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Laurie Halse Anderson never thought she would grow up to be a writer. She loved making up stories, but every time she read an author’s biography, it turned out that the author was already dead. She was not interested in being dead at such a young age, so she crossed “author” off her list of possible careers.
She had a hard time learning how to read and write, but thanks to some awesome learning support teachers, she figured it out and caught up with the rest of her friends by third grade. She is very grateful for her teachers and her school librarians.
When she was a kid, Laurie liked to sit in the back row of the classroom and daydream or write or draw. This is a not a good way to get good grades. In fact, it is a sure-fire way to get bad grades. She does not recommend it.
Laurie’s favorite subject in school (one of the rare times she did pay attention) was Social Studies class. She loved learning about American history more than anything else. She read a lot of historical fiction for fun, including the Little House on the Prairie series and dreamed about living the life of a pioneer.
Because she had very patient teachers, Laurie somehow managed to make her way through school. Lots of schools actually, because Laurie’s family moved around a lot. She attended country schools, city schools, and schools in the suburbs. She hated moving, but now admits all those different schools gave her good story material.
One of the best experiences in Laurie’s life was traveling to Denmark when she was 16 years old and spending her senior year of high school there as an American Field Service exchange student. After high school, she earned an associate’s degree from Onondaga Community College and then a bachelor’s of science in languages and linguistics from Georgetown University. She did not study creative writing or literature in college.
When her kids were little, Laurie worked as a freelance reporter. She would wake up early in the morning to work on her book ideas when everyone else was sleeping. Since her first book was published in 1996, she has written 27 books; 6 of them were New York Times bestsellers.
Laurie and her husband, Scot, have four grown children and a dog. They live way out in the countryside of New York State, a few miles from the shore of Lake Ontario and about 90 minutes south of Canada. Scot is a carpenter. He built her a special cottage for writing and she was so blown away by it, she made a video that shows how it was built. They are happiest when all the kids come home and bring their friends.
She knows that she lives a charmed life. She is enjoying every minute of it.
P. S. You’re probably wondering how to pronounce her strange middle name. It rhymes with “waltz”. You can hear her pronounce at Teachingbooks.net .
Questions About Writing
Can you describe your writing process?
Do you have a year or two?
Seriously. Do you make an outline?
I outline my historical novels before I start writing them. My contemporary YAs are never outlined, but usually by the third draft, I step back and study the structure of the story (i.e. focus on the plot and flow of events and motivations) and make the necessary changes.
Which is more important: plot or character?
I love debating that question. What do you think?
Which comes first: plot or character?
For me it depends on the kind of book that I’m writing. For my historical novels, the plot comes first. My contemporary YA novels always start in character. I don’t think there is a right way or a wrong way to approach the writing of a book. It all depends on the needs of the story and the abilities of the author.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
To beat writer's block, allow yourself to write a rotten first draft. Then revise it as many times as it takes. (most of my novels go through seven drafts.) Also, take long walks or run or play basketball. That helps me.
Writer's Block has as much power to stop you as you give it. We are our own worst enemies in this regard.
Do you know everything about your characters before you start to write the story?
Nope. By the end of the first draft I am just getting to know them. By the end of the third draft, well, then, I know them. Mostly. Characters can be tricky.
How long does it take you to write a draft?
If I can hole up in my cottage and not have to return phone calls or email, I can get a first draft done in a couple months. I tend to work long hours. Of course, a historical first draft comes after a year or so of research.
What has been the biggest surprise in your writing?
That I never run out of ideas.
Where do you get all those ideas?
Sometimes I am baffled by that. Ideas seem to creep into my head while I’m sleeping. SPEAK started in a nightmare. I’ve dreamed several critical scenes for other books.
Others come from my waking life. When I was researching FEVER 1793 (back in 1993) I learned that Benjamin Franklin had been a slave owner. Then, when researching and writing INDEPENDENT DAMES, I learned that girls and women had been active participants in the American Revolution. Combine those two threads with a lot of research and you have the thread that led to the writing of CHAINS.
You can also find ideas in the newspaper, from a Youtube video, or a comment that you hear on the subway. Ideas are everywhere, just waiting for you to pay attention.
Do you ever cry when you’re writing?
When I wrote SPEAK, FEVER 1793, CATALYST, TWISTED, WINTERGIRLS, CHAINS & FORGE, each had a scene or two that made me cry. If it makes me cry, then I’m on the right track.
How much do you write every day?
On a good day, I’ll write for about 8 hours. On a bad day, I’ll only have an hour or two. On deadline, I’ll write for up to 18 hours. (I actually like deadline writing. No distractions!)
How much editing do you do?
A LOT! I’d say that my books are about 20% first draft and 80% revision.
How much research do you have to do for your historical novels?
An absurd amount. I am very picky – even though I am writing fiction, I want the historical details and setting to be as factual as possible. This means reading a lot of primary sources, hundreds of books and articles, interviewing experts, visiting museums and archives, and hanging out at reenactments. It takes a long time, but I must admit: I love every second of it. Historical research is one of my favorite things.
Other Important Questions
Where do you write?
In the splendiferous writing cottage that my husband built for me. If you want, you can see how he did it. Before I had this cottage, I wrote wherever I had to: in the basement, in the attic, in the car, on the train or airplane, at the kitchen table. I wrote a lot while my kids were practicing basketball, too.
How much of what you write is real?
Some of my books contain experiences that I lived through. Others have bits of my emotional truth. I don’t talk about the specifics very much because I prefer people to focus on my stories, not on me.
How do you feel when one of your books is banned or challenged?
It’s complicated. I feel bad for the teacher or librarian involved, because I know book challenges can be very draining. I feel sad for the readers who deserve to receive their education without the drama that book challenges can bring. I feel sympathy for the person who brought the challenge, because she’s obviously frustrated, but she does not understand the value of having books like mine in schools.
I do not feel bad for myself. I know that my books are filled with honesty and with some subjects that can be intense. I know this makes people nervous, but I know how to deal with that.
Most of the time, the challenges to my books have been overturned and the books stay in the classroom. In many cases, the complaining parent withdrew the challenge after she read the entire book, instead of reading a paragraph or a page. I have a lot of respect for parents who can admit that they made a mistake.
Want to learn more? I have a page all about book banning.
Why should we find time to read?
If you have to ask that question, I suspect you are fed up with reading boring books. I don’t blame you. I hate reading boring books, too. Go to your teacher or librarian and challenge her (or him) to help you find books that you will actually like. Once you know where to find them, you will be happily surprised, I promise.
What books are you working on right now?
I am working on three picture books (two of them are about famous Americans during the Revolution, the other one is just silly), more Vet Volunteer books, another historical novels set during the American Revolution, a YA novel, and a book about the writing process.
Who inspired you?
Reading great books inspires me to write. Meeting the kids and teens who enjoy my books makes me want to write for them.
Can you come to my school?
I’m really sorry, but I can’t. Even without visiting schools I spend 50 – 100 days a year on the road and that does not leave enough time to write books and have a life. When I am on booktour, the independent bookstores that I visit sometimes send me to schools in their area. So the best chances of seeing me up close and personal is to develop a relationship with your local bookseller and ask to be included and/or notified when authors come to town. You can find the closest bookseller to you at Indiebound.
You can find me on a couple of places on the Internet:
1. This website (duh).
I also do some Skype visits with schools.
Questions That Are Not Quite So Important
Harry Potter or Twilight?
Are you rich?
No. Are you?
I have to write about you for my homework. Can I email the questions to you?
No. By the time I get to your email, you’ll be in a different grade. That’s why I put so much information about me and my books on this website. You can also find all kinds of goodies if you search the archives of my blog.