Coming up with questions is hard work. Frankly, I’m exhausted. You can’t imagine the hours I while away, sipping fruity cocktails, conferring with the flowers, daydreaming possible queries. Now I’m going to take a long, hot, restorative soak in the tub. Hopefully you’ll hang around to read the answers provided by today’s five guest authors: Todd Strasser, Aaron Becker, Florence Minor, David A. Kelly, and Jerdine Nolen.
For most of my writing life I’ve focused on contemporary realistic novels, but as I passed the age of 60, I decided to look back at the early years of my life. What immediately came to mind was the day in 1962 when I was twelve years old and came from school to discover several men digging a very large hole in our backyard. I was thrilled. My parents must have been building a swimming pool! I ran into the house for confirmation, only to learn that hole was the first step in building a fallout shelter. It was the height of the Cold War and my parents were taking no chances. From that incident grew Fallout, my novel about living through the Cuban Missile Crisis, when this country came as close as it ever had to a nuclear war.
The next inspiration that came from my “childhood” concerned the summer of the Woodstock music festival, which I attended. That became my new my novel, Summer of ’69. For me the summer began with a draft notice ordering me to prepare to fight in a war I didn’t believe in. But that was just the beginning of the angst I would face. My parents on the verge of divorce. My brother, who is mentally and emotionally handicapped and who had never spent a night away from home, was suddenly sent away to a YMCA camp. And, because of all the stress and fear I was feeling, I was taking far too many drugs. I feel that this novel is a landmark in my writing career because it became an opportunity to take a close look at, and try to make sense of, a collection of events that I’d been aware of all my life, but had never pieced together into an understandable whole. For me it was as close to therapy as any novel I’ve ever written.
Most of my books have stemmed from the feelings of boredom I had as a kid; my imagination was the one thing I could count on to take me away. But my latest, You Are Light, is a departure from that. This book is all about my mother and her influence on me as a science teacher. She taught college level astronomy and physics and would often bring home gadgets from her lab work. I always loved anything that had to do with color and light. So the idea of making a book that played with illumination came quite naturally to me. There was no room for a dedication on the copyright page, but if there was, it’d be to her!
I grew up in a family of animal lovers, and my first bestie was my dog Jigsy, who arrived on the scene the year before I did. My uncle loved to tell stories about my dad stopping to pet every dog or cat he happened to meet on the street, and I have to admit that this apple did not fall far from the tree.
My love of all animals is an integral part of who I am, and when Jigsy passed over the rainbow bridge at age 14 I was bereft. Thankfully Boo the dachshund came into our lives shortly thereafter and her sweet and funny ways (like rolling over a grape but never eating it), helped to heal my broken heart.
Animals, mine as well as those of friends, have always been a joyous part of my life, in person as well as in books, and it feels natural for me to share my love of animals through the books I write for children. A shy child, I spent many hours reading, especially books about animals: Babar, Lassie, The Black Stallion, etc. In How to be a Bigger Bunny, the main character, Tickles, is often left behind by her older siblings (as I was by my older sister) but is able to save them when they get into trouble because of things she’s learned in her favorite book. So there you have it! I hope my books about penguins, bears, bunnies, and, stay tuned for kittens, inspire children to read, read, read!
David A. Kelly
A number of things from my childhood have informed my Ballpark Mysteries series of chapter books. Perhaps the first is a sense of fun and play. I grew up in Central New York playing one backyard game after another. Baseball was a huge favorite; in the winter it was hockey on the flooded, frozen baseball field, and nights were filled with capture the flag. While my main characters, Mike and Kate, don’t play backyard games in my books, I try to bring that feeling of fun and comradery to my stories.
Mystery stories were also a large influence. I grew up loving mysteries, from Encyclopedia Brown and Two Minute Mysteries to the Hardy Boys and Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators. I often recall specific ones when I’m mulling over possible plot points or searching for inspiration.
My childhood fear of writing has also played a part. As a child, I loved to read but hated to write. I could never figure out how to get started or what to write about. My spelling was bad and I was lazy. But as an adult, the very fact that I never considered myself a writer is what allowed me to become an author. I had nothing to lose by trying to write the Ballpark Mysteries. Luckily, with persistence, hard work, and lots of assistance it’s worked out.
And of course, some specific things from my childhood have shown up in my books. All that crab soccer I played in elementary school gym class made its way into The Baltimore Bandit scene in which my main characters, Mike and Kate, play crab soccer at Camden Yards to investigate a missing baseball glove. And the time that my father snuck me into a nearby hotel to meet Hank Aaron, who was staying there before a Hall of Fame Day Game in Cooperstown. After initially rebuffing me because he was eating his breakfast, he signed my baseball after finishing. I created a similar incident in The All-Star Joker when Mike is trying to get his baseball signed by a big star.
When I was a child, my parents told stories to me. They were both natural storytellers. The stories they told were big and wide and wonderful and beautiful and awful and scary and seemed to live along the lines of magic.
The stories moved in my head and heart which moved me to feel and see the world in a particular way. The stories were packed with intrigue, fear, and hope. And always there was something to be gained by hearing the story. I sometimes wonder if the message my parents wanted me to glean was what I actually took away.
For my father, he often read or retold Bible stories to us. For my mother, her stories would always start, “…did I ever tell you about the time…” I think that coupled with my imagination, I was able to tell my own entertaining stories.
Often the reprimands given me included some (symbolic) story from my parent’s own childhood or something from the Bible.
So, yes. My childhood informs my stories.