Monday, July 26, 2010

Books for Young Readers Conference-Part VI

The final author I'll be highlighting from my conference was Patricia MacLachlan. Hopefully you haven't been too bored with my copious notes. I wasn't sure what to expect from Patricia since she has been published since 1985. She wrote many notable books and is quite well known by name, although I didn't know many details about her. She can be described with one simple word: funny.

Some background on her: she wrote 5 books in the Sarah Plain and Tall series. The first won the newberry, as you might know. She also wrote 3 screenplays for the Hallmark movies about her books which was nominated for an Emmy. She is good friends with Glenn Close, who played Sarah in the movie and also was very excited to work with Christopher Walkin who she felt really made the character real. She said he stayed in character on the set, and that both actors were very talented.

She began her speech by following after Kadir Nelson and said that just last week at a conference, she had to follow after David Weisner (another awesome illustrator). "I always seem to follow illustrator...those show off's!" Kadir had felt that writers were better and Patricia argued that illustrators are much more interesting to watch speak because they have pictures. "We only have 26 letters of the alphabet. That's all we have!"

The theme of her speech was "Truth or Untruth" because many of her fiction books have an element of truth to them. She is very good friends with Natalie Babbitt, who wrote Tuck Everlasting and The Search for Delicious.

Natalie told her that she's working on her final book.

Patricia told her she's been saying that "for 30 years!"

Natalie replied, "I wrote all my good things in the 70's."

She called her just the other day and always says on the phone, "Hi Nat, it's Pat." She asked what she was doing. Natalie answered, "I'm throwing a story up against the wall to see if it sticks." Don't you just love that phrase!

Patricia Maclachlan is known for not always saying the most honest things. It is definitely part of her sense of humor. She likes to follow the advice of Emily Dickinson, "Tell the truth, but tell it slant."

She joked that her family is as silly as she is. Her husband, who is her "First loving and loyal reader," is a psychologist and her children are grown now. When her daughter was younger and she would tell her things, she would reply, "Wait, Wait, Go get Dad. I want to hear the truth." That same daughter is now much older and an author herself. They collaborate on many books. "It's very interesting to write with a child." Her daughter has told her that "often when I'm writing I hear your voice whispering in my ear."

Here are some of her "truths":

"Sometimes I love writing and sometimes I hate writing." and that she's a "grump when I'm beginning."

She as a general rule of life loves to "embrace imperfection." She even put in her book Journey
a sentence that says, "A thing doesn't have to be perfect to be right. It can be good enough." She went on to tell many stories from her home that help add fuel to her story ideas, mostly revolving around the silly things that they do. "Thank goodness my kids aren't perfect because then in a fight, I'd always be wrong."

She tells a story of when she was going to pick up her son from a school event and he wasn't where he was supposed to be on time so he had to walk home. Upon arriving, he said, "But I'm only a little boy!" Later in her book Journey, a grandfather and grandson are having an argument in the car and the grandfather tells him,

"Why don't you drive! "

"But I'm only a a little boy!"

"Then drive like a little boy!"

Patricia commented that her "writing life and personal life often slip sideways into each other." What an awesome line!

She has a friend in her writing group that told her "I can see the threads of your life in your book." Patricia adds her own perspective: "See what a terrible spy and user I am?" Her kids are aware of what it's like to have a writer for a mom. They would warn their friends when they came over to play, "Watch what you say in this house!"

Other truths:

Baby is currently her favorite book that she's written.

Sometimes she'll hear her books quoted on the news or in the paper and be impressed with the quote and then realize she wrote it and had forgotten.

She plays "hours of solitaire when I'm supposed to be writing." Describing her work space... "I work at the top of my house in a room all alone. The news is on all the time. "

She keeps a letter from a child reader on her fridge that says, "Sarah Plain and Tall is the second of my favorite books. Love Darryl." She thinks every day of what the first one might be.

She also loves the letter that said, "I've read and seen the movie, Sarah Plain and Tall. I've seen better."

She shared some background on her book Sarah Plain and Tall which was based on her own step great grandmother. The setting was her fathers farm and the main male character, Caleb was her father. "When he did speak, it was fairly forceful." That character always reminds me of many males I know and love. She also included a "horse that was no horsely good" in the story based off her horse as a child, Jack.

The book was at first a picture book, but her editor suggested that they turn it into an easy reader type chapter book. It worked wonderfully.

"I write about pieces of my life I want to say."

Her latest book Word after Word after Word was a nonfiction book about her teaching kids how to write but it "wasn't working" so she changed it to fiction about a teacher with "a chest pushing out like a shopping cart" teaching her class how to write. She figured if she was switching to fiction, she might as well embellish herself.


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