Interview with Marianne Mitchell:
When did you decide to be a writer and what inspired you?
I had never thought about being a writer until one of my college
professors (in graduate school) commented on an essay I had written
for a final exam. "You should write fiction," she suggested. Well,
that sounded like a lot more fun than writing essays. I was teaching
college level Spanish at the time so I wrote some skits and kid
stories for my Spanish students. They had fun with my stories
and skits and I had fun writing them. So the proverbial light
bulb went off in my head and I thought I'd try writing for kids.
I realized that writing for kids was way different from the essays
and reports I'd done in college. There was a lot to learn. I took
a "writing for kids" correspondence course and read every how-to
book I could find. I went to conferences and workshops, and joined
a critique group. Even after a dozen years doing this, I'm still
learning the ropes.
What gave you the idea to write Gullywasher Gulch?
I had so much fun writing my cowboy Cinderella tale, Joe Cinders;
I wanted to try another one set in the desert. The idea came to write
about a gullywasher storm like we get here in the summer. Then the phrase
my dad used to say, "I'm saving for a rainy day," came to mind. So I
began to play with a character who kept saving stuff for some rainy
day (just like Dad used to do) and wondered what would happen if a huge,
gullywasher-type rainy day came along. That's how it goes. You get a
couple of ideas, play with them, and ask what if?
I think it's great that you read to students in classrooms still.
But do you ever miss teaching?
Writing for kids has actually given me the best teaching job! I don't
just read my stories when I go to schools. I talk to the kids about
being a writer, getting ideas, story structure, the Six Traits of Writing,
what are some great books to read, and where they can have some of their
writing published. I have also taught mini-workshops on writing. So
I'm still teaching, just in a different way.
I noticed that someone else has done your illustrations. Have you
ever thought about or wanted to illustrate?
No, no, no! I have no talent for art and have never been to art school!
Words are my "tools of trade." I leave the artwork to those who are
real professional artists. Besides, publishers want to choose the illustrator
for their books. They know who is who in the art world and they know
what kind of "look" they want for their books. I like seeing the special
"extras" my illustrators have brought to my stories.
Can you say anything about your newest book, Firebug, coming
out in 2004?
Firebug is a mystery for readers 8 and up. It's set in Sedona,
Arizona on a ranch my family used to own. My main character, Haley,
has come to her uncle's new guest ranch to help with chores. She soon
becomes involved in solving a case of arson, finding out who is sending
her uncle threatening post cards, and if there is really buried treasure
on the land. So it's like three mysteries woven into one.
Do you have any tips for new young writers nowadays?
Read, read, read, especially recent publications. If you're into fiction,
read all you can in different genres: mystery, adventure, humor, romance,
fantasy, historical, sci-fi. See which kind of fiction interests you
the most and then read more of that. If you like poetry, read lots of
poetry. Nonfiction, read that. Just read and learn how others did it.
By reading, you'll get to know what's being published today. Books
published 50 years ago may still be popular, but styles have changed
and editors are looking for fresh voices. When I decided to write a
mystery, I read lots of kids' mysteries. Not the old Nancy Drew books.
The new authors: Bruce Hale, Wendelin Van Draanen, Mary Downing Hahn,
Bruce Coville. I didn't want to copy their style (couldn't do it if
I tried!) but I wanted to see how they wove stories, planted clues,
Next tip is to write. You learn so much just by DOING it. Sometimes
it's fun. Sometimes it's agony. Sometimes you write junk - sometimes
it just flows!
Get a critique of your work from someone who understands writing. Not
your parents, or your friends (unless they are also talented writers).
Join a critique group of fellow writers or take a class on writing.
Then revise - many, many times. (sigh!) It never comes out perfect
the first time. Next, research. If you want your work published you
have to find out who publishes the kind of work you wrote. Market research
is very time-consuming but worth the effort if you can weed out the
inappropriate markets. For example, don't send a novel to someone who
only publishes picture books. Don't send fiction to someone who only
does non-fiction. If you're writing a magazine piece, which magazine
is best suited for your work?
Last tip: If you don't already have tough skin, go borrow a rhino's
skin. Writing, getting critiqued, submitting to editors, going through
revisions can be bruising. You must take your punches (rejections, criticism)
and get up swinging again. Writing is not a job for anyone timid or
thin-skinned. Finally, if you decide to write for children, don't do
it because you think it's easier. It's not. Writing for children has
special demands, different from the demands of writing for adults. Every
kind of writing has hurdles and challenges so it's important to write
what you enjoy.
This interview was conducted online in November 2003.
You can visit Marianne Mitchell's Web site at: http://www.mariannemitchell.net/