It is my pleasure to welcome another amazing Class of 2k9 writer to Shelf Elf, Ann Haywood Leal. Ann’s book, Also Known as Harper is released today, and in celebration, her publisher has kindly offered 5 copies to give away to Shelf Elf readers. Yay Henry Holt! So… say something nice to Ann in a comment below, and I will draw 5 lucky winners. You will love this book. Read about how much I loved it here. Welcome to Shelf Elf Ann! Happy Release Day!
Tell us about the moment you learned Harper’s story would be published.
It was definitely surreal. My agent called me and said he’d had some interest, so he thought there might be an auction. I can remember going over the phone conversation in my head, thinking I must not have heard him right! When we got the formal offer from Henry Holt, I think I was actually shaking. Like with the phone conversation, I had to keep reading the e-mail over and over for it to register in my brain. I’d been waiting for this moment since I was about eleven, so I was ecstatic!
Where did this story come from?
For the past few years, I have volunteered at my local soup kitchen. When I agreed to volunteer, I had a completely different picture in my mind than what I actually saw when I got there. I thought I’d see grubby bum-in-the-alley type people. But what I saw were regular old men and women—and lots of families. It was before the economy took such a plunge, and a lot of these people had jobs and were hard workers, but were unable to make enough to make ends meet. The children I come across in my job as an elementary teacher have distinct advantages. But the kids who come into the soup kitchen are so grateful if you save them a special dessert. They are so humble. I guess you could say that Harper’s story came from the feeling I got from being around these children.
Describe your writing process. Are you an outliner, or do you discover your story and your characters as you are writing?
I’m not a big outliner, unless I’m revising—then I take a ton of notes in the margins of my manuscript, and all over my editorial letter. With the first draft I usually start with a character or an unusual setting. Once I have that, the story seems to materialize. When I was first starting to write Also Known as Harper, I was out for a run, and I passed a vacant lot. All that was left of the home was an old, crumbling swimming pool, partially filled with dirty rainwater. My family and I were driving by later that day, and I made my husband stop so I could take a picture of it. I was so intrigued by the look of it, all by itself in the vacant lot, and it ended up in the book.
Lots of people with full-time jobs fantasize about writing a book. You actually did it! How do you manage to balance teaching and writing?
I have written stories pretty much all my life. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a story brewing on paper or starting in my head. I think because of that, I’ve always made time to write. I take my journal and/or my laptop pretty much wherever I go. That way, if I end up with an unexpected chunk of time, I can write. I get up pretty early and I try to write for an hour or two before I go to school, then, again right after school. I’ve had to get creative at times. I’ve written on the floor in the hallway outside my daughter’s violin lesson, on an old wooden church pew while I was waiting for her religious education class, and in the car at the soccer field. The other day I was at the hardware store with my husband. We were waiting for some paint to be mixed and I sat down on a lawn furniture display chair and wrote!