One of her picture books, SCATTERBRAIN SAM, received many accolades, including a starred review from Kirkus. The review said, in part: “Belly laughs and bravos will punctuate every reading of this fresh, funny recasting.” This book was also a Parents’ Choice Fall 2001 Gold Award Winner and received a storytelling award from Storytelling World Magazine (out of 3000 entries).
Her picture book CINDER EDNA has now sold more than 100,000 hardcover copies and was featured in GREAT BOOKS FOR GIRLS and LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE GIRLS. It was also nominated for a Young Reader’s award in Nevada, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Colorado, and has received other awards as well.
Her nonfiction picture book, TURN OF THE CENTURY, received a starred review in Kirkus, a pointered review in Booklist, was named a Booklist Editor’s Choice and was short-listed for the Texas Bluebonnet, Charlotte, and Children’s Crown awards.
Ellen currently lives in Santa Barbara, California, with her family and enjoys hiking, beach combing, reading, playing Renaissance music with a local music group, and doing volunteer work in the community. To learn more, visit Ellen’s webpage at: www.ellenjackson.net.
Welcome Ellen. Can you tell your readers something interesting about yourself and/or your favorite character from your new book, THE BALLAD OF BOOSTER BOGG?
I’ll start with myself–and I’ll tell you a ghost story because you’ve written a book about a ghost (and because it’s October). Neither my husband nor I really believe in ghosts, but we’ve had some strange experiences in our current house. For about ten years, I’d hear strange noises, footsteps on the roof, and once there was an explosion in the kitchen. Also, the rocking chair in the living room would sometimes rock by itself. Another time, our shed was mysteriously locked–and I was the only person who had the key. My very skeptical husband, at first, thought I had an overactive imagination when I’d report these things–until he heard and saw them too. Even our stepdaughter heard the noises, so I know it wasn’t my imagination. A few years ago, all the strange occurrences stopped. Nothing unusual has happened since. Was it a ghost? Was it something else? I guess we’ll never know.
That’s both creepy and intriguing! (smile) Now tell us about the main character in your newest book, THE BALLAD OF BOOSTER BOGG.
The story of Booster is based on the life of a real dog who lived in a small town on the east coast. The real Booster was a beagle and his name was Boozer (can you guess why I changed it?). My wonderful illustrator, Christine Mannone Carolan, chose to depict BOOSTER as a big, goofy white mutt. I think it was a brilliant choice, and Booster, the character, is quite lovable.
He sounds delightful. Did you have a favorite book as a child? Tell us about it and how it affected you as a person.
I’m not sure I can name just one book. I read everything I could get my hands on when I was a child. My mother was a children’s librarian who worked for Walt Disney Studios, and she’d bring home all kinds of children’s books–from the Mary Poppins series to the Freddy the Pig stories to Dr. Doolittle and all kinds of others.
That’s exciting. I bet you always had tons of great children’s books available then. So, how did you start writing for children?
I loved to write when I was a child, but my mother discouraged me from becoming a writer. She wanted me to train for something practical–so I became a teacher. I read books to my class every day, and I kept thinking, "I could do that." Eventually I moved to a town where jobs were scarce. No problem–I decided (sorry Mom!) I’d just make my living as a writer. I wrote a picture book that I thought was a work of genius (it wasn’t). I worked and worked on the manuscript and probably rewrote it fifty times. While working on book number one, another idea occurred to me. I wrote book number two in about fifteen minutes, and sent the first draft off to five different publishers. I also submitted it to a writing class, where the teacher tore it apart in front of everyone. I totally lost interest after that, but one of the publishers actually bought it. That manuscript, THE GRUMPUS UNDER THE RUG, was in print until this year and has done very well.
Love the Title. What’s the best part about being a writer?
My books have won many awards, but the most satisfying part of being a writer is to get a heartfelt letter from a child. Sometimes I get letters that were "assigned" by a teacher, and these are not the letters I most enjoy–although I try to answer every letter I get. But when I get a letter from a child who honestly enjoyed one of my books–there’s no better feeling. To me, that’s the best part and it’s worth more than all the awards and recognition from adults. I have to add, though, it’s also been personally satisfying that I’ve managed to make a living as a writer.
What’s the most difficult aspect of being a writer for you?
Writers need to keep coming up with new ideas, new stories, and new angles on old topics. For example, there are currently more than 300 books for sale on Amazon.com about elephants. If I wanted to write a book about elephants, I’d have to think of something new to say about them, something no other writer had said before. That’s not always easy. Or if an author is going to write a detective story, she has to think of a new way for the detective to solve the crime. Coming up with new ideas for every book or story can be hard work.
That is a very interesting thought and it’s very true. What advice can you give our readers regarding the writing process?
I think that children’s writers need to remember what it was like to be a child–the smells, the tastes, as well as the fears and the misunderstandings that kids have about the adult world. Some of my best ideas come from my memories of how children think. For example, I recently sold a manuscript based on my childhood take of geographical names. As a child, I thought that Death Valley was full of skeletons and that Orange County was inhabited by lots of orange people. I took the core of this idea and expanded it into a picture book, THE SEVEN SEAS, in which I imagine seven seas, each a different color. This may seem outlandish, but there really is a Red Sea, a Black Sea, and a Yellow Sea.
That’s an interesting way to take the book. Regarding publication and marketing, what advice can you offer aspiring writers?
Read lots of books in whatever genre you’d like to pursue. See what other authors have done. Then try to come up with an idea or theme that hasn’t already been covered. It should be a plot, story, or idea that would interest your targeted age group. Then write the story, rewrite it again and again, and get lots of feedback from others. You may have to submit your manuscript over and over before you can break in. It’s not easy to get published these days. Persistence is key.
Excellent advice. Now, how can your fans find, follow or friend you?
You can visit my website at: www.ellenjackson.net
Thanks so much for joining us today, Ellen. I appreciate your taking the time to be with us today!