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April 1st, 2008

INTERVIEW WITH LYNN HAZEN

Today we welcome Lynn Hazen to the Tollbooth.  Lynn's first book, Mermaid Mary Margaret (Bloomsbury, 2004), a middle grade novel, was hailed a "winner" by Kirkus Reviews.  She followed it with her first picture book, Buzz Bumble to the Rescue, also published by Bloomsbury, in 2005.  This year Lynn has two new books coming out. And, once again, she is breaking new ground with a young chapter book and a young adult novel.  

In April, TODAY IN FACT!,

counters for web pages
Lynn's first young chapter book, Cinder Rabbit, is 

being published by Henry Holt.  In the fall, Tricycle Press will publish Lynn's first young adult novel, Shifty.  Lynn earned her M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College in 2004.  While a student in the program, she won the Houghton Mifflin award for the manuscript which became Shifty.  When she is not busy writing, Lynn loves visiting schools and libraries.      

 

Hi Lynn.  Welcome to the Tollbooth. 

 

Hi Sarah. Thanks for having me.

 

It looks like 2008 will be a big year for you with the publication of two new books.  Could you tell us a little bit about the spark that inspired Cinder Rabbit?

 

I’m a preschool teacher in San Francisco. One day while walking back from a fieldtrip to our public library, a child’s shoe fell off in the middle of a busy crosswalk. She hopped across the street while her friend scooped up her shoe, then knelt on the opposite curb to help her put it back on. It was very funny and sweet, reminding me of Cinderella, and both children were full of spunk and charm. I wanted to capture that spontaneity and spunk, so I changed everyone to bunnies attending Grand Rabbits School, and made the real life inspiration into a key scene in the book. You can listen to a podcast about it at www.CinderRabbit.com

 

Of course I had to write and rewrite it over and over again. I kept switching the characters from bunnies to humans back to bunnies again. And while the real-life child who inspired the story was an expert hopper, I had to create a story problem-- so I imagined a bunny character who is teased so much by a classmate that she forgets how to hop.

What are some of the challenges in writing a young chapter book ?

 

Early readers and young chapter books seem simple, but like picture books, there is a lot going on in a precise amount of space and limited word count. Plus children will be learning to read these on their own. Learning to read can be very hard work. So I aim to create memorable characters and strong stories filled with humor and emotion to pull readers in and make all their efforts worthwhile.

 

Are you planning to write more young chapter books?

I’d like to. It’s a fun challenge to write for this age. And it is a welcome diversion from writing novels. In fact I have another young chapter book tentatively titled, Seymour’s Snail Trail, with Holt in Spring 2009. Seymour is an artistically inclined snail looking for a job in all the wrong places. The first place Seymour looks for a job is at a French restaurant. It’ll be illustrated by Doug Cushman. I just saw the sketches and they are wonderfully sweet, funny and slimy!

 

 

Let's talk a little bit about your young adult novel, Shifty.  Could you tell us about the path to publication, from initial spark to final manuscript? 

 

The title, Shifty, came to me at the same time as two new characters were bouncing around in my head—a teen driving a car without a license, and a quiet, but stubborn young girl. The characters were arguing about a dazed homeless woman that the teen is pretending is his grandma in order to avoid a parking ticket for parking in a handicapped zone. I wrote the first ten pages to see where it might lead.  I was attending Vermont College at the time and I sent the opening pages to my faculty advisor, Alison McGhee. I also ran the first pages past my critique group.

 

Even though I had no idea where I was going with the story or if I even wanted to try a YA novel, the characters were pulling me strongly into the story and not leaving me alone. Everyone who read those first pages kept asking for more, so I had to keep writing. Plus I needed to write new work each month in my MFA program. Alison was a great mentor for me, encouraging me to be brave. Writing YA for the first time, I felt like I was jumping off a very high and very scary cliff.

 

I captured a first draft in six months, won the Houghton Mifflin Scholarship (which helped pay the next semester’s tuition), then revised the story my final semester with Norma Fox Mazer, another great mentor. Shifty became my creative thesis at Vermont College.

 

After graduating, I revised even more on my own, with my critique group, and again with my editor, Abigail Samoun at Tricycle Press. In fact we are finishing up copy edits right now.

You can read a bit more about Shifty, my original inspiration and process, and the first chapter at www.ShiftyTheBook.com

 

 

You've written middle grade fiction, young adult fiction, young chapter books and picture books.  Do you have plans to work in other genres or formats?

 

I have one story that might be a graphic novel, and I’ve taken a couple of screenwriting classes, but I just try to capture and write the story ideas that speak to me the strongest, keeping the market and appropriate genre and format in the back of my mind. Right now I’m exploring a picture book, a couple of new young chapter books, a middle grade novel, and maybe another YA.

 

 

Do you prefer writing in one form over another?

I like them all. And I love reading them all, too. Whatever the target age range, I try to create stories filled with humor heart and hope.

 

 

What advice do you have for people who want to write for children?

 

 

Keep your mind open to all inspiration and characters who might visit you or your muse--bunnies, teenagers, whomever. Invite them all in and capture them however you can on the page.

 

Then dedicate the time to perfecting your craft. That might mean you’ll need to sacrifice time spent elsewhere.

 

After you’ve captured your story, follow the same advice we all hear over and over again. Read, read, read! Write and rewrite. Join a good critique group. Go to conferences. Don’t give up.

 

I know you have several websites where readers can go and find out more about you and your books.  Could you remind us of the URL's?

www.LynnHazen.com

www.CinderRabbit.com

www.ShiftyTheBook.com

www.MermaidMary.com

 

and my blog at:

 

http://lynnhazenimaginaryblog.blogspot.com

 

 

Any other news you would like to share with readers?

 

I recently heard that Australian "foreign translation rights" just sold for Shifty. That's my latest news. It will be fun to see how it's "translated!" I’ve never been to Australia, but of course I’d love to go and meet some of Shifty’s readers.

 

Thanks for dropping by.  It was good to visit with you again.

 

Thanks again for having me.