This week our FIVE ON FRIDAY guest is celebrated and award winning author Mary Casanova. Having written more than twenty books including picture books, middle grade and young adult novels, Mary has traveled the world to bring her stories to life. Research trips to France, Norway and Belize among many others have proven the old adage that one must suffer for one’s art. You can visit Mary and try to keep up with her adventures at www.marycasanova.com.
When did you know that you first wanted to be a writer?
Somewhere in high school, between writing an essay on Russian history to a paper in a College Prep writing class, I discovered the power and magic of words. I was stunned to realize how my words, if carefully crafted, could persuade, move, and maybe entertain a reader. If I loved working with words, then perhaps I could think about writing books someday…of being an author. I kept the dream carefully tucked close to my heart, however, as there wasn’t a single person encouraging me to follow this path until later in college, when an English professor said, “Mary, I think you could have a career in free-lance writing if you want to.”
What book or writer do you feel influenced you the most?
I always assumed I would write for adults until I was 32 years old and read Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. I appreciate his compact language and forward-leaning tension combined with a story set in the deep woods. It’s not surprising, then, that my first novel for young readers was Moose Tracks, about a 12-year old boy in northern Minnesota struggling to save an orphaned moose calf from poachers. Twenty years-and to my amazement, 23 books later–I still appreciate the high quality of writing in books for kids and teens.
What book or books are you currently reading or have recently read that you’d recommend to others?
I’m on an historical novel kick right now, and in the books for adults category, I just finished Red Azalea (a memoir by Anchee Min that covers her experience during the Cultural Revolution in China), The Widow of the South (historical novel by Robert Hicks based on a civil war battle in Franklin, TN, close to where I recently was doing author visits at schools and visited the historic sites) and To Catch The Lightening (by Alan Cheuse and exploring the life of photographer Edward Curtis who spent years photographing Native Americans at the turn-of-the-century).
I highly recommend Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson, a fine prairie novel that won the 2008 Newbery Honor. I’m just finishing Eliza Carbone’s Last Dance on Holladay Street, which deftly explores the limited options of girls and women on the western frontier. And after that, I’ll read Lea Wait’s book for young readers called Wintering Well, set in l820 in Maine.
So many great books! So little time.
If you could offer one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Revise recklessly and endlessly. Don’t hang on with white knuckles to those early drafts you so painstakingly wrote. Get feedback. Then revise again and again to make the story stronger. Revise until your brain, even in the half-awake-half-asleep moments of the morning cannot dredge up one more single thing to fix. Then you might be getting close to sending it out.
Chrissa is the “2009 Girl of the Year” from American Girl and she is a generous, creative 10-year old girl who moves from Iowa to Minnesota midway through 4th grade, only to be seated at a cluster of four desks with girls known as the “Queen Bees” or “Mean Bees.” Not only does Chrissa have to learn to stand up to bullying, but she has to risk speaking up for others when the bullying turns dangerous. This was a topic I was asked to write about and was eager to tell a story that would help show how damaging bullying can be to victims, and how difficult it can be for kids to know how to make it stop. To soften the story, Chrissa’s Nana raises mini-llamas, and for a little Hollywood sizzle, HBO and American Girl released a DVD based on both books. To see the trailer, which is very cooooool, go to www.marycasanova.com or www.americangirl.com.