Interview with CURIOSITY HOUSE: THE SHRUNKEN HEAD Authors Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester + Giveaway


I am so thrilled to be able to welcome to the blog the two amazing authors of CURIOSITY HOUSE: THE SHRUNKEN HEAD – Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester. They were kind enough to answer my many, many questions in an interview that has turned out to be my most favorite one I’ve conducted here on the blog.

If you are able to read through their answers without cracking a smile, grinning like a loon or laughing out loud you’ve got me beat!

CURIOSITY HOUSE: THE SHRUNKEN HEAD releases next week on September 29th. It is a wonderful story that while aimed at a Middle Grade audience is a story that readers of any age will enjoy. From its quirky characters, to its delightful setting, to its fantastic writing, to its captivating mystery, to its incredible illustrations, it is an engaging and enchanting and funny and exciting and positively adorable read.

If you’d like to know what else I thought, my review is HERE. And if you’d like to know more about the book, the series, and author, visit The Curiosity House website, HERE.

Some information about the book and authors follows the interview. And if you’d like the chance to win a copy of CURIOSITY HOUSE: THE SHRUNKEN HEAD, I’m offering up one for giveaway – just enter in the Rafflecopter at the end of the post.

The Interview


Q&A with Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester

Q. If you/each of you had to describe CURIOSITY HOUSE: THE SHRUNKEN HEAD in 15 words or less, how would you describe it?

LO: CURIOSITY HOUSE is the story of four extraordinary children and the fantastical place they call home.

HCC: I would describe it thusly: “A thrilling mystery set in a colorful era of bygone New York City and involving one of the most fabled rarities of all time–the shrunken head of the legendary Amazonian chieftain, Ticuna-Piranha!”  (I am cognizant of the fact that this description exceeds the prescribed length.  However, so exceptional is our book–if I may be permitted to say so–that a mere “fifteen words or less” cannot do it justice!)

Q. What was the collaborative experience like?

LO: I certainly learned a lot! Mr. Chester was definitely particular and expressive about how he thought the story should be brought to life. I could always count on him to point out any holes in the narrative or inconsistencies in tone or setting.

HCC:  I am, of course, unaccustomed to the collaborative process, having been the sole author of such classic volumes as The Complete Collector’s Guide to Pre-Columbian Eating Utensils and Assyrian Pottery Shards for Dummies.  Indeed, I am unaccustomed to dealing directly with any other living being whatsoever, apart from my faithful canine, Trudy.  I must confess, however, that I found my work with Ms. Oliver so gratifying that I have recently been tempted to interact with other human beings and have been giving serious consideration to saying “hello” to my mail carrier at some point in the future, should the occasion arise.

Q. What was the best part of working together? Your least favorite part of working together?

LO: The best part, for me, was getting a chance to see Mr. Chester’s vast array of relics, knowing I was one of the few people who has ever been admitted to his house. Also, I really enjoyed meeting his dog Trudy. She’s pretty adorable.

HCC: For myself, it was always delightful to see how warmly Trudy greeted Ms. Oliver during the latter’s visits to my home.  The worst part, paradoxically, was also seeing how warmly Trudy greeted Ms. Oliver, since my attachment to my canine companion is such that any display of affection on her part for another human being cannot help but plunge me into a state of “Othello”-like jealousy.

Q. What was your/each of your favorite scene/s to write? Your/each of your most challenging scene/s to write?

LO: My favorite part of the book was simply mapping out and conceiving of the museum and its various inhabitants. I’ve never written a book that felt like such an ensemble, as if I were working on a giant group number for stage. I loved it. Action is always the most challenging part for me, and there is a lot of action in this book.

HCC: I must admit that my role in our collaboration had less to do with the actual writing of scenes than with providing Ms. Oliver with the raw material with which, through the alchemy of her own stylistic genius, she so marvelously brought to life.  Each of the episodes in our book is so rich with action, excitement, and suspense that it would be difficult for me to single out a “favorite.”

Q. Who is your/each of your favorite character/s – and why are they a favorite?

LO: That is so hard to answer! I love so many of the characters. I really like Goldini, the not-so-accomplished magician, because I feel sorry for him. I love Smalls, the aspiring poet; he reminds me of some people I went to grad school with. And of course I love all four of the children, especially Max, because she’s such a firebrand.

HCC:  I feel a special affinity for Horatio Dumfrey, proprietor of Dumfrey’s Dime Museum. Like myself, he is a connoisseur of the weird and unusual who has devoted himself to assembling a world-class collection of rare and astounding artifacts. To be sure, I do not share his interest in sharing my collection with the public.  On the contrary, apart from Ms. Oliver, to whom I granted the privilege of viewing a portion of my collection, no living being has ever been permitted to view it.   Indeed, ever since she got her (admittedly adorable) jaws on the priceless fossilized leg bone of a prehistoric wallaby and chewed it to pieces, I have made large sections of my private museum off-limits even to you-know-who.

Q. To H.C. Chester – You’ve been called a “notorious relics collector.” What is your favorite relic that you’ve collected and why is it a favorite?

HCC: A very difficult question, since my collection includes so many extraordinary items.  Is it the hammered-silver ring John Smith gave to Pocahontas upon their engagement?  The ancient leather sling unearthed by a Middle Eastern archaeologist and said to be the one used by David when he slew the Philistine giant, Goliath?  The two-headed Peruvian fruit bat?

For many years, a particular favorite of mine was a magnificent specimen of an ancient Incan funerary vessel that I purchased, by mail, from a highly respected dealer in South American antiquities.  One day, while examining this surpassingly beautiful object, I noticed some strange hieroglyphic symbols at its base.  Inspecting these markings under a high-powered magnifying lens, I saw that they spelled out the words “Made in Taiwan.”  Needless to say, I immediately sent a highly indignant letter to the dealer, who not only refused to refund my payment but responded in a most impolite manner.

Q. To Lauren Oliver – You’ve written for a wide range of audiences. What is it that you love most about writing Middle Grade stories?

LO: I think middle grade novels afford opportunities for creative freedom and for humor that feel really satisfying to me. Kids will follow you anywhere. They’re up for anything. As an author, that feels incredibly liberating.

Q. What can you tell us about Dumfrey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders?

LO: Dumfrey’s Dime Museum, as Mr. Dumfrey would have told you himself, was truly one of the greatest museums in the world. Its collections varied from the rare to the straight-up strange, from the legitimate to the patently fake, and from the divine to the grotesque. Wax figurines, mermaid skeletons, historical relics, hideous murder weapons–it was a cornucopia of the weird and the wonderful.

HCC:  Since even the most educated individuals of today are often unfamiliar with the definition of a “dime museum,” I will address your question by saying something about the institution in general. The dime museum, which flourished in our country from the late decades of the nineteenth century until the early years of the twentieth, was a popular showplace, offering both entertainment and edification to the great American public.  For a modest admission fee–ten cents originally, though eventually rising to as much as twenty-five–a visitor could view a wide assortment of wonders. These establishments, appealing to the timeless human appetite for the marvelous and miraculous, drew thousands upon thousands of ordinary men, women, and children, seeking escape from the humdrum dullness of their workaday lives.  Gradually, however, these palaces of wonder were replaced–or more accurately, killed off–by the cheap technological amusements of the modern world: radio, motion pictures, television. Though I myself have never owned a radio or television and have not attended a movie since a 1951 showing of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, to which I was dragged by my late father, I cannot imagine that the experiences they offer can begin to match the sublime pleasures of an afternoon at Dumfrey’s Dime Museum.

Q. Of all the collectibles, how did you decide upon the Amazonian shrunken head to be the focal point of the story/mystery?

LO: We were inspired by a real-life shrunken head currently in Mr. Chester’s possession, which allegedly was to blame for some mysterious and deadly occurrences of its own, decades before it passed into his hands.

HCC: Indeed, as Ms. Oliver suggests, the shrunken head in my collection exudes a singularly dark and sinister aura.  Indeed, I attribute to its nefarious influence several heartbreaking tragedies that have befallen my household in recent years, such as the time Trudy’s favorite rubber chew toy went missing, sending my poor, devastated canine into a severe depression that lasted nearly 48 hours. Happily, she recovered at once when “Mr. Squirrely” turned up beneath the horsehair settee in our front parlor.

Q. What can readers expect from this and future books in the Curiosity House series?

LO: Rollicking fun, old-fashioned adventure, a dash of mystery, murder, and mayhem, and at least one talking cockatoo!

HCC: And more author photos featuring close-ups of Trudy!



Visit the Website

Authors: Lauren Oliver & H.C. Chester
Illustrator: Benjamin Lacombe
Release date: September 29, 2015
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 368
Formats: Hardcover, paperback, audio, eBook


Despite being blessed with extraordinary abilities, orphans Philippa, Sam, and Thomas have never felt anything but normal in Dumfrey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders: Philippa is a powerful mentalist, Sam is the world’s strongest boy, and Thomas can squeeze himself into a space no bigger than a breadbox. But when a fourth child, Max, a knife-thrower with deadly accuracy, joins the group, it sets off a dramatic chain of events that will threaten the only place they’ve ever felt at home.

When the museum’s most prized possession, an Amazonian shrunken head, is stolen, the four are determined to get it back. But their search leads them to a series of murders and an explosive secret about their pasts.


About Lauren Oliver

Lauren Oliver photo

Lauren Oliver is the author of the YA bestselling novels Before I Fall, Panic, and Vanishing Girls and the Delirium trilogy: Delirium, Pandemonium, and Requiem, which have been translated into more than thirty languages and are New York Times and international bestselling novels. She is also the author of three novels for middle grade readers: The Spindlers; Liesl & Po, which was an E. B. White Read Aloud Award nominee; and Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head, co-written with H. C. Chester, and a novel for adults, Rooms. A graduate of the University of Chicago and NYU’s MFA program, Lauren Oliver is also the cofounder of the boutique literary development company Paper Lantern Lit.


About H.C. Chester

H.C. Chester photo credit Kimiko Hahn

Like other boys, I spent many happy hours engaged in a favorite hobby: in my case, taking my mother’s discarded kitchen aprons and making them into historically accurate costumes for my pet Rottweiler, Buster. I still recall the perfect hours I spent roaming the woods and meadows around our house with Buster, dressed in his Marie Antoinette coronation gown, trotting happily at my side.

The turning point in my childhood–indeed, in my life–occurred when I was six, when during a routine visit with my parents to an antique shop my eyes fell upon a wondrous sight: a taxidermically mounted specimen of a large Peruvian fruit bat. Stuffed Peruvian fruit bats became the ruling passion of my life. Before long–through postal correspondence with the various dealers who advertise in the pages of the bi-monthly Peruvian Fruit Bat Fanciers Newsletter–I had acquired a dozen more preserved specimens of these endlessly fascinating creatures.

It was the seed of what was to grow into the H. C. Chester Relics Collection, the largest private assemblage of its kind in the entire country, if not indeed the world! Now I live happily with my best friend and companion, my dog “Trudy”, in the ancestral home in which I grew up, surrounded by all of the wondrous and strange items I have collected over the past six decades.

To read H.C. Chester’s full bio visit The Curiosity House Website.

The Giveaway


I am offering up for giveaway…

A hardcover copy of CURIOSITY HOUSE: THE SHRUNKEN HEAD to ONE (1) Winner

  • Must be 13 or older to enter
  • Giveaway is International (to anywhere The Book Depository ships)
  • There will be ONE winner
  • Giveaway ends on September 29th at 11:59 p.m. Pacific
  • Prize will be ordered from Amazon or The Book Depository depending upon location

Enter in the Rafflecopter below…

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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