Elizabeth Winthrop is the author of over sixty works of fiction for all ages. Some of her award-winning titles include THE CASTLE IN THE ATTIC, DUMPY LA RUE and COUNTING ON GRACE. Her recent picture book, MAIA AND THE MONSTER BABY, is illustrated by Amanda Haley. Her short memoir piece for adults, published under Elizabeth Winthrop Alsop, is called DON’T KNOCK UNLESS YOU’RE BLEEDING: Growing up in Cold War Washington. It is available on all the electronic platforms. (KINDLE, NOOK, & SMASHWORDS) For more info, visit her website.
Let the conversation begin!
What is your worst scar? How did you get it?
A hole in my left side. One of my five brothers was chasing me through the kitchen and I ran into the metal corner of the counter. I bled profusely and reveled in all the attention.
How do you recharge your creative batteries?
Doing something other than writing… one of my other creative addictions which include photography, gardening, cooking, knitting.
Visit a museum and sketch.
Go to a dance performance, rejoicing that there are no words.
Can you tell us about the book you’re working on? Is it coming easily or have you run into road blocks?
I’ve been working on it for about three years. It’s the story of my parents’ love affair during World War II in England. Imagine the Roosevelts are invited to dine at Downton Abbey. My parents met at Allerton Park, an enormous castle in Northern Yorkshire. My father, a cousin of President Roosevelt’s, had been turned down by the American Army, so he enlisted to fight with the British. My mother, a dazzling 16-year-old was training to be a decoding agent with MI5, the British Secret Intelligence Service. The day my parents met, my mother’s only brother was killed in a battle in what is now Libya. It’s the stuff of movies, almost unbelievable which is what makes it so difficult to write.
Is any material in your books based on real life experiences or purely imagination?
This latest project is inspired by and filled with the letters my father wrote home from the war as well as the interviews I did with my mother before she lost her memory. But it comes from my point of view and is filtered through my imagination.
Most of my books are a mixture of real life feelings, if not experiences, and imagination.
How many words have you written in one writing session?
1000. But not daily. I’m happy if I put in three solid hours on the creative work before I turn to the business of being a writer.
Are you a person who makes the bed in the morning?
Yes, if I can’t get my husband to do it.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
In those days, I worked as an editorial assistant in the Children’s Book Department at Harper Collins (then known as Harper and Row). Before I took the job, I’d had a number of manuscripts turned down by the editors there although they always wrote me encouraging letters. So, I thought, let me get inside the industry. I found the notes from my readers in the files and began to read manuscripts myself, so I could begin to see where I’d gone wrong. Every week, I would take my latest manuscript off the bottom of the pile on my boss’ desk and put it on the top. Finally, one day, she called to me in my cubicle that she’d read Bunk Beds and had decided to publish it. I almost fainted.
What is your very favorite part of the day?
The late afternoon when I’ve done my writing and can start to play outside.
What was the worst advice you’ve ever been given?
“You really should give up writing, dear. You don’t have the talent for it.” From an aunt who was angry that I’d portrayed her in a play.
How did you celebrate your first book being published? Has the excitement worn off with each book you publish?
I did a celebratory jig in the mail room of my apartment building.
The excitement NEVER wears off.
Best writing advice you’ve ever received?
From my famous journalist father. Here’s a selection from my new ebook about growing up in Washington during the Cold War. It’s called DON’T KNOCK UNLESS YOU’RE BLEEDING.
“When I announced I wished to make my living as a writer, my father took me seriously. He only lived long enough to read Walking Away, my first novel, but he did me the honor of going through the manuscript with a red pencil. I’d made all the usual mistakes of a first novelist. He advised me to choose a simple word over a fancy one, and he gave me the seasoned writer’s warning against the excessive use of adverbs. On a certain page, when I described in excruciating detail how my main character moved from one place to another, Daddy wrote this note in the margin. “Unless Emily crawls bleeding from the room, I suggest you say Emily left the room. We all leave a room in approximately the same way.” Not long after, I hung a sign above my desk that read simply, EMILY LEFT THE ROOM.”
If you were handed free opera tickets, would you go or sell them?
Give them to my son. He loves opera. I love plays.
Will you have a new book coming out soon?
Yes. Two books just out.
For 4 to 8 year olds, MAIA AND THE MONSTER BABY, illustrated by Amanda Haley. About a little girl whose mother is pregnant and whose best friend, an imaginary monster, is also getting a new sibling.
For adults, an original memoir piece, under my pen name, Elizabeth Winthrop Alsop. DON’T KNOCK UNLESS YOU’RE BLEEDING, Growing Up in Cold War Washington. This one’s about my life with the Alsop brothers, two famous journalists who happened to be my father and my uncle.
From the virtual front flap: In Washington, information is power, and in those days, reporters and sources passed stories back and forth over cocktails and around the dinner table. Nobody noticed the children listening at the top of the stairs.
What is your worst personality characteristic?
How did you learn to ride a bicycle?
With two of my five brothers running along next to me.
When was the last time you did something for the first time?
Three years ago.
What was it?
Took a watercolor class called WATERCOLOR PAINTING FOR THE ABSOLUTE BEGINNER. I loved it.
If you knew you could not fail, what would you do?
Become a landscape painter.
What is your definition of a productive day?
A 500 word day followed by only an hour dealing with social media demands followed by a swim and a delicious dinner made with local produce.
What is your definition of a relaxing day?
A day spent outside reading in the shade with all electronic devices turned off.
Have you ever jumped out of a plane? If you knew you would survive, would you do it?
Funny you should ask. I’ve just finished the section of my book where my father parachutes into France behind enemy lines. For the first time, I’m thinking I might like to experience that.
Can you share your journey from writing to author?
To put it crudely, ass to chair.
What is your biggest pet peeve?
I’m a grammar grump and hate the bastardization of our language. Words are the only tools a writer has in her toolbox. We should take better care of them.
Examples: There were a big amount of people in the crowd. (What happened to the proper use of the word number?)
She was laying in the road. (What? An egg? Is she a chicken?)
Misused pronouns. “Me and him went to the store.”
And I truly would be happy if I never heard the word “like” sprinkled gratuitously through a sentence LIKE salt and pepper. “I like wanted to go, but I like decided not to.” I used to charge my kids a nickel for every useless like.
If someone rented a billboard for you, what would you put on it?