Interview with Award-Winning Author Elissa Haden Guest

Get to know Elissa…

Elissa holds an MFA in Children’s Literature from Hollins University and teaches classes in Writing for Children & Young Adults at Stanford University Continuing Studies. She has also taught at Pixar Animation Studios. She’s the author of numerous children’s books including the award-winning early reader series, Iris and Walter. Honors include an ALA Notable Book, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of The Year, and a PEN Center USA West Literary Award. She’s written YA fiction and middle grade non-fiction. Her teleplays have been produced by NBC, Showtime and the Children’s Television Workshop. Elissa’s latest book, Bella’s Rules, illustrated by Abigail Halpin, will be published by in 2013. Elissa lives with her family in San Francisco. For more info, visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

What advice would you give new writers? 

Get everything down before you start editing yourself. Only share your work with someone who knows about writing and can give constructive criticism. Writing is about re-writing so don’t be in a hurry to send out your work.

Read, read read! Write down favorite quotes for inspiration. Here’s one of mine from the brilliant Maurice Sendak, “Childhood is a tricky business. Usually something goes wrong.” 

Any books on writing you’d recommend? 

Nancy Lamb’s, The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children for people who want to write children’s books. Also Ann Whitford Paul’s, Writing Picture Books

What is your secret talent?

I can burp on cue. And I can keep on burping ad nauseam. This is what comes from growing up with older brothers! 

Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress? 

I’m very lucky to have great friends who are terrific writers and critiquers. I have a monthly in-person critique group. We became friends through our group. We get together, eat lunch, critique each other’s books and have a ton of laughs. It’s invaluable for my writing and my spirit. I also have a wonderful online group that meets once a week. We all met at Hollins University’s Graduate program in Children’s Literature.  

How do you begin crafting a story?

Always with a character and often with an emotion. In my picture book Harriet’s Had Enough!  illustrated by Paul Meisel, I wanted to write about a fight between a parent and child. I was interested in the feeling of absolute fury that a kid experiences. If you’ve ever watched a two-year-old throw a tantrum or a four-year-old express pure outrage at having to stop playing you never forget it.

I have such empathy for little kids because they have these giant emotions and as Maurice Sendak said, “Children are entirely at the mercy of adults-their parents, their siblings, and their teachers.” (Caldecott & C0.  P.211) 

How do you recharge your creative batteries?

I love music, reading and listening to audio books. Listening to a good story puts me into a trance. I also love watching dance rehearsals. They are much more interesting than the final performance. Oh, and I’m a huge fan of good movies and television series such as The Sopranos and The Wire, anything with great writing and acting.

Who inspires you to write?

Aretha Franklin’s voice, and writer E.B. White, Maurice Sendak, Christopher Paul Curtis, Melina Marchetta, Arnold Lobel, Lynn Hazen, Elizabeth Shreeve and Deborah Underwood to name a few.

My children Gena and Nathanael inspired my early readers, Iris and Walter.

And my father was the inspiration for the character of the grandfather in the series. 

Is crying a sign of strength or weakness?

Crying is definitely a sign of strength. 

Do you remember the first live concert you saw?

The Four Tops. They were playing in Central Park on a balmy summer night. It was thrilling. 

If I could have one super power, what would it be?

Flying. My friend Jenny and I tried to fly when we were kids. We jumped off my bedroom bureau over and over again. To this day we firmly believe that we were making headway.

Favorite season?

Fall. I love the deep blue sky and the crisp weather and of course who doesn’t love red and golden leaves? 

If you could live anywhere for a year, where would it be?

Paris. Baguettes are my weakness.

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