Ellen Levine Interview Transcript
The author provided these questions and answers for Scholastic Network students.
Where do you get your ideas?
Ideas are funny, slippery things. You never quite know where they come from. Sometimes I can be doing nothing, or so I think, and suddenly a thought pops into my head. Other times I'll be reading something and my mind wanders and suddenly I realize I'm thinking about something interesting. Sometimes ideas come up when I'm talking with friends, reading a newspaper, or looking at a picture of something. You just never know when an idea will leap up. What you have to learn is how to grab onto it and hang on wherever it takes you.
How long does it take you to write a book?
It's hard to say actually how long it takes to write a book. Each book is different. It took me about a month to write I Hate English!, but I had worked with Chinese kids for several years. The ideas were floating around in my head over the years. Is that part of the work? I think it is, but it's not the same kind of time as sitting down and writing. A book I wrote called Freedom's Children took me more than a year. Different times for different books.
Do you ever get bored writing?
Not bored, but sometimes lonely. Writing is not a team sport. You work at it by yourself. What's interesting is that most of the time, you're not actually “lonely” because you're “living” whatever you're writing about. Also, if you interview people to get information for what you're writing, it can be fascinating. When I wrote about veterinarians, for instance, I spent lots of time with the head vet at the New York Zoological Society (the Bronx Zoo). He took me all around and showed me places you never get to see when you're just a visitor at the zoo. I watched operations on animals, looked through microscopes, and fed a wild baby black buck with a milk bottle. And believe me — I wasn't lonely or bored during that book.
What advice would you give to young writers?
The only thing I will say is that you'll be a better writer if you read. In fact, I'd say don't even think about writing. Just read. Almost as if you're swallowing books whole. As a kid, I would go through the library shelves and just take down books when the titles interested me. I'd start to read. And if I found myself past page one, I often read a lot more in that book. Maybe even finished it. Actually, I still like to do this in the library.
Some people think that you should read only the books for your grade level. Do you agree?
That, I think, is one of the silliest ideas going around. I love to read good picture books, that is, books that are supposedly for really young kids. And when I was a kid I also liked to read what were called “grown-up” books at the same time that I read books supposedly “right” for my age. So, stuff and nonsense I say! Read whatever sinks hooks into your mind. . . or tickles your funnybone.
Where do you do your writing?
Mostly in my house, but sometimes at the library, or on airplanes, trains, subways, or buses. Often I write on my computer, but sometimes on pads, backs of envelopes, or whatever is handy.