Today my Featured Guest is one of the most popular children’s authors in America. Mary Downing Hahn’s books for young people are always popular with her fans who line up patiently for a chance to meet Mary and get her autograph. I’m proud to bring her to my blog today. Mary?
What originally attracted you to writing?
Reading definitely attracted me to writing. I’ve loved books all my life; they were my solace when I was sad or lonely or confined to my room as a punishment. I read at the dinner table, in the bathtub, under the covers with a flashlight, in my tree house, in my lap at school when the rest of the class was learning math or social studies. The only place I couldn’t read was in a moving vehicle; my delicate stomach surrendered its contents on buses, streetcars, and cars.
Like most children who love to read I soon began making up my own stories, but instead of writing them in words I drew them in pictures. I thought of myself as an artist, not as a writer.
When I was twelve or thirteen, I realized my stories had become too long and complicated to tell in pictures. Although I didn’t think I was smart enough to be a writer, I decided I might solve my problem by writing and illustrating children’s books.
When I was in my thirties, I finally realized I was a better writer than an illustrator and turned my attention toward novels for young people. I suppose you could say I came to writing through the back door.
Do you keep a journal? If so, when did you start? What sort of material do you write in your journal?
I don’t keep a journal now — my imaginary life is much more interesting than my real life.
I kept a diary in eighth grade, a pretty accurate record of my coming to terms with becoming a teenager. I also preserved much of high school in a diary, most of which can be described as tear filled accounts of unrequited love. In college, I kept a rather pretentious journal in which I hoped to present my self as a sensitive young intellectual grappling with my identity in a heartless world.
Your books speak to the hearts of young fans everywhere. How would you describe your approach to creating such strong stories?
When I write, I become the person telling the story. I feel what the narrator feels, see what the narrator sees, and so on. Sometimes I think I’ve never really recovered from my childhood and teens.
Who is your audience? Who is reading over your shoulder while you write?
I hope my audience will be kids, but if I’m really absorbed in my writing I rarely think of my audience. When I begin revising, my editor is definitely reading over my shoulder. Jim Giblin and I have worked together so long, I find myself asking “What will Jim think of this?” and then telling myself exactly what he’ll think. Sometimes I change the wording, but often I leave him questionable things to ponder.
How do you write? At the keyboard? Longhand? In an office? At regular times?
I almost always write at the keyboard. As soon as I started using a computer, I was hooked. I used to call it my magic machine because it was so much easier to revise what I’d written.
However, when I was a children’s librarian, I used to write surreptitiously in longhand on a clipboard, but I was finally told I’d been hired to find books for people, not write them.
Now that I work at home, I’d like to say I write at least four hours every day, but, alas, that would be a lie. My hours are irregular. Very irregular.
What do you see happening in the world of children’s book publishing these days?
In a word: SERIES. And in a few more words: series that make publishing companies lots of money.
More seriously, the relationship between editors and writers has definitely changed. When my first book was published in 1979, my editor worked with me over a year, reading and rereading the manuscript through seven revisions. I don’t think many editors today have that sort of time.
Agents seem to play a bigger role in publishing; in fact, in many cases writers have a closer relationship with agents than with editors.
Do you have advice for emerging children’s authors?
Perseverance and optimism.
Mary, thank you.
Readers, please post your comments below.