Hi Margo. Welcome to the Mind’s Eye. I’m so glad to have you here. Can you tell your readers something interesting about yourself AND/OR your favorite character.
My favorite characters change frequently (blush!), and I guess it’s because when you write, you’re writing from inside someone else’s skin, and you inhabit that character and she or he pretty much takes over who you are – as long as you are writing. Most of the time, my favorite character is the one whose skin I was just in, and for now, because she was finally published after twenty-two years (that’s not a typo!) that’s little Carol Ann, who wants everything to stay the same, and doesn’t want new friends, or a new school, or especially, a new environment, like Hawaii, where everything is so different and strange. Carol Ann is based on a lot of students I had in class at Punahou and newly-arrived-to-Hawaii kids who were also at Punahou in classes with our daughters – and on a young Marine wife whom we met when we lived in Kailua, Hawaii. The kids I’d had in class and our friend didn’t want to be in Hawaii, and yet, because of people’s welcoming aloha spirit and their own resilience, they accepted new friends, just as Carol Ann does in my book. There is a real Carol Ann – and there are many other Carol Anns out there who don’t want to move and leave a familiar place and old friends. I hope they find some encouragement and hope in ALOHA FOR CAROL ANN, and I hope kids everywhere will take that extra time to welcome someone new into their schools.
I do so understand what Carol Ann went through. Now tell us, what was your favorite book as a teen? Tell us about it and how it affected you as a person.
My favorite book as a teen was TO CATCH A THIEF. I couldn’t believe the exciting cliff-hanger plot and the complex, exciting characters, and, it created such a different world and such different characters from what I was used to reading about (like CHERRY AMES, STUDENT NURSE!), that I was enchanted. I wanted to recreate that kind of different horizon and unique experience for young readers.
I love excitement and cliff-hangers as well. Tell us about the genre you have chosen to write for. Why do you write specifically for them?
I write for young readers ages 2-14, and I do have some unpublished books for older young adult readers (note the “un”! J). The “received wisdom” about writing says that you write for the age during which you had the most intense experiences, and because I grew up in Europe as a Diplomatic Service Brat and moved to the US at a young age, I will never forget what it’s like to be the ‘fish out of water’ when I came to the US. Later, when I taught middle and high school, I found that so many young people felt the very same way about not fitting in and being different, no matter what their life experiences had been. My teaching, my author school visits, and the Boys and Girls Club volunteering I do have helped me tap into what concerns, dreams, fears, and hopes young readers have. I also see how ready young readers are to experience new worlds and ideas, so, it just seemed natural to write for that age group. After all, I really never have grown up – just ask my family and my friends!
That’s really interesting. I’ve never heard it said you write for the age which you had the most dramatic experiences. Tell us about your new book. How did it come about and share your favorite excerpt/scene.
ALOHA FOR CAROL ANN, my newest book, is a picture book for ages 2-8, and I am so fortunate to have the very talented Priscilla Garcia Burris as the illustrator. The story’s background is based on our family’s ten years of living in Hawaii and my having taught school there. We loved Hawaii and return every year, and I wanted to create a memory for our family of those wonderful years and that special aloha experience and to share it with young readers, everywhere. I began writing this manuscript twenty-two years ago, and, after many, many revisions and many rejections, the right publisher came along, my wonderful multicultural publisher, Marimba Books, and they accepted the manuscript. The story is about eight-year-old Carol Ann, a haole, a Caucasian, who reluctantly moves to Hawaii, and she does so NOT want anything different or new – no palm trees, no different school, no different friends – no different anything. With the help of her new friends and her teacher, she learns the meaning of “aloha,” and, in finally accepting the kindness of her new friends, she realizes she can feel at home, even in such a different place. My favorite scene is one that Priscilla drew so beautifully – in which Maile, one of her new friends, shares her spam musubi with Carol Ann. The acceptance and friendship on those little faces show such promise for the future and go far beyond what the mere words on the page can connote. That’s why Priscilla is such a gifted illustrator – she takes the text and gives it an entirely new dimension. These days, so many kids move away from familiar surroundings, and I hope Carol Ann’s story will resonate with them and with their parents.
I do agree, an illustrator can take a book and make it really come alive. How has writing affected your life? And what’s your favorite part of being a writer?
Writing has affected my life by broadening my horizons, by being more willing to take risks, and by bringing so many people who love literature and writing into my life, whom I never would have met, had I not begun writing. My favorite part of being a writer is playing with words and letting the characters take over. As William Faulkner once said (paraphrased, here), “All you do is create a character, and once he gets up and starts moving, you just run along behind him and write down everything he does and says as fast as you can.”
That’s a great quote from William Faulkner. What advice can you give regarding the writing process?
Do your research – read widely – know what the professionals are saying about how to write (as in, the First Commandment of Writers: “Thou Shalt Not Fall In Love With Thine Own Words.” – thanks to Ellen Kozak), know the market, be true to yourself, never be afraid to revise, and never give up on your dream – but be willing to take a cold, hard look at what isn’t working and be willing to put it away in a drawer (in the dark, yes!).
I need to remember that First Commandment of Writers. LOL Regarding publication and marketing, what advice can you offer aspiring writers?
“Work and hope, but never hope more than you work” – a quote from Beryl Markham, author of WEST WITH THE NIGHT, a book about which Ernest Hemingway said, [in comparison]… “I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen.” Be persistent, and above all, be nice. Another of my favorite quotes that can be applied to publication and marketing is: “Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us, so make haste to be kind, and be swift to love.” Market and publish, but always remember to be nice.
Wonderful words Margo. How can your fans find, follow or friend you?
I don’t do social networking, because I’d feel bad if I didn’t answer or retweet everyone on Twitter or friend everyone on Facebook, and, if I did do so, I’d never get any writing done! Consequently, I do things the old-fashioned way: I do answer every email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and every letter that is sent to one of my publishers. If you google my name, you’ll find me on a lot of different writers’ and children’s literature sites with various interviews and videos. My publishers have a lot of classroom resources for my books, as well, and there is a free teacher’s guide for ALOHA FOR CAROL ANN that Marimba Books/Just Us Books recently put up on their website. Hearing from readers is always special. For example, for the last year, my medieval mouse character Ambrose (AMBROSE AND THE PRINCESS, AMBROSE AND THE CATHEDRAL DREAM) has been corresponding off and on with two little brothers via email. The first email Ambrose ever got was “Ambrose, Are you real? I am four. Love, Liam.” How can an author not respond? After all, we write to connect. To get a letter from a young reader that says he or she really connected with my characters makes all the anguish and angst over the writing process worthwhile. It’s all about hope for the future, and young readers are our hope for the future!
I can feel the connection you create with your readers, young and old, Margo. I am honored to have had you on my blog today. Thanks so much for joining me. It was an awesome interview and I hope everyone enjoys ALOHA FOR CAROL ANN.