Laurie Halse Anderson masterfully gives voice to teen characters undergoing transformations in their lives through their honesty and perseverance while finding the courage to be true to themselves.
David Mowery, Chair
2009 Margaret A. Edwards Committee
Laurie Halse Anderson is the New York Times-bestselling author who writes for kids of all ages. Known for tackling tough subjects with humor and sensitivity, her work has earned numerous national and state awards, as well as international recognition. Two of her books, Speak and Chains, were National Book Award finalists. Laurie was honored with the 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award given by YALSA division of the American Library Association for her “significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature…”. Mother of four and wife of one, Laurie lives in Northern New York, where she likes to watch the snow fall as she writes.
Officially Long Official Biography of Laurie Halse Anderson
Laurie Halse Anderson was born on October 23, 1961 in Potsdam, a very cold, cold place in Northern New York State. It was (and still is) close to the border of Canada.
She was born Laurie Beth Halse. This would be a good place to clear up the matter of the pronunciation of her name, because it is, after all, her name, and she is weary of hearing it mangled by well-meaning people. Halse rhymes with waltz. Not hal-see. No, no, no, no. Halt-z. If she could have anything she wanted, it would be world peace. But if she could have a second thing, it would be having people say her name correctly.
Want to hear Laurie pronounce her name? Go to TeachingBooks.net
Breaking Into Writing
Laurie has loved writing since second grade. She began as a freelance reporter for newspapers and magazines, but she had a lot to learn about writing. She earned hundreds of discouraging rejections letters when she started submitting her books to publishers. She joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) and found a supportive critique group. That made all the difference.
Becoming Published – Picture Books
Laurie started her career as a picture book writer and still enjoys writing them. Her newest picture book, The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School, illustrated by Ard Hoyt, was released in 2009. Soon after its debut, this picture book became a New York Times bestseller! Laurie dedicated this book to her daughter, Meredith, who became a teacher that year.
Librarians, teachers and parents love her fun, fact-filled picture books about American history: Independent Dames; What You Never Knew about the Woman and Girls of the American Revolution and Thank You , Sarah; the Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving. Her next project is a picture book about her hero, Abigail Adams.
Laurie is probably best known for her Young Adult novels. Her debut novel, Speak, was a National Book Award Finalist, a New York Times bestseller, and a Printz Honor book. Even more thrilling, Speak was quickly placed into curriculum at hundreds of middle schools, high schools, and colleges around the country. (The film version of Speak features Twilight star, Kristen Stewart, as Melinda!)
Her second YA novel, Catalyst; which received many state awards and was the American Library Association’s Best Book for Young Adults, followed three years later.
In 2005, Prom was published; this novel has a lighter subject matter than Laurie’s first two YA novels. Prom spent the spring of 2005 swishing its skirts on the New York Times bestseller list, was nominated for ALA Best Book for Young Adults, and received many state awards.
Twisted, a YA novel told from a male perspective, was published in 2007. This became Laurie’s third novel to appear on the New York Times bestseller list. It received the ALA Best Book for Young Adults award, was named to the International Reading Association’s Young Adults’ Choices List, and was voted a Teen Top Ten.
Wintergirls is Laurie’s most recent YA novel. Wintergirls debuted on the New York Times bestseller list and received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, Booklist, and Kirkus, and was the focus of much media attention for its unflinching and raw perspective on eating disorders.
American history has been a life-long passion for Laurie. If she were to become a teacher, it is what she’d teach. Like Speak, her first historical fiction novel, Fever 1793, published in 2000, is used in schools all over the country. After receiving multiple national and state awards, Fever 1793 was adapted into a stage play in May of 2004 and performed at the Gifford Family Theater in Syracuse, New York.
In 2008 Chains was released, the first in a trilogy set in the Revolutionary War time period. Laurie was blessed and honored when the book was named a National Book Award finalist, her second. Chains also received the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction and the ALA Best Book for Young Adults award, together with multiple media and bookseller recognitions. Forge, the sequel to Chains, will be published in the fall of 2010.
Laurie has also written an elementary chapter book series Vet Volunteers. Laurie gets the best fan mail in the world about these books. Kids send her pictures and drawings of their pets.
On the Horizon
Laurie will be alternating between contemporary YA novels and historical fiction for the next decade. In addition, she has a few picture books up her sleeve and there is a book about the writing process simmering on the back burner.
On July 11, 2009, the Young Adult Library Services Association presented Laurie with the 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award for Catalyst, Fever 1793, and Speak. In doing so, YALSA “recognizes an iconic and classic storyteller who in her character development has created for teens a body of work that continues to be widely read and cherished by a diverse audience.” In 2008, Laurie received the ALAN Award from the high school English teachers of America for her “outstanding contributions to the field of adolescent literature.” The American Association of School Librarians (AASL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA) chose Laurie to be their School Library Month spokesperson for April of 2010.
Laurie lives in Northern New York, with her childhood sweetheart, now husband, Scot. She has four wonderful children and a neurotic dog, all of whom she dearly loves. When not enjoying her family and her large garden, she spends countless hours writing in a woodland cottage designed and built just for that purpose by her Beloved Husband. She also likes to train for marathons, hike in the mountains, and try to coax tomatoes out of the rocky soil in her backyard.
She is quite sure that she leads a charmed life and is deeply grateful for it.
Copyright 2004, 2008 and 2009, S. H. Anderson and Queen Louise
© 2008 & 2010 Laurie Halse Anderson.
All of it.
- If you want to quote from this FAQ for a school report, please credit Laurie Halse Anderson as the author and properly cite this page. The Modern Language Association can help you with this.
- If you are confused about fair use and copyright law, Stanford explains things nicely.
- To make a permissions request, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Permissions requests for Speak need to go to Rights@fsgbooks.com. Permissions requests for Fever 1793 need to go to Stephanie.Voros@simonandschuster.com
- If you reproduce this without permission, we will "let slip the dogs of war"(Act 3, Scene 1, Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare). In other words, you’ll be hearing from our lawyers. So don’t, please.
Writing & Publishing
Where do you get your inspiration?
I get new ideas constantly. Generally, it’s a person trapped in an interesting situation, or facing a conflict that forces her to change and grow. These ideas pop into my head out of nowhere. Sometimes I stumble across them because of something I’m reading, some fragment of dialog I overhear, or a scene I witness at an airport or the grocery store.
What is your writing process?
I take one of two paths when I am working on a book; I enter the story through character or I enter it through plot.
When I start with character, I meander around and write a lot of scenes that are eventually cut, but that helps me understand the background and motivations of the people in the story.
If I start with plot, the scenes are developed in a much more systematic fashion, but I keep a separate journal in which I develop my characters.
What is your least favorite part of writing?
I HATE first drafts.
What is the best part of writing?
When the magic flows so strong I lose track of where and who I am.
What do you do when you get stuck?
It doesn’t happen much, but a shower or some exercise usually helps.
What keeps you motivated to write?
Writing keeps me healthy and sane. When I am working on a story, I channel the dark, sad, confused, angry bits of me into something constructive and healing. I always feel better after a day of writing.
Where do you write?
In my woodland writing cottage which was designed and built by my Beloved Husband. You can see a video of its creation here.
I know writing is a long process but when I can’t get the right inspiration, it stresses me out.
I totally hear you. I feel the same way sometimes. When you run out of inspiration, it’s usually means you don’t understand your character and the conflicts she’s facing.
Brainstorm ten things that could happen next that would complicate her life, and then brainstorm ten things that would make her life easier. Somewhere in there, you’ll find a key to the next scene you have to write.
Is it better to outline and plot everything out, or just go with the flow, wherever the story leads you?
It depends on the book and it depends on how quickly you want to finish it. With my historical novels, (Fever 1793 and Chains) I have to outline carefully because the character’s journey has to take place within real historical events.
With my YA novels, like Twisted and Speak, I am more flexible. In the early drafts, I write whatever weirdness pops in my head. In later drafts, I sort through the chaos and try to give it structure and a sense of flow. But what works for me might not work for you. Everyone has their own process.
Do you ever set goals for yourself as to when you’re going to finish writing certain parts of the book?
All the time. And I never, ever reach the goal on time because I am a hopeless optimist and I always forget to schedule in sleeping at night. But I keep doing it.
Goals are helpful. Making time to write every day helps even more.
What is a day in your life like?
Busy. Very busy. But in the best way possible.
I wake up between 5 and 6 am. While I’m eating breakfast, I check my email and post a blog entry. When that’s done, I start to write or research. (Note – I don’t check email while writing. I also do not answer the phone or IM anybody and I pretty much ignore the internet.)
I take breaks for tea and for lunch. In the late afternoon, I go for a run or to the gym to work out. Evenings are for quality time with my Beloved Husband and dog, Kezzie, reading, gardening, or doing something that is ridiculously crafty.
If there’s a good basketball or football game on, I answer email while watching that. Then I read until bed.
In good weather (if I am on schedule to make my deadline) I will garden, too.
I try not to work for so many hours on the weekends, but I do make writing and reading time every single day of the year. I am a happy camper.
I can’t even believe how professional writers can put writing’s unpredictableness aside and meet their deadlines! Care to enlighten me?
By ‘unpredictableness’ I assume you mean that we rarely feel totally inspired every single day. I sure as heck don’t. But I do it anyway.
First and foremost because I write because I like it and it is good for me. Second, I know that if I wrote daily, I stay in touch with the story and I write better as a result. Third, the writing pays my bills.
Any career in the arts has a simple truth attached to it: you have to do the work every day. That is how you get better.
It doesn’t matter how many books I’ve published. I have never before written the book I am writing now. I have to respect the work and keep striving to learn more, keep searching for new tools for my work chest.
If you are standing on the outside looking in, it might seem a little boring, and I admit, there are days when I long for a job that has a guaranteed paycheck every two weeks and some kind of health insurance, but the truth is, I feel incredibly blessed to be able to write stories that people want to read. That is extremely motivating.
Do you always write chapter by chapter when you draft? Or do you ever end up with gaps in the initial draft that you have to go back and fill?
No, I don’t write chapter by chapter. I generally start at what I think is the beginning and aim for what I think is the end, but those are guidelines, not rules. I always wind up with holes. Going back and figuring out what belongs in the holes is fun. The trick is to play out one of the story threads naturally, not to cram in a scene just so have something in Chapter 7. If it doesn’t fit, throw it out.
Do you ever have to adjust the overall pacing of the story, and if so how do you approach that?
Once the stinky first draft is done, I do a lot of tinkering with the pacing. It takes a little time to get the perspective that allows me to see the entire story, but once I can, I examine each thread of the story to make sure the events that pull it forward unfold in a way that makes sense, both for that thread and for the larger story.
I also make a time line of events on a huge sheet of paper. Once I see things on the time line, I usually make changes; speeding up some sections, slowing down others.
How do you think through making a character change over the course of a novel?
To be honest, I don’t think about it much. I focus on creating situations that force the character out of her comfort zone, raising the emotional stakes as I go along. If I’ve developed conflicts that are organic and in keeping with the character’s world, her response to the conflicts will naturally lead to internal growth.
Was it difficult to eliminate characters? I get very attached to mine.
The different parts of the writing process feel like different countries to me. The etiquette and customs of one country is extremely different from the next. In the early drafts, I include everything that falls into my head and I love it all. I could never cut out a character at that stage.
When I get to later drafts, that changes. The only thing that matters is what works best for the story. if I fall in love a character and she doesn’t work in the story, she’s gets cut. I can always send her flowers, take her to the movies, or go out for coffee with her. But if she isn’t a vital thread in the fabric of the story, out she goes.
Do you ever get upset when you cut a character or throw out pages, or even chapters?
I used to get very upset when I would "waste" a day or a week going off on a plot tangent or approaching a scene from the wrong point. Nowadays, I just mutter a little and get back to work.
I think I have to test out my characters, sometimes following them down the wrong path, to get to know them better and to understand the world of the story.
Do you have any tricks for increasing objectivity? I have a hard time figured out what I need to revise.
Finding objectivity is one of the hardest things we do. I don’t think any writer can ever become fully objective about her work. Putting it away for a month and not looking at it helps.
Then – before you read it – give it to three trusted readers; people who read a lot for fun and respect you enough to be honest. (DO NOT give it to relatives or lovers!) Ask them to read it and write down the three aspects of the story that are working the best, and the three that are the most confusing.
Next: take a copy of your story to a new location; NOT where you wrote it. Go to an independent bookstore, a coffee shop, a park, a nice hotel lobby. Read their comments first, then read the manuscript. If you can’t find anything you want to change, you’re done.
Do you really think that writers should give up TV?
It couldn’t hurt.
Most people who are trying to get published complain about not having enough time to write. But when you ask them about the latest episode of their favorite show, they have all the details. Which makes you wonder if they really want to write.
The average American watches 4.5 hours of television a day. If you want more time to write, it’s a no-brainer. Turn off the television. Start writing. End of problem.
What’s advice can you give aspiring authors?
- Learn to live frugally and don’t get into debt.
- Write what you want, not what you think “the market” wants.
- Turn off the television.
- Don’t major in Creative Writing in college. Chances are it will drain the life out of your creativity.
- Never, ever criticize yourself during a first draft.
- Have the courage to revise your work.
- Read every night before you go to sleep.
- Do not pressure yourself by saying "I have to get this published by the time I am 20 (or 30, or 40, or 80, etc.)
- Write the story in your heart.
- Pay attention to William Faulkner’s wise words. He said “Don’t be ‘a writer.’ Be writing.”
Will you read my manuscript?
Thanks for the offer, but no.
Will you read my manuscript if I pay you?
Tempting, but the answer is the same: no.
Questions Not Asked Frequently Enough
What type of music do you like to listen to when you write?
I develop a playlist for each book. The songs aren’t necessarily tied to the issues, themes, or characters; I choose them because they put me in the right mood.
I also listen to a lot of techno and house music when I’m writing. Anything to keep me in the zone and maintain focus.
Is it true that running helps the writing process?
It works for me. Here’s why:
- Running makes me happy, thus, it is a very good reward and incentive to do my work.
- When I write, I am a) sitting still and b) dangerously close to my kitchen. If I didn’t exercise regularly (and trust me, there have been times in my life when I didn’t) I eat more than my body needs. This slows down my brain and expands my rear end.
- Running is a meditative exercise – it helps me process my stress in a healthy way.
- My travel schedule is often grueling. Running (and weight lifting, which I don’t talk about much, but I do, too) keeps me physically stronger and better able to fight off the germs that try to attack unsuspecting travelers.
- Running has helped me develop mental discipline, which allows me to stay immersed in my stories longer. I have several writing/running mantras that I repeat in my head when I am tempted to stop writing or hit the Stop button on the treadmill.
- Yes, this is a bonus reason. The human body was designed to move. If we want our minds and spirits to produce their best, we have to help our bodies be the best they can be, too. It’s all connected.
Do you have any hobbies besides running and working out?
I like to knit, I’m trying to learn how to quilt, and I like to muck around in the garden. Oh, and I love making jam and canning fruits and vegetables. I do like visiting other countries. And I love trying out new food. One of these days I’ll start skiing again.
What’s been your greatest achievement?
Raising my kids to be good people (though they did most of the work).
To read all the books in the library and climb to the top of the rope in gym class.
Can you choose a desert island book?
Ulysses, by James Joyce.
What was your most embarrassing moment?
There are countless!! The worst was when my little sister and I got into a knock-down, drag-out fight at a family reunion and all of the older second cousins I had been hoping to impress dismissed me as being one of the stupid little kids because of it. (I was 11 years old.)
What was the smartest thing you ever did?
Spent my senior year of high school overseas, took some time off after high school, then went to community college before transferring to a four-year school. Marched to the beat of my drummer. Wrote books instead of staying in a cubicle job.
Who was that author when you were plotting away unknown to the rest of the world, that you aspired to be like?
I have three:
- Adapt and overcome.
- Read or die.
- It’s not a mistake if you learn from it.
- New York Times Bestselling Author
- Two-time National Book Award nominee
- 2010 School Library Month Spokesperson for American Association of School Librarians (AASL), a division of American Library Association (ALA)
- Amazon Blog “Omnivoracious” – One of Eight Influential Young Adult Writers of the Decade (2000-2009)
- 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award, given by the American Library Association for significant and lasting achievement in young adult literature
- 2008 Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) Award, given to honor those who have made outstanding contributions to the field of adolescent literature.
- 2006 Onondaga Community College Alumni Faces Award
- 2004 Fayetteville-Manlius Hall of Distinction
- 2002 Free Library of Philadelphia/Drexel University Children’s Literature Citation
Contact Info & a Little Advice
Advice about snail mail:
Laurie usually works seven days a week, but she can never seem to catch up on the mountains of mail that loom in her office. If you don’t hear back from her right away, please don’t take it personally. There are probably 500 letters in front of yours, and hundreds more piling up behind. But she promises she will get to it, eventually.
To send snail mail to Laurie:
Laurie Halse Anderson
PO Box 906
Mexico, NY 13114
Laurie is not able to commit to speaking/attending conferences for a few years due to the demands upon her time by her editors and publishers. Oh, and her family, her dog and her chickens and garden…you get the idea.
Questions about film, television, stage rights to her books (with two major exceptions noted below) go to her agent:
21 West 26th Street
New York, NY 10010
Contact Childrenrights@macmillanusa.com for questions about sub-rights and permissions for Speak
Contact Stephanie Voros at Simon & Schuster for questions about sub-rights and permissions for Fever 1793
All other questions should go to Laurie’s Assistant, Queen Louise.
If you want to write directly to Laurie to talk about one of her books, email her.
Please know that Laurie reads every email that comes in, but it may take her some time to personally respond to your email.
Can Laurie speak at my school?
Well, unfortunately she is not making physical visits to schools right now, BUT maybe you would like to visit with her via the internet by using Skype.
For the technical aspects of this type of visit and the requirements, go to the Skype page.
Why has Laurie cut back on speaking so much?
Laurie has promised her publishers that she will write many, many books in the next couple of years. Since there are still only 24 hours in a day, that means she cannot be on the road as much as she has in years past.
She hopes very much to get back to visiting schools and doing more conferences at some point.
So she’s not visiting schools at all?
Rarely. Sometime she gets to visit schools when she’s on book tour. The best way to increase the chance that your school might be on the tour is to have a good relationship with your closest independent bookstore. She also occasionally visits schools that are outside of the United States.
Laurie will be posting more extensive FAQs for her books on this website so that students will have all the information they need to write reports about her work. She also posts details about her writing process on her blog.
Where should I get her books?
Use the independent bookstore finder to find an independent store in your area.