On May 16, 2007, author Ann M. Martin participated in a chat with students, teachers, and fans. Ann is the author of the Baby-Sitters Club series and the new series Main Street. Other books include A Dog's Life, Snail Mail No More (with Paula Danziger), The Doll People (with Laura Godwin) and A Corner of the Universe, which are loved by children and adults of all ages.
Welcome to Main Street, Scholastic!
What was your favorite book and author when you were a kid?
It's hard to choose one favorite book and author! My favorite genre was light fantasy. I liked the Wizard of Oz books, Mary Poppins, and Dr. Dolittle.
Do you carry around a notebook and a pen with you so you can write down any ideas you come across?
I don't carry one with me specifically to write down ideas, but at home on my desk I have lots of pieces of paper all over the place with ideas on them.
What is the best part about being an author?
Well, for me, the best part is making up stories. That's just what I love to do. As an author I get to do that all the time, and I like being in a fantasy world and creating characters.
Hi, this is Ms. Heneman's class. We are reading A Dog's Life. We were wondering if you are going to make a series with this book.
I'm not going to make a series, but I've had so many requests for a sequel that I think I may write a companion book at some time. Not a sequel, because that would continue Squirrel's story, but instead the companion book would be the story of Squirrel's brother or the mom.
How did you come up with the ideas for your books?
The ideas come from all over the place! Sometimes the stories are based on things that actually happened; sometimes I get ideas from reading the newspaper . . . some are based on my own childhood. They come from lots of different places.
Are any of the characters in Main Street based on your or people you know?
Flora and Ruby are based on two sisters I know. The older sister is quieter and more reserved and a little more serious. The younger sister, like Ruby, likes to be onstage and in the center of attention. The Willets are based on my own parents. The places are made up in Camden Falls, but the row houses are based loosely on the row houses my mother grew up in Milwaukee.
We haven't read the Main Street books yet. What are they about?
The stories take place in the fictional town of Camden Falls, Massachusetts. They center on two sisters, Flora and Ruby, who move to Camden Falls to live with their grandmother after their parents die. It's about them adjusting to their new lives, and lots of the other people in town.
How many books are you planning to write in the Main Street series?
There will be at least seven. I don't know yet if there will be more beyond that, but at least seven!
I loved reading A Corner of the Universe. Are you planning to write any more books with disabled characters?
Thanks so much; I'm glad you liked it! I don't think I am going to. I don't have any plans to write future books about Hattie or her family.
How do you capture the reader's attention and make them want to read on?
That's an interesting question. I try to keep the story moving with unexpected twists in the plot. I include lots and lots of details about the characters and the settings. I think details make reading more interesting, and I try to write at least some of the time with a sense of humor.
Have you ever written an autobiography?
No. Scholastic published a biography a LONG time ago (like 15 years ago!) but I haven't written an autobiography, and I don't plan to right now.
In Main Street, is Camden Falls based on a real town?
Yes, Camden Falls is loosely based on Woodstock, New York, near where I live. But there are a lot of differences. I also had Princeton, New Jersey, where I grew up, for inspiration. But it's mostly fictional.
Why did you choose to be an author?
My parents read aloud to my sister and me a lot when we were growing up, and I love to read, so I grew up with lots and lots of wonderful children's books. I always liked to write, so it seemed natural that I would start writing children's books of my own.
Is being an author exciting for you?
Yes, it certainly can be exciting! First of all, I love what I do. I feel very lucky to do what I love to do all day. It's also exciting for me when I get to go to schools or bookstores and meet the kids that read my books.
Do you have any pets?
Yes, I have three cats, Gussie, Willy, and Woodstock. I have one dog, Sadie, who was the inspiration for A Dog's Life.
What are some of your hobbies?
I love telling stories and making up stories, so for me it's a lot of fun to spend my time creating imaginary worlds and characters.
Where do you write your stories? Do you have one specific place, or do you write anywhere?
I can write almost anywhere as long as it's very, very quiet. Usually, I write in my dining room. I can see outside into the backyard, which I like because I can see the wildlife out there.
How many books have you written?
Apart from the books in the BSC series, I think there have been about 20.
What are some of your hobbies?
My favorite hobby is sewing. I love to sew, needlework, knitting. Every summer I have a vegetable garden, but my favorite is still sewing. Sewing and needlework figure a lot into the Main Street books!
As an author what is your typical day like?
I usually get up very early, and I start writing around 8 or 9 in the morning. I write until lunchtime. I take a break at lunchtime and walk Sadie, and in the afternoon I either continue writing or doing related projects (like editing a manuscript I've already written, or outlining). At the end of the day I usually answer my mail.
How do you feel when you get your manuscript back from your editor?
That's my favorite part of the writing process! I love hearing comments from the editor — that's my chance to make the manuscript better and tighten it. After I finish a story, I don't feel like I have perspective on it, so it's important to me to get my editor's thoughts on it.
How long does it take to write a book?
That depends entirely on the book. A number of years ago, I was writing with Laura Godwin for The Doll People, we wrote it start to finish five times! Usually, I just have one bigger rewrite, and then after that smaller editorial changes. But it really depends on the book.
If you had to pick any other job aside from being an author, what would it be?
I would really love to own a sewing store or a bookstore. I know either one would be really hard work, but I think I would really enjoy it.
I belong to a book club. Have you ever been in one? If so, what books have you read recently?
Yes, I've belonged to the same book club for about six years now! We read mostly adult books, and the last one that we read was called Fierce Attachments, and the one before that was a novel called The History of Love. We did also read young adult book, Sade, and a kid's book, Pam Muñoz Ryan's Esperanza Rising.
How old were you when your first book was published?
My first book was published in 1983, so I was 28.
My daughter and I belong to a mother-daughter book club (for girls in grade 4–6). Would you recommend this book for the book club?
Absolutely, Main Street would be just right for grades 4–6.
Do you have any advice to kids that want to become authors?
Yes, I have a couple pieces of advice. One is to become familiar with all different forms of writing (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, journalism, etc.). The other is to keep a writing journal, which is just good writing practice — a journal is a fabulous source for story ideas.
Have you ever had writer's block?
I don't have writer's block very often, because I always outline before I start writing a manuscript. When I have an outline, I know where the story is going, so I don't get stuck that often.
I just finished reading Main Street and really enjoyed it. When are the next books coming out?
Thanks! I'm very glad you enjoyed it. The second book will be out in August, the third will be in October, and the next will be in spring of 2008. I’m not sure which month yet.
What was the first book you published?
The very first book was Bummer Summer in 1983.
Will you be writing Main Street as long as you wrote The Baby-sitters Club?
No, I know for sure I won't be. Unlike in the BSC, where the characters didn't age (they were always 13!), in Main Street the characters are going to age and grow. The time they reach high school seems like a natural end to the story.
Have you always been an author? If not, what was the craziest job you ever held?
Not always, but I haven't really held any "crazy" jobs. I've taught, and I've worked with kids who have autism. I did a lot of baby-sitting when I was younger. But I'm afraid there wasn't anything crazy.
How do you feel seeing your name in print?
It's very exciting! It's very rewarding to know I worked on a project and that it's completed and published, so it's very exciting.
What was your favorite subject in school?
I have a couple of favorite subjects, mostly with languages. I liked English class, writing classes, and I really enjoyed foreign language classes like Spanish and French.
Are there any similarities between BSC and Main Street?
There are some — like the BSC, the Main Street characters are girls, but a bit younger. There are a lot of other strong characters in Main Street that are boys and adults. Both series have a big cast — I think the setting of Main Street is much more important to the series than Stoneybrook is to BSC. But both series have stories centering on family and friendship.
Do you do all your writing on a computer, or do you use pen and paper too?
I use both. When I start, I make all of my notes by hand. I think better when I just scribble the notes down. When I write the outline and the manuscript, I do that on my computer. I do all my editing by hand, on the printed-out pages.
What is your favorite animal?
I can never choose just one! I like cats and dogs equally, so I guess they are both my favorites.
Who is your favorite character out of all the books you've written?
I can never choose one favorite! I really like Hattie and Adam in A Corner of the Universe, and Karen from BSC Little Sister was a lot of fun to write about, along with Ruby from Main Street. I very much liked Ellie in Here Today, but I can't really pick a favorite.
In Main Street there's a character Flora and Ruby call Scary Mary. Why is she so mean?
She's actually not mean! The kids in town think she is because she's a bit strange and reclusive. Not until Flora gets to know her better do they realize she's not scary at all, she just very shy.
Is Min's character in Main Street based on anyone you know?
No, she's not, but she's named after the grandmother of somebody I know. (They also called her Min, short for "in a minute!") But her character is made up.
Did you ever start a book and not finish it?
Mostly, no. That's because I always outline first, so if I don't have a good outline at first I won't continue the book. I think once there was one book in the Little Sister series where I got partway but couldn't finish! But that's usually what the outline prevents.
In the past you've collaborated with other authors. How does the writing process differ?
It really depends on who I’m writing with. When I was working with Paula Danzinger, since it was in the format of letters, we didn't have to change our writing style much. She gave me inspiration to write with more freedom. Working with Laura Godwin, that was a different writing experience, and I had never worked on fantasy before, so I learned about writing with a new genre.
Are you currently working on any sewing projects? If I wanted to get started in sewing, what is something easy for me to begin with?
Yes, I'm always working on something! Right now I'm working on coordinating outfits for my friend that is having twins, so I'm coordinating a little girl outfit and a little boy outfit. For an easy project to start with, I think there are a lot of sewing patterns for kids to learn to sew. An easy one to start off with would be a pattern for shorts or a skirt. Or something a little easier than would be a pillow — but with a pattern you'll have instructions to give you a hand.
If you could have dinner with any other author (current or past), who would it be?
My heavens! That's a hard one. Wow, I would have to love dinner with Harper Lee, who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. If I couldn't do that, I'd like to have dinner with Stephen King. To Kill a Mockingbird is my all-time favorite book, but I've always liked Stephen King's books and scary stories, so I'd love to meet him sometime.
Which store would you like to own on Main Street?
Definitely Needle and Thread, the sewing store!
How difficult was it to get your first book published?
For me, it wasn't very difficult to find a publisher, but it took about three years to write the book. I was very lucky — I was working in children's publishing at the time and I knew about the different companies and agents. Making the story publishable took a long time though!
How did you come up with the idea of row houses that all connect on the top floors? That's such a cool idea. Do houses like that really exist?
The row houses are eight attached houses, and there are probably a lot throughout the country and world. I included them in Main Street because my mother grew up in row houses like that. When she was growing up, she and her friends thought that the attics were all connected, but I think that was an urban myth. Of course, that didn't stop them from always looking for that secret door!
Where did the name King Comma come from?
I volunteer as a foster caregiver for stray cats, so there's usually at least one foster cat in my home. A few years ago, a couple came to adopt a black kitty with a white mark on his forehead. They named it King Comma, and I thought it was a great name and wanted to use it in a book.
Would you ever write another book in the BSC series?
I don't have any plans to write another book in the BSC series, but if the editors asked for one and we thought of a great idea, I think I could write one more. But I don't think the series could continue beyond that.
Have any of your books been made into movies?
The BSC was made into a movie and also had 13 episodes for television.
Ann M. Martin: Thanks so much for writing in your questions and I'm glad you're enjoying Main Street!