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BBC Website for Kids
ABE LINCOLN LOVED ANIMALS, THE MYSTERIOUS UNIVERSE ,THE GRUMPUS UNDER THE RUG and many more...
1. Can you explain to young people just what an author is?
An author is a person who writes books, articles, stories, and many other kinds of texts.When I say texts, I mean sentences and paragraphs for someone to read. Authors write advertising copy, instructions for appliances, movie scripts, travel brochures, news articles, and many other kinds of reading material. Wherever you go, you'll see sentences and paragraphs that were composed, or written, by an author.
For example, you've probably never thought about it but someone has to write the description of the potatoes on a menu, for example:"fresh Romano potatoes served with a delightful creamy lemon basil sauce and a sprig of fresh parsley." That kind of writing is called commercial writing, and its purpose is to sell you something.
But some authors specialize in writing books, articles, and stories for people's entertainment and to help them learn something new and interesting. That'sthe kind of writing I do. I write fiction and nonfiction books for children of all ages.
2. What is the best part of your job?
There are so many good things about my job, it's hard to choose just one. I write humorous stories because I love to make children laugh. That's fun.But I also like to learn new things. And sometimes I get to go interesting places.For example, for THE MYSTERIOUS UNIVERSE, one of my recent books, I went to Hawaii and watched astronomers use the most powerful telescope on Earth to look across the universe at stars exploding with the force of a billion, billion, billion hydrogen bombs. That was exciting!
But probably the best part of an day is when I get a letter or an email from a child who likes something I wrote. I even get letters from adults who read a book I wrote long ago when they were children. It's really nice to know I've made a difference in someone's life.
3. What would you say is the most difficult aspect of your career choice?
Writers need to keep coming up with new ideas, new stories, and new angles on old topics. For example,there are currently more than 300 books for sale on Amazon.com about elephants. If I wanted to write a book about elephants, I'd have to think of something new to say about them, something no other writer had said before. That's not always easy. Or if an author is going to write a detective story, she has to think of a new way for the detective to solve the crime. Coming up with new ideas for every book or story can be hard work.
4.Do you have a memory you'd like to share with young people concerning your job?
I have lots of good memories, but I'm going to share one that wasn't so pleasant. When I first started writing, I took classes to learn how to write stories for children. One day, I came up with an idea I thought would make a good picture book. You may already know this but picture books for children between 4 and 8--books such as WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. They usually have a few words on each page and lots of pictures.
I wrote my story and gave it to the teacher. Each week the teacher would pick stories to read to the class and then she would tell the class what was good and what was bad about the stories. The next week, she picked my story to read. She didn't have anything good to say about it. She said it was silly and no child would every like it. I was really embarrassed, even though the teacher didn't tell the class who had written it. One of the reasons I was embarrassed was because I had already sent this story out to five publishers, hoping that one of them would like it enough to buy it. Now the teacher was saying that my story was hopeless.I felt terrible.
But one of the publishers liked my story,THE GRUMPUS UNDER THE RUG, and offered to buy it. I was really surprised because I'd believed everything the teacher had said. That publisher bought THE GRUMPUS UNDER THE RUG and published it as a book.He found a wonderful illustrator to draw the pictures. Many, many children loved that book. And it's still in print twenty years later. That means that children can still order the book from the publisher and buy it-even today. It's one of the most popular books I've ever written.
The moral of this story is that people will have many different reactions to a story that an author writes. Some will like it and some won't. So if you want to be a writer and one person doesn't like your writing, keep going. Other readers might think it's great!
5. What are the necessary skills/degrees needed to do your job?
I have a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in family counseling. But you don't really need any degree to be a writer. All authors need to know the rules of grammar and punctuation, of course. Also, if you want to write specifically for children, it helps if you've been a teacher or a librarian-or if you know what interests children.
Most writers begin by reading books about writing or taking classes. All authors need to know how to make their stories or books interesting to readers and that's something you only learn by writing.
6. Any suggestions for young people who might be interested in your career? How can they begin now to get prepared for your career?
Read, read, read. Most authors love to read and they read all kinds of stories. You can also practice by writing stories for your family and friends.
7. Where can you work in your field?
Some writers work in offices, but many work at home. Some authors have a special section of their house just for writing. They may have a bookcase filled with reference books to help them check facts or find the right publisher to send their work to. I have a desk under a shelf holding a variety of writing books. I also work next to a window with a view of my backyard. I can see the birds that come to the bird feeder and people who walk by on the sidewalk.
Most authors work alone, but writing doesn't have to be a lonely job.Writers go to conferences and give talks about their books. They often visit libraries, bookstores, and schools, and do many other things to help the publisher make each book a success.
8. Describe a typical day at your job.
One of the best things about being a writer is that there is no typical day, so I never get bored. I usually sit down at my computer around 9:00 and check my email. Sometimes publishers want me to answer a question, so they send me an email. For example, I recently wrote a book entitled ABE LINCOLN LOVED ANIMALS. One day, the publisher asked me to find a picture of Fido, Abraham Lincoln's dog, so she could put it in the book. I spent part of the day writing to various libraries, looking for Fido's picture.And I found it!You can see it at the beginning of that book.
Sometimes I'll send a manuscript to a particular publisher-one who might want to publish it. To do this, I print out a copy of the manuscript and write a letter telling about my book. Then I put the letter and manuscript in an envelope and send it off. Like many authors, I have a website (Ellen Jackson),and I might make some changes to it.
Or I might get a contract in the mail.Then I have to read the contract and suggest changes.
Later in the day, I might write a letter to a child who's written to me. Or,maybe I'll start a new story.This week,I'm judging a writing contest, so I have lots of books to read. I'm supposed to choose the best one. Last week, I read manuscripts from beginning writers and wrote out suggestions to each of them about how they can improve their stories. Writers often help each other out.
9. What got you interested in this career? Did anything in school or your childhood help spark this interest?
When I was in third grade, I wrote a poem that the teacher liked. She make a bulletin board out of it, which made me feel really special. My mother was a children's librarian who worked at Walt Disney studios. She brought home wonderful books and sometimes we read them together. I read so much that my sixth grade teacher told my mother I really should play outside now and then.
10. Anything else you'd like to share with young people about your career?( perhaps, your favorite books as a child, which books that you've written were your favorite to write? etc.
I like all my books, and it would be hard to choose a favorite. THE MYSTERIOUS UNIVERSE is definitely one of them–I think because I worked so hard on it. It's not a long book, but I worked on it for three years, checking every fact and detail over and over again. I also really liked writing ABE LINCOLN LOVED ANIMALS.Abraham Lincoln was probably one of our greatest presidents.I was really pleased to find out how compassionate and kind he was in his personal life. He would go out of his way to help an animal in trouble, and that was a very unusual thing to do in the nineteenth century.
Note: Illustration from WPClipart.com