On September 21, 2005, beloved author Eve Bunting participated in a chat with Scholastic students and teachers.
Q: How do you come up with your amazing ideas for your books?
A: I read a lot, and usually I see something that interests me in the paper or a magazine. Or someone tells me something that sparks an idea. I make a little note of it in my head and then I start thinking about it. I think about it for a long time and eventually I write it down. It's a slow process.
Q: How many stories have you written?
A: I have written about 240 books and some short stories, too. It's taken me many years.
Q: Are any of your books autobiographical?
A: Yes, I have two books that are about me: one of them I wrote and the other one was written about me. One of my books, which is called Spying on Miss Muller, is really about me even though it's a novel. My autobiography is called Once Upon a Time.
Q: How do you come up with your titles?
A: Titles are very hard. Sometimes a title comes before I start to write the book, but often I finish the book and I still don't have a title. I have to go through the book again and then sometimes I hope a title jumps out at me from what I've written. I have thrown it upon the editor to come up with a title for me and then we will talk about it and come up with a decision.
Q: Do you write every day? What's your writing schedule?
A: I write every day. I don't have a writing schedule. I write when I feel like it. Fortunately I feel like it all the time. I am writing for hours. I do like to write in the morning. I start after breakfast, like 9 o'clock, and I'll write till lunch about 1. And after lunch, I just have fun.
Q: Where do you write your stories?
A: I write at a desk. I have a room of my own where I can have my computer. I write in there, usually directly onto my computer. It used to be the room where my two sons used to sleep with the dog and the cat, but now it's all mine. It has pictures of art from my books on the walls.
Q: Are you working on any books right now?
A: I have just finished a book which is an alphabet book called Ireland. It's like, "B is for Blarney Stone" and "L is for Leprechaun." And I haven't started another yet. I just finished the book yesterday, and I need a break. I'll probably take a couple of days break.
Q: How old were you when you starting writing?
A: I was in my 30s, about 36. I went to a writing class after my children didn't need me any more, and that was the beginning for me.
Q: Mrs. Zuber's class would like to know what it is that makes you love writing as much as you do and what advice can you give us about writing great stories.
A: Partly I think because I am Irish and was brought up on storytelling, so I love to tell stories, and my way of telling stories is to write them down. I would tell you to read a lot and become excited about books and become excited about something in your own lives — it doesn't need to be something incredible, but something like your cat, your dog, your grandmother — and write about it and have fun. Enjoy it. Don't let anybody see it if you don't want to. That's important.
Q: Why do you write so many books? Do you plan to retire?
A: No, I hope never to retire. I write so many because it's the thing I like to do most — to write. And if you write every day, you just naturally get a lot of books.
Q: How old were you when you first had a book published?
A: I was probably about 40.
Q: David B. from KC would like to know how you get so many books published. Is it hard?
A: It's hard to get even one book published. I am fortunate in that I've been writing for such a long time that I know a lot of the editors and I can talk to them about my work and see if they are interested in something before I write it. Even if they aren't interested, I will write it anyway. I always feel like another editor may be interested.
Q: Arionna from KC wants to know if you have any favorite illustrators. It must be great to work with so many!
A: I have been lucky because I have had such wonderful illustrators. In the beginning, when I began to write, I had to take whatever illustrator the publisher gave me. Now I can ask for any illustrator I want. I can't just pick a favorite because they have different styles that fit different books, and I am happy with so many of them.
Q: From Tuolumne School in Modesto, California: Do you get to meet the artists who draw the pictures for your books?
A: I usually get to meet them after the book is finished. Some of them, I've had more than once, so therefore I know them before they start the second or third book. But if it's a new artist, no, I don't get to meet them. People think it's a corroboration, but it's not; we work separately. It's pretty much separate paths all the way until the book is finished.
Q: How long does it take to write a story for a picture book? How long for a novel?
A: A picture book is shorter, so it takes less time. And also the thinking time is shorter for a picture book because it is not so complicated. I once wrote a picture book called The Wall that took me three years of thinking time and one week of writing time. So it's hard to judge. With a novel, it takes much longer than the usual picture book. I would say it takes me about eight months to write a novel — thinking and writing.
Q: Mrs. Bell's class wants to know what it is like being an author. Was it exciting to see your first book?
A: It was so exciting to see my first book. I jumped up and down, ran around my house waving it over my head, saying "I'm a published author." But every book is exciting for me. I love being an author. I love actual writing, and I love communicating with children. And it keeps me young.
Q: What is your favorite book that you have written?
A: That's a hard question because it's like asking me which is my favorite child. Probably the one called Spying on Miss Muller because it was about me. It was my young life in a boarding school in Ireland. My mother and father and all my friends were in the book.
Q: Do you have a favorite book or author that inspires you? From Missouri
A: When I started to write I loved the books of Cynthia Rylant and Betsy Byars. I loved The Summer of the Swans, and I like to write how those two authors wrote. I haven't quite managed it yet.
Q: Mrs. Black's class would like to know: what was your favorite book when you were a child?
A: Anne of Green Gables. I still love that book.
Q: What strategies do you use in your writing?
A: I don't think I have any actual strategies because I write so many different kinds of books, but I always make sure I have strong feelings about what I am going to write, that it moves me in some way. Otherwise I won't even start it. I suppose you could say that one strategy is that I like to write simply.
Q: CJ would like to know if you spend a lot of time chatting with students and visiting schools to talk about your books and being an author.
A: I used to do that a lot, but then as I got older my energy level dropped, and now I don't go to schools anymore to speak. I do answer letters, and what I like to do now is talk to teachers at conferences and tell them what I want them to tell their students about me.
Q: When you go on a trip, do you write about what you see and do? From Long Island, NY
A: Yes, I often do that. I make a story from what I see and do. For instance, I wrote a book called Black Water, which came about after I made a trip to Niagara Falls. The guide showed me a stretch of river with a rock in the middle where kids swam out and often got in trouble with the current in the river. So I wrote my book Black Water about a boy and a girl and that happens to them.
Q: Roma TX, wants to know how do you feel when you're writing books. For instance, how did you feel when you wrote Smoky Night?
A: When I wrote Smoky Night I was very sad because of what was happening. I wrote that book two to three days after the riots in Los Angeles, and my heart was full of grief for the people involved in it and for the city. I always have strong feelings when I'm writing a book. Sometimes when I'm writing a book, I even cry when I'm writing. Once I read a quotation that I thought was very true for me, which is: "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader."
Q: Why did you come up with the cats in the book Smoky Night?
A: I was thinking about a parallel that I could make between the people and something else, and I thought about a cat. I could have made it a dog, but somehow I made it a cat. (laughing) I don't know why. Sometimes ideas just come and you don't know exactly where they came from. It's a mystery.
Q: What were you feeling when you wrote Market Day?
A: I was feeling happy when I wrote Market Day because that was the market day that I lived in the little town in Ireland. So when I wrote it, I felt like I was back there again, seeing all the market and sharing the market day excitement.
Q: What inspired you to write The Wall? From Mrs. Trascoy's class
A: I wrote The Wall just after that monument was erected. I had not actually been to Washington, D.C. myself, but I had seen magazine photographs of people leaving memorabilia and touching the wall and crying. And it made me think how terrible it is for those left behind to mourn. After The Wall was published, I took it to the wall. I made pilgrimage and left it behind with the rest of the memorabilia.
Q: Aubrey would like to know if you have someone close to you on the Wall that we should remember.
A: I do not have anyone close to me. My own children were too young to be in that war, and of course most of my relatives were in Ireland at the time. But I can still understand how awful it was for the young men and women who went and gave their lives.
Q: In the book The Blue and Gray, why did you choose to write about the Civil War?
A: I did not do American History when I was in school in Ireland, so when a friend went to visit the fields around Gettysburg, she brought me back a bullet that she had bought in a souvenir shop. I held it in my hand and began to wonder about the Civil War. Then I discovered that a lot of the Civil War sites were being built on. Houses were being built on them. I thought it was a tragedy to lose those historical sites, and so the idea for The Blue and The Gray came to me.
Q: What kinds of primary sources do you use that others would have access to?
A: The best thing to do is to go there, talk to the person who is involved in your story, see and smell and touch the atmosphere where your story will be set. But for research — and I had to do a lot for The Blue and The Gray and the Irish book — I go to books. When I did the Ireland book, we had 42 books on Ireland, so I had my primary sources on Ireland right there. Otherwise, I would go to the library.
Q: How did you get your idea for the book Ducky? It has been a favorite book, and our class parakeet is named after Ducky.
A: I read an article in the newspaper about a cargo of little rubber ducks and frogs and fish that were coming on a crate and the crate was washed overboard and sank, and all the ducks and frogs popped up. Then I read that one little duck had washed up on shore far away, and that story of that one little duck just grabbed me. The whole story of Ducky was already there for me; all I had to do was rewrite it.
Q: Do you have kids or grandkids? Do they like your books? Do you read to them?
A: I have three kids who are all grown up, and I have five grandchildren. One of them, my grandson, is just 2 years old, and he loves to be read to. He already knows some of my books by heart.
Q: How can I become a better writer?
A: You can practice: keep a journal, write short stories for fun, write your experiences out — even if they are embarrassing and you just keep them for yourself, know that they are private. And, of course, you can read a lot. Read, read, read.
Q: We love visiting author websites in our eMINTS room in NKC. Is there an evebunting.com site in the future?
A: I am afraid there is not. Eve Bunting is not very computer literate, but many of my publishers have mini websites about me.
Q: We're almost out of time. Ms. Bunting, is there anything that you would like to add?
A: It's been such a great pleasure to talk with all of you. Thank you for wanting to talk to me and wanting to read my books. This is such a neat way to talk to you. Thanks again.