Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Artist Turned Writer: Interview with Marianne Malone

Hello Everyone, 

Today on the blog we have Marianne Malone author of The Sixty-Eight Rooms published by Random House in 2010. See my review here. Her second book in the series, Stealing Magic comes out today! Whoo hoo!

About The Book: Chicago sixth graders Ruthie and Jack think their adventures in the Art Institute's sixty-eight Thorne Rooms are over… until miniatures from the rooms start to disappear. Is it the work of the art thief who's on the loose? Or has someone else discovered the secret of the Thorne Rooms' magic? Ruthie and Jack's quest to stop the thief and protect the rooms takes them from modern-day Chicago to 1937 Paris to the time of slavery in Charleston, South Carolina. But as more items disappear, including the key that allows them to shrink and access the past worlds, what was once just an adventure becomes a life and death race against the clock. Can Ruthie and Jack catch the thief – and help the friends they meet along the way – before the magic and the rooms are destroyed forever?

I'd like to thank Marianne for joining us to today. Lets get right to the questions.

1) Why do you write for children?
       I was an art teacher in a middle school for girls, grades 5-8, for a decade or so. I enjoyed working with this age group and realized that even though times have changed so much since I was that age, it seemed to me that what interested my students was very similar to what interested me way back then. I observed how certain books thrilled them and it made me remember my own feelings of getting lost in a book, which I think happens around the time when you first start reading chapter books. That's exciting to tap into.

2) Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became a writer.
         I am a mother of three (now grown) children, happily married for over 30 years, and—much like my protagonist, Ruthie —I consider myself a "regular" girl. I was an excellent student, but I had smarter classmates, I had friends, but was never an "it" girl. Not rich, not poor. You get the picture. I had always considered myself a visual artist, not a writer. But one day it dawned on me that one can write anything one wants and I thought that was such a liberating idea that I had to try it. Somehow, I consider writing an extension of the creative work I've always done.
Time Out Chicago Kids 
3) What was the inspiration this series? 

My inspiration for The Sixty-Eight Rooms (and the sequel, Stealing Magic), is simple: The Thorne Rooms in the Art Institute of Chicago. For those who are unfamiliar with them, they are sixty eight miniature period rooms made in the 1930s by a woman named Narcissa Thorne (they can be seen on the website of the museum). The only word to describe them is extraordinary. I have loved them since I was a little girl growing up in the suburbs, when my mother (an artist), took me on frequent visits to the museum.
4) Tell us about your process.
      How to describe my process - good question! I generally do a lot of puttering around until I have a strong idea of the arc of the story. Characters come easily to me and they help me fill in the details or tell my what to do if my plot gets stuck or runs off the road. It's like having little people whispering in your ear. I never leave a session without giving myself some notes about how to start the next day. After a first draft, I revise. And then revise again, and again (with the help of my great editor, Shana Corey). When the manuscript is finished, I'll take a month off and garden or do something very physical with my time.

5) What does a typical writing day look like?
      A typical day starts with strong coffee, breakfast and reading the local paper. Then I hit the computer. Sometimes I write first, before checking email, sometimes that is switched. I find that sitting is the hardest part of writing - one gets physically stiff and mentally sluggish - so exercise is a must. Everyday! I try and write about three hours a day, most days of the week, while I'm working on a manuscript.

6) Where is your favorite place to write?
      I love my home office, which looks out on a preserved prairie. It is such a blank slate out there, with subtle changes of light throughout the day, and punctuated by wildlife passing by in the mornings and at dusk. Looking out on it, it is easy to have my own thoughts and get lost in my story. I have, on occasion, had to write in hotel rooms, which I find facilitating - you can't get up to go to the kitchen, or be distracted by mundane household chores.

7) What did or do you find most challenging in creating the story and getting it published? What do you wish you would have known?
        I am on my third book now, and each one has presented different challenges. But honestly, I'm glad I started writing before I knew much about the publishing process. I would have been intimidated, overwhelmed, and I might have tried to write for other people, instead of for myself (and my students, who were my very first readers). I simply jumped in, which worked for me.

8) What is the best writing advice you have ever received?
        The best advice I have received is from Shana, who in the margins of the manuscripts very gently reminds me from time to time to "show don't tell".

9) Are you working on a new project? Can you tell us about it?
       Right now I am editing the third book in the Sixty-Eight Rooms series. In it, my characters meet an 18th century pirate in Cape Cod, and help solve a mystery for a classmate who is descended from a slave. I'm in the early stages of a fourth installment. I am still enjoying my characters and feel that the basic premise of their adventures holds more possibilities.

10) What advice would you give others that write for children?
       I think the best piece of advice I can give to anyone who wants to write for kids is to recall the emotions that books stirred in you as a child. Go there. Go to the subjects, stories and characters that you love.

Oh my, there are going to be four books about these fascinating tiny rooms and the adventures with Ruthie?? I can't wait! 

Have you entered the drawing for book one of The Sixty-Eight Rooms yet? If not, enter here. You don't want to get behind!!

Thank You Marianne for taking time out of your busy schedule to stop by and chat. 


  1. I like the fact that she writes for herself first. So there are 2 more books coming? Awesome :)
    Thank you for this great interview.

  2. I love those rooms at the AIC! I was a dollhouse kid myself.
    Thanks! The books sound really fun.

  3. Thanks for the interview! I love to read author's thoughts and processes in their writing.

  4. So much great stuff here! I also started writing before knowing too much about the publishing process (a good thing). The advice in #10 is superb. Thank you, Pam and Marianne.


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