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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Stephanie Greene

Stephanie GreeneIs the “impos­si­ble game” some­thing you ran across or is it some­thing you invent­ed?

I read about it on a blog or the Inter­net, I can’t remem­ber. I try to keep abreast of what six-year-olds are doing by talk­ing to my nieces, who have lit­tle girls, or friends who do, or the chil­dren on the street where we live – any­where I can find infor­ma­tion.

How do you main­tain your sense of what a first grad­er thinks about, feels, and wor­ries about?

When I was writ­ing the books, I didn’t think about that. Posey got under my skin and I was able to con­vey the feel­ings and indig­na­tions and con­cerns of a lit­tle girl her age. But now that you ask and I look back, I think she’s prob­a­bly a bit like me at that age. I’m glad I didn’t real­ize it at the time because I find it impos­si­ble to write if I think that who I’m writ­ing about is myself. My moth­er once said I was always well-inten­tioned as a child and I think Posey is, too. I guess I uncon­scious­ly pulled on the often con­flict­ed feel­ings of hav­ing four sib­lings, too. They’re the uni­ver­sal emo­tions of chil­dren.

Do you find your­self writ­ing words, actions, con­cerns, and then check­ing with “author­i­ties” to see if your writ­ing is age-accu­rate?

No. I come up with the cen­tral con­cept and write it. My edi­tor offers her opin­ion, of course, and some­times ques­tions what I’ve had Posey say or do. Togeth­er, we iron out any­thing that doesn’t feel authen­tic.

Did you keep a jour­nal when your own child was this age … or when you were this age?

No, but I sure wish I had. I did jot down things my son said (and have used almost all of them in oth­er books), but I nev­er kept a jour­nal when I was a kid. I didn’t dare – hav­ing read my old­er sister’s diary on a reg­u­lar basis, I knew one of my sib­lings was bound to read mine.

You’ve writ­ten about an ele­men­tary-school boy, Owen Foote, and a mid­dle school girl, Sophie Hart­ley, and the pri­ma­ry-school-aged Posey. From where do you draw your infor­ma­tion about what’s a part of these children’s lives at dif­fer­ent ages?

Owen Foote, Sophie Hartley, Princess PoseyMany things have led to what I’m proud to think are books that reflect the authen­tic lives of chil­dren at what­ev­er age I’ve cho­sen. For starters, I remem­ber a lot of the events and emo­tions of my own child­hood. I’ve also spent many years as a vol­un­teer in schools to keep abreast of what’s going on. And I spy and eaves­drop inces­sant­ly on chil­dren to this day – my own and oth­ers wher­ev­er I see them. I have a con­stant anten­na out to see what’s going on in the world as it per­tains to chil­dren. Every­thing in life is fod­der to an author.

Your books read as con­tem­po­rary fic­tion. Are you con­cerned about adding in cell phones and com­put­ers and video games?

Yes. Not com­put­ers and videos games, as much, because I can have a char­ac­ter sit down with one of those as part of a larg­er scene with­out hav­ing to go into detail as to what they’re doing. But cell phones? I only used those in one Sophie Hart­ley book and I kept their pres­ence short. (Thad broke up with his girl­friend via a text, which I know kids do. Nora longed for one.) As an adult who sees more and more chil­dren tex­ting and watch­ing things on their cell phones when they’re with one anoth­er, or should be look­ing at the world around them, cell phones dis­tress me. They have an adverse effect on young people’s abil­i­ty to relate to one anoth­er or even hold a con­ver­sa­tion. So far, I haven’t want­ed to be par­ty to that. Should I come up with an idea in which a cell phone played a cru­cial role …? I guess I’ll wait and see what I do with that.

Read­ing a Posey book on their own is com­fort­able for read­ers ages 5 to 7, depend­ing on their read­ing skill. Do you think about the words you’re using when you write for these read­ers?

Not real­ly, no. I write them using the lan­guage Posey and her friends use. If I’d made Posey ten, the books would have been writ­ten dif­fer­ent­ly. The age of the pro­tag­o­nist deter­mines the lan­guage.

Your moth­er, Con­stance C. Greene, wrote A Girl Called Al, which is a humor­ous book writ­ten for what we then called young adults, as well as the oth­er books in that series. She also wrote a book about grief and sor­row called Beat the Tur­tle Drum that moved many read­ers. When you were grow­ing up, were you aware of what your moth­er did for a liv­ing? Did she involve you in any way?

A Girl Called AlMy moth­er sold A Girl Called Al when I was a junior in high school. Before then, she wrote short sto­ries for the New York Dai­ly News and oth­er news­pa­pers, includ­ing a woman’s mag­a­zine in Scot­land. She nev­er direct­ly involved any of us in her writ­ing, but since she wrote on the din­ing room table, we were all aware of it. Writ­ing was what she did. She was very good and she loved doing it, but she was mat­ter-of-fact about it. All she ever did was cau­tion me against ever show­ing my spouse any­thing I’d writ­ten – long before I start­ed writ­ing. Or was even dat­ing.

At what age did you real­ize you want­ed to write books for chil­dren … and why?

I guess I start­ed when my son was lit­tle. Watch­ing him with his friends was often hilar­i­ous. They were so absorbed by, and intent on, what­ev­er it was they were doing. It wasn’t until the day I lis­tened to Bet­sy Byars give an hilar­i­ous talk at an SCBWI con­fer­ence, how­ev­er, that I actu­al­ly sat down and wrote. It was my first Owen Foote book and I was so inspired by her that I wrote it in one draft.

Here’s a tough ques­tion: how do you write a humor­ous book? What do you keep in mind?

As my edi­tor Dinah Steven­son once said, “You can’t make kids laugh by say­ing something’s fun­ny.” i.e., writ­ing that a kid “cracked up” or “laughed so hard” when what made him/her do that isn’t very fun­ny. Hav­ing kids doing awk­ward or embar­rass­ing things is kind of a cheap trick (although farts and burps are help­ful tools). As with all emo­tions, you have to earn a reader’s laugh­ter. I think hav­ing a good sense of humor is impor­tant, or see­ing the world in a humor­ous way, or hav­ing an iron­ic view­point about things. Writ­ers who write humor well gen­er­al­ly have a kind feel­ing for peo­ple, I think. The best humor isn’t mean-spir­it­ed. Plus that, chil­dren are basi­cal­ly fun­ny. Their view of life is so untaint­ed and they say what they mean. Some­times the humor aris­es from the fact that what they’re try­ing to accom­plish is com­plete­ly at odds with the sit­u­a­tion. If you can get inside their heads and put it on paper the way they see it, it can be fun­ny.

In your dai­ly life, would the peo­ple who know you think of you as fun­ny?

Ha! That would depend on who they are and what their rela­tion is to me. My friends con­sid­er me fun­ny, I think, but I’ve been told that peo­ple who don’t know me very well think I’m for­bid­ding or remote. It’s not my fault. I have my father’s fore­head – it’s per­pet­u­al­ly fur­rowed.

Where do you write and what is your rou­tine for writ­ing? (Can you send a pho­to of your writ­ing space?)

Stephanie Greene's officeI write ear­ly in the morn­ing. By about noon, I’m worn out and spend the after­noon doing oth­er writ­ing-relat­ed things. If I have sev­er­al projects going at the same time, I might switch to one in a dif­fer­ent genre. We’ve lived in sev­er­al hous­es since I start­ed writ­ing, so my work area has changed. I’ve writ­ten in a tiny room off the laun­dry room, in the liv­ing room, in an extra bed­room, and now, in a small space at the end of our upstairs hall with a win­dow over­look­ing the street. I’ve nev­er had a for­mal office, per se. One place where I can’t work is in any pub­lic place.

Get­ting back to Posey, in par­tic­u­lar, when you write a series, how do you keep your char­ac­ters con­sis­tent?

I fol­low their lead. They become real peo­ple to me, so I put them in a cer­tain sit­u­a­tion, give them their heads, and watch what they do. As with peo­ple, they act in char­ac­ter most of the time. All I have to do is lis­ten and write. I love writ­ing char­ac­ter-dri­ven books. Once I have inter­nal­ized the char­ac­ter, he or she does most of the work.

Although this is a series, it is not pre­sent­ed in a “sto­ry arc” that requires read­ing the books in order. It’s help­ful to start with Book No. 1, Princess Posey and the First Grade Parade, but oth­er­wise the sto­ries stand on their own. When you began writ­ing Posey’s sto­ry did you make a deci­sion to write in this par­tic­u­lar way? Did you plan out what would hap­pen over 10 books or did you think of her next sto­ry after you’d com­plet­ed the first?

Princess Posey and the Crazy, Lazy VacationI wrote the first book as a one-off. The lit­tle girl was called Megan. It was prompt­ed by the response I had to a sign I saw in front of a school. I nev­er imag­ined in a mil­lion years that it would become a series. It was Susan Kochan, my edi­tor at Put­nam, who told me I’d cre­at­ed a “hook” in the pink tutu. She asked if I had any more ideas, so I thought for a bit, came up with a list of short sce­nar­ios, and she asked for three more. That’s the way the entire series has gone.

Do you have any fan mail about Posey to share with us? Some­thing that par­tic­u­lar­ly tick­led or moved you?

Many of the let­ters and emails I get come from par­ents because their child is five or six. I got one from the moth­er of a boy with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties who loves Posey. She sent me a pic­ture of him hold­ing one. More recent­ly, the moth­er of an eight-year-old girl with dyslex­ia wrote to tell me that her daugh­ter hat­ed read­ing before she dis­cov­ered Posey, and that it makes her so hap­py to walk into the liv­ing room and see her daugh­ter curled up on the couch with one of the books in the series. I’m thrilled to think that my books mean some­thing to emerg­ing read­ers, and that Posey becomes real to them so they care about her. Only when a book mat­ters do chil­dren real­ize that books have some­thing to offer them.

Stephanie, thank you sin­cere­ly for writ­ing the books you do. It’s so sat­is­fy­ing to have a series of books to rec­om­mend that you know will appeal to read­ers of this age, all the while mak­ing them laugh, and feed­ing their “need to read.”

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