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FIVE ON FRIDAY with Lea Wait

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Maine author Lea Wait is this week’s FIVE ON FRIDAY guest. Author of children’s books like Finest Kind as well as mystery novels for adults.

Visit Lea at her website leawait.com.

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1. When did you know that you first wanted to be a writer/illustrator?

When I was in second grade. I had just learned to read by myself, and I decided I would read every book in my school’s library. At every moment I could, I hid out there, starting, as I recall, with the shelf (a whole shelf!) of books on dinosaurs. About the seventh time my teacher had to search for me and bring me back to my classroom she took me by the hand, looked down at me sternly, and said, the memorable words, “Lea, when you grow up you can be a writer. You can spend all your time in a library. But you have to finish second grade first!” From that moment on I knew. I was going to be a writer.

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2. What book or writer/artist do you feel influenced you the most?

I have to answer this question in two ways. The book that most influenced my life was the classic, Little Women. I read that book literally dozens of times as a child. It was my escape; my comfort food. The way my world should have been. I wanted the March family to have been my family. In the book, as most readers remember, Jo wanted to be a writer, and when she grew up she wrote stories, and married Professor Bauer and they filled their home (which they called a school) with homeless boys. Well, I grew up and became a writer, and adopted four homeless girls, ages 8-10. I didn’t realize the connection until after I had done that! As a writer, I have to say Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan, is one of the most perfect books I have ever read.

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3. What book or books are you currently reading or have recently read that you’d recommend to others?

Oh — these are hard questions! A picture book by Doreer Rappaport: Eleanor, Quiet No More, about Eleanor Roosevelt. Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains. Cynthia Lord’s Rules. Stephanie Tolan’s Surving the Applewhites. Patricia McCormick’s Sold. Anything by Richard Peck — I went back and read his early books, too. I write for adults as well as for children, but I believe some of the very best literature being written today is written for young people.

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4. If you could offer one piece of advice to aspiring writers (or illustrators), what would it be?

Read. Keep reading. Read everything you can for the age group you want to write for. And don’t just read the classics. Check The Horn Book and Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal and Kirkus for the latest reviews and read what is being published now. And before you submit anything you’ve written, find a critique group and listen to what people who are not your best friend or your spouse or your children have to say about your manuscript.

Publishing is a business; if you want to publish, you have to be able to distance yourself from your manuscript, and critique groups help you to do that, and point out ways you can polish and improve your work before you send it out into the world.

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5. Can you share with us your next project or any information about the next book you’re working on?

I’ve just finished a book about a brother and sister, new immigrants from Scotland, who are caught up in the American Revolution in 1777. Although my historical novels have always featured fictional protagonists and real minor characters and settings, this is the first book in which I’ve taken on major events in American history, and therefore had to keep to a pre-set timeline for my story. It was exciting and challenging to do that, and to balance stories set both at home and with the militia and then the Continental Army. I’m looking forward to editing it and, if there’s interest, to continuing my characters’ stories into another book. After all, the Revolution didn’t end in December of 1777!

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