Tony Abbott has published over ninety books for readers 6 to 14, including the series The Haunting of Derek Stone and The Secrets of Droon, and the novels Kringle, Firegirl (2006 Golden Kite Award for Fiction), and The Postcard (2008 Edgar Award). His novel Lunch-Box Dream appears in 2011. Tony also teaches in the MFA Creative Writing program at Lesley University in Cambridge Massachusetts. For more info, visit his website.
Let the conversation begin!
Daily word count?
I am a slow plotter and a less-slow writer for most books, so it’s hard to say accurately. Occasionally, however, I find myself writing two or three thousand words a day on a novel that I’m immersed in. Overall, however, it takes at least a year to finish a real novel.
Outliner or seat-of-the-pants writer?
Surprisingly to myself, both. Most books, the ones for younger readers, I outline assiduously, breaking it down until I know it works. This is essential in mysteries or adventure stories, less so in comedy. For novels, however (and I’ve written only four), I do very little-to-no outlining, knowing only the shape of the story but having lived with it for a good long time — years, sometimes — before I begin to set words down.
What element would you add to your writing space if money wasn’t an issue?
From idea to completion, how long does it take you to write a book?
Four or five months for chapter books (I know, right?), and eighteen months or more for novels.
In grade school, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A fireman or a farmer. Because I had cool plastic trucks for each. The farm truck had a little chicken coop on the back. It opened, and you could take the little chickens out as well as put them back in. Hours of fun.
Easier to write before or after you were published?
After. I’m one of those idiots who seems to function better with a deadline hanging over me. Is it a Catholic thing? I don’t know. But the threat of damnation works.
Earliest childhood memory?
A fever in my crib in which I destroyed in delirium my favorite toy.
Would you rather publish a string of mainstream books or one classic?
Please sir, can I have some more? No? Then just one classic.
You can only write one more book. What’s the topic?
I’ll tell you the same thing I tell anyone who asks what my new book is about: “People.”
Do you begin with character or plot?
With chapter books, it’s often a situation, a gag, a plot moment. With novels it’s always a character.
Tell us about the book you’re working on.
Well, it’s a book about . . . people.
Describe your perfect day.
A great morning at the desk, when the writing is quietly superb. A game of tennis. Shower. Lunch on some patio somewhere. Reading in the long afternoon. Dinner on another patio. Evening in the backyard watching the light go away.
What was the best thing that happened to you this weekend?
With my wife and older daughter drove my lovely younger daughter to the airport for her fellowship in France and coming home to a quiet house. Why was this the best? Because of the quiet.
Who inspires you? How are you a bit like them?
Mid-century American novelists. I was born then?
Where do you get your ideas?
From . . . people.
Advice for new writers?
Read everything closely, but mostly mid-century American novelists.
What do you consider to be the most valuable item you own?
1845 copy of A Christmas Carol, beautiful 11th edition by Bradbury and Evans.
Best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Tony, you should revise this.
What one word describes you?
Professional, I think. At least I used to be. In these later years of our world I find myself getting fed up more often. But for a long time I was very businesslike in my appreciation for the rules of publishing.
What would you like your life to look like in ten years?
Slower, with more time to read.
First item on your bucket list?
Find more time to read.
How do you recharge your creative batteries?
Mow the lawn. Play the guitar. Mow the lawn again.
One rule you’re dying to break?
In writing for young people, I’d love to be able to write something so difficult to read but so essential to read that the reader will go through hell to understand it, knowing the reward would change his or her life. Is that too much? I don’t know anymore.
If this was your last day on Earth, what would you do?
After hugging my family, settle down to read.
If you could spend a vacation with three authors, who would they be?