Interview with Award-Winning Author Elaine Marie Alphin

Get to know Elaine…

I started making up stories when I was very small, even before I could write them down. I always dreamed of writing my stories and seeing my books on library shelves one day, where everyone could read them. After years of writing and working and writing some more, I finally got my dream. You can find my books on your library shelves.

I write fiction and nonfiction books for young readers, nonfiction books for adult readers, and all kinds of magazine stories, articles, puzzles and activities for youngsters and for adults. And I’ve got new stories and book ideas in the works all the time.

I also visit schools to meet and talk with students, speak at Young Author Conferences, and serve on the faculty of writing workshops and conferences across the United States. For more info, visit my blog.

Let the conversation begin!

You write fiction and non-fiction. Do you favor one over the other?

I like them both in alternating projects. I love research, and history plays an important role in almost all of my fiction. But when I write fiction I’m not limited to what really happened – I get to interact with my characters, and that makes the writing process really exciting. Also – when I write fiction, the theme comes entirely from within me, so the take-away from the book is more personal. When I write non-fiction the theme must come from the subject matter, although I choose the subject matter because some aspect of it resonates with me.

Are your characters completely fictional? Or do you base them off real people?

My characters are completely fictional, although I often “borrow” traits from real people that fit the characters I’m writing about, if those traits fit the character’s personality. If I’m writing about a real character, like the ghost in Ghost Cadet, which was based on a real person, I make sure my research is complete enough that my ghost character is completely consistent with the real person.

What initially drew you to writing for young readers?

I always wanted to write (from early childhood) and I always wanted to write books that would make my readers think, that would inspire them to question their assumptions and explore new ideas. Because one of my university majors was English and I studied many “great books” that were written for adults, I assumed that I’d be writing for adults. But as I grew up and got to know more adults, I realized that many grown-ups preferred not to read in order to question their assumptions. Most grown-ups seemed to want to read books that confirmed their assumptions, that assured them they had made the right choices in their lives. But young readers were always exploring new ideas and questioning their assumptions. When I realized this, I realized that they were the right readership for me.

When are you the most productive? (Morning, noon, or night?)

I used to be the most productive in the afternoon and at night, but my writing process is evolving. I find myself waking up and wanting to get to my writing right away, so I’ve become more productive in the morning (not early morning – I’m not an early riser! If I try to force myself to get up too early, like before 8 or 9, my mind is groggy when it comes to trying to write). Then I catch up on things like e-mail and other online activities in the afternoons. But I still find myself thinking and working at night, often until midnight or later. I think every person needs to trust their internal clock to tell them when it’s the best time to write.

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

When I was in college, the English professor who taught Shakespeare and theatre (and later taught mysteries – wish he’d taught that while I was there!) wouldn’t let me get away with writing good papers, as I did for other professors. He demanded that I write excellent papers in order to get a good grade from him, because he said I was capable of it and I wasn’t trying my hardest when I turned in a paper that was merely good. His name was J. Dennis Huston, and he taught me how important it was to write better than I believed I could. That lesson taught me never to settle for a promising first draft or first revision that produced a good manuscript, and opened me to the vast possibilities of revision to reveal a book’s heart as clearly as I can.

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