Freaky Friday-Interview with aspiring children’s author Mary Ann Scott

Filed under: Freaky Friday

If you’ve seen the movie Freaky Friday, you know that its premise is about change and growth through role reversal. For my Friday Blog entry I thought it would be interesting to interview aspiring writers; the same writers who spend lots of time reading the interviews of published authors and dreaming of the day when they might get their book on the shelves…
For our post turkey festivus…we have Mary Ann Scott. I first met Mary Ann in person at the 2008 Rutgers One-on-One Conference. We connected because both of us are Verla Kay Blue Boarders. Another Rutgers Blue Boarder, Lisa Mullarkey, had a fantastic get together at her house giving Mary Ann and I that first opportunity to get to know each other in person. I know you’re dying to meet her too, so lets get started.
Can you tell us how you started your journey as a Children’s Writer?

I guess my journey started like many others. I was a high school English teacher who truly loved her job and her subject. I had always wanted to write, but when you have 150 essays to grade every time you give an assignment, there is little time for your own writing. But I was also a perpetual student, and when I was expecting my second child, I quit teaching and started working on my Ph.D. full time at Purdue University. Yeah, I know. Smart, huh? When the little sprout arrived, a lot of things changed. I took time off school and parked myself in the kids’ play room with a crappy old laptop. There I sat, surrounded by Fischer-Price little people, a toddler with a huge imagination, and a baby in a bouncy seat. And like so many others before me, I decided to start with picture books. No, I never fooled myself into thinking that was the easy road, it was just where my first stories were headed. And to put it quite plainly…they sucked.
But, even from the start, I took myself seriously. This wasn’t a hobby; it was my next vocation. So I joined the SCBWI and went to my first conference. After a very gracious paid critique, I figured out that PBs were not my calling. I had actually started a YA novel several years earlier, but I was a teacher. No time to write a novel! Well, now was the time. Thus was born UNDER A BROKEN TREE, my first YA novel.
Well, I never went back to school, and my husband took a job in Pennsylvania, so there I was in a new city, a new state, starting over. But two crucial things happened that set my journey in stone—I met my friend Lee (an amazing artist) and I hooked up with a the SCBWI Eastern PA chapter and attended the Fall Philly conference. Talk about feeding your soul. I knew I was in the right place. Lee became my Beta Reader and biggest fan (aside from my husband) and the SCBWI EPA Chapter was like another home to me. Before I knew it, I was working on another novel, which earned me a scholarship to the Highlights Foundation Chautauqua Writers Workshop. And Patricia Lee Gauch changed my life. As my mentor at Chautauqua, she gave me permission to really write the way I wanted. I had always constrained myself a bit. She encouraged me to listen to the voice in my head and follow my instincts. I felt as though I had been to college for 4 years! What a phenomenal experience.
So now I have a truly awesome agent submitting BEHIND THE DARKLING VEIL while I work on my next book and organize the next Pocono Mountain Retreat.
Oh, I can picture you in that playroom…I’ve been there before. Congratulations on the scholarship! Can you tell everyone a little bit about Chautauqua? I hear it is an amazing experience.

Oh wow! Chautauqua in itself is an amazing story—rich setting, unforgettable characters, lots of action. First, it is set in what started as a utopian community, filled with gingerbread-style houses and lovely gardens at the edge of a beautiful lake. Every evening was filled with music as the symphony or the opera or a touring rock band played in the amphitheater, the sound wafting over the whole village. The workshops with people like Carolyn Coman, Jerry Spinelli, and Donna Jo Napoli made you feel like a “real” writer. And the Brown brothers kept you well-fed and laughing all week long. But the most amazing part of it all for me was my time with my mentor. Everyone is paired with an editor or a published writer who does some intensive, one-on-one work with them on their manuscript. Patti carted a bag full of books everywhere so she could share examples with us. She gave me so much and encouraged me to let go and follow my voice. We were given 2 official meetings, but Patti was so dedicated, she wanted to see me one more time before the end of the week, so there I was, up until 2:00 am, pulling at my hair while I revised an extra chapter for her to look at. I looked a little like Don King when I was done, but I had hammered out an awesome chapter and Patti squeezed in the time to go over it with me that last day. I can honestly say, my work would not be where it is now without Patti Lee Gauch and all the faculty at Chautauqua. So if you can work it out, GO to Chautauqua!
Chautauqua sounds amazing and I once again take off my hat and bow down to Patti and the others in the children’s writing community who pay it forward everyday.

I’d also love to here a little bit about your books and why you’re called Ghostgirl.

Ghost Girl…I grew up in in a house that was haunted by the ghost of a young Miami Indian who loved to rearrange the furniture from time to time and sit on the bed in the middle of the night. Ever since those early mystical experiences, I’ve been fascinated with ghosts and the possibilities of what happens after this life, especially if this life has been a rocky one. UNDER A BROKEN TREE is a contemporary take on some of those explorations. But I’ve always loved cemeteries, too. Not in a morbid way. For me, the stones are little stories of what used to be. Love letters to the past. So now I write my own love letters to what could have been. BEHIND THE DARKLING VEIL is a ghost story set in the 1850s amid the spiritualist movement that changed our perception of life after death forever. Indian ghosts, menacing preachers, and even a god machine are waiting for some eager young readers to drink them in. My latest work is set in the same time period, but it has a much sharper, feminist twist and I can’t wait to see where it leads me.
Your books sound fascinating and I hear you have an awesome agent who thinks so too. Can you tell us a little bit about where you are on the journey to publication?

Thanks! I took my first step into publication this month with the appearance of my article, “Abe and the Magic Lantern” in CRICKET MAGAZINE, and I’m hoping to add a book contract to that soon. No doubt, one of the things high on my list of things to be thankful for this season is my fabulous agent, Elena Roth from the Caren Johnson Literary Agency. She has seen me through two solid rounds of revision and is now submitting my darling child to some amazing publishers. We’ve had a few very encouraging rejections so far, as ironic as that may sound—very complimentary, but not a perfect fit. Yet. Through it all, I’ve had a great mentor and a phenomenal advocate in Elana. So, while I continue to pull my hair out in anticipation as Behind the Darkling Veil makes its rounds, this Ghost Girl will keep walking through cemeteries, writing haunting YA stories, and obsessing about a shiny new contract.
I had the pleasure of having Elena at my 5-on-5 table at Rutgers this year. She was very sweet and helpful. You guys are a great match.

I also know that you’ve been very active in the Eastern PA SCBWI but have recently moved. Can you tell us a little bit about what its been like to be such an active SCBWI member for Eastern PA and what its like to have to pick-up and start over again?

Talk about a rough year! I have a whole new understanding of what it means to multi-task. And I think SCBWI is what kept me sane through it all. I joined in 2001 (when I still lived in Indiana) and a year later we relocated to PA. One of the first things I did was hook up with the SCBWI EPA crowd and go to my first Fall Philly. It really is true that you would be hard-pressed to find a more inviting and supportive crowd than kidlit writers, especially the EPA group. Never in a million years would I have imagined I could coordinate a conference, though. But with my husband starting a new job in Georgia and me staying in PA with the kids, waiting for the house to sell (which took 8 months), I was glad I had the Retreat to focus on. They always say, the more you have to do, the better you are at time management. (Well, somewhere somebody said that!) Doing the single mom thing with two kids who went through withdrawal every time Daddy came up for a visit and left again, revising a novel with my new agent, and coordinating the retreat faculty and workshops and putting up a new website…let’s just say I’m not exactly sure when I would have considered myself sane—before, during, or after all of that. To top it off, we actually moved from PA to GA exactly 5 days before I had to be at the Retreat. So I had to turn right around and fly back up to PA, which I didn’t mind one bit!
The move to Georgia has been much more challenging than our move to PA. While it is a beautiful state, we have landed in the most isolated corner of it. One chain bookstore in the mall and that’s the closest thing I have to a writing community. How would I ever survive without the internet and all my Blue Board buddies? I have met a fabulous group women, though, and we meet every Thursday night for what my husband refers to as our “stitch ‘n bitch.” For now, I am very happily continuing my work with the Eastern PA chapter of SCBWI, but I look forward to meeting more of our Southern Breeze friends as we get settled. Who knows? Maybe I’ll catch the whole Flannery O’Connor vibe and start writing some Southern gothic.
My hat is off to you! I’m sure you will have Georgia eating out of the palm of your hand in no time. Time to hear you top 5 books and how they’ve influenced you.

This is the toughest question of all because there are just so many books that have shaped my life, both as a writer and as a person. One of my early favorites was THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND, by Elizabeth George Speare. I immediately connected to Kit and admired her spunk and sense of loyalty. She was the lone voice of reason and compassion. At that time in my life, I knew just how that felt.
I didn’t read kid lit a lot when I was in Jr. & Sr. high school, so I tended to be hooked on some heavier stuff, like George Orwell’s 1984 and most of his essays. His descriptive style blew me away and kept me thinking about the “big picture” all the time.
It was really in my adulthood that I started seriously reading YA and MG books. One book that has never lost its hold on me is Robert Cormier’s I AM THE CHEESE. I cried when I came to the end, when I truly understood the significance of the title. How desolate! And I loved his experiment with different POV’s. It still haunts me.
I’ll round out my 5 with a couple of more recent YA reads. First, THE SONG OF THE MAGDALENE by Donna Jo Napoli. Here’s a historical piece that hit me at so many levels. Her story of Mary Magdalen spoke to me as a writer, a reader, and spiritual person who is always looking for the less obvious answers.
Finally, I can’t leave out one of my all-time favorite authors—Neil Gaiman. It’s difficult to choose just one, but I’ll go with his most recent THE GRAVEYARD BOOK. Atmosphere, expert story-telling, unforgettable characters, and of course…Ghosts! I couldn’t put it down.
Thanks so much for allowing me to raid your blog and blab about my life. I hope to have some good news to share by the time we all meet at the Retreat. And happy Thanksgiving!
Love it! Thanks so much for dropping by and being Freaky. I have a feeling you won’t be an “aspiring author” for long, so I’m glad we got you in while we could. If you are interested in keeping up with Mary Ann, she has a great blog called HAUNTING THE BROKEN TREE. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Livejournal.

Mary Ann, I’ll see you in April at the Pocono Mountain Retreat. If you’re interested in attending a GREAT Conference, registration begins on Tuesday December 1st. Happy Haunting Ghost Girl!


4 Responses | TrackBack URL | Comments Feed

  1. Nice interview. Thanks for explaining more about the name Ghostgirl. I had always wondered about that one.

  2. Thanks so much. :o)

  3. Always great to read about other YA writers.

  4. Thanks-so many great people out there. :o)

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