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When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
As soon as I figured out how to make words out of letters, I'd go home from school, staple some pieces of paper together to make a "book" and would write stories and color illustrations. I still have one of my earliest books, which consists of a few very short stories I called Your Ducky: for Easter a book about ducks and bunnies. (See the book cover pictured on the left.) I was young (probably second grade) and had terrible penmanship. The stories are plagued with punctuation and grammatical errors. What's important to me, however, isn't whether I was a perfect or imperfect writer but 1) I loved words and was happy creating my own books and 2) my mother cared enough about my creative efforts to save the book for me to enjoy later. I have always written prolifically, whether in diaries and journals, letters, magazine articles, school curriculum, books for adults, and now, children's literature. <Back to top>

Who encouraged you to write?
My fifth grade teacher, Mr. George Willems, encouraged me to think of myself as a writer through our weekly writing assignments. Mr. Willems was very creative. One week he put on a scary piece of classical music called "Danse Macabre" and asked us to write the story that came to us as we listened to the music. My story was about skeletons in a graveyard. Another week he took us out on the playground to lay on our backs and use the clouds for inspiration. <Back to top>

Where do you get your ideas?
Ideas flit in and out of my mind all day long. I've also awakened from dreams with a book titles and plots in mind-it can be quite distracting! If I hear a story or read a newspaper article, my mind automatically jumps to, "How would this story have been different if. . .?" My imagination may be sparked by an interesting figure of speech, an unusual person, or a desire to learn more about a particular place or time. I always keep a notebook with me so I can write down bits and pieces of stories to work on later. Like most writers, I look at the world through the lens of "What if..." <Back to top> 

Illustration by Leane Morin from Shy Mama's Halloween
(Tilbury House, 2000), used by permission

How did you think of Shy Mama's Halloween?
There was no one "Aha!" moment for this book. Rather, three different threads came together and knit themselves into Shy Mama's story. First, I was working with a girl who had recently immigrated from Russia to California, so I was hearing the interesting ways she combined words and phrases as she learned to speak English. Secondly, in California at that time there was a piece of legislation on the ballot that aimed to penalize the children of undocumented workers by not providing them with education or health care if their parents weren't in the state legally. That made me mad because I believe every child has a right to learn and to be healthy. The third strand of the story came the day after Halloween, when my secretary came to work and said, "Last night Helen got tired of wearing her costume, so as we trick-or-treated, she took off her costume and gave it to me. She went up to the houses to get candy wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt while I waited for her in the street, wearing her costume. These three elements worked in my subconscious to create this family and bring Shy Mama's story alive. <Back to top> 
Where do you write?
I have a lovely office that looks out on acres of field bordered by woods. Our fat cat, Hombro, hangs out with me all day long. He thinks I should spend my time petting him instead of typing on a computer keyboard or leafing through books. On the walls of my writing room are pictures of family and friends, framed book jackets of my books, and works of art that are meaningful to me, including "Young Girl Reading" by Jean-Honore Fragonard, which I have had since childhood (see right). One wall has index cards of my different project titles. Old photographs of some of my real-life characters from my Trail of Tears book and an Ellis Island project look down on me; I think of them as my guardians who inspire me to get the story right. <Back to top> 
What were your favorite books as a child?
I read Louisa May Alcott's Little Women series, Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales, and the Anne of Green Gables books by Lucy Maud Montgomery. I can still remember sitting on the floor in front of my fourth grade teacher as she read Little House on the Prairie to us. I then read the rest of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books. I wished I were friends with the protagonists from Sensible Kate, Honestly, Katie John and Harriet the Spy. I wanted to live in The Borrowers' tiny world. I loved any book by Scott O'Dell or Frances Hodgson Burnett. Island of the Blue Dolphins and The Secret Garden remain two of my all-time favorite books. <Back to top> 

How long does it take to write a book?
Every book requires a different process and timeline. Shy Mama's Halloween took me two and a half hours to write and didn't need much revision. After reading a true story as I researched another book I had Priscilla and the Hollyhocks in the back of my mind for many years before I one day knew it was time to sit down and write it. The young slave girl's words poured out of me in a rush as if I were taking dictation. In a long morning the book was done. . .or so I thought. My excellent editor at Charlesbridge, Yolanda LeRoy, gave me a general idea of what changes she thought were necessary and after four months of mulling over what she had suggested, I knew what changes were needed to improve the book. My young adult historical novel on the Trail of Tears has taken me over 15 years to write because of complicated research and because although I accurately told the story in the first drafts, I did not yet have the skill or know-how to make the story appropriate for teenage readers. I haven't worked continuously on this book, but Jane and her story have been in the back of my mind a long time and are almost ready to be shared with the world. <Back to top>
Do you believe books can change someone's life?
Absolutely! Because of Blue Willow, the first book in which I realized what it might be like to grow up poor, I became more empathetic with people whose lives were scarred by hardship and poverty. When I read a biography of Albert Schweitzer in third grade and learned about his ideas of "reverence for life" (respect for animals as well as people), that shaped my views on animals rights and peacemaking. Wonderful books like Big Red and Brighty of the Grand Canyon helped me see things from an animal's point of view. As a result of these books I am still concerned about poverty in our own country and abroad, I care about animal rights, and believe in the possibility of world peace. All of these books are on my shelves; I still have the book report I did on Schweitzer, and a photo of him graces my office walls. <Back to top>

What kind of books should I read?
Read as many different kinds of books as possible: fantasy, biography, historical fiction, humor, science and nature, classics, sports, science fiction. Try a little of everything! There's no one right kind of book for everyone. Long before I had the ability to read books by people like Emily Bronte, Victor Hugo, Herman Melville, or Jack London, I had read shortened versions of their works in Classics Illustrated. In a comic book style I was exposed to lifelike characters, compelling plots, fascinating cultures and countries. Some people might have looked down on me for reading "comic books" but Classics Illustrated introduced me to books that I later read in unabridged form as a young adult or adult. <Back to top>

Did you read to your own children?
Our daughter's first Christmas, she received 20 books from me. She was six weeks old! Does that give you a clue as to how important books are in our house? Before my children could read for themselves we read stories every night at bedtime. Even when they could read for themselves, we read books together. Special family favorites were anything by Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume's Fudge series, Rosemary Sutcliff and Madeline L'Engle. My daughter was in kindergarten when we read Charlotte's Web together at bedtime. As I read the chapter called "Last Day" out loud, we were laying on her bed, sharing a pillow. Trinity turned her head toward me and asked, "Is it okay to cry?" "Absolutely," I replied. "At a time like this in a book like this, crying makes perfect sense." My son was four when I read Amy's Eyes aloud to him and his older sister. Even though the book was 437 pages long and took weeks to read, Justus still remembers this tale of adventure on the high seas. Both Trinity and Justus remain avid readers. <Back to top>

Mitali Perkins and Katherine Paterson with Anne Broyles.

What contemporary children's authors do you admire?
Besides enjoying a wide variety of good adult fiction, I try to read several children's books each week to keep up with children's literature.  There are so many talented writers today.  Young readers are really fortunate to have so many good choices.  I admire the works of Laurie Halse Anderson, Kate DiCamillo, Libba Bray, Mitali Perkins, Laura Resau, Ann Rinaldi, Cornelia Funke, Katherine Paterson, and L.A. Meyer, among many other great writers.  And I am a big fan of the Harry Potter books. <Back to top>

Do you still read a lot?
I read while I brush my teeth, wash my face, get dressed, wait in the doctor's office, eat (if I am alone), and any other chance I get. I usually have an audio book going in my car as well as reading books in print. When I finish one book, I already have another one lined up to start next. Books are like air to me; I need to read (almost) as much as I need to breathe. <Back to top>

What do I need to do if I want to be a writer?
The most important thing for aspiring writers to do is to read, read, read. Let yourself get lost in the many worlds books can take you to. Enjoy the different ways authors play with words, the funny incidents they present, the variety of characters you meet. Pay attention in school. Learn to spell and build your vocabulary--it's easier than running to a dictionary or thesaurus and will save you time in the long run as well as giving your writing more depth. Keep a diary or notebook where you write down your own thoughts and stories. Try to write something every day, whether it's a diary entry, a poem, or part of a short story. Believe in yourself and the stories that only you can tell. <Back to top>

How long does it take to publish a book?
The timeline varies from book to book. The manuscript of Priscilla and the Hollyhocks was purchased by Charlesbridge Books in the fall of 2004 and was released February, 2008. Publishing takes a long time, especially when an illustrator needs time to create original paintings or drawings for the book. The process for Shy Mama's Halloween only took a year because illustrator Leane Morin worked on a short deadline to complete her paintings. After Anna Alter did preliminary sketches and layout on Priscilla and the Hollyhocks, she completed the actual paintings in three months. <Back to top> 

Priscilla and the Hollyhocks creative team: illustrator Anna Alter, editor Yolanda Leroy, author Anne Broyles

Does writing make you rich?
Writers write because we love the process of imagining a story in our head and discovering the best way to tell the story. The rewards of writing are in the writing process itself and in connecting with readers. Plus, how cool is it to be able to stay at home to work, wear whatever clothes you feel like, and get paid to daydream? <Back to top> 

Do you have any pets?
Over the years we were raising our children we had four guinea pigs, ten fish, three dogs, four cats, two chickens and nine rabbits. It's much quieter at our house now than when we had three rabbits, two dogs, two cats and a chicken all at the same time! Today our dog, Thor and cats, Spence and Kate, keep me company as I write from our home. In the fields and woods around our home I see deer, foxes, groundhogs, and once, a coyote. I've counted over forty different kinds of birds who come to our feeders. Watching the wild creatures gives me great joy. <Back to top> 

Do you like sports?
I've enjoyed many sports over the years, but love basketball most (and women's basketball best). Some friends even call me a fanatic about basketball, but I like to think I am just an enthusiastic, supportive fan! My two favorite teams to cheer for are the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks and the University of Arizona Wildcats. Now that I live in New England I also cheer for the amazing Boston Red Sox and the Boston Celtics. <Back to top>