Norma Fox Mazer Interview Transcript
How do you get your ideas for your stories? What point in your life did you know you wanted to be a writer, and did anyone inspire you to be a writer? Do any of the characters in your books resemble your personality? In what ways?
Ideas come in every possible way you could imagine. I've had ideas come to me from dreams, from memories, conversations, news articles, letters, and certainly from plain old garden variety daydreams or fantasies.
Sometimes an idea hits me between the eyes — it's just THERE waiting for me, and believe me I take it and run! Sometimes I work at getting an idea. I think of one after another and probably lots of them are okay, but I'm looking for the one that speaks to me, that makes me feel, that lets me know I have something to say through it.
I've known since I was thirteen years old that I wanted to be a writer above all else. And right then, too, I found out that I could write all kinds of things, although, of course, I didn't have the skills for telling stories that I have now. The odd thing is that before that, in grade school, I was not an especially good writer.
Rachel in After the Rain is like me in her desire to be a writer. Sarabeth in Silver is like me, too, sort of on the quiet side, but with a stubborn or strong streak. Then there's Jenny who's in two books — A Figure of Speech and When We First Met. I have a feeling Jenny is a lot like me, very emotional. And it's not just the female characters I feel close to. I feel the same way about Pete in Downtown and Cal in C, My Name is Cal. Those guys are a little on the shy side and I definitely identify with that!
How did you decide to become an author? What did you have to do to become an author? Are your characters based on real people? How long have you been an author and how long do you think you'll be writing for?
I didn't decide so much as find that something had turned my heart into a writer's heart. It was like being in love, an overwhelming feeling. But to turn that feeling into something else --that is, to turn me into an author -- I had to write. And write. And write. I wrote consistently and doggedly for years. Really, I had to do what everyone has to do to master anything in this world — which is to work, to keep at it, not give up, believe in myself, and believe that what I wanted so much — to be a real writer — was possible.
I almost always start writing with real people in mind; it helps me describe my characters physically and emotionally. But a fictional character is NOT a real person. They are very distinctly different. The fictional character lives only inside the arms of the story and can never change; a real person has always the possibility of growth and change.
I have been publishing books for 25 years. Whew! That is a long time, but yet it's not long enough for me. I have so many stories I still want to tell that my dearest wish for myself is to write always, until the end of my life.
Did you have anything that inspire you? Why did they inspire you? Did you always want to be an author? If not, what would you want to be? Do you like writing books and why?
Inspiration is a funny word — sometimes people think of it as a one time thing — booooom! like a bolt of lightning. If anything “inspired” me, I think it was that I came from a family of readers. We all read all the time, so I absorbed a lot of stuff about writing without ever even half trying. And then the other thing that was probably really wonderful for me was my mother's ability to tell a story. She was a wonderful story teller! She really knew how to exaggerate and build up the tension in a story!
Once I wanted to be a nurse. Another time, an explorer. And I toyed around with the idea of being a teacher. But after I turned 13, I never ever wanted to be anything but a writer.
I don't like writing books, I LOVE writing books. I can't exactly tell you why. It's just that writing and words and stories are the things that thrill and excite me in life, just as music does it for some people and sports for others.
We are a group of dedicated elementary and middle school teachers, who are fans of your work. When can we anticipate some new work? Will you be making personal appearances in the near future?
Thanks for the opportunity to interact with you.
It's wonderful to hear from you. I am a big fan of teachers who, I think, do heroic work. I didn't have any new books this year, although Missing Pieces came out in paper in April. Next year, I'll have two books published in the fall, one from Scholastic and one from Harcourt Brace.
The Scholastic novel is called Earthly Comfort, and it's for older young adults, although mature younger ones can and probably will read it. It's gritty and real, and may be the best thing I've ever written. It's the story of Em, who grows up in a family that's barely hanging on. When her beloved mother dies and her father remarries, Em is left to the not tender mercies of her emotionally disturbed and increasingly abusive older sister.
The other novel is called Goodnight, Maman and, in a way, has been in the making for most of my life. Not that I knew I wanted to tell this particular story, but for the first time I've been able to write about something that has been a kind of rock bottom base of my sense of life, the Holocaust of the Jews in World War II. My novel is a tiny tiny piece of the Holocaust story, built on a moment in our own country's history when, in 1944, under President Roosevelt, for the only time during that war we officially accepted refugees into this country. Out of millions, 987 souls.
Among them, I place Karin and Marc, French Jewish sister and brother, whose father has been murdered by the Nazis and who have become separated from their mother. While I was writing I also read a number of survivors' books and I felt again the terror and the confusion I experienced as a child knowing about the genocide of the Jews of Europe, from whom I and all my family came. When you read it next year, if you let me know how you feel about it, it will mean a lot to me.
Okay. Deep breath. As to personal appearances, do you mean in schools? I do some of that every year when I'm invited. I find it exciting and exhausting in about equal parts. Probably spending days in schools as an adult is what has given me my respect for teachers. I know I always go away muttering, How do they do it?!
And finally, thank YOU for the opportunity to talk with you. I love it! Norma
Hello Mrs. Mazer,
My friends and I enjoyed Out of Control. I think it is an effective novel for today. Is the situation from a real happening you knew about?
Marcy and Sparta Junior High School class
The idea for Out Of Control was sparked by a real situation in a school I was visiting. There was an incident I was unaware of until the librarian told me at the end of the day. Three or four boys grabbed a girl out of gym class & assaulted her. I'm not sure if assault is really the right word to use. They didn't beat her up, but they touched her sexually and inappropriately and without permission and against her will. When the librarian, who was driving me to my motel, told me about this, she was extremely upset, for the girl, first, but also for her school and for the teaching staff.
She was worried parents would think the school was negligent and that they hadn't protected the girl. She was worried they'd have bad publicity. I was listening to this and sympathizing, also a little surprised about all the ramifications, which I wouldn't have thought of myself. I wasn't thinking of writing a book. Then she said, “And you know what, this whole thing happened in less than thirty seconds.”
That remark electrified me. I scribbled in my notebook, “Thirty seconds that changed the world,” and I knew I was going to write a book, that I HAD to write this story that would tell how quickly lives could be changed when someone acted in a careless or uncaring or thoughtless or stupid and aggressive way toward another person. Yes, the story is about sexual harassment, and I'm glad it is, but I also think it's about a whole attitude toward life.
What gave you the idea for the book, Silver? Did what happened to Silver, being in the position about knowing what Patty was going through, happen to you? I really liked this book. I thought it was written very realistically and I think a lot of good writing comes from real life experiences.
The idea for Silver began with a friend telling me about a PJ party her daughter went to, where one of the girls came in with a broken arm. This girl had been through bad stuff, but hadn't told her mother. I thought, “I want to write about that! I want to say that there's always someone around you can talk to. I want girls to know that.” So that was the germ of the idea.
No, I was never in Sarabeth's position of knowing something horrible was happening to a friend, but part of being a fiction writer is the ability to imagine what you might not have known yourself. I'm very glad you liked it.
What inspired you to write Out of Control?
I was visiting a school, talking to kids, and sometime during that day, there was an incident. Some boys grabbed a girl out of the gym and assaulted or harassed her. They touched her sexually and inappropriately. It wasn't quite clear what had happened, but it wasn't good. The librarian who told me about it was upset for the girl and for the school, and there were a lot of questions around it. I was sympathetic, but not thinking about writing a book until she said, “And you know it all happened in less than thirty seconds.” That electrified me. The idea of life changing — for better or worse — in thirty seconds! I took the little notebook I always carry and scribbled “30 sec. that changed the world.” And I knew I would write a book around that idea.
I'm twelve and I didn't fully understand Bright Days, Stupid Nights. Was it intended for children my age?
I wonder if you enjoyed parts of Bright Days, Stupid Nights even though you didn't fully get it? Did you like it enough to think you might want to read it again next year or the year after? We were out to write an interesting book about a group of young people who had wants, needs, desires, and problems. [Like everyone!] I think we imagined that kids from ages 13 on would want to read it, but that doesn't mean a whole lot. Reading is so individual. I can pick up a book intended for little little kids and love reading it or be bored by something intended for my age. When I was growing up, I'd read almost anything and lots of times I didn't fully understand what I was reading, but I still kept reading everything, just because I loved reading so much.
Did you and Harry like writing Heart-Beat? How did you guys do it together? Was it hard?
Harry and I liked writing Heart-Beat a lot. We knew we had a good story, and it was satisfying to develop the characters. We did it together the way we've done our other two joint books, The Solid Gold Kid and Bright Days, Stupid Nights. First, we talked out the story for a long time, over a period of a week or more. We also talked about the characters as much as possible, but a lot of character development and refinement takes place during the writing, so that was more problematic. Then Harry wrote the first draft, put as much as he could into it, and gave it to me. I rewrote it, adding material, and then we started working on it together. That's when it got a bit hairy. It's hard for two writers to work together, especially when their styles are as different as ours.
And now to all who posted here to me, thanks. I enjoyed answering your questions.