One of the lovely surprises May B. has brought me this year is “her” inclusion on several state reading lists. Recently I answered some questions for students participating in New York’s Charlotte Award. I thought it would be fun to share my answers here.
May*, a sixth grader from Lowville Middle School in Lowville, NY asks,
How long did it take to write May B.?
I started researching for the book the summer of 2007 and had my first draft finished by 2009. But really, the book had been in the works most of my life (unbeknownst to me!). Reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books as a girl and Hatchet as a college student, watching the survival movie, Castaway, even seeing a gravestone with the name Betterly on it while driving my son to school one day — all those things were gathering in my subconscious before I started a lick of research.
Where did you get the ideas for the settings in the story?
I knew I wanted May in a sod house and in a part of the country that experienced weather extremes. Western Kansas met both those requirements.
What or who inspired you to write May B.?
The books and movie mentioned earlier certainly inspired me, as did my favorite book of all time, The Count of Monte Cristo. The most exciting parts of that book take place in a small prison cell. I was curious how an author could tell a story with such limitations (that’s also what drew me to the movie, Castaway: how in the world do you tell a story with really only one character who is alone most of the time?).
As a Laura Ingalls fan and former teacher, I was curious about the character Willie Olson. Willie was a troublemaker in school. He always ended up in the corner, wearing a dunce cap. I wondered if something more was going on. Maybe he was a “problem” because he found school difficult. That led me to explore how a child with a learning disability would make her way in a setting where she was largely misunderstood.
How long have you been an author?
I officially became an author January 10, 2012, on May B.’s book birthday. But really, I’ve been writing since 1998. It took lots of practice — four novels and six picture books — to sell May (which is novel #4).
Who or what inspired you to become a writer? Have you wanted to be an author all of your life?
I’ve always loved to read. When I decided to become a teacher, I felt like I’d discovered a too-good-to-be-true job: I could talk about books and get paid for it! Add to my love of books a love for kids and a love of words, and writing is the perfect job for me.
*Could her name be any more perfect?!
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