Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Interview with Mary Pope Osborne

Welcome to my segment of Mary Pope Osborne's Blog Tour. I was so honored to be able to interview her and believe she is a truly amazing woman. Enjoy! See my post below for more info...

One of the most commonly asked questions to authors is something like, "What would be your word of advice to aspiring writers?" Most answers are to write, write, and write. If you don't agree with this, what is your advice? If you do, what was it that helped you continue writing on and on?

I’m of the ‘write-write-write school” too; but with a twist: Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite”; and every time, try to make it better. I’m amazed at how many kids think that once they’ve written something, it’s done. I shock them when I tell them that I rewrite a Magic Tree House chapter 20 times or more. Most of my work is rewriting, in fact. I also advise aspiring writers to take a break when they get really stuck. I take lots of breaks – to play with the dogs, make a cup of tea, talk to Will. When I come back to the work, very often my subconscious has solved the problem…And finally, I advise writers to find at least one person whom they can trust to share their work with…or even a small group of people. We all need feedback. I wouldn’t have a career as a writer without help from my husband Will. For thirty years he’s been my first reader and listener.

What were some of your favorite books as a kid?

I loved books of fairy tales and Bible stories and the Little House on the Prairie books, and Nancy Drew, and The Little Princess and The Secret Garden. I remember my two favorite picture books were called The Three Ugly Sisters and Big Farmer Big, both of which have been out of print for many years. Imagine my joy last year when I opened my Christmas present from my husband Will and found a copy of Big Farmer Big. Knowing how much I’d loved it, he’d been searching for it for years and had finally found a copy on Ebay. Just looking at the pictures made me feel 4 years old again. It’s now displayed prominently in my study.

I love those books as well! Funny thing, I just finished being in the play of The Secret Garden. :) I see that you have experience in theater. How has the stage affected your life?

The stage was the first outlet I found for my creativity. In my teens, I spent nearly every free hour outside high school acting or working in a community theater in our town in North Carolina. I studied dramatic arts at the University of North Carolina, and then years later, married an actor – my husband, Will. Now my writing life and my theater past have really come together by being involved with a show written by Will and composer Randy Courts -- Magic Tree House: the Musical. It’s traveling the country now, on a national tour.

Have you always wanted Jack and Annie's story on stage? If not, how did everything work into place for Magic Tree House: The Musical to happen?

Over the years, I’ve turned down offers to have Magic Tree House turned into movies or television shows or video games, because I want kids to read, and I want the books and characters to stay in children’s imaginations. Theater, though, is different from the electronic and digital world. A show is not frozen in time. It’s never performed exactly the same way twice. It requires a live audience to fully realize itself. The actors and audience are collaborators in the same way that readers and authors are collaborators.

I’ve always felt that way, so one day when Will and a wonderful man who’s a composer were working together on a show, I passed through the room and said, ‘You guys should think of writing a musical based on Magic Tree House.” They looked at each other…and the next thing I knew, I was being invited into their work space to hear a song. It was so beautiful, I cried. More great songs followed. Basing their show on book # 29, Christmas in Camelot; Will and Randy expanded and deepened the original text, making it appeal to adults as well as kids. They created a huge Broadway-style show with two-story high dragon puppets, over twenty human-size puppets, Knights of the Round Table, fairy dancers, and of course, Jack and Annie. Their musical is touring the country now, and Will and I are traveling to many places to see it. For anyone who’s interested in learning more about the musical, there’s a tour schedule and lots of fun information at

Whenever I bought the newest Magic Tree House book, the first thing I would do (and still do), would be to flip to the back and see what book was coming next. I was always amazed you were able to keep finding topics to write about. What was your inspiration for finding all the different places Jack and Annie went to?

I was constantly thinking of different topics that interest me, and when I’m out on the road, I ask kid audiences to vote on these topics. I often move to the forefront the ideas that kids want most. But if I want to write about a subject that might not interest kids at first glance, such as an adventure with William Shakespeare or with Leonardo Da Vinci, I try to think of an appealing title -- Stagefright on a Summer Night (my Shakespeare story) or Monday with a Mad Genius (my Leonardo story.) When I asked kids to vote on these titles instead of the subjects, they were really enthusiastic. Once kids read the books and got to know Shakespeare and Leonardo Da Vinci, I think they found them really exciting, too.

How far do you plan on taking Jack and Annie's adventures?

As long as I have a clear mind, hands that can type, and readers who want to read the books, I’ll write them. It’s so much fun, I can’t seem to stop.

You obviously have a great love for Greek mythology, medieval stories, etc. Would you say that stories should be a significant influence on our culture today? Why?

The old stories are with us everyday of our lives. References are constantly made to Bible stories. Greek and Norse myths flourish everywhere – from the names of cars and coffee shops to the names of constellations and days of the week. New stories are everywhere, too, but whether they realize it or not, modern storytellers are always drawing on the same elements present in the oldest stories. We all tell the hero’s tale over and over – whether it’s Odysseus, Frodo, Harry Potter or an American Girl, there are always protagonists, calls to adventure, enemies, obstacles, and good or bad resolutions.

What is your definition of a powerful book?

Any book that makes me feel excited to be alive.

If you could have the whole world's attention for 5 minutes, what would you say?

Wow, that’s one of the best questions I’ve ever been asked. I’ll give a simple answer: I would implore adults to tell their children to step away from the computer, turn off the TV, and either go play in the back yard, or find a cozy nook and read a book. And if your children don’t read well or simply don’t like to read, then read with them. Let them read a page, then you read a page. Take them to a library. Help them find books they love. Good books will help them discover other worlds and love life in “all its manifestations.” In the midst of pain, loss, economic deprivation, sometimes only books can transport us to other worlds. Most importantly, reading books (like playing in the back yard) will help develop a child’s imagination. A rich imagination will help him or her think creatively about how to solve problems – their own, as well as the world’s.

Thank you so much Mary Pope Osborne for making one of my dreams come true (see here)!

Also, check out the rest of this awesome blog tour below:

Thursday 12/18: The Page Flipper,
Friday 12/19: The Well- Read Child,


Emily Ruth said...

excellent interview traci!

Sherry said...

Wow, Traci, terrific interview! I've never read her books, but now I'm really interested. The play sounds very cool, too. Thanks for the fun, both of you.

Polka Dotted Pickles said...

Great job!! :)

Erin said...

Great great interview. :D I especially like her answer to the second-to-last question.