Ignite your students' love of reading with an Ann M. Martin Author Study and introduce them to the tween-pleasing The Baby-sitters Club and Main Street series, plus her stand-alone novels including A Dog's Life, and the Newbery Honor-winning A Corner of the Universe.
Ann M. Martin Interview Transcript
On October 26, 2005, author Ann M. Martin participated in a conversation with Scholastic students and teachers. Martin's books include A Corner of the Universe, Belle Teal, and A Dog's Life.
Where do you get your ideas for stories from? Are they based on real life experiences or from just your imagination? Do you ask for help in forming these ideas?
Story ideas can come from lots of different places. Most of my books are based on actual experiences. Some of them, such as The Doll People, are entirely made up. But I would say that almost all of them are at least partly imaginary. For instance, A Dog's Life is based on somewhat on my own dogs and on stray dogs that I've known, but most of the incidents in the book were made up. I don't ask for help in forming the ideas, but when I collaborate with another author, we can bounce ideas back and forth. When I work on my own, I don't ask for help, but sometimes I do research.
Of all of the characters in all of your books, who is your favorite?
Oh boy, I'll have a very hard time choosing one favorite. I would say I'm alike a lot of my characters, like Mary Ann in the Baby-sitters Club, and Hattie in A Corner of the Universe, and Elizabeth from the two books with Paula Danziger. I'm fond of Squirrel from A Dog's Life, and Annabelle from The Doll People books, but I don't think I could choose one favorite.
What book that you've written has brought you the most satisfaction when you've completed it?
I feel a great sense of satisfaction when I finish any book, but probably the greatest when I finished A Corner of the Universe. That was because the book was very personal to me, and I felt as though I had worked out some family issues when I had finished.
When you started writing A Dog's Life did you know what was going to happen in the end, or did you come up with the story as you wrote it?
That's a good question because it applies to every book that I write. I do know what's going to happen when I write a book. I write from a very detailed outline when I start writing a book, and that way I always know at least generally where the story is going to go when I start writing it. Not every author works that way, but that's what works best for me.
Are you working on any new books right now?
Yes, Laura Godwin and I are just about to start the third Doll People book, and I'm starting a new series for Scholastic called Main Street.
Do you think you will write other books about animals? How long does it usually take you to write most of your books?
I might! I love writing about animals. At the moment I'm tied up thinking about the series, but already kids have suggested that I write a story about Squirrel's brother. That's a good question. It really depends on the book. Usually I like to have at least a year to work on a book, but some books are harder to than others to write. It took Laura Godwin and I about five years to write the first Doll People book. The Baby-sitter's Club books came out once a month, so I had just a month to work on each of them.
What will Main Street be about?
Main Street is the story of four girls who live in a small town in Massachusetts. Their grandmothers run a sewing store in town, and the books are about small towns, community, and friendship.
Have you ever thought of writing any more BSC books, like a reunion book or when they're in high school?
I have thought about it, but at the moment there are no plans for any more BSC books. But, starting next spring, some of the books are going to be published as graphic novels.
Many people would say you have forever become immortal from your work on the Baby-Sitters Club. What would you say your greatest achievement is?
I guess I'm very proud of the fact that I've written books that appeal to so many kids, and I feel very happy when I get letters from kids who say that read my books have turned them into readers.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Princeton, New Jersey.
Do your kids ever help you come up with ideas for your book?
Oh, I don't have any kids, but sometimes when I meet kids at a school or a book signing, they'll give me suggestions for books.
Who is your favorite author?
Once again, I can't choose one favorite! When I was young, some of my favorites were Hugh Lofting, P.L. Travers, L. Frank Baum, Marguerite Henry, E.B. White, and some of my favorite adult writers are Elizabeth Berg and Oliver Sacks.
Did you always know you wanted to be an author?
I always enjoyed writing and telling stories, even when I was very young, but I didn't start to think seriously about becoming a writer until I was in college.
How long have you been writing books?
My first book was published in 1983, and I'd been working on it for about 3 years, so I'd say total about 25 years.
What do you like to do when you are not writing books?
My favorite thing when I'm not writing is to sew. I like sewing and needlework, and I love making greeting cards.
Where and when do you usually write?
I can write anywhere, as long as it's very quiet. I usually write in the mornings, and then do other kinds of work in the afternoon.
Do you like the Harry Potter series?
I've only read the first Harry Potter book and I loved it, but I haven't read the others yet.
What are some of your favorite children's books?
The Dr. Dolittle books, the Mary Poppins books, the Wizard of Oz books, horse stories, Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little, and Mr. Popper's Penguins.
Back in the early nineties there was a television adaptation of the Baby-Sitters Club. Were you involved with writing on the show, or were you consulted at all?
Yes, I was consulted on the scripts for the shows, and I was somewhat involved in casting. I didn't write the scripts though, I just approved them.
When you retired the Baby-Sitters Club, did you also retire the spin off series California Dreams?
Yes, by that time there were five related series, and they all ended at the same time.
Did you visit the place the BSC went on the super special trips, like Hawaii?
I wish I had been to Hawaii! I think the only place I visited where the girls went was Disneyworld, and New York, because I lived there when I wrote the book! The Hawaii super special was written by the other Baby-Sitters Club author, and he had been to Hawaii. I try not to write about places that I've never been before.
Was there ever a plan to give Shannon Kilbourne more narrative books other than Shannon's Story?
I think there was, I think she and Logan each got their books and that was it.
How did you think of the name Squirrel for the main character's name in A Dog's Life?
Early on in the story, the narrator (Squirrel) says that mother dogs name their puppies after things that are important to them. If you've ever had a dog, you'll know how important squirrels are!
Where is Lindenfield in A Dog's Life?
Lindenfield is a made-up place, but it's supposed to be somewhere in New England, the Northeast.
Was it difficult for you to think about how a dog would think in A Dog's Life?
I had a little trouble finding a voice for Squirrel, the most difficult thing was figuring out a realistic way to understand human language so that supposedly she could be telling her own story. I needed this to be realistic at the same time while giving her realistic dog qualities. That was the most complicated part.
How many pets do you have and do you have a favorite?
I have three cats and a dog, and I do have soft spot for Sadie, my dog — but I don't really have a favorite.
Do more people recognize your name as the writer of the Baby-Sitters Club, or as the author of your many other books?
Gosh, I don't really know — first of all, I don't think my name is all that recognizable, since it's so plain! I would say now my name is more known for the books that have been published since the Baby-Sitters Club ended.
What was the series The Kids in Mrs. Coleman's Class about?
The Kids in Ms. Coleman's Class was a younger series that was set in the second-grade classroom of Karen Brewer, who is the main character in the Little Sister series. Each story in the series was told from the point of view from a student in the class.
How old were you when you had your first book published?
I was 28 when my first book came out.
Do authors have a good pay?
(laughs) Authors get paid with royalties. A royalty is a percentage of the price of the book. Usually the author gets 10% of each hardcover book that's sold, so if a hardcover book costs $15, the author gets $1.50 for each copy of the book itself. So if the book sells very, very well, the author earns more money, and if a few copies of the book sell, the author does not earn very much money.
How old were you when you first recognized your love for writing?
Gosh, probably by second or third grade, when I was 7 or 8, and I was lucky to have a number of good writing teachers when I was growing up.
Are there any other authors you would like to work with?
There are so many wonderful authors! I hadn't thought about collaborating with anyone else, but among the authors that I admire are Karen Hesse, Pam Ryan, David Levithan, James Howe, and Brian Selznick.
Do you write your books by hand or with the computer?
I used to write everything by hand, and now I compose at the computer. But I'm more comfortable editing on paper.
Do you ever get writer's block?
Sometimes, but I learned a good trick for overcoming writer's block. First of all, having an outline helps prevent writer's block. But if I really get stuck, I stop in the middle of the sentence, put the manuscript away, and don't look at it until the next day. Then the first thing I have to do is finish that sentence and that's usually enough to get me going again.
What age group do you enjoy writing for the most?
I would say that the age group that comes most naturally to me is about ages 7–12.
Are you always happy with your stories when you are done with them? Has there ever been one that you wish you could change?
I usually keep editing until I'm happy with something. Some stories need a lot more editing than others. I also never start working with an outline that's already been approved by my editor.
Has anyone ever wanted to ban any of your books? Why are you so interested in the subject?
I don't think any of my books have ever been challenged, but I'm interested in the subject because I believe in freedom of speech, and I believe published books have a right to be on school bookshelves. Parents should help children decide which books should be read. Just because one kid isn't ready for a book, doesn't mean everyone else should be deprived of it.
Where you worried when you exposed the fact that some BSC members where dating that it would pressure or encourage readers to date?
No, I wasn't worried — the dates they were on were like "Dating-Lite". There was a fair amount of parental supervision and the kids were too young to drive, so their parents had to drive them wherever they were going. And of course, school dances were chaperoned. Also, not all of the members of the BSC wanted to date, and that was fine too.
Who was the funnest BSC member to write about?
I think Kristy was the most fun to write about, because she was my alter-ego. Kristy was outgoing and had big ideas, and sometimes her mouth got her in trouble and I always wished I could be freer like Kristy was. And Karen Brewer too, for that matter.
How many books do you have published now?
I really should count them up some time! I think there were about 250 BSC books and other series, and other than that about 20.
Why do you think the BSC was such a success?
I never really did know why — I think because they were stories of friendship, and this particular group of girls was very different from one another. They had different sets of problems, different home lives, different families, but they got along well together and worked well as a group. I think also because there were so many characters and they were so different, most readers could find at least one character with whom they could identify.
Will you write to an older audience soon?
I don't have any plans for older books now, but it's not something I would discount. It seems that every time I have an idea for a new book, it's for middle-grade readers.
What is it about writing that gives you such a desire to do it?
I love writing because I can use my imagination. I can think creatively, and do creative problem solving. I especially like creating characters.
Do you visit many places to talk about your books?
A lot of the books have been set in places that are already familiar to me. I live in upstate New York, and a lot of the places that appear in A Dog's Life are places I see around here or Connecticut. A lot of the other books have simply been set in small towns and I think I have Princeton, New Jersey, in the back of my head when I write about those towns. I would able to write about a brand-new place that I'd never visited.
Is there any topic in particular that you really want to write about?
I've written a couple of books that involves the subject of Alzheimer's and mental illness, and those are subjects that I might want to go back to sometime.
Have you read or watched The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants? Did you like it, since it's a story about friendship like the BSC?
Actually, I have not read the book, but I keep hearing wonderful things about it and I would like to. I think it's a great idea.
Do you have any advice for an author that is just starting out?
There are a couple things I can suggest — one is to keep a journal. Not so much for writing practice, which it also is. Journals are great places for story ideas. The greatest complaints I hear from kids about writing is they don't know what to write about, so a journal is a good source. The other thing is to be an eclectic reader. Read all forms of writing — poetry, journalism, fiction, non-fiction. When you become familiar with reading different forms of writing, you become a better writer.