Anna Myers is a children’s and young adult novelist. Her books include: STOLEN BY THE SEA (Walker, 2001); WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS (Walker, 2000); and FIRE IN THE HILLS (Walker, 1996). This interview was conducted via email in July 2002.
You’ve written many psychologically riveting novels. Which was the most difficult emotionally? Which was the most difficult in terms of craft?
I can answer both questions with one title, WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS. I wrote WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS during the darkest months of my life, just after the death of my husband of thirty years. Perhaps that is why it is by far the darkest of my books. Both of the main characters are desperate girls who have had to face cruel lives. One of them is forced to drown a baby. That girl’s pain filled my days. It was also difficult in terms of craft. The novel frequently switches view point characters, one of whom lives in modern times and one who lives in the early 1900’s.
Which of the characters from your prior work haunts you most and why?
I have a book coming out this fall called TULSA BURNING. It deals, in part, with a terrible race riot that happened in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921. Thirty-five square blocks of African-American homes and businesses were burned. My main character is a white boy named Nobe Chase. Nobe is like some of the boys I once taught. He is on a thin line. If he moves one way, he may do great things for the world. If he moves the other way, he will hurt himself and those around him. Nobe is based on someone in my life who is very dear to me and who grew up on the edge. Like Nobe, the person in my life made the right decisions, but I am haunted by wondering about some of the boys I have taught.
Which one do you identify with most and why?
I identify most with Clair from ETHAN BETWEEN US. Clair grew up where and when I grew up, in the oil field community west of Edmond, Oklahoma. Clair wonders if the beating of her heart is connected to the rhythmic beating of the oil pump near her hone. Her father is an oil field worker as was mine. Many of her emotions are like those I had, and her first love is in many ways like mine was.
How has where you live(d) inspired your writing?
I grew up in the county and have lived most of my life there. I have not yet written about city kids. There has always been in my life an awareness of nature and a closeness to the land. I believe that awareness and closeness are evident in my books.
You have produced novels at a very consistent rate. How do you go about pre-writing, putting words on paper? What is the revision process like for you?
I do a lot of brainstorming before I begin to write. My husband was always my number one helper, but one of my sisters has always helped me too. I write my first draft quickly, and I sometimes think it is more of an outline than anything that is like the final product. The first draft is hard for me, and I give myself permission to write badly. The revision process is fun. I love turning the bones into a polished story.
Some of your work is historical. How do you go about doing period research?
I always do a great deal of reading about a period, and I gather far more information than I will actually use. I need what I think of as a “feel” for the times. My third book, GRAVEYARD GIRL, is about the yellow fever epidemic in Memphis in 1876. I tell people I am an expert on yellow fever, but it is a shame there seems to be little demand for one.
Can you tell us a little bit about your path to publication?
I knew when I was six years old that I wanted to be a writer. It was then that I published my first book, dictated to one of my older sisters because it was before first grade and I did not know how to write. It was called THE LONG BEARDED MAN. It was about a man who put a dollar on the doorstep, rang the bell, waited for someone to bend to get the dollar, kicked the person in the stomach, took his dollar, and went next door to do it again. I wish I still had the manuscript because I think the movies might buy it. I did make $1.25 on the venture because I charged each of my five older siblings, including the one who wrote it down for me, a quarter each to read it. All of my life, I thought and talked about writing, but for a very long time I did nothing about it. When I finally got serious, it took me seven years to sell my first book.
What encouragement helped you along your way?
I had several teachers who told me I wrote well, and my parents always made me think I could do anything I wanted to do. My biggest champion was my husband. He was a poet and a wonderful editor. My siblings were also always eager to help. Years ago one of brothers-in-law put my first manuscripts on his computer for me. I had to smile when an editor referred to him as my typist because he has a PhD. Later one of my brothers bought me my first word processor. Both of my sisters help with research, ideas, and anything I need.
What books were among your childhood favorites and why?
I loved the ANNE OF GREEN GABLES books most. My sisters read them aloud to me, and I loved to be read to. I shared the names Anne used for her surroundings with my best friend. We used to call the mud-red pond near our home “The Lake of Shining Waters.”
What are your favorite titles today and why?
My favorite book is always the one I read last. During the years that I was both a teacher and a writer, I never read anything other than books for young people. After I gave up teaching, I expected to enjoy more adult literature. However, I still do not read a great many books written for adults. I think I am truly a child at heart.
What advice do you have for beginning writers?
Read. Do not read as a reader. Read with a pencil in your hand. Take notes about what makes a book work. Most of all, DO NOT GIVE UP. If writing is a real dream for you, continue to learn, and it will happen.
For you, what is the hardest part of being an author?
I hate the hours of isolation. I need people, and the people I worked with were always dear to me. Writing is a lonely life.
What do you love about it?
I love creating characters who become real to me, and I absolutely adore sharing those characters with kids. It will always be a thrill to me to know that kids are reading my books!
You’re one of the few authors I know who’s elected to remain with one publishing house. In this age of corporate takeovers and editor musical-chairs, some of this is circumstance. But some of it is choice. Why are you so happy at Walker?
That question is an easy one to answer. I have had the amazing experience of working with the same wonderful editor for ten years. Emily Easton of Walker edited my first book and will edit my twelfth book this fall. Emily is so good to work with. She always sees what I need to develop more.
What do you do outside of your writing life?
My life is filled with family and friends. Two of my three children are married, and I will be a grandmother for the first time next March. My siblings and their children are very important to me, and I have a large group of very close friends. In September, I will marry a man with whom I went to high school many years ago.
How would you describe the person you are today?
I am proud, certain, and grateful. I am proud of the three children my husband and I raised. They are our legacy. I am certain, having sat with my husband as he died, that nothing matters in the end except people and our relationships with them. I am grateful to have work that I love enough to make me glad to get up even during the darkest days of my life.
Are you interested in speaking to groups? If so, how can interested parties contact you?
Yes, I love to speak to kids, teachers, and writing groups. Last spring I had the privilege of speaking in San Francisco to reading teachers from all over the country. I love to meet readers and other writers. I will be moving to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in late September. I will have a phone listed under Anna Myers.