Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Children Are Heroes: An Interview With Anne Warren Smith

Anne has just started to learn to play harp. 
Author Anne Warren Smith has dropped by the blog for a visit. I'm so excited to share some interesting tidbits about the author of a delightful three, soon to be four, book series about Katie. Bittersweet Summer is third in the series and will be released on March 1st. See my review here.Katie is one of the most quirkiest characters I've met in lower middle grade reading. Find out how Smith created this fabulous character!
1) Why do you write for children? 

       Children are heroes.  They are able to rise above the terrible things that happen to them.  I love writing about Katie and Claire for that reason.  Both girls are living with what seem like “broken families” but they forge on.  They have spirit and resourcefulness.  

2) Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became a writer.

     As a child I read voraciously and wrote fantasy stories about being transported to a happier world. I even had a little typewriter – one that you had to turn a wheel to select each letter before printing it. Slow business!

      After college, I worked as a pre-school teacher, a job I loved because I felt more comfortable with children than with adults.  My first novel, “Blue Denim Blues,” is somewhat autobiographical in that Janet, a seventh grader gets a job in a preschool and is able to overcome her shyness there.  

3) What was the inspiration for Katie's adventures?
Releases on March 1st

I write for kids and also for adults – essays about my family and what it was like growing up with a mother who seemed distant. The same theme appears in the Katie Jordan series – her mother prefers her career to mothering. Claire’s mother is dead, but at one point in “Tails of Spring Break,” Katie realizes that Claire’s mother is gone because of a terrible accident while, on the other hand, her own mother has chosen to leave home. Which hurts more? 

4) Tell us about your process.

       My usual process is to write the entire book over and over in fewer than ten pages, trying to get the architecture of the plot right. Once I’m certain that I have a beginning, middle, and an ending, I begin to daydream and expand the story into chapters. Often, I have a major scene in my mind and am writing toward that scene. 
       In “Bittersweet Summer,” the scene that entranced me was Mom’s concert. I loved the noise and the crowd and the excitement. At the same time, my heart ached for the whole family. Katie’s dad still misses his wife and knows no matter how he tries, he cannot take her place for the children. Tyler simply wants his mom back to cook for him and hold him. Katie sees how the crowd loves her mother, but also hates the idea of sharing her with all those strangers. She sees her mother’s joy in performing, which is quite amazing, I think, for a fourth grader. When she realizes she can’t compete with that, she also sees that she needs to move on, understanding that she and Dad and Tyler are a family no matter what. 
The voice is incredible. How did you accomplish this? When I am writing I transport myself back to the person I was. By tapping into the people we were, and still are, we can remember how things looked, but also how they sounded. 

5) What does a typical writing day look like?
 I'm a morning person so my most productive time is between 8:30am and noon. I like to first read through the pages I wrote the day before to get back into the story. There may be some revising but not a lot. What I do before 8:30am is just as important to my routine. Swimming or walking usually lay a good foundation for me to start my day.

6) Where is your favorite place to write? Now I have my own office, which I really love. I do best sitting at my desk in front of my computer. I prefer silence when I write.

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?

My first editor was wonderful Jean Karl of Atheneum. Her letters were full of suggestions for improving my writing and I remember that every time a letter came from her I would walk to the park, crying, thinking I could never do all that she wanted.  She sent one positive comment that I’ve never forgotten: that I was good at catching the voices of children. I still savor that.  
       My editor, Wendy McClure at Albert Whitman is a great supporter of mine.  When I offered her “Tails of Spring Break,” she thought a while. Then she said, yes, I’d like to spend more time with Katie and her family.  It wasn’t the story or the writing she liked: It was the characters. I was thrilled. 

Did you know, when you wrote Turkey Monster Thanksgiving that this would be a series? Oh, no not at all. After some time passed I realized that Katie and Claire had more to say. Especially Katie and her relationship with her mother, I felt that there needed to be some kind of resolution and that is how Tails of Spring Break came about.

8) What is the best writing advice you have ever received?

     The best writing advice I ever received was to show instead of tell. In an early story, I said that my character was frightened. My mentor suggested that the cat lying on my character’s lap might leap off with a yowl. In this way, the reader gets to participate in the story. We give info about the cat; the reader fills in the blank that the character must be frightened.

9) Are you working on a new project? Can you tell us about it?

      I’m putting the final edits on the fourth book in the series, tentatively titled “Wonder Dog of Summer.” Of course, Katie’s dog is a major player, but also Claire has to deal with the idea of getting a new mother who will bring her son to the family. We all know how Claire feels about boys and brothers and one boy in particular.

10) What advice would you give others that write for children?

Another thing I love to do is teach writers to write better. So many people don’t understand that writing is a craft. There are tricks to the trade. I urge writers to join SCBWI. They need critique groups. They can learn much from classes.

Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing with us, Anne. If you are looking for more Anne check out the links below:
See my review of Bittersweet Summer here.

Just a reminder, I will be taking a hiatus from the blog from 2/16- 3/26. Come back on March 26th for another MMGM review featuring Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu and on March 28th for an incredible interview with Carol Fisher Saller author of Eddie's War. Until then you can catch up on any reviews you've missed now that you can find them all in one place. 


  1. Because you sound so amazed by the author's use of voice I'm going to have to read this book to learn how to improve mine.
    Oh and the covers are so cute. Thanks a lot for this interview.

  2. This looks like a great series. Thanks for sharing it and the author interview. See you in March!


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