Amy Axelrod lives in the Hudson Valley region ofNew York. She’s published 11 picture books, including the best-selling Pigs Will Be Pigs Math Series, 1 Middle-Grade novel, and is currently at work on her first Young Adult novel (to be co-authored with her son, David). For more information on Amy, check out her website.
Let the conversation begin!
Do you begin with character or plot?
Always character. I might have a very loose idea of plot, but I think my strong point is voice, so I let it lead the story. I once read that Charles Dickens would practice reciting characters’ dialogue in front of a mirror. I admit I’ve done that once or twice, but always when I’m home alone!
What was the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?
I can’t recall a specific food, but I do have a “weirdest experience”. Several years ago my husband and I traveled toMongolia. We spent an afternoon in the countryside outside of the capital city ofUlaanbaatar. Our group stopped for an authentic Mongolian Barbecue lunch at a remote hotel. We were each served a plate with potatoes, meat (yak) and stones. Stones? What were we supposed to do with them? Everyone at the table looked at each other and shrugged shoulders. Our guide told us that the stones keep the plate warm, but that wasn’t the whole story. Somebody opened their Mongolia guidebook and read that the animal being roasted is put on a spit with stones filling the abdominal cavity. That way the meat is well-cooked, inside and out. It was strange, but I have to admit that roasted yak is quite tasty!
Outliner or seat-of-the-pantser?
Outline? I’d never written an outline for myself or an editor until this summer. It was for a “yet-to-be-written” Young Adult novel. It was tough! It took three revisions of the outline/proposal before we went to contract.
In grade school, what did you want to be when you grew up?
That’s easy! I wanted to be a fashion designer. I used to sit in class and sketch fashion designs on math paper (my least favorite subject). I wanted to create beautiful clothes for Barbie and Jackie Kennedy. I saved all of these sketches and paper dolls and several years ago I had the idea to write a novel based on my childhood. Your Friend in Fashion, Abby Shapiro, I’m proud to say, is my debut novel illustrated with all of those paper dolls.
What is your secret talent?
My kids would probably say it’s making enormous chocolate chip cookies. Each one is about the size of five cookies. However, there is something for which I have zero talent…. I make the world’s worst rice. I’ve tried a rice cooker, stove method, microwave, you name it. My rice stinks!
Daily word count?
I have no idea because I have never been concerned with daily word count. I try to start writing in the morning and put in a full day of work with several breaks. But some days are productive and some are not. I have learned not to push it. If my writing is sloppy, or boring, or if I’m repeating myself, I shut down the computer and do something else, like pleasure reading or exercising on my spinning bike. If the same thing happens the following day, I won’t attempt to write at all. My feeling is that if the words aren’t right, I’ll just be spending more time down the road on the re-write process.
Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress?
I never allow anyone to read my work-in-progress. I don’t think it’s a matter of keeping it a secret, but more of a disruption. When I’m in the thick of things, I don’t want anyone’s input or criticism. Every writer works differently, but for me it wouldn’t be productive. Maybe I feel this way because I’ve never been a member of a writer’s group. I have many friends who feel that sharing their work in progress is invaluable, and that’s a good thing for them.
What advice would you give to new writers?
Never give up. I always tell “not-yet-published” authors (don’t like to say aspiring, because if you are writing, you are an author) that I received more than 250 rejections before I signed my first contract. I just kept plugging away because I was very determined to have my voice be heard. My first published book, Pigs Will Be Pigs, was a slush pile find, and 17 years later, is still in print in hardcover and paper. Just hang in there and if you get a lot of rejections on one manuscript, put it away for a while, start something new, and then you’ll be able to bring fresh eyes back to that manuscript and possibly make changes for the better which will lead to an acceptance.
How long do you take to write a book?
However long it takes for it to be right. But I’ve learned that when you think you’re done, you’re not. Never be impulsive to send a manuscript to an editor until you’ve let it sit and “ferment” a while.
What element would you add to your writing space if money wasn’t an issue?
I’m thinking it would be nice to have a personal masseuse nearby to massage my sore neck and shoulders from hunching over the laptop.
What’s the first item on your bucket list?
The whole notion of a bucket list is something that’s been under discussion lately with my friends. We are all of the age where our children are grown and are on their own, so we talk a lot about adventures. We re-named the Bucket List the Wish List because it sounds so much nicer. The first item on my list is to see The Northern Lights, but not from upstate NY or fromMichigan. I’m thinking more along the lines ofFairbanksorIceland. I’ve had a fascination with the Aurora Borealis since first grade when I found photographs in the A volume of The World Book Encyclopedia.