Interview with Award-Winning Author Tony Abbott

Goofballs_1_The_Crazy_Case_of_Missing_ThunderGet to know Tony…

Tony Abbott has published over ninety books for readers 6 to 14, including the series The Secrets of Droon, and the novels Kringle, Firegirl (2006 Golden Kite for Fiction), The Postcard (2008 Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery), and most recently Lunch-Box Dream. New series for readers age 7 and up include Goofballs (Egmont) and Underworlds (Scholastic). He frequently appears at conferences, book festivals, and schools nationwide. For more info, visit his website.

Let the conversation begin!

Describe your writing journey, from aspiring writer to published author.

It’s been an oddly direct path, only it took decades to get there. I was born in a house of books. My parents were teachers, there were tons of books around, the local bookmobile, the public library, the influence of my brother, who was a constant reader. I understood that books were good and noble things. In high school, I wrote poetry and short stories; this continued in college, where I had some things published in the campus newspaper. I honed in on poetry after school, published in small magazines, married, had children, and all the writing elements in my life turned toward writing for young people. My first book was accepted in 1992, so this year marks a tidy anniversary for me. 

Outliner or Seat-of-the-pantser? 

Outliner, for the most part, though I never cease to try to break that when writing standalone novels for older readers. When writing mysteries, particularly things like GOOFBALLS, my latest series, I find that I have to work out the plot fairly tightly, so that the mystery itself holds water. But with older books — such as one I’m writing now — the only outline is in my head, and it’s pretty hazy, which I am loving. 

What piece of advice would you give the younger you? 

I might want to have started writing earlier, so it would be something like: “Start writing earlier!”  

If you could throw any kind of party, what would it be like? 

Several choice writing friends, sitting in club chairs, talking books, and drinking Scotch. 

If you could choose anyone, who would you pick as your mentor? 

I’d like to pick Dickens’ brain. I could listen to Faulkner talk for hours. I would love to have been in Richard Yates’s creative writing classes. 

The best part of waking up is? 

Knowing that I have a full day at my desk ahead of me.

If you could be any fictional character, who would you choose? 

Either Jude the Obscure or Mole, from The Wind in the Willows

What do you miss most about being a kid? 

Slow afternoons, the sort of thing Carson McCullers writes about: “It was four o‘clock in the afternoon and the kitchen was square and gray and quiet.” 

That. I want that back.

What was the last movie or book that made you angry? Explain. 

J. Edgar. Horrific screenplay, so poorly done; the whole thing was telegraphed in during a storm. What a mess. 

What songs are included on the soundtrack to your life? 

All Around the Watchtower (Hendrix studio version)

Goldberg Variations (Dinnerstein recording)

Where Were You (Jeff Beck)

The first 10 tracks of Birth of the Cool (Miles Davis)

The String Quartets (Bartok)

The String Quartets (Shostakovich)

The Way You Look Tonight (Astaire)

Die Winterreise (Schubert)

Improvisation No. 2 (Django Reinhardt)

Azure (Ellington) 


Author Interview with Fred Bortz

86605_C.inddGet to know Fred…

Fred Bortz is one of the nation’s leading writers of science and technology for young people. In his books, articles, and personal appearances, he shares with his audience the joy of discovery that fueled his previous twenty-five year career in teaching and research in physics, engineering, and science education. From 1979 through 1994, he was involved in research at Carnegie Mellon University, from which he earned his doctorate in Physics in 1971.

Fred is also known as an excellent teacher. He was an instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature’s correspondence courses for ten years, and taught a workshop in writing about nature, science, and technology as part of master’s degree program at Chatham College, and has now offered science courses in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute of the University of Pittsburgh. His students have been published in a number of children’s magazines, and at least two have published books. To learn more, visit his website.

Let the conversation begin!

What advice would you give to new writers?

The key is APT writing: Audience, Purpose, Tone. Your audience comes first. Never forget whom you are writing for. Second is what you hope to accomplish. I usually want to change the way my readers think about an important issue or question. To accomplish your purpose for those readers, you need to strike the right tone. You can’t do that without engaging them with a compelling story, entertaining them with interesting language and tidbits, making them laugh or cry, or all of the above.

Ever written a book that never got published? Ever think you’ll give it a second chance?

I’ve written two contracted books for which I got the full advance but didn’t get published because of changes in the publishers’ programs. One, Anatomy of a Computer, came before I ever published a book. I recycled a lot of the material there in my second published book, Mind Tools: The Science of Artificial Intelligence (1992).

The other, Our Next Planet: Humanity’s Future in Space, is based on a school visit talk I have been giving since 2002. (Click here for more info). I have a full manuscript with suggested illustrations, and my agent is actively marketing it. The title may change and it will need a round of revisions to suit a new publisher, but I fully expect it to sell soon. 

If you could throw any kind of party, what would it be like?

A planet-observing party at a major observatory, so friends could share the experience I had when writing Beyond Jupiter: The Story of Planetary Astronomer Heidi Hammel  (2005). Click here for details of that great adventure. 

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

A reviewer praised Catastrophe! Great Engineering Failure–and Success (1995) as reading “like an adventure story from the first page to the last.” Until that point, I didn’t recognize my own strength as a teller of true tales. Since then, I have been conscious of the importance of story in nonfiction books for young readers, even when the primary objective is to deliver facts and information.