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Author Chat with Mary Pope Osborne


Transcript from Live Chat
August 6th, 2003

NYPL: Welcome to the last of our live author chats for the summer. We hope you have been sending in questions and listening to all the programs. If you missed any, remember you can read the transcripts of the talks on our web page.

NYPL: Today our guest is Mary Pope Osborne. She is a woman who loves adventure. She loves reading about it, writing about it, and living it. Mary, how do you decide where Jack and Annie in the Magic Tree House books will go next?

Mary: In the beginning, kids helped me figure it out, and also my own interests. Now it's a combination of my own research and what readers want to read.

Glitterbug: How did you get the idea of a magic tree house?

Mary: It took me over a year. I tried many different ways to get kids back in time. I tried a magic cellar, a magic museum, and a magic artist's studio. I wrote seven different books that didn't work. Finally I saw a kid's tree house in the woods and I came up with the idea. The simplest ideas are sometimes the hardest to come up with.

Lila: How do you get the facts right in your Magic Tree House books?

Mary: I do lots of research. I talk to experts. And I have an editor who checks my facts for me also.

Pooh Bear: Have you ever traveled to the places Annie and Jack have been in the Magic Tree House series?

Mary: Yes, I have traveled to lots of them. For instance, England, Ireland, Greece, Italy, India, and all over the United States, and many other places as well.

Sam: How long did it take you to write the first Magic Tree House book, and does it get easier to write after writing lots of books?

Mary: It took over a year to write the first one and to get it right! Yes, it does get easier over time. It did get easier over time for me.

Dee HK: Did you have a tree house when you were a kid?

Mary: No, but I always wanted one. So in my imagination, I now get to have one.

KCPL: Are you planning to write more Magic Tree House books? I love them. Zoe (6 years old)

Mary: Yes I am, but now the books are slightly different. Merlin is sending Jack and Annie on adventures. These books are the Merlin missions. They're twice as long as regular Magic Tree House books. I plan to write at least four of them.

Vani India: Have you been underwater like Jack and Annie?

Mary: Yes. I've been snorkeling, but I haven't been in a mini sub.

Doodle: You said you were going to stop writing about the Magic Tree House at No. 24. What happened?

Mary: My imagination kept going and doesn't seem to be stopping. The next book is No. 29 - "Haunted Castle on Hallow's Eve." It comes out at the end of this month. Next spring, "Summer of the Sea Serpent" will come out, and after that "Winter of the White Wizard."

Maggie: How many books are in The Magic Tree House set?

Mary: Right now, 28 books are out there. And there are more to come!

Jemmatime: Do you still like writing about the Magic Tree House?

Mary: Yes I love it - maybe more than ever!

Vista: Will anybody make a movie about the Magic Tree House?

Mary: I don't want any movies to be made. I want kids to have these adventures in their imaginations. This, I believe, is best accomplished by reading a book.

HK Kids: Where are Jack and Annie going next?

Mary: They're going into a haunted castle in an outlying realm of Camelot. Merlin wants them to care for the ghosts in the castle. After that, they're going to a seacoast of ancient mythical times where they will encounter a gigantic sea serpent.

Sara: How old were you when you wrote your first book and what was it?

Mary: I was in my late 20s, and I wrote a novel called "Run, Run As Fast as You Can" for young adults.

Woolley ES: We just read the story "New York's Bravest." Do you know anyone like Mose in real life?

Mary: I think all New York City firemen have a bit of Mose in them. Anyone who risks their lives to save others is a hero.

Adam: What inspires you to write all of these great stories?

Mary: My readers keep inspiring me. The kids I've met and who send me letters are wonderful and imaginative. It's great to be communicating to them. I love communicating my stories to them.

Keven: How many books do you read in one year?

Mary: I read hundreds of books, but mostly for research. I may not read the whole book, but I always have a giant stack beside me to look through.

Jay: Do you have a favorite Illustrator, and do you get to choose who illustrates your books?

Mary: One of my favorite illustrators is Sal Murdocca, the illustrator of The Magic Tree House. The art department usually chooses the illustrator. I've always been lucky to get good ones.

Rhia: Do you write books for adults too?

Mary: No I don't. I love writing kids' books too much to change what I'm doing.

KCPL: Are you interested in history, and did you have to do a lot of research for your My America series?

Mary: I love history! I didn't really know that I loved it until I was a grown-up, and, yes, I did tons of research for the My America series, and the Dear America series and the Magic Tree House series.

HK Kids: Do you plan on writing anymore fairytales? I loved your telling of "The Brave Little Seamstress."

Mary: Thanks! I do plan to tell more fairytales, but I can't say exactly what they'll be right now until I start doing my research.

Vani India: When did you write the Spider Kane mysteries?

Mary: I wrote the Spider Kane books about 10-12 years ago. Those characters might be my favorite characters that I've ever written about. I miss them.

Mary: Hi, my name is Mary and I have written two stories. I was hoping to get them published but I have been having some difficulty.

Mary: I would recommend looking up an organization called SCBWI (the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators). If you become a member, they'll give you lots of good advice on how to get your book published.

Strappy: Is there anything you don't like about writing?

Mary: I can't think of anything I don't like about writing. I love writing and rewriting. I like making the story better. I also love working with editors and illustrators. I think I'm extraordinarily lucky to be able to be a professional children's book author.

Maria: How many Dear America books have you written?

Mary: I've written two Dear Americas and two My Americas. A third My America was co-authored with my husband Will. He helps me with all my books, actually - he edits them. We also wrote eight Magic Tree House non-fiction books which we called the Research Guides.

Sleepyhead: How much time do you spend writing each day?

Mary: It differs from day to day. Some days I'll work for eight hours and some days not at all. No two days are ever the same.

Trunks: What is your favorite book of all the books that you have written?

Mary: A novel I wrote which takes place in the 1840s called "Adaline Falling Star." It's about a girl on a journey up the Missouri River with a stray dog. I still think of them as if they were real.

Vani India: Are you going to make Jack and Annie meet all the myths?

Mary: In the new books, they will have different adventures which have mythical origins. I have always been inspired by mythology and fairytales. Now Jack and Annie will participate more in those worlds.

Dee HK: How did you decide to put Morgan into your Magic Tree House series?

Mary: When I was doing my research, I came across information about Morgan LeFay. In the beginning of the middle ages, she was considered a legendary good enchantress. Then storytellers turned her into a villain. I wanted to return to the good Morgan who does magic to help people, so I brought her into my books.

Wondering: How many different series have you written?

Mary: The Magic Tree House is all my series. Many different writers write for the Dear America and My America series. I also have a series that's all my own called Tales From the Odyssey. That will be a total of six books, and four of them are out now. They retell the great Greek epic myth about a hero named Odysseus, and his adventures with monsters and gods and goddesses.

Adam: Will Jack and Annie grow up to become teenagers and adults?

Mary: I don't plan on writing about them as teenagers or adults, but in my new Merlin Mission books, they are about two years older than when they started traveling in the Magic Tree House. Annie is now 9 years old and Jack is 10.

Maria: I love your Magic Tree House and Dear America books. I have read "Standing in the Light: The Captive Diary of Catharine Carey Logan," and it's my favorite Dear America book!

Mary: Thank you! I loved working on that book and learning about the early Quakers in Pennsylvania as well as the Lenape people. It was a very rewarding experience.

Margo: When you publish your books, do you feel excited that people will buy them or do you feel the opposite?

Mary: Sometimes you feel sad because your characters have now left you and gone out into the world. You no longer have control over what happens to them.

Mary: How do you add character to your characters to keep a reader's interest?

Mary: My characters tell me who they are. Once I get started on the page, they start doing what they want to do, and I try to describe it as best I can. It's a little bit like magic.

Woolley ES: How important is reading?

Mary: Reading is absolutely essential if you want to be a writer. It teaches you what good writing is all about, and also stimulates your own imagination and gives you research and information to bring to your own work.

George: What grade or age will the Odyssey series be geared to?

Mary: The Odyssey is for readers from age 7 to age 12. The books are short and simple to read, but they tell a story that older kids and even adults should enjoy.

Kipling: Did you like mermaids when you were little?

Mary: Not really. I never paid any attention to mermaids until someone asked me to write a story on the mermaid. I began to look up old mermaid tales, and I found so many wonderful ones that I came back to the publisher and said I'd like to write a book which retells many different mermaid tales. Now, of course, I love mermaids. They are strong, exciting, unpredictable characters.

Esther Holguin: Did you ever write a book about your family?

Mary: Not really, but I imagine that they figure into all of my work because I had a very close family and a happy childhood. I think when Jack and Annie come home from all their adventures, they feel the way I did when I came home at the end of an ordinary day when I was a kid.

Asha: What comes first when you are writing - the big idea of how the story will go, or a series of characters that just kind of grows to become a story?

Mary: Now, what comes first is a period of research where I take notes on different ideas, and gradually character and plot begin to appear out of all the chaos. It's the part of the process I love the best. I love discovering the story in the midst of a lot of material.

Evie: How many books have you written so far?

Mary: Between 60 and 70. I'm never sure of the exact count because more books keep coming out.

Keven: How many books in Spanish do you have?

Mary: I believe many Magic Tree House books are in Spanish now. My book of Greek myths is in Spanish and perhaps other books I'm not completely aware of.

Jenna: Do your fingers ever get tired?

Mary: Not really. My eyes get tired.

HK Kids: What was your favorite book as a child?

Mary: I loved a novel called "The Little Princess." I thought the girl was a great hero, and I wanted to be like her. I think her name was Sarah Crew. I absolutely loved the "Little House on the Prairie" books and a giant book of Bible stories that we had. I read the Bible stories book many, many times. And now my sister and I are working on our own book of Bible stories for Random House.

KCPL: How many brothers and sisters do you have?

Mary: I have a twin brother, a younger brother and an older sister. I consider them all my best friends.

Tennie: Did you like having a twin brother?

Mary: I loved it! He and I are still very close. We went to Ireland together this summer. We love taking trips together.

Hillary: When you're not writing new books, what do you like to do?

Mary: I love playing with my dog. I love taking walks in the country and taking rides with my husband. Most of all, I probably love reading.

Hannah Holguin: Do you know how to speak a different language?

Mary: Unfortunately I don't. I studied French in school, but I was never very good at it. I wish I could learn Italian, but I just don't have enough time right now.

Bunny: Is it fun writing books with your partner?

Mary: It's a lot of fun. Our lives have always been about other characters and talking about them. Will was an actor for many years, so we've always sort of lived in alternate realities on a day-to-day basis.

Stephanie: Have you ever been to Frog Creek, PA?

Mary: No. I'm afraid I made that name up, but someday we plan to buy a farm and call it Frog Creek Farm. We talk about this a lot.

Genie: What is the hardest part about writing books with someone else?

Mary: He likes to do a lot of work near the end of the period to write the book. I like to do a little bit every day. Our different rhythms sometimes clash.

Kate: Have you ever written poetry, and if so, do you have one you can share with us now?

Mary: I used to love writing poetry. That's actually how I started writing. I'm sorry, but I don't have them here at this very moment.

Esther Holguin: Are you going to write a book on your life?

Mary: Maybe when I'm very old and have gathered more experience.

Reader: Do you have a special room that you go to to write and if so, can you describe it?

Mary: No. I write anywhere and everywhere, from train stations to the kitchen to restaurants to my so-called study which I'm hardly ever in.

Dennie: Where were you born and are you from a big family?

Mary: I was born in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. My dad was in the military, and I grew up on military posts with my parents and my two brothers and sister.

Shweta: Do you like magic books like Harry Potter?

Mary: I don't read Harry Potter because I don't want to confuse its vast imaginative world with my own. Plus, sadly, I don't have much time for pleasure reading these days.

HK Kids: What inspired you to become an author?

Mary: I love living in my imagination. I love reading, and I love playing with words. For these reasons, being a writer seemed the perfect vocation. Plus I love the freedom of working for myself.

Adam: I really want you to come to my school but if you can't, where can I go see you?

Mary: I'm sorry I'm not able to do school visits anymore because my publishing schedule is so overwhelming. I will be doing a presentation in New York City for the New York is Book Country Festival on Sunday, September 21st at noon.

Woolley ES: If you weren't a writer what would you be?

Mary: Crazy!

I1692B4: What is your favorite show?

Mary: I'm afraid I don't watch TV, so I can't really answer that question.

Thea: Were you a good student at school? What school did you go to and have you ever been back to visit some of your old teachers?

Mary: I went to at least seven different schools since I was raised in the military. I was a pretty good student, but I spent a lot of time daydreaming and was bored a lot. I wish that my schools had all the creative activities that I've seen in different schools around the country.

Sharie: Is anyone else in your family a writer?

Mary: My sister and my husband have both written books, one brother is a science writer, and one brother is a photographer.

Simmone: What, to you, are the most important points to remember when writing?

Mary: Rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite and try to have fun while you're doing it.

Davis: How does it feel to be a famous writer?

Mary: I don't feel very famous because no one in my household treats me like I'm famous. I live off in the country and my life is very quiet and simple.

Sigma: Is your hair naturally curly?

Mary: Yes, sad to say. It has been the bane of my existence. Half the time it is out of control.

Tomkins County Publ: What is your favorite piece of technology?

Mary: I love my laptop computer. I couldn't live without it.

Cleo: You always say you love animals. Can your dog, Bailey, do any tricks? What other pets have you had? What was your favorite pet?

Mary: My dog, Bailey, is the most disobedient dog who ever lived. But that's one of the reasons I think I love her - she has her own mind. I had other dogs growing up, but I have never been as close to an animal as I've been to Bailey. She is 14 1/2 now and still disobeys me. Right now she is hiding under the bed from a thunderstorm.

Disco Babe: What is your favorite book that you read this summer?

Mary: Good question! I reread "The Wind in the Willows" and read it sitting by the river not far from where the author was buried. I was in Oxford, England.

Shweta: What was your most embarrassing moment? Honestly!

Mary: Wow! I'm sure I've had many, many most embarrassing moments, but nothing is jumping into my mind. I must have repressed these memories! But if you have embarrassing moments, please know that I identify with you.

Tomkins County Publ: Mac, Windows or Unix?

Mary: I use Windows.

Linz: What book are you working on now?

Mary: I have just finished writing "Summer of the Sea Serpent," Magic Tree House No. 31, and soon I will start work on "Winter of the White Wizard." I am also finishing my fifth volume of "The Odyssey." I am working on a picture book about Pompeii and working on a research guide with my sister now on Ancient Greece. Several other books are in my mind. So you may wonder how do I sleep?

Tessa: What do you like best, writing adventure stories or research type books like "Dolphins and Sharks" and why?

Mary: I love both, but probably I find the most satisfaction in writing adventure stories because my imagination takes off from the facts, and I discover new worlds.

Annie: Is there a place you would like to visit but haven't got to yet? What is your ideal destination and why?

Mary: I would love to visit Northern England and Scotland, as I would really like to see Beatrix Potter country. My favorite destinations outside the United States are England, France and Italy.

Kate: What is your favorite food?

Mary: I love anything cooked with tomatoes like spaghetti and pizza. But actually I love many different kinds of foods.

Fiona: I read you moved around a lot when you were small. Which place did you like best and why?
Mary: I loved an old Army post called Fort Monroe off the coast of Virginia. We lived inside of a moat in a house built before the Civil War. This was where I lived when I was Jack and Annie's age. In a strange way, it's probably the Frog Creek of my imagination.

Karen: Thank you for your wonderful books.

Mary: Thank you for reading them.

NYPL: Thanks for a great chat! We are almost out of time - do you have any parting words for us?

Mary: I hope that readers of my books will take lots of journeys in their imaginations and come to love reading and writing as much as I do. Life is always full when you have access to a good book. In this country, anyone can get a book at a library. This is a great privilege. Please use it!

NYPL: Mary, we are running out of time. I wish we could go longer, but I want to thank you for being with us and for answering so many questions about your writing and the influences in your life that led you to be a writer. I know your readers have appreciated this visit with you and will be looking for more of your books as fast as you write them. Again, thank you.

A Production of LiveWorld. Copyright 2003. All Rights Reserved.


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