count for the discover challenge? hehehehe). We ended up watching the 2011 film, The Help. 🙂

    PS: I am positively swooning over your eye candy. Great choice, as echoed by my daughter who’s beside me right now.


    1. I loved the language in this book — the descriptions as well as the great dialogue. The idiomatic expressions are priceless and I can vouch that Candice really does use some in her everyday speech (always making me smile). Talk about a nuanced perception of the region — a little bit of humor and exaggeration goes a long way.

      Glad you and your daughter approve of this week’s Eye Candy. Did you hover over Joe’s picture to read his message to you? 🙂


      1. Oh my oh my, I hovered over the photo and I fell over the bed laughing! Hahaha. You don’t look too bad yourself, Joe. 😉


  2. Jama is to be presented with the key to Uncertain. Mr. Priddy has the key and Mrs. Priddy will do the presenting, but since they haven’t uttered a word to each other in 35 years, it may be a while before we find out when and where the ceremony is. A big plate of Sunshine Cupcakes to you, Cousin Jama, for inviting me to spend the day at Alphabet Soup!


    1. Oh, Sunshine Cupcakes! Thank you. I’m very honored to be receiving the key to Uncertain. Of course, time and place of ceremony will remain uncertain indefinitely. 😀


  3. I love all the names, but double first cousin Heaven is the best. I imagine there are a few Heavens living in Virginia right now. Having grown up in Missouri, I understand a bit of what you say about the south, never boring for sure. I think you have intrigued me about exploring old National Geographics. Our school houses a complete set from the first one, so I will check a few out to see what I can learn. Thanks for what sounds like a wonderful book, Candice, and Jama, thank you for the entertainment and sweets as always.


    1. The entire set of NG’s? Wow. Check out the July 1949 issue — the one that set Iva off on her first adventure. Do you have corduroy shorts and a dog to accompany you? Better make a batch of Preacher Cookies for your backpack.

      You’re probably right about the name Heaven. It’s likely more common than one would think. This one prays all over the place. 🙂


  4. I cannot wait to dip into the voice and humor of this book. So nice to hear how through all the ups and downs (one minute writing this book seems easy peasy, the next, impossible) that it felt like being home. I love the Iva scrapbook. And the letter in a National Geographic. My dad kept a stack under the black and white TV, shining goldenrod at us while we watched Lassie or The Wonderful World of Color.

    So glad you said yes to that book with a snake dripping around the cover!


    1. Iva isn’t one to make things too easy for anyone. After I read the book several times, she started asking *me* for presents :). Can’t wait for the sequel!


  5. You had me at ‘unsweetened Kool Aid’ which I recall coming in tiny little envelopes about 3 X 4 inches square. How my brother and I would battle at the grocery store over whether we got pink lemonade or yellow. My poor mother. I can still envision the heavy glass pitcher with gold sunflowers etched on the side that used to mix the Kool Aid with a long wooden spoon. We DID use sugar though – sorry Iva!

    Can’t wait to read the book, and subscribed right away to Candice’s lovely blog.


    1. I don’t recall having that much Kool-Aid as a child. We were brought up on Hawaiian Punch, passion fruit-guava juice and orange base — a concentrated canned orange-y syrup that you diluted with water. The few occasions I remember drinking Kool-Aid was at the birthday parties of my haole (white/Caucasian) friends. I used to like those little envelopes and wished my mother would buy them for us.

      I’m sure you’ll enjoy Candice’s blog. She finds the best stuff in thrift stores and antique shops.:)


  6. I’d honestly like to discover this book! It looks fantastic from start to finish and would have SO much fun reading it with my youngest. Wonderful giveaway!


  7. Laughing at the three Fs. Sounds like Southern fiction, all right. Charmed by the cover art. Expressive faces, both child and dog.


  8. This looks fantastic! Can’t wait to read it. And you can tell Iva is Candice even on the cover:>)

    I would most like to discover the fountain of youth, because I’ll need to live forever in order to read all the great books on my TBR list!


  9. I loved this interview….the book sounds hilarious but what really made me laugh was how Candice “rearranged” Virginia! We have a small farm in Louisa we visit at weekends mostly…after the earthquake, let me say it seemed like Dinwiddie could very easily have been in our back pasture!


  10. I’d love to discover one of those Kool-Aid Man pitchers –it was glass, remember, with hand-painted eyes and an acres-wide smile? Such a cheerful spokesman, that Kool-Aid Man.

    Loved this interview, by the way. The regional influences are unmistakable, but your voices blend so well. xo


    1. I was thinking the exact same thing! There *must* be some of those old Kool-Aid pitchers around somewhere. Love them.


  11. Chiming in at the last minute, after being away last week (wonderful Highlights Founders workshop). LOVE this interview and I can’t wait to read the book.
    Re.: (I boil Southern writing down to three F’s: food, family, funerals). Hilarious! And true! I feel like I know these characters a bit already just from this post. Thanks to both of you for sharing!


    1. Thanks for cruising by to read, Robyn. Candice is a riot. You just never know what she’s going to say next. Love those regional idioms she uses, too.


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