Holiday House sat down with acclaimed author MARY AMATO to talk about her new novel . . .
Mary, please tell us about your new book, OUR TEACHER IS A VAMPIRE AND OTHER (NOT) TRUE STORIES.
My new book is straight from my heart and has more of me in it than any other book I’ve written. It’s a story about a classroom of kids that want to write a collaborative story. It’s funny, but there’s a very serious issue that builds throughout the novel. I can’t wait to share it with readers.
Where did you get your inspiration for the book?
For several years I have visited with a school in Red Rock, Minnesota, via Skype. The librarian and teachers follow up the Skype with fantastic letters. I love getting letters from kidsâ€”their voices really come through in their writing. The students at Red Rock Elementary School were crazy for my book Please Write in This Book, which I wrote as a fictional collaborative journal, and they were begging for a sequel. Instead of a sequel, I decided to set the story in Minnesota and have it be a collaborative journal in which kids write to their favorite author for advice about writing. I have dedicated the book to them!
The book is told from multiple perspectives. What did you find challenging or rewarding about writing in this format?
I love writing in multiple points of view. Writing fiction is a lot like acting. Writers have to get into character in order to create a convincing voice. I love the personalities of children and enjoy inhabiting different characters. Many books are told from the point of view of one or two characters. When you’re writing a story that is told from the point of view of a dozen or more, it’s a little like juggling. It’s challenging to keep all the story lines going, but really fun to work on.
Tell us what you hope readers gain from reading OUR TEACHER IS A VAMPIRE . . .
One of the main themes of the book is that stories have the power to heal. I believe that. I receive letters from teens, tweens and kids who say that one of my stories helped them to see something in their lives in a new light. After reading my book The Naked Mole-Rat Letters, which is about a girl’s strained relationship with her father, a girl wrote that she was inspired to have an honest conversation with her dad and that it changed their lives. It doesn’t get any better than that.
What made you decide to become an author?
Books helped me through very tough times in my own childhood. My mother died when I was ten, and it was in the pages of books—all kinds of books—that I found comfort, strength, role models, truth, sympathy and laughter. I love words and what they can do for us. Imagine: little black marks on a page have such power.
What advice would you give to young authors?
It’s simple. Get a little notebook. Small is easier because you can fill it quickly. Cheap and plain is less intimidating than fancy. Be curious. Write what fascinates you. Just write, write, write.
MORE ABOUT MARY AMATO
As a child, Mary read Harriet the Spy and knew she wanted to become a writer.
Mary Amato grew up scribbling in her diaries in Libertyville, Illinois, and graduated from Indiana University with a teaching degree. She taught in public and private schools, worked as a dance teacher and choreographer, and wrote many magazine articles. As soon as she became a mother, she turned to her first passion: writing for children. Mary attended the graduate writing program at Johns Hopkins University, where she received her MA in fiction.
“I always wanted to be a writer, but it took me a long time to believe that I could actually become one. I started writing at the age of seven when my mother handed me a little spiral notebook and told me to keep a journal of our trip to California. I liked the fact that I could record something in my journal and then read it later. My favorite book as a child was Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh because Harriet was a terrific journal keeper.”
“I love to write. Not all writers love to write. I wake up every morning and can’t wait to sit at my dining room table and write. (I write on a laptop computer with a cup of tea nearby.) I especially love to write books for children. I think that’s because I needed books when I was a kid. I turned to books when I was lonely or sad or confused or bored. It is extremely fun to think that kids are reading my books.”
Award-winning author Mary Amato is known for her comic middle-grade fiction, all kid-favorites, including Please Write in This Book, The Naked Mole-Rat Letters, the Riot Brothers series, and more, as well as her young adult novels. Mary is also a storyteller, poet and musician. In addition to writing children’s books, she teaches popular workshops on writing and the creative process around the country and lives in Maryland with her family.