Please welcome Alison McGhee to Metropolitan Mama this evening. Alison has written 13 books (including Someday, which I reviewed earlier this evening) and is an associate professor of creative writing at Metropolitan State University. She resides with her family in Minnesota.
ME: How many children do you have and what are their ages?
ALISON: I have three children. My son is 17 and my daughters are 15 and 12. I also have a cat and a dog.
ME: What inspired you to write children’s books?
ALISON: Despite my reverence for children’s literature, especially perfect picture books (e.g., Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are) and novels for children, I initially only wrote for adults. But after writing and publishing several novels I got a little restless and wanted to explore something new. I’ve kept journals about each of my children since they were born – one journal per child per year – and one of my sisters told me I had some great picture book ideas contained within them.
“Write a picture book about a girl who’s afraid to go to kindergarten because she doesn’t know how to tie her shoes,” she said, which is an idea lifted directly out of my older daughter’s life.
Eventually, in my continuing restlessness, I sat down to write it. Sadly, I was laboring under the common, extremely patronizing and false delusion that since a picture book is tiny, with so few words, it surely must be FAR easier to write than a novel, which is not tiny and contains many, many words. Yeah, right.
Three years later, I finally had a draft that I was not ashamed of. Yes, it took me that long. Picture books are fiendish little puzzles, to me, anyway, and I’m still working away at the craft.
ME: What advice would you give to an aspiring childrens book author?
ALISON: Write and write and write and read and read and read. Don’t think about the market, or trying to shoehorn your idea into some pre-determined notion of length and character and conflict. Rather, write what you yourself are drawn to. No matter the form, focus solely on making your work as good, and true, and essential, as it can possibly be.
ME: What advice would you give about how to successfully combine a writing career and motherhood?
ALISON: Hmm. This is a tough one. Combining any career with motherhood is hard, isn’t it? If only I had a magic answer to give you, then maybe I wouldn’t have struggled so hard, especially when my children were small. The obvious answers are easy: set aside time for your work that is inviolate, allow yourself to want something for yourself, learn to get great at juggling (sadly, this is equally important when your children turn into teenagers). The answers are easy, but putting them into practice is incredibly difficult.
I always wanted my children to feel as if they had a stay-at-home mother. (Why I wanted this I’m not sure, since my own mother had a career and I never felt neglected.) My children have told me that I succeeded in this goal. But I’m not sure, now, whether it was the wisest thing to do. Why shouldn’t a mother have her own big life in addition to being a mother? If I try to downplay something that’s of huge importance to me – being a writer – then what does that teach them? We do best that what we love to do. I love being a mother, and I love being a writer. Shouldn’t all of us be free to follow what we love?
Readers, don’t you just love Alison’s idea of keeping one journal per year for each of her children? What a great way to capture all of the precious moments and seal them up in a timeless form.
Alison’s newest book – Little Boy – comes out on 4/15.
WIN IT! One mama will win a copy of Little Boy, written by Alison Mcghee and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post prior to Sunday, Mar. 30, at midnight (don’t forget to follow the rules). The winner will be announced and contacted on Monday, Mar. 31. * Winner must provide a U.S. mailing address.
*UPDATE* The winner is #7 Jen. Congratulations!