Author Interviews, Book Resources

Caroline Cooney Interview Transcript

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

We are studying authors in our language arts class at Roosevelt Middle School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. We are in sixth grade. We chose you as the author to study. We would like to ask you a few questions. What is the first book you have written? Why did you want to be an author? How long have you been an author? Who is the oldest in Family Reunion, and how long did it take to write that book? How old are you? What is the favorite book you have written? What will be your next book? How long did it take to write Don't Blame It On the Music? Are you married and do you have children? How many times did you get rejected before you published your first book?

Sixth grade was a wonderful year for me (see biography) and I hope it is for you too. I wanted to be an author ever since I discovered storywriting that year. What's my favorite book - I think any author would say her favorite book is the one she's working on right now. I get very swept up in the book I'm doing, so much so that it's hard to thin k about, or even remember, the books I wrote before. Family Reunion is one my favorites, though -- there's a lot in it about my son Harold. How many rejections did I get - well, I never saved any, and I certainly never kept count, or I would have had to throw myself down the cellar stairs. They came solidly for ten years, which probably adds up to a high number! I finally figured out what I was doing, though. Thanks for writing.

We are sixth graders at Roosevelt Middle School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. We chose you as our author to study. We would like to ask you a few questions. When did you start writing books? Did you like to write when you were a child? What was the first book you published? When you were a child, did you want to become a writer? Which mystery book is your favorite? Do you write your books in longhand or type them? Do you like writing mysteries, why or why not? Almost all of your books are mysteries, is that your favorite genre? How old were you when you became a writer?

Thanks for writing! Yes, I loved writing when I was a child. I wrote all through my teens and finally got something published years and years later! It probably won't take you that long. Safe As The Grave was the first book I had published - it's a mystery for middle elementary. I did write that one in longhand, then I graduated to an old Royal manual typewriter, then to an electric typewriter, and now I use computers. I love computers. Keep reading!

You are my favorite author. I am now reading The Fog and Driver's Ed. I hope you continue with the "Janie" novels. I have a question. Have you written any mystery novels? If so, which one/s? I know you have writ ten horror novels. Thank you for such excellent novels.

What a great letter! Thanks. I read mysteries by the armload myself. I think the Janie books are a mystery series. Another mystery is called Both Sides of Time, which I had more fun writing than anything I've done. And a favorite mystery of mine is certainly Forbidden. I don't know if I will write a fourth Janie book. Voice on the Radio was hard, but I loved doing it, too . . . so far I haven't really come up with another piece of that story. But if I do, I'll let you know.

What inspired you to write a story about a girl who discovers she's been kidnapped? We really enjoyed this book, especially how hard it was for Janie to decide to tell her parents about the face on the milk carton.

Thanks for writing! Years ago I was in a NYC airport which was plastered with homemade missing child posters and when you read the writing beneath the little photograph, you found that this toddler had been missing for fifteen years! The parents got up that morning with their stack of posters and their roll of scotch tape and went into NYC still hoping that if a hundred thousand passengers went through that airport, somebody would recognize the photograph of their little girl and tell the parents where she is now. But it couldn't happen. You can't recognize anybody 15 years later from her 2 year old picture. And I got on the plane weeping for those parents when I realized there is one person who would recognize the picture . . and that was the little girl herself. So that's the background of The Face on the Milk Carton. There are two more Janie books: Whatever Happened to Janie and Voice on the Radio. Keep reading!

I am a sixth grade student at Roosevelt Middle School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. We are studying authors, and I chose to study you. Would you please answer a few questions so I can put them in my report? Thanks! Why did you start writing mysteries? Where did you go to college? What did you want to do when you were a little girl? Are you married and do you have kids? Where did you grow up? What was your favorite book you have written? Where do you get your story ideas? Do they just come to you? I need your opinion on something. When I write, I have good ideas and I want to write the story down so fast. When I write the story, it gets all mixed up because I want to get it written down so fast. It doesn't make any sense. I am a creative writer and I don't know what I should do to help me not put my ideas down so fast. At what age did you start writing? Were you ever interested in becoming a writer when you were little? Is it hard to get the editors to publish your books?

I love to hear from future writers. Sixth grade was where I began writing. I write very quickly, too, because the story is just spurting out, and what I do is leave a lot of space between ideas and action so that the next day, I can go back and fill in the parts I left out. It's fine to write fast, you just have to remember to go back plenty of times and add to the story, as fast or as slow as you want, till it's filled in and it's a complete story. Writing is very tiring, and something it helps to set a timer - anybody can write for six minutes, or eight minutes, and then the next day work on th e same story for another five minutes. And if you get to do your writing on a computer, it doesn't matter if it's out of order; when you feel calmer, just move the paragraphs around! A computer is your best friend.
Keep writing!

Why did you decide to make a sequel to The Face on the Milk Carton, instead of just leaving it itself?

I loved writing about Janie and Reeve, and I wanted to write about them again. That wasn't the original plan, the original idea was to keep my readers worried, because Face is a book about worry. But then it turned out that I was worried too, and needed to tell more of their story. So that's why Whatever Happened to Janie? was written. Then I just wrote a third Janie book, Voice on the Radio, because it turned out my readers and I were still worried about Janie and Reeve, so I had to take the story on, with lots more danger and twists. Keep reading.

How did you come up with the idea for The Face on the Milk Carton and What Happened to Janie?

I just wrote this answer to Mrs. Egan's class! This is a lot of fun. I have never communicated before by Internet. Write me again so I can answer you with something new.

If you were marooned on a desert island with only 5 books, which ones would you choose?

I would never permit this to happen to me. I would get marooned in a library or a bookstore, and then sp end the rest of my days reading, which is pretty much what I do anyway. Picture me marooned (happily )at home, surrounded by stacks and towers and bookcases full of books.

Who were your favorite authors when you were growing up? Have you ever seen a real fire like in your book Flash Fire? Have you ever thought about writing books for younger readers?

All my life I've read everything I could get my hands on. Some of the books I remember mostly vividly were American history fiction, like Lois Lenski's Indian Captive and West Lathrop's Black River. I loved series books, and then ones I was most addicted to were nurse books, like Cherry Ames and Sue Barton. One author I loved was Edward Eager, and his books like Magic by the Lake.

I've never seen a huge fire, like the one I wrote about for Flash Fire, but the year I wrote that an historic building - actually the 200 year old original Academy building, or 1-8th grade school of our town, caught fire and burned, and since it was only a few yards from our church, as I watched it burn, and the flames towered into the sky - throwing embers against the very dry wood of our old church - well, it was terrifying. Fire is impressive, awesome, so hard to control. To write about it, I looked at videos from California, read Firemen's magazines, and went to LA to look at where fires had been and what they had done.

I did write two books for about 3rd grade - one was Safe As The Grave - and I loved writing it, but I wanted to tell longer stories with much more detail, so I moved on to writing for middle school.
Keep reading!

What is your favorite book by YOU? Do you do your writing on a computer? We really liked your book The Face on the Milk Carton.

I'm glad you liked Face on the Milk Carton -- I liked it enough to write two more books about Janie and Reeve! Yes, I'm writing on my Mac right now - though I wrote my first books with a pencil, and then used an old upright manual typewriter of my father's, and then bought an electric typewriter, and finally got my first computer - also a Mac. I'm still getting used to answering questions this way, and I think it's going to be a wonderful way to talk to each other. Thanks for writing!

Our librarian has just started the authors online program in our new school. I would like to know how long have you been writing, and did you like writing when you were small?

Well, I can hardly believe you are writing me from Ashburnham, because my son Harold went to Cushing Academy so I have driven to Ashburnham many many times. It is one of my favorite places ever, and certainly my son loved his three years in that town! I'm trying to think where your school is, but I'm not placing it. All of Harold's ancestors (their name was Williams) also went to Cushing, and when he was doing track, they used to run by his uncle Harold Williams' old house and (now burned down) barn. So naturally I would expect a school in Ashburnham to be at the forefront of education!

To become a writer, you just have to practice, as if you were practicing basketball or trumpet; you do some every day; you don't have to finish anything, any more than you finish dribbling in the driveway; you write paragraphs and essays and thoughts and letters and whatever - as long as you write a little bit every day. And then it gets easier. You get good at it. And being an author is a lot of fun, so stick with it.

What was the first book you published? How old were you when you published your first book? Do you have a family? If so, what are their names? What middle school did you attend? What city and state did you grow up in? What city and state do you live in now? How many awards have you won for your books? What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a writer? How old were you when you won your first award? Have you had any interviews with national magazines? If so, which ones?

Thanks for choosing me as your author. The biography page answers some of your questions. I grew up in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, and back then we didn't call them middle schools - it was Eastern Junior High. I still live in Connecticut but 75 miles up the coast. Getting awards for books is a lot of fun, and sometimes you don't even know you've been nominated; they forget to tell you! But they always tell you if you win. I've won awards in many states, including Iowa. Face on the Milk Carton was on awards lists in 13 states. I know it isn't easy to find information about me - that's because I haven't given very many interviews. So you are the one doing the national interview! Keep reading.

I really enjoy your books. I was wondering what happened to Janie, after she moved back in. I mean, did she visit the Springs a lot?

I wondered whether Janie visited the Springs a lot, too, so finally I wrote a third book about Janie and Reeve. It's called The Voice on the Radio. It doesn't tell you absolutely everything, because I like my readers to have to go on worrying. But it's very exciting, and it certainly tells you more of the story. Thanks for writing!

I was wondering if you like being an author? How do you get all these ideas to write all these books? Have you been an author for a long time?

Being a writer is the best. I haven't answered this kind of mail before, but each week I answer about 20 or 25 regular letters from my readers and it's so wonderful when one of you cares enough about a book to write and tell me so. And then I get to look myself up in library catalogs, and check my place on bookstore shelves, and admire my cover collection! Best of all, I get to wake up every morning and tell stories. Keep reading - so I can keep writing!

Thanks for writing such wonderful books! Our class has really enjoyed reading your work. You have a wonderful understanding of kids and young adults.

We have a few questions we'd like to ask you:

1. Was it hard for you to write The Face on the Milk Carton? Sometimes it was hard for us to read because everything Janie was going through seemed so real.

2. We read on your author page that you have three children. Do you ever use any of their experiences when writing your books? Are any of your characters based on them?

3. Are you planning your next book? What is it going to be about?

Yes, the Janie books were harder than most because I too found Janie, and especially her parents, extremely real, so that I would get very upset about them, and worry about them, and want the best for them. This happens to some extent in every book you write, but Face on the Milk Carton was a project where I was very glad to have an editor (an editor is sort of like your own life-long English teacher) to call up and talk things through. Did you know there are two more books about Janie? Whatever Happened to Janie? and Voice on the Radio, and these in some ways were even harder, because now I had a second family about whom I also cared passionately.

Yes, my children are in lots of my stories, but not very recognizably - you couldn't open a chapter and say, "Ah ha! there's Louisa." But read Flight 116 is Down and you will find that this is based on Louisa's volunteer work when she was only a teenager with our local ambulance department, so although she is not a character in the book, nevertheless, it is entirely her story.

Are any of your books based on real life experiences - like Flash Fire or Flight 116? Are you going to write a sequel to Vampire's Promise ? What was the hardest book you ever wrote? Are you writing a book right now? If so what is it called and what is it about? I am just finishing reading Flight 116 is Down. I love it! It is my favorite book. I have read most of your books, and so have my friends. I received the Voice on the Radio for Christmas, I will read it next. What inspired you to write Flight 116 is Down?

My daughter Louisa at 16 joined the local ambulance crew and began doing rescues. They went wherever they were needed, of course - highway, house, job site, school - and the more I watched the teenagers who became trained EMTs and rode the ambulance, the more impressed I was. I knew I had to write about kids and rescue. I'm so glad you enjoyed Flight 116 is Down. I loved writing about the absolute best kids. Flash Fire, another catastrophe book, is about teenagers who don't know what to do in an emergency, and may or may not be able to overcome their panic and be able to rescue themselves and others. This book I did partly with my son Harold; we went out to California together to research it. Keep reading, Kari!

What do you like best about being an author? Do you have fun when you are thinking up new characters? Do you ever have to struggle with the plot of your books?

So much of writing is such fun I hardly know where to begin. I love to make things up. I love to se e those crummy sentences get reworked again and again, and finally flow into a great chapter, and as the weeks pass, become part of an entire book. I'm always surprised at the mystery of how an idea only a sentence long eventually becomes a couple hundred pages of story. And then I hear from you! I get letters all the time - although this is my first time getting e-mail letters - and you, my readers, let me know how you feel about each book, and what it means to you. Then I get to daydream about my next book. It's pretty nice to have a life built upon daydreaming. And yes, sometimes it's a terrible struggle where no matter what you do, the story isn't exciting. So you throw it in the trash and start over. I never look back; either it worked or it didn't. Are you going to become a writer, too? Enjoy!

I thought that the way that you came up with the idea for the book was very creative. I was wondering if you were going to write a sequel to Flight 116 is Down. If you are, can you explain whatever happened to Heidi's property and what happened to the families after the plane crash? Thanks. I'll be looking for your next book!

You're the first person to answer a second time, which is great, because I think that's how this medium is supposed to work - we ought to be able to converse over it. Unfortunately, though, I'm not going to write a sequel to Flight 116. That's because the story is really the rescue, which is complete now, and not the house or the people. I guess the house clean-up will be a nightmare! Who will pay for it?! And as for Heidi, I think she has a great life ahead of her, because she's found her strength.

We really enjoyed your book The Face on the Milk Carton. We voted on two questions to ask you. Here they are: What is your favorite moment in your past? The other one is what career might you choose besides writing?

What a tough question! What's my favorite moment in the past . . . since you're talking about writing, I guess I won't tell you anything about my three children, who would otherwise be your answer, but I'll think of my favorite writing moment, and that would be the day I finished my first book, all by myself, without any help, with no idea how to do it, and there were the 350 pages of it, and I picked them up and straightened their edges and I had done it: I had written a book. (Of course, this one was never published, so the second half of the triumph didn't arrive that year, but the triumph of actually writing your first book is so great, nothing ever equals it.) I can't imagine a life without books, so if I were not a writer, I would certainly be a librarian or a bookstore owner. Probably librarian. Retail is too hard, whereas hanging out with seventh graders and helping them with projects would be fun!

When were you born? What do you do in your spare time? What college did you go to? What is the favorite book you've written? Do you have any kids? What was the first book you published? How old were you when you started getting interested in books and writing? What classes did you take in college to prepare you to be a writer? What or who got you interested in writing? Do you think the college you attended helped you improve your writing? What made you think of writing The Party's Over? How did you get the idea to write Whatever Happened to Janie?


Actually, the year I learned to write was sixth grade! Although I went to several colleges, I never took a writing course and never graduated! I am self-taught. You can do the same: you just write and write and write until you've figured out how to tell a great story. The Party's Over is just about the only book I've ever written based on a real kid I knew; as for Whatever Happened to Janie?, that's the middle of a three book set, and my daughter gave me a wonderful idea for what she thought had happened to Janie after The Face on the Milk Carton. . . . . This year, in my spare time, I'm mostly going to schools as a visiting author, and that is a wonderful way to see America. Keep reading!

Why did you choose to write scary stories? What is your favorite book you wrote? What are your books mainly about? Where do you make your books? How old were you when you wrote your 1st book? Why did you want to become a writer?

I've written a lot of thrillers. I think we all like to be scared, don't you? Kind of like riding on a roller coaster. My favorite book is always the one I'm working on right now, which is a time travel story. Most of my books are suspense stories, and they always involve a family, and you have to decide what is the right thing for you to do. I write at home, where I have two computers and three desks. I was about 24 when I wrote my first book . . . but it was never published. Neither were the ne xt 8.  I wanted to become a writer because I love making things up.  Keep reading!

Wow! What an awesome author you are! We LOVE your writing. We hope you find our questions answerable.
1. Are the books you write the same type of books you read?
2. Do you ever write anything in your books that has actually happened to you? Jessica B.
3. How do you get the ideas for your wonderful books? Katie G.
4. When you were in school did you like homework and did you like writing assignments? Joey D.
5. Where are you when you write your books? Jennifer B.
6. Which one of your books is your favorite? Tiffany C.
7. I love your books. I especially loved The Face on the Milk Carton.

Thanks for writing. The first question is very interesting: no, often I read completely different things from what I write. Right now, I'm reading everything I can find about the French & Indian Wars in New England! But I'm not writing about them. (Yet.) 2. I rarely include anything in a book that really happened; everything is all made up. 3. Ideas come from paying attention - everybody looks at missing child posters; all you have to do is ask yourself a few questions . . . and then you have Face On The Milk Carton. 5. Joey, I loved school, although I didn't always do my homework, and I loved writing assignments, although sometimes I wrote a different one. But I have a son who hated school and never did a writing assignment if he could help it! 6. I write my books in my office at home on my computer. 6. My favorite book is always the book I'm writing this minute, so today my favorite is a new time travel book. 7 . Nicole, I don't know if Voice on the Radio will be a movie or not.. . . I think I have your questions mixed up here, but I enjoyed them. Keep reading!

One of my students wants to know if you ever had an experience similar in Driver's Ed. Was a stop sign ever missing and that is where your idea came from? Keep writing ! We love your books!

Thanks for writing. I'm glad you're enjoying Driver's Ed. No, everything in that book is made up . . . except that everything in that book really does and has happened. It's scary, isn't it? I love to base stories on the kinds of things we really watch happening, and this is one. Keep reading!

  • Subjects:
    Literature, Literature Appreciation, Writing
  • Skills:
    Writing
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