Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Jimmy's Stars- Day Two

It is day two of the Jimmy's Stars Blog Tour, and I promised you an interview. So, without further ado, The Interview:


How long did it take you to write Jimmy's Stars?

18 months...not counting the two false start books I wrote with the same characters, over the years, and months of research.

Where did you get your inspiration for Jimmy's Stars?

The characters and setting are based on stories I heard from my mom about growing up in Pittsburgh. But, the real impetus for the story came from a cache of letters I discovered that my grandmother, mother and her seven siblings wrote during WWII. My mom and her three brothers were all in the service (WAVES, Merchant Marine and Marines) and my grandmother and the siblings at home wrote them each week. In turn, they wrote a letter to each of their siblings and their mother a week (sometimes more often). That's a lot of letters. In addition, with the letters was a shipboard diary kept by one of the Merchant Marine uncles. What struck me about the letters and diary was how while History with a Capital H was going on all around them (and they did mention it) they were also consumed with the humdrum every day life about them. For instance one aunt wrote (about VJ Day)"Well, I guess the war is over. There were a lot of people whooping it up in Times Square. I went home and washed my hair." Or from, the diary. "We are being trailed by some German subs. I am reading Steinbeck's THE MOON IS DOWN."

Are any characters based on people you know?

Ellie, Jimmy and Sal are based to some degree on my mother's siblings and my mom. Ellie is a combination of my youngest aunt and my mom (who was known to pack a mean punch in a fistfight on behalf of her siblings). Jimmy is based on one of my uncles, as Sal is based on another one of my aunts. However, there is a ton of fictionalization involved. That's how I write...I usually start by picturing the character as someone I know personally, but by the time I finish the book, they have taken on a life and personality far removed from their real-life inspirations.

What was the hardest part about writing Jimmy's Stars?

I enjoyed writing and researching the book enormously. The hardest part was that I finished the first draft the same week, my mom had a massive stroke. She helped me so much with the small details of 1940's life. It was hard knowing that she would never read the book that she invested so much of her own time and memories. She is still alive, although almost entirely paralyzed and unable to speak. Her mind is still clear though, and my dad read her the final draft of
JIMMY'S STARS. He said that she nodded and smiled and generally let him know that she was pleased with the book.

What part did you enjoy most about writing Jimmy's Stars?

Research! I am a former librarian, and I can research anything for years! But
eventually, you have to stop researching and start writing!


How long have you been writing in general?

My entire life. Ok, since I was seven. I sold my first book in 2000.

Do you have any advice for young authors?

1. Read read read. 2. Write write write. 3. Revise, revise, revise. The hardest lesson I learned is that nobody gets it right the first time, or the second time, or sometimes even the fortieth time! 4.Know that you write because you can't help yourself...not because you are going to become rich and famous, because chances are this is not likely to happen. Write because you love it. 5. Keep your eyes and ears and all your senses open...stories are all around you!

Do you listen to music while you write? What kind?

I always listen to music while writing. When I am writing picture books, I usually listen to classical music or anything that doesn't have words. If I am writing historical fiction, I listen only to music that was popular during that time. For JIMMY'S STARS that meant lots of big band music!

What is the fist thing you do when you get a new story idea?

Write it in a notebook or a computer file, and see if I have an opening sentence or a particular image. Then I purposely DON'T write that story right then. I need to live with the idea, see if characters appear and talk to me. I think one of the problems new writers have is that they feel they have to write everything IMMEDIATELY. I think you need to get "acquainted" with your characters before you write about them.

What are some of your favorite books?

Number one: CHARLOTTE'S WEB. It's THE perfect book. It's ageless, timeless. I loved it when I was nine and I love it now. Other books I have read to shreds include anything written by Beverly Cleary, THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL by Anne Frank, HARRIET THE SPY by Louise Fitzhugh, A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Betty Smith; THE OYOUS SEASON by Patrick Dennis (the same guy who wrote AUNTIE MAME...only I think this book, which was NOT written for children, is much funnier. It's also out of print.)

Why do you write?

Because this is how I communicate best. Because I always have. Because I can't help it. Because it's a compulsion!!!

Who influenced you the most to write, and how?

Probably Anne Frank. I read her book when I was about the same age she was when she began her diary. I was just blown away that a girl who died ten years before I was born and who lived in a faraway country, thought and felt the same things I did. Before I read THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL, I wrote, but I never thought that anything a kid might write would be published or could make an impression. Afterwards, I took my writing much more seriously.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you bring with you, and why?

My journal and trusty Pentel pen (I've been using the same kind of pen since college because it allows me to handwrite quickly) so I can write. I think on paper a lot. I use writing to help myself understand myself and the world around me. Sometimes I write because I find the world hilariously funny...and only my journal gets the joke! Like I said, writing is a compulsion. The other item I would take would be my copy of CHARLOTTE'S WEB. I never tire of it. (Although I would probably take my annotated version, so I can study the many revisions E.B. White made...to remind
myself that perfection is a long, arduous process.

Any other comments?

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk to you and your readers. I enjoy answering questions!

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I will be reviewing the book tomorrow, so stop by to find out what I thought of the book!


Anonymous said...

Nice interview. I like the desert island question. I would also take my journal and a pen because I also process my world by writing and I also like a good pen.

But my third choice would probably be a man--not a book. Someone to read my writing, I mean, heh heh

Oh, no, I'd have to take a Bible, too.

I know. I'd take a Bible, a man, and a journal and I'd just learn to tough it out and write with charcoal. =0)

Nicole said...


I do not know what I would take with me... I always have a hard time deciding.

maggie moran said...

Wow! I didn't know she was a former librarian! Thanks!

Psst - You spelled her name wrong 3 different times! (Mary Ann Rodman) Once, Monday, August 18 and twice today, August 20.

Anonymous said...

Mary Ann here...and as soon as I posted my answer to the "desert island" question, I knew I should've explained why I would take CHARLOTTE'S WEB instead of my Bible. Well, I was raised in a religion where memorizing whole chapters of the Bible was mandatory. Being a kid, I didn't really "get" the point of memorizing a book that I would always own. My Sunday School teacher said (and I am not kidding) "How do you know you will not be on a desert island some day without your Bible...and being able to recall those chapters and verses will be a great comfort to you." And you know, she was right! (Not that I've been on a desert island lately, but I have been in hospital waiting rooms and recovery rooms...and having most of the Bible in my mental harddrive IS a comfort.

On the other hand, I do NOT have CHARLOTTE memorized...and it makes me laugh.

As for bringing a man (specifically my husband), as much as I love him, he would spend the whole time trying to figure out how to get OFF the island (a very Type A personality) and I would never get to write in the journal I brought!


Nicole said...

I would have a hard time trying to pick a book to bring on the island... I am sure that after a week or two of reading the same book over and over and OVER again I would get very annoyed at it. :P It would have to be a VERY thick or VERY deep book.

Nicole said...

(thanks, Maggie)

Bellezza said...

I know it's a VERY minor point, but I feel exactly the same way as Mary Ann about Charlotte's Web. It's nice to meet a kindred spirit in children's books.