Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Author Spotlight on: Mary Hershey

Back when I was a newbie with a completed novel and no idea what to do with it, I was lucky enough to meet Mary Hershey. Not only did she tell me about SCBWI and introduce me to the concept of blogging, she gave me encouragement as a writer. What a shot in the arm to have a published writer tell you that your writing doesn't suck! I've been her devoted fan ever since.

Her most recent book, LOVE AND POLLYWOGS FROM CAMP CALAMITY, came out earlier this month and at least one young middle grade reader was thrilled to meet Mary at Chaucer's in Santa Barbara. (My daughter still brags about it since my son wasn't along :))

Another older *ahem* reader was thrilled to see her name on the Acknowledgments page. Yes, my name in print, for the first time, on a book for children -- woo-hoo!! Another in the long line of firsts I've experienced because of Mary.

Mary blogs with Robin LaFevers over at Shrinking Violet Promotions, maintains her own blog, The Taming of the Muse, and writes wonderful books for MG and YA readers with super long titles like, 10 Lucky Things That Have Happened to Me Since I Nearly Got Hit by Lightning. Say that 10 times fast!

Congrats on the release of your third Effie book! When you wrote My Big Sister is So Bossy…did you ever imagine you’d be writing more stories about Effie?
This was not sold as a series, but each as a stand-alone novel. But even as I wrote MY BIG SISTER, I left a tiny back door open that invited a second book, and then I did the same in TEN LUCKY THINGS. It was more for my benefit—a tiny placeholder and promise to Effie that I’d be back with her.  Authors are sneaky like that. 

Why such a short title for this book?
My editor, Wendy Lamb, loved the title of my first book and didn’t touch it. On books two and three, however, everyone in New York City was invited to collaborate (eensy exaggeration). Miranda Mayberry, the talented artist that does the cover art for the Effie books came up with the title for the second book. The third book’s title endured a similar challenging start in life. I had wanted a shorter title just to mix things up a bit. My working title was Camp Ringworm, which didn’t work for anyone except me. Having super long titles is fun in concept, but can really get a girl winded at a conference when everyone asks you the title of your books. Multiply that by three long titles and I need a chair and a glass of water. So we compromised on book three.  It is slightly shorter. I love to be asked the name of this one. I can actually say it in one breath!

You’ve been compared more than once to Beverly Cleary. Do you think it’s a good comparison?
In my view, that’s like being compared to Gandhi or Lady Gaga. Beverly Cleary was my BAF (Best Author Forever) when I was a girl. So, do I think it is a good comparison? I think it is a better aspiration than comparison. She has influenced me, but she feels so far out of my league! I do work hard at emulating her gift of deeply layered comedy. Her characters are funny, but they are much, much more.

Wow, I don't think I've ever seen Ghandi and Lady Gaga mentioned in the same sentence before :) Much as I love Effie, I have to say Stump’s story really captured me. Do you have more adventures planned for him?
Thanks, Sherrie—I loved Stump’s journey. I would be so gratiying to write more about him. He still feels very present for me. I left one of those back doors open for him, too. Unfortunately, Liesa Abrams, the wonderful editor that I collaborated with on THE ONE WHERE A KID no longer works at Razorbill.  That makes a sequel very unlikely.  (Mary Hershey taking a moment of silence.)

Bummer! I think I'll join you in that moment...
You also work as a personal coach for writers. How did that come about?
I’m certified as a Personal Executive Coach, and my original mission was to work with business executives and those looking to transition. I started to pay attention to my own cookie crumb trails though, and found that the type of clients I most enjoyed working with were those that were coping with a creative pregnancy.  So often these people were full-time parents and/or full-time employed who were suffering from delayed labor pains.  They had a book screaming to get out for years, but couldn’t find the time or means to work on it.  I love helping people find the space and tools that are needed. I dig discipline. An elemental guiding principle that I hold inviolate is that it is more excruciating to ignore the Muse than to simply let her have her way with you.

Creative pregnancy, eh? You have such a way with words. :)  Do you only work with local writers or have you done long distance coaching?
The standard practice of coaching is over the phone, which allows a coach to work with clients wherever they are located. As a diehard introvert who would generally prefer an extended boil lancing than a long phone call, I was surprised at how much I enjoy tele-coaching. It is extremely convenient and efficient for both the coach and client. People are always surprised at how intimate and catalytic it can be.

You had to work hard to get your first book published. How many years did it take? What inspired you to keep going?
From the time I stumbled into Lee Wardlaw’s Adult Ed children’s writing course, green as Shrek, to the time that I sold a book to Random House was ten years.  What inspired me to keep going?

1)    My writing buddy and Shrinking Violet sidekick, Robin LaFevers, whom I first met in Lee Wardlaw class! I absolutely could not have made it without her
2)    My talented and exceedingly encouraging writing group
3)    Being completely and blissfully clueless that it would take that long
4)    A hots of mini-boosters along the way-- published authors, editors or agents that gave me an Atta Girl. Alexis O’Neill gave me my first ever! Eve Bunting gave me another when she sought me out privately at a retreat---“You’ve really got something here!” she said. “Keep on this one.”

Robin told me she had several “practice” novels under her bed. Do you have some under yours as well?
Yes! Would you like to read it? Buy it? Carpet your birdcage? It’s called WILLA’S WILD, WILD, WILD ADVENTURES. It is scary bad. I actually have another that isn’t so god-awful that Wendy Lamb and I still talk about on occasion (on occasion being a euphemism 1.5 times).

Mary, Robin and Me at SCBWI-LA last summer
Girl gone wild, wild, wild, huh? :)  You and Robin both claim to be “shrinking violets” and yet you’re both so friendly and outgoing, especially to beginning writers. What prompted you to overcome being an introvert and reach out to other writers?
Actually, we aren’t “overcoming” being introverts. We wouldn’t want to be any other way! It’s who we are—and it doesn’t mean we can’t be friendly and outgoing. It does mean that we have become very in tune with the lifespan of our personal battery. I know that for every four hours of being chatty and social, I need just about that many hours of recharge time. Being an introvert in life is only a problem if one doesn’t know or respect their personal wattage.

Reaching out to other writers goes back to what I was saying in an earlier question about what kept me going as a pre-published writer.  When an author took the time to encourage me, it meant everything to me. One single comment about a manuscript might keep me going for months. I will spend my lifetime attempting to repay that debt. And what a pleasure it is to do that. Our region is rich with such lovely people early on their journey. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.

On your blog you muse a lot about life and spirituality. (Love your church of Peace, Love and Lattes!) Have you ever thought of writing a grown-up book on the subject? Or, what the heck, starting a church?
Books on spirituality and faith paths are my favorite reads right now. I can’t seem to get enough. I am currently reading Thomas Merton’s The Silent Life, which draws me deeply.  My obsession may be a clue that there is a “grown-up” book of my own gestating somewhere. I would welcome it.

My blog has evolved other time as I have. It started as a tongue-in-cheek attempt at taming the muse. It seems to have developed a party of it’s own. I’m just going with it.  And, yes, I would love to start the First Church of Peace Love and Lattes. You all are invited to email me to sign up!

I'm there! So, besides the latte, what’s your favorite comfort food when you’re writing?
Okay, here is my question… how does anyone eat while they are writing? I would need an extra hand.  You know how they have document holders to hold a piece of paper up for your while you’re working? What they really need is a burrito holder or PBJ holder so you could just lean over and take a bite and not have to take your hands off the keyboard. I’m envisioning a giant upended clothespin contraption. (Note to self: Contact 3M about this.)

My favorite pre-writing food to fuel the task is a double serving of Coach’s Oats with a big secret wad of peanut butter in the middle.  Trust me, you’ll be able to write for hours.

You were the first person to encourage me as a writer and I've gotten great advice from you. What was the best advice you ever received about writing?
Hands-down, Chris Crutcher--  “Don’t sanitize your writing.” This advice has helped me immeasurably in both literal and metaphorical ways.  Early on, I was hell bent on following all the rules people spouted at me. I allowed some (other newbies) to discourage me from writing about gay characters, and I tried not to write about anything that might be too “dark.”  Chris’s advice, which was part of a lecture, was a pivotal point for me. Because of it, I felt free to put Effie’s father in prison in my first book, even though it s a humorous novel for fourth graders. I need some grit in my work.  And some of my characters have potty mouths. I found it works best if I don’t muzzle them in any way. It may come out later in the editing process, but when they start talking, I am merely their faithful scribe.

Thank you so much, Mary! As always, it has been a pleasure :)

You can keep up with Mary at these spots:
Shrinking Violet Promotions
The Taming of the Muse
Mary Hershey, Children's Author


middle grade ninja said...

Great questions and great answers. Thanks for the wonderful interview, ladies.

Kristan said...

I agree with middle grade ninja: great interview! Love the term BAF, hehehe, and omg such fantastic book titles. More than anything, it warms my heart to see such a supportive author and a kindred spirit. :)

Janet Johnson said...

Great interview! Coach's oat with a secret glob of peanut butter . . . I may have to try that. :)

Becky Levine said...

Great interview--I love Mary and her books! Your daughter looks SO happy. :)

Unknown said...

You grilled her good with all these questions. Good questions get the best kinds of in-depth answers.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Wonderful interview!! Wow. I was so engrossed that I was bummed to reach the end. I adore Chris Crutcher! He was a speaker at our state reading conference last year, and I went to EVERY one of his sectionals.

I'll be buying all 3 Effie books for my daughter. Thanks, ladies! :-)

Carolyn V. said...

Great interview! I love that Mary used Gandhi and Lady Gaga in one sentence. LOL! Mary, you are completely cool. =)

Anonymous said...

I just fall in love with Mary over and over and over again. Thanks for the really great interview, Sherrie.

Kelly Polark said...

Great interview! I will have to check out Mary's books!
Congrats on being in the acknowledgements!! She sounds like a lovely, supportive person!

Mary Hershey said...

Thanks again, Sherrie! You are a fabulous interviewer. Loved your questions. Thanks for posting a picture of me and your sweet Jasmine, and one of you, me and Robin at Nationals. That was such a fun night. I'm sniffling about not going this year.

Thank you, everyone, for your kind and generous comments. Wishing you all insanely successful writing & illustrating careers!

Mary Hershey

Lori W. said...

What a lovely person Mary is. Thank you both for an inspiring interview.

Dan Hanna said...

Wonder Full interview!

I found the "burrito/PBJ holder" to be a particularly delicious idea.

However, if you confuse it with your actual document holder, you might end up eating your words or writing passages that ooze and drip with jam and melted cheese :)

Unknown said...

Coach's Oats is great fuel! We’re happy to hear that they are being used to keep those creative juices flowing :)

Vivian Lee Mahoney said...

Wonderful interview! What great questions and answers! I'll have to read this again.

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