I’ve been writing picture books and novels for kids for the past 20 years. When I graduated from Hampshire College in 1976, I moved to New York City to pursue a career as a singer songwriter. I had studied music composition in school, and went on to get an MFA from NYU writing for musical theatre. I performed in clubs with a band, spent a year singing in an Off-Broadway revue, and eventually found myself writing songs for Disney and Sesame Street. When an editor from Harper Collins heard some of those songs, she asked if I would be interested in writing picture books based on my songs. So I shifted my focus and became a children’s author.
I’ve written about 50 books so far and I absolutely love my job. I spend part of my time at home writing – sometimes without ever getting dressed or combing my hair! But I also hit the road during the school year visiting between thirty and forty thousand students every year. In the summer I move up to a little house in the Catskill mountains where I love to play with the dog, pull weeds, feed birds, do jigsaw puzzles and, when I feel like it….write.
I just finished writing a new novel, called PIE. I’m very excited to see how my readers respond to it. I think I had more fun writing this book than any other I’ve ever written. It will be available in October 2011, but if anybody wants to take a peek at it, the first chapter is posted on my website. To learn more, visit her website.
Let the conversation begin!
Outliner or seat-of-the-pantser?
I teach writing to graduate students in an MFA program at the New School University. I talk about outlining all the time, and sometimes I assign my students outlining tasks, but when it comes to my own work, I rarely outline. I find it makes me feel hemmed in. Somebody, maybe Stephen King, or maybe it was Annie LaMott said that some writers have to have a map before they get in the car and turn the key, and other writers just turn the key and GO. I love the idea of outlining, but in reality I turn the key and go. I’ve ended up in some pretty interesting places that way, but it definitely takes longer to get there.
How long do you take to complete a book?
I’m a pretty slow writer – especially in the beginning stages of a novel. I spend a lot of time writing and rewriting my opening paragraph. I think of the first line of every book as a diving board. You have to be completely relaxed and focused and calm before you can jump into the story properly.
Are your characters completely fictional?
My preferred genre is realistic fiction. The realism comes in part because I do think about things that have happened to me, and things I’ve seen other people do – but what I enjoy most about writing is making stuff up. I don’t want to tell true stories – I want to tell stories that feel true.
What one word describes you?
I am very determined. I don’t give up easily. If I did, I would probably never finish writing a book. There always comes a time in the writing process for me when I’m tearing my hair out and asking myself what I could have been thinking to have undertaken such a ridiculously impossible task, but somehow I always manage to push through.
When are you the most productive?
I am a morning person. The only time I write after dark is when I’m closing in on a final draft of something. I often start writing around 5:00am, and work until I can’t write another word. Then I make dinner, or bake cookies or answer e-mails.
Do you let anyone read your WIP?
Sometimes I share early drafts with my 93 year-old mother –because I know she’ll tell me she likes it no matter what. Sometimes I show chapters to my editor, David Levithan, because he is super smart. Sometimes I show stuff to my friend Brian Selznick, because he knows to be really, really, really gentle with me in the early stages. With PIE, I read the manuscript to a ten-year-old daughter of a friend to get her thoughts on the story before I sent it in to my editor. She had some great suggestions!
What element would you add to your writing space if money wasn’t an issue?
Can I add two things? An assistant, and a hot tub!
What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?
I bake pies, cookies, cake, bread.
What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?
Well, no book has been exactly “easy” to write– but my newest novel, PIE was the most fun I’ve ever had writing a book. So B. It took the longest – four years.
Do you write with music?
Nope. Too distracting. I do like to bake with the I-pod cranked up though.
Is there a genre you avoid?
Fantasy. I don’t really enjoy reading it, and I’ve never really wanted to write it either.
Tell us about the book you’re working on.
I’m in the early stages of planning right now, so I can’t tell you much other than it’s set in a nail salon.