Sammy manages to climb the moonbeam, and even rides on a dragon.  Is it logical that she’d be afraid of climbing up a few feet of rope, with a soft mat to catch her if she falls? 

Phobias and anxieties are by their nature not logical, and vary in their intensity and the way they manifest from one person to another.  Sammy realizes her fear of heights is much worse if she doesn’t have something under her feet, so the rope is infinitely worse than the moonbeam path.  I basically gave her my own symptoms, trying to imagine how I’d respond in certain situations.  I can climb a ladder, given sufficient motivation, although I’m not comfortable doing so, and am consequently very cautious.  Ladders offer foot support and something to hold on to.  However, the last time I was on a sloping roof, trying to clean the gutters, the insecure footing bit came into play, and I literally froze—was unable to move.  I remember “knowing,” beyond all rationality, that if I moved at all, I would immediately roll or slide off the roof and fall to the concrete below.  My teen-age niece came up and “talked me down.”   It’s also important to keep in mind that Sammy’s main problem with climbing the rope is that she’ll have an audience.  It’s looking foolish in public, and the teasing that’s sure to follow, that she really dreads.

Sammy could have asked her mother or a teacher for help.  Why did she keep her worries to herself?  Are you encouraging kids to try to solve all their problems on their own? 

All kids keep secrets.  I did.  My kids did.  Grownups do it, too.  We want to present a certain image to the world, and keep to ourselves anything that might tarnish that image.  Sammy and Kerri’s avoidance behavior probably doesn’t fool the teacher for a minute, but Mrs. Johnson wisely chooses to give the girls time to work it out themselves, rather than pushing.  I don’t suppose Sammy’s mom was convinced by Sammy’s recital of the “good stuff,” either.  Most parents are fully aware that their children conveniently forget to mention the test that didn’t turn out so well, or the reprimand for talking in class.  As for encouraging kids to be secretive, I don’t think that’s an issue—they’re doing it already.  My intent is to help them see that they aren’t alone, that other kids have similar problems, and suggest possible ways of coping.  And Sammy does seek help, although the people she turns to first are a fairy princess and an elderly talking cat. 

Don’t Selena’s problems make Sammy’s appear trivial?  Isolation and loneliness, a father away at war, broken communications, evil wizards, the fear that the enemy may be watching—these seem a lot more serious than the possibility of a short fall or being teased a little.   

No fear is trivial, and Sammy’s problems are just as big to her as the others are to Selena.  A lot of grownups don’t know, or maybe have forgotten, that many children would literally rather die than face embarrassment.  As adults, we may have developed a tough skin or learned ways to deal with embarrassing situations, but for a child the process is all new.  Sammy’s just about on the cusp of adolescence, the most sensitive period of life.  She’s going to need all the coping mechanisms she can acquire.  As for Selena’s issues, lots of kids nowadays are dealing with an absent parent, and for far too many there’s a father or mother in harm’s way in a foreign country.  I wanted to acknowledge their concerns as well, to let them know they’re not alone.

The first book of this series (The Mountains of the Moon) covered some pretty heavy subject matter, and that seems to be that case with this one as well.  Is that the whole reason for the story? 

No, not at all.  My intention was to write a fun adventure story, and I hope I’ve succeeded.  But look at the stories children love.  They generally feature a hero (or heroine) dealing with all sorts of problems and finally triumphing over adversity.  That’s fundamentally what most stories are about.  Although I’m writing in the fantasy genre, I wanted Sammy to be a believable real girl, and that meant giving her the sort of problems that real kids face every day, and helping her find solutions to those problems.  If some of my readers can identify with Sammy, and gain a little insight from her adventures, then that’s a nice bonus.

The cat BB (Princess Buttermilk Biscuit) played a major role in your first book.  She seems to have been shunted to the sidelines in this one.  Are you phasing her out? 

No, I just wanted to send Sammy on an adventure with Selena this time.  BB’s still very much a part of Sammy’s adventures, and you can expect to see a lot of her in the next book.