Author Interviews, Book Resources

Michael Dorris Interview Transcript

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

Michael Dorris Interview Transcript
The author was interviewed by Scholastic students.

As the school librarian, I am interested in whether you needed to do research for any of your books before writing them? What inspired you to become an author? What do you do when you get writers block? How do you get rid of it? What is your favorite type of book to read that you enjoy and do any of them help you to make your decisions to write your books?

1. I've always liked to listen to stories; being a writer means I get to tell them to myself. Great job.

2. I'm usually working on more than one book at a time -- a young adult novel, an adult non-fiction, and an adult fiction. When I get blocked on one, moving to the other is such a relief that I usually have something to say.

3. I like books with heart and sweep — books that move me emotionally (either to laughter or tears) and that are rich in characters. And yes, sure, I am always instructed by the good (or bad!) writing of others.

How does the mother know that she is going to have a baby girl. We “guessed” the mother told Morning Girl this so that she would look forward to having a new baby, and not a brother like Star Boy.

That's my guess, too. Maybe Morning Girl's mother was hoping for a girl (alternating her children) or maybe she just wanted to reassure Morning Girl that there would be someone new in the family with whom she would have certain things in common. Maybe her mother believed in intuition? Anyway, I'm glad your class is reading the book and hope you enjoy it.

In your book, Yellow Raft, Blue Waters, how were you able to portray the three women so realistically? Being a man, were there any special insights you had to acquire?

I had the great good fortune of being raised by two grandmothers, three aunts and a mother. Theirs were the voices I listened to and had to understand, and though none of them are the basis of a character in the novel (the companion of which, Cloud Chamber, will be published this December) they did make me sensitive (I hope) to the nuance of women speaking to women. Thanks for the kind words.

Have you written any books changing characters from one chapter to another other than Morning Girl? How many hours do you write a day? Have you written any books that are true? How many books have you written? What was your favorite subject growing up? Did you like writing when you were young? What was your favorite author when you were young? Do you use any of the same characters in more than one book? Why do you close your eyes when you get an idea? How often do you write? What gave you the idea for Morning Girl?

I write whenever I can — maybe four or five hours a day. I got the idea of Morning Girl from the entry in Columbus's diary — I wondered who this person was whom he clearly didn't know.

Yes, I always wanted to be a writer but I never thought I could make a living at it!

I've written “true” books for adults (The Broken Cord, Paper Trail, Rooms in the House of Stone) -- that is, non-fiction — but I hope my fiction is also “true” — that is, true to the spirit of my characters.

I've written twelve books — and have a new one for young readers: Sees Behind Trees, which is just out in hardback. I write everyday, when I have the chance. And yes, I use (or rather, listen to) some characters in more than one book: Rayona in A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, Cloud Chamber, and next year's young adult novel, The Window, is a voice that speaks to me very directly.

Finally, my favorite author when I was growing up was my mother, who made up new stories every night. None of them were written down but all of them were magical and special because they were just for me. I feel that way about my characters sometimes — that they are telling stories just to me — for you, through me. I hope you like Guests and Sees Behind Trees too. Thanks for writing.

How do you go about researching a topic prior to writing a piece of historical fiction? Were Morning Girl & Star Boy based on anyone you know in real life? Which character is most like you? Why did you write the book?

I'm just wondering if you received my reply to your and your students' questions on historical fiction. If not, let me know and I'll try again. Happy Holidays.

What is your favorite and least favorite books of all the books you have written? Where do you get your ideas for your books? Do you have any new books coming out? Thanks for your time, we loved Morning Girl!

I always say that my “favorite” book is my next one; after all, an author doesn't hope to write a less good book than his or her last one! And yes, there is a new book out: Guests, a sort of alternate view of Thanksgiving, was just published in paperback, and Sees Behind Trees, about a Powhatan boy who is very near-sighted (like I am) was just published in hardback. Yet another young adult novel, The Window, will be published next fall. And on the adult side, I have a novel, Cloud Chamber, out next month. So I've been busy!

I don't have a “least favorite” book of mine -- a person does his or her best each time and it would be disloyal to play favorites.

As far as where ideas come from: it's a wonderful mystery. Basically I just sit down and try to tell myself a story and eventually, if I'm lucky, the characters will take over and tell it to me.

I lived for many years in Cornish, NH, and visited Brownsville many times. What a beautiful place you live in. Have a good holiday.

My fifth grade class and I enjoyed very much Morning Girl, and finding connections between Morning Girl and Star Boy's lives, and our own. Now, though, I find myself teaching a first/second grade combination, yet would love to share your writing with my students. Have you consider, or do you plan on writing books for a younger audience?

I haven't actually thought of writing for a younger audience — in fact, I basically don't write for any specific audience, either in my adult or young adult novels. What I try to do is find a voice, a character, and then let him or her tell me a story. Who knows, someday a much younger character may tap me on the shoulder! Next year's YA novel, The Window (to be published in October 1997) is told in the voice of a ten year old girl, Rayona Taylor (who appears at age 15 in A Yellow Raft in Blue Water). Hope you and your students had a good Thanksgiving.

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