Interview with Award-Winning Author Elizabeth Atkinson
Get to know Elizabeth…
Elizabeth was raised in the town of Harvard, a cozy New England village in central Massachusetts. In 1983, she earned a BA from Hobart & William Smith Colleges (Geneva, NY) and in 1995 completed her Masters in Liberal Studies at Dartmouth College (Hanover, NH). In addition to working as a freelance writer for the past 20 years, Elizabeth has taught English Literature, as well as held positions as a children’s librarian and co-executive director of a local arts foundation.
Her debut middle grade novel, FROM ALICE TO ZEN & EVERYONE IN BETWEEN (Lerner Books), was published in 2008 and has been included in the Bank Street College of Education’s BEST CHILDREN’S BOOKS (100th Anniversary) 2009 edition. Her latest tween book, I, EMMA FREKE (Lerner Books), was a 2011 SSLI Honor Book, won a gold medal Moonbeam Award for Pre-Teen Fiction, earned a starred book review in School Library Journal, and was released on audio by Recorded Books. International rights have been sold to a French and a Turkish publishing company. It has also been included in the “Bank Street College of Education’s BEST CHILDREN’S BOOKS” 2011 edition and featured in Scholastic Book Club flyers.
Elizabeth divides her time between the north shore of Massachusetts and the western mountains of Maine. To learn more about Elizabeth, feel free to contact her! For more info, visit her website.
If you had to be trapped in a TV show for a month, which show would you choose?
“Portlandia” – it’s eclectic, very funny, and Portland looks like a great city.
What’s your favorite zoo animal?
I can’t pick a favorite zoo animal because I’m uncomfortable seeing animals imprisoned in zoos for human entertainment. Circuses are even worse. The way we treat animals greatly disturbs me….
What’s the funniest prank ever played on you?
At my 20th high school reunion, a husband of one of my childhood friends – a man I had never met – was the first one to run over and hug me and pretend we were long lost friends. He was so sweet and sort of resembled a couple guys I had grown up with, but I couldn’t place him. He was such a good actor and didn’t say his name (and wasn’t wearing a nametag) so I completely believed him – I asked about his family, where he was living now, etc – and then he stopped me and told me he was just goofing with me, that we had never met. I was completely pranked – it was very funny!
What’s your motto in life?
My motto in life changes depending on my needs of the day, but one motto is a constant for me: “Honor your connections.” Family and true friendships need to be nurtured and treated with great care. I think we often take each other for granted and, in the end, it’s all about our connections to one another. It’s the reason I’m so drawn to telling stories… I love the emotional connections.
Do you believe in UFOs?
I don’t believe in UFOs literally, but I believe there is “life” out there in the universe and probably within our galaxy.
What song best describes your work ethic?
Songs of self-empowerment and integrity best express my work ethic, and I always choose a song to represent each story I’m working on – I will sometimes play it before I begin writing to get me “in the zone” and bond with the characters. For instance, when I was working on a sequel to I, EMMA FREKE (which my publisher decided they didn’t want) I would play “King of Anything” by Sara Bareilles, which can be interpreted different ways. I was recently told of an I, EMMA FREKE book trailer on youtube which uses the song, “Who Says?” by Selena Gomez, which works too.
What is your earliest childhood memory?
My earliest childhood memory is taking a bubble bath (with Mr. Bubble) when I was 3 years old – I remember being so excited by the mountains of bubbles up to my chin. I have loved bubble baths ever since.
Have you been told you look like someone famous?
People tell me I resemble Dana Delaney, the TV actress, but I was told that more often when we were both younger.
If you could eliminate one thing from my daily schedule what would it be?
I would have to say I would eliminate dealing with food. Over the summer, I taught English Literature in Hangzhhou, China for a month. Having every meal prepared for me made me realize how much time I spend buying food, storing it, making it, and washing up afterward!
Is there a particular place where you feel most creative?
We own a cottage in western Maine (the foothills of the White Mountains) in the woods up a dirt road near a gorgeous lake. This is where I love to write.
Who or what has helped you persevere and not quit?
The one person who has always supported my writing and motivated me to pursue it as a career is my mother.
What words of inspiration were given to you that you would like to pass on to others?
Over the years I’ve learned from talking to other authors that there is no “right way to write.” In other words, do what works for you. If you like to write one entire day, just once a month, then do that. If you prefer to write with a crayon on little pads of paper, go for it. The classic image of a writer – getting up at the crack of dawn to write in an office until noon every day – isn’t as common as you think, and it doesn’t make you a better writer.
I’ve also been surprised and relieved over the years to hear other writers confess how difficult writing is for them, that it can be painful! What we all strive for is the final product, that which gives us joy. Some writers relish the writing process much more than others do – I prefer revising to writing. Kids are always surprised to hear me say that.
How do you deal with creativity blocks?
I have developed many ways of dealing with creativity or writer’s block, which I experience often, but the best way for me to overcome a block is to take a long walk in a quiet place. I tuck a pen and a piece of paper in my back pocket in case I feel the need to take notes. And then I talk out loud as I walk, reviewing the story from the beginning – I have a chat with myself and hopefully no one hears me! It always helps.
What is your typical day like?
I don’t have a typical day, which is why I say there is no right way to write. I often plan which days I’m going to write, scheduling them on my calendar. I like everyday to feel different, so I really don’t have a typical day!
Does your writing reflect your personality?
I think my writing definitely reflects my quirky, sensitive personality. I write what I would’ve liked to have read in middle school. Almost everyone has experienced deep insecurities, especially during the tween years – it’s nice to read about a character who shares and overcomes insecurities similar to your own.
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